Monday 23 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Our ruling class must not look down on theirs'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Funnyman Andrew Maxwell, speaking on the BBC's Politics Live, was absolutely right in his assertion that we are voracious consumers of British culture, but that the British know very little about us. He spoke of "a valve that flows in one direction".

But to give an even fuller picture, it is also worth noting that for most practical purposes, there has hardly been much reason for Britain to be receiving our culture, the way that we receive theirs - whereas without their television and their football and their music, it is probably fair to say that for many of us, life would hardly be worth living at all.

Down the years, Britain didn't have to be familiar with our artists and our footballers and our TV personalities, due to the fact that many of the really good ones would inevitably end up in Britain anyway, because it was better there. Andrew Maxwell, interestingly enough, has made that journey.

And we are dealing here in generalisations, since there are a few Brits who would know a great deal about Ireland, who would be specialists in Irish matters in the same way that they might be intrigued by the culture of Turkey or Tasmania - at random, I think of Robin Flower who did such important work on the Blaskets, or Jem Finer who wrote Fairytale of New York with Shane MacGowan. And there's the fact that it is virtually unknown for the Irish to achieve international success without some crucial British involvement, be it the aforementioned Pogues or U2, or the Republic under Big Jack, or Katie Taylor whose father is, of course, English, as is the father of Conor McGregor.

But for the British multitudes, in the normal run of events, there really has been no great need to know who Marty Morrissey is, or to know the difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Ah, but this is not the normal run of events. This is a time of chaos and perhaps of catastrophe - and while many regular folks in Britain have helped to bring this about by voting for it, the original culprits are those members of the British ruling class who either allowed that Brexit referendum to happen, or who made it happen.

When David Cameron decided to empower the Eurosceptics (or simply the "bastards" as John Major called them), he opened up that strain of insularity and ineptitude with which Britain has long been cursed - there are echoes of the fabled "donkeys" who led the "lions" to their doom in the First World War.

They exude the certainty of people who know a lot of things, about a lot of places, including Ireland - and it turns out they know very little about anything. There was that moment when Iain Duncan Smith on Channel 4 News was heard to opine that the Irish are showboating because "the Presidential election is coming up" - that was last November.

But then it turns out that Iain Duncan Smith's lack of knowledge of Ireland is just as deep as his lack of knowledge of everywhere else. Indeed, I have long argued that it is wrong to see Ireland as a unique sort of problem in the overall Brexit scheme, because Brexit disintegrates when it encounters any kind of reality - and Ireland just happens to be one of the first of those obstacles on a very long course.

So this is not just a failure of the British ruling class in relation to Ireland, it is the kind of awesome, epoch-defining failure to be found in those names that live in infamy, such as Suez or the Somme. It seems there are phases in British life when the ruling classes are cocooned in all their mediocrity and self-regard, and the best energies are nowhere to be found, the energies of the aristocracy of talent which was represented by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the Boys of '66.

Therefore, it is somewhat unfortunate that the Irish ruling class at this difficult time,just happens to be led by men from an equally lofty position on the social spectrum as your top Brexiteers - so that an encounter between, say, Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson, would be a meeting of two men who went to the most storied "public schools" in their respective countries.

Not only would a Coveney or a Varadkar feel not a jot of inferiority, the danger at this particular time is that they would feel a distinct superiority - to their already copious quantities of self-esteem would be added the natural disdain that most of us would feel in the presence of these Brexiteering delinquents.

So you felt that Varadkar must be getting it right for a change, when he was accused last week by Mary Lou McDonald of "blinking" and "losing his nerve" in the negotiations.

It suggests that he is losing the belligerence that is common among the Irish upper middle classes in these encounters, this attitude that we have our own gentry now, and no Old Etonian is going to tell us what to do.

A little less of that would be good. A lot less would be excellent. Indeed not only should Leo be blinking and losing his nerve at every opportunity, he should always have been speaking to the Brits about the possibility that is still there for them, of changing their minds. He should always have been speaking as softly as you would to anyone you've known for a long time who is out on the ledge, thinking of jumping - "you don't have to do this, you know, you really don't."

