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Enjoy the glories of liberal Ireland while you can...

Declan Lynch


Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

If you could pick a moment when it all started to go wrong in the UK, you'd probably go for the "bigoted woman" incident.

During the general election campaign of 2010, the then prime minister Gordon Brown got into trouble when he was caught on a live TV microphone describing a voter he had just met as "a bigoted woman". He was referring to her complaints about immigration.

Astounding as it seems, as recently as 10 years ago there was a prime minister who would actually "call out" prejudice where he found it. A man who was fiercely, instinctively liberal-minded, a serious man - Brown was even that rarest of things, a politician who was a genuine football man, an obsessive supporter of his boyhood club Raith Rovers. And I am reliably informed by those who know of such things, that he was also a true friend of the NHS.

But of all these singular characteristics, it was the "bigoted woman" scene which now seems to set him apart as a member of a different breed, almost a different species to what came after him.

Brown lost that election, the next prime minister would be David Cameron, and by the end of the decade the leader of the UK would be the sort of person who'd never be in any danger of being criticised for calling out prejudice.

On the contrary, he would revel in it, and use it in whatever way would advance his own career and the interests of the nationalist Brexiters in general. He would be part of a hard-right movement which actively encourages people to give vent to their bigotry, which uses the most-advanced social media techniques to flood the internet with prejudice and backwardness and other forms of badness that have hardly even been invented yet.

In America there has been a similar degeneration, the two hard-right movements on either side of the Atlantic apparently feeding off each other - likewise America went from the liberal-minded Obama to the openly fascistic Trump.

Poor old Gordon Brown didn't have the star quality of Obama, yet both countries have fallen such a long way that his loss should be mourned just as keenly. It would somehow have been inconceivable on his watch that Britain would eventually be turfed out of the European Parliament due to Farage and his grotesques, carrying on like characters from a 1970s sitcom gone wrong.

And yet, we took the progressive dispositions of Brown, or Obama, for granted. Indeed, when Brown had his "bigoted woman" moment, no doubt a multitude of columnists wrote that article of theirs again, about liberals really being illiberal - which, even if true, would still make the western world a far better place under the likes of Brown and Obama, than under the "conservative" delinquents who have taken their place.

Indeed, it seems to have largely escaped the attentions of that multitude of columnists writing that article of theirs, that Britain and the United States are not, in fact, being governed by "woke" extremists enforcing their draconian regimes of political correctness, but by men whose attitudes would be considered backward in the gentlemen's clubs of the 1950s.

Whichever side is winning the Culture Wars, on any given day, there is no doubt that the hard right is winning the actual war - though its millionaire heroes in the Oval Office and Downing Street will continue to portray themselves as embattled victims of a liberal elite.

An exception to these dark developments, of course, is Ireland.

We have largely grown out of our "conservative" ways, having had the dubious advantage of spending much of the 20th Century living in an authoritarian culture which eventually consumed itself with its own viciousness and corruption.

My 21-year-old daughter can expect to be on the winning side in any referendum which liberalises the theocratic position of old - while I was never even close to voting for any kind of winner until I was about 40.

Most of the potential combinations which will form the next Irish government will be "conservative" on economics, but will be broadly progressive - in a cultural sense at least. And this will be denounced by some as a dangerous consensus - though to my mind not as dangerous as the kind of consensus you get when it all goes in the other direction. As apparently it can with the most alarming ease.

Even Sinn Fein, unlike most of its fellow nationalists elsewhere, is liberal on "social issues" - though, of course, none of that matters next to the unmitigated eejitry of its core belief system, and all the potential that carries for madness and destruction.

Yes, it can get away from us very quickly. There was Britain in 2010, with a prime minister who now looks like an intellectual and moral colossus, and the next thing you know, they're "bunging a bob for a Big Ben bong".

They don't quote F Scott Fitzgerald much on the campaign trail, but they probably should: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Sunday Independent