Thursday 18 July 2019

Declan Lynch: 'There are lessons for Leo in this strange new language of love'

Rory Stewart cartoon
Rory Stewart cartoon
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

They just can't help themselves. The latest broadcaster to pronounce the surname of the Tory minister Jeremy Hunt with a capital "C" was the BBC's esteemed Victoria Derbyshire - a woman of the highest professionalism and probity who would never knowingly make such an error just for a laugh.

But there have been others - many others - whose mispronunciations are not entirely above suspicion. There is now a showreel of TV and radio presenters letting slip that capital "C", perhaps subconsciously, perhaps with a sense of mischief?

After all, there has probably never been a time when politics in Britain and beyond has featured so many leading contenders who bring to mind this particular piece of rhyming slang - truly they are a terrible bunch of Jeremy Hunts, and Jeremy Hunt himself is just one of them.

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And then there's Rory Stewart.

You may recall that last week I was contrasting the leadership style of a Jurgen Klopp to that of many in politics, noting that Klopp is trying to draw all the best energies out of those in his charge, while the style of the political "strongman" is roughly the opposite - he feasts on badness, on weakness and stupidity.

Then as Stewart's candidacy for the Tory leadership came into view, it became clear that this most unusual man is carving out a vast political space in which he is utterly alone - there he stands, giving out these unique signals, that he is the only candidate who doesn't appear to be a total Jeremy Hunt.

Every other potential leader figured that the way to appeal to the Tory membership who comprise the "electorate" for this grisly affair, was to keep out-Hunting each other. And this they have done with effortless ease.

Meanwhile Rory Stewart started talking about love - yes, like some deliriously optimistic character in a Broadway musical, he broke through the foulness of everything with an appeal to goodness, to the better parts of human nature. To the power of love.

And miraculously, given the overall disposition of that bunch of Jeremy Hunts, he did get through to the second round of the Tory leadership race.

He had made his statement. He had sounded as authentic in his message of love, as all the others had in their paroxysms of twistedness. Indeed when he spoke of "the energy of prudence, seriousness, realism that is going to make this country a better, happier place", he was drawing attention to the fact that he is no crazy dreamer - that it is the Hunts of this world who are feverish, hysterical, delusional.

Two years after he became Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar must be looking at this, and wondering: if a man who looks like a member of some 18th century version of the Velvet Underground can make such strides in a few days, with words of truth and high-mindedness, is this telling me something I need to know?

Certainly what Stewart has identified, is this great emptiness beyond that dark land wherein we find a Jeremy Hunt and all the other Hunts - a great emptiness into which a man can walk and find that in the absence of any other willing inhabitants, he owns the place.

They say that Leo used to have a bit of this, that he had this instinct for getting past the official line and connecting with bigger things. But that he also has an instinct for a kind of mediocre upper-middle-class glibness which continues to diminish him.

It was apparent last week in the Dail with his horribly dismissive attitude to an important question on medicinal cannabis by Gino Kenny TD.

And when he is diminished yet further by the machinations of his sundry "advisers", you can see that he has some distance to travel to get back to the higher ground - in fact Leo, literally has to travel to find his better self, usually when he's sitting with the prime minister of some other country, and he looks like the more progressive of the two. The one who would lean more towards the Rory Stewart end of things, than the Jeremy Hunt.

Back home, Leo may be rightly regarded as privileged, yet he seems limited next to a Stewart, a man whose hero is Lawrence of Arabia, who has that weird originality of the upper-class English intellectual.

Maybe Leo needs to find a bit of that, otherwise he will always look wrong in the company of buskers and other street people with whom he tries to fraternise - meanwhile Stewart can be seen in conversation with some of Britain's true outcasts, and it can be hard to tell which of them appears the more marginalised.

And there is this "energy of seriousness" which Stewart identified, which tells us that you can't suddenly start talking convincingly about "love" during a political campaign unless you have the confidence of one who has read a few good books - who is indeed a serious person.

