Browsing the archives for the uk tag.

The bright side of Northern Ireland’s strange politics

European Politics, Politics

Chekov at Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness highlights the extent to which the most unusual of political alliances has entrenched itself in Northern Ireland. For a little over two years now, the government is made up of Sinn Fein – the long-time political arm of the IRA – and the DUP, the hardline Unionist party that was led for close to fourty years by the rabblerousing Rev. Paisley.

An odd couple indeed, but one that’s digging its heels in – and in turn has the opposition unifying across religious lines. When the Catholic SDLP and the Ulster Unionists joined up last week with the non-sectarian Alliance in an attempt to block government legislation, First Minister Robinson (DUP) called theirs an “unholy” alliance, which understandably has the Ulster Unionists in a tizzy:

Yesterday, in an ill-tempered display, First Minister Robinson hit out at the UUP, Alliance and SDLP for co-operating on the Financial Assistance Bill. He had the cheek to describe the three parties as an ‘unholy alliance’ – on the same day as he and his party trooped into the voting lobbies 6 times with their friends in Sinn Fein.

3 democratic political parties co-operating to hold the First Minister and deputy First Minister to account is positive, democratic politics – Messers Robinson and McGuinness clubbing together in a power-grab is truly ‘unholy’. [..]

[T]he closeness of the DUP-Sinn Fein alliance is now obvious for all to see. Two parties, conceived in sectarianism and bound together by a mutual loathing, but united by their arrogant contempt for those parties who dare to hold them up to scrutiny in the Assembly. Mr. Robinson was entirely right that an unholy alliance exists – the problem is that it is an alliance of his party and his colleagues in Sinn Fein.

Eloquent – I love the “Two parties, conceived in sectarianism and bound together by a mutual loathing” bit. And yet, there’s something reassuring about seeing a cross-sectarian opposition arguing against a cross-sectarian government and making the kind of accusations (bulldozering through legislation and the like) that could feature in any country.

An opposition primarily identifying itself, not along religious or nationalist lines, but as a “positive, democratic” alliance whose first priority is enforcing accountability and good governance – even if it’s all situational, that’s a long way from Northern Ireland’s not all too distant past.

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Always a frown with golden brown

European Politics, Politics

Good God. If there was one thing at least that was good about the Brown government, it was that he finally threw out those execrable Blairite beasts of spin and deceit, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell. And now they’re both to return? And Alan Milburn too – for a healthy injection of free market idolization, right now the crisis is exposing its folly?

Throw in the floated return of Blunkett and Clarke and the authoritarian wing of New Labour would be back in full force too, for a fully-fledged restoration of late Blairism. Great – cause that was proving to end so well a couple of years ago.

Image used under CC license from the World Economic Forum

Image used under CC license from the World Economic Forum

What Brown is lacking is a spine and a consistent vision. His problem is not that he veered away from Blairite policies; it’s not that he supposedly turned all Old Labour. It’s certainly not his assertive response to the financial crisis, which was praised internationally. It’s his opportunism.

After staunchly pushing through New Labour economic policies for a decade, he missed the credibility to stir traditional Labour constituencies from their slumber again, when he finally appeared to want to correct Blairite excess. And before you could say “maybe he really means it,” he’s already turning on his heels again, in desperation at Labour’s turgid recovery in the polls.

His profile has simply been incoherent. In an otherwise rather silly take on Milburn’s return, the Telegraph’s Janet Daley does put her finger on it when she reviews Brown’s erstwhile snubs of Blair’s ultras: “Did he block them back then because he was opposed in principle or simply as part of his great sulk over Tony Blair’s ascendancy?”

Right, that’s the question he never delivered a persuasive answer to. So now he’s ended up with the worst of both worlds, trusted by neither the left nor the Blairites; by neither the disaffected working class voters who have come to prefer staying home or even voting BNP, nor the business types and middle class suburbanites who see a new and improved Blair in David Cameron.

Half a year ago, Jon Cruddas, after coming in third in the race for Labour’s deputy chairman post, laid out a sound and sensible analysis of the problem Labour faces and how the current time offers it an opportunity to reinvent itself:

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Yearning for a “none of the above” ballot option

European Politics, Politics
(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Neil101)

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Neil101)

In Russia, until a few years ago when Putin’s acolytes decided the option was creating altogether too many headaches, voters had the option of foregoing all the available choices and instead checking a box on the ballot marked “none of the above”. The option had some actual teeth as well: in case more voters opted for “none of the above” than for any individual candidate, the elections had to be done over. (That’s what let the government to eventually shut down the option, after a couple of embarassing reruns in regional governor’s elections.)

Judging on some recent opinion polls, there’s plenty of Europeans who would love the option. Take Britain and Hungary.

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The tragic mystery of the Redskins, or: No socialism in our time

Culture, European culture(s)

One way in which this age of Google and Wikipedia is different from that of decades past is that even the most obscure names live on forever, remaining forever a mouseclick away. How many times haven’t you thought, “hey, I wonder whatever happened to..”: fill in the name of an old acquaintance, a long-forgotten band, a football star of yore? In previous eras, you’d spend that wistful thought on it, and then by necessity shrug it off. Who knows?

Well, now you too can know. That obscure new wave band? The singer writes songs for TV shows now; the bassist works as a market salesman. That ridiculous Eurovision Songfestival contestant? He’s online now, editing his own Wikipedia entry and touting the brilliancy of his performance on specialist web forums. And a surprising number of tragic endings… one moment you’re listening to a song by The Sound that happened to pass by on last.fm, the next you’re looking up their bio and find out that the singer committed suicide, and his band mate died of AIDS.

So who remembers the Redskins? They were a punk band in the early eighties, and they were as political as could be. Committed to the revolution, they played every benefit gig, in support of the miners’ strike, against racism, against apartheid, you name it. They were Billy Bragg’s little skinhead brothers. They threw in pop and soul too if that enabled them to reach a wider audience with their message: “think the Jam, the Clash, the Specials, Dexy’s, the Fall and the Supremes all rolled into one,” as a retrospective review put it.

Their second single, Lean On Me, was dubbed “a love song to workers solidarity” and “a modern soul classic” by the NME. They even had some minor top 50 hits. Keep On Keepin’ On! reached #43 in the UK charts in 1984; Bring It Down (This Insane Thing) reached #33 the year after. The Redskins, concludes fan Dave T. on the unofficial band website redskins.co.uk, “were the first band to bring revolutionary socialism to the dancefloor.”

But when you wonder whatever happened with them, the story you find is rather tragic, and something of an allegory for an entire political culture which they, in their way, represented.

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