Indeed, there is every indication that a large section of the British population would only love to be told that it's OK not to throw themselves into the abyss, that they can forget about this aberration - we'd be pushing an open door there.

Because when this ludicrous British ruling class is taken down, and put in the proverbial Tower, we may be back roughly where we always have been - with the "valve that flows in one direction", us needing them a lot more than them needing us.

Obviously not a time for considered debate

Last week I was advocating the withdrawal of the White House correspondents from the "briefings" given by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, both as a gesture of disrespect for the enemy, and as a matter of good journalistic practice. I said it is simply wrong to regard what is happening there as being in the democratic tradition, it is factually inaccurate to see it like that: simply to be in that room is bad journalism.

Indeed, in this matter it is Trump who is being honest, describing journalists as the enemy, while they carry on with the delusion that their job is to be "objective", to be "holding him to account".

Yeah, that's going well.

Not that I really expect the correspondents to walk away, because basically they just love being there, and it would probably break their hearts to give up their "hard pass" - but it is still important to point out that as long as they are there, they are part of the problem.

Then the Trumper vented his hatred of Jim Acosta and CNN at his "press conference", and Sanders endorsed a video of the event which was shown to be doctored, and you'd think that this might get a few of them out of the briefing room next time. But again, you'd probably be wrong.

There was some criticism of the way the fracas started, from some highly respected teachers of American journalism - criticism of Acosta.

"If he had phrased his question in a more neutral tone, he likely would have had more information for his audience to digest," they wrote on the prestigious Poynter Institute website.

That is a good one. However, Acosta did it, he ended up giving his audience so much information to digest, they might still be studying it in 10 years' time, wondering if this was the moment when America officially changed from democracy to…whatever is coming.

Ah, but if Acosta had done it the right way, according to the folks at the Poynter Institute, he would have "avoided becoming bigger than the event he was covering".

They love that stuff, they would probably have told Hemingway that he was handy enough at the "colour writing", but could he possibly stop himself becoming bigger than the event he was covering? - "It's not about you, Ernest!"

Indeed, there wouldn't have been much of an event at all without Acosta's intervention, just the usual routine of reporters behaving "responsibly" and getting abused in return. And even after the altercation with the microphone, the "responsible" reporters just went back to the boring, stupid questions they had prepared earlier. They were becoming smaller than the event they were covering.

But Poynter don't mind that, nor would they endorse the position of a very good journalist called Jay Rosen, who doesn't necessarily want reporters not to attend the White House briefings, in fact, he has a better idea which, fair play to him, he first put forward at the start of 2017 - send the interns.

"Put your most junior people in the White House briefing rooms," he advises. "Recognise that the real story is elsewhere, and most likely hidden."

That's the one.

Rory G  and what an artist looks like

Rory Gallagher was on the cover of the first edition of Hot Press magazine, the guitar man dominating the page, which also had a collage made up partly of characters representing Official Ireland at that time, such as Liam Cosgrave and Paddy Donegan.

It was a clear declaration that there was a culture war going on, between this rock'n'roll spirit embodied by Rory, and just about everything else in the country in the late 1970s. Julian Vignoles worked in Hot Press in the early days, before leaving for the paradise that is RTE. And he has now written a biography of Rory, called The Man Behind The Guitar. It does not have the endorsement of Rory's brother Donal, who managed him and who still devotes himself to the cause. But it got me thinking again about Rory, and how important he was.

The young The Edge was at the Macroom Festival of 1977, to see Rory, and while he would obviously have been inspired by the man's virtuosity, there was something else about Rory to which any creative person could relate - he was serious.

In a country which was in love with what Patrick Kavanagh called "bucklepping", in which gifted people were often required to have a "gimmick" of some kind, Gallagher stood there and played and gave out this message which was unspoken and yet beautifully eloquent: this is what an artist looks like, this is how you do it.

It is often said of Rory that he was enigmatic, that "as a person" he was largely unknown - and yet he could not have been clearer in this enormous statement that he made every time he plugged in his Stratocaster: this is what an artist looks like, this is how you do it.

And even if you're Irish, it works.

Sunday Independent

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