Leo Varadkar joined Fine Gael when he was a teenager, something that no serious person would contemplate. But he's been around long enough to see that at present, there are serious political choices to be made, between love on one hand, and hate on the other.

Rory Stewart understands that one big thing, and so, in their way, do the Jeremy Hunts.

Forty shades of green, and all of them seem wrong at Aviva

I suppose you get time to think when you're watching the old Republic playing these days.

And sometimes you'd be wondering if you're over-thinking, like that time last Monday night against Gibraltar when I started to wonder if the grass at the Aviva is the wrong colour - the wrong shade of green, at least.

The Aviva has never seemed like a proper football ground to me, but then I'd also be wondering if this is just because I've so rarely seen proper football being played on it.

I mean, it seems fine for the rugby, but that doesn't matter. For me, the pitch is a dull kind of green, there's a coldness about the whole scene - but again if there was anything happening on the pitch to raise the temperature, maybe these vague misgivings would all be swept away.

Since that's not going to be happening, probably in most of our lifetimes, we may eventually grow to hate the Aviva with a senseless fervour - though I am still surprised now when I hear pundits sounding disappointed or even angry about the performance of the Republic.

Giovanni Trapattoni was never disappointed in the lads, because it is said that he believed we had only two players who were any good - Robbie Keane and Shay Given. The rest of them were just good lads.

That ratio hasn't changed much, though it must be said that Trap couldn't see what the rest of us saw in Wes Hoolihan.

Then again there is now a deep-rooted tradition that the better you are at football, the more you will struggle to make the Ireland first 11 - these days we are looking at Robbie Brady and Matt Doherty standing in the shadows, for reasons best known to the management.

But it is the management of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane in which we should actually be disappointed - that they failed to nail down Jack Grealish and Declan Rice is something that I still find hard to accept, and indeed I am disappointed in others for being so accepting.

They were being paid extra-terrestrial amounts of money to represent the best interests of Irish football and to this end, the entrapment of the likes of Grealish and Rice, by whatever means necessary, was a vital national interest.

Whether it was better for the lads' careers if they switched to England (which is questionable anyway), should be no concern of ours. Better players than them, such as Mark Lawrenson or Andy Townsend, had the misfortune to find themselves playing for Ireland when they could eventually have played for England, and they would laugh it off with a scornful ha-ha.

And yet I have wholly supported the need of Eoin Morgan to play cricket for England instead of Ireland, perhaps even to captain England to the World Cup that they are trying to hold over there at the moment, between the rains.

No, I can't explain this inconsistency, but I'll have plenty of time to think about it come September... when we're back at the Aviva.

Farewell Philomena, the hand that cradled a legend of rock

There aren't many Irish mothers who've had a rock'n'roll song written about them - but in 1974 there was Philomena, about the mother of Philip Lynott, an Irish rock'n'roll legend in her own right.

In fact, I can't think of many mothers of any nationality who've received such a warm tribute from a rock star son - it was often felt that rock gods were compelled to follow that path to put as much distance as possible between themselves and any sort of parental voice.

There was John Lennon's Mother, a primal howl of rage and grief - while Big Tom's Gentle Mother, itself laden with grief, wasn't exactly rock'n'roll.

But it was a lovely thing, the way that Philomena Lynott maintained the legacy of Philip, and it is growing all the time - though not exactly in the right way, from my point of view.

Which is nothing to do with Philomena herself, more with the insistence of broadcasters and disc-jockeys that the great monuments of Philo are the solo tracks such as Old Town and Sarah - and yes Old Town is a classic, but there was a time before that when Thin Lizzy were on an even higher plane.

This was the time of the Jailbreak album in the mid-to-late 1970s, of Philo and Brian Downey joined by Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham on twin guitars - an awesome combination.

We didn't really know it back then, because there were a lot of other special bands roaming the world, but a lifetime later, it is now clear that Lizzy in that period had found the motherlode, as it were.

We still hear a lot of The Boys Are Back In Town, but not enough of The Cowboy Song, not enough of that glorious sound they had discovered, and mastered.

Not enough, indeed, of Philomena.

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