Robbo, Luscious Martina, Wee Ian and the first month of our bright devolved future

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In North Belfast, the Brits are building a peace wall through the grounds of an integrated school. Such is the level of GUBU in the northern body politic that this sort of thing barely raises an eyebrow. In fact, a lot of what has been emanating from Stormont renders comment almost superfluous.

The Assembly votes for free personal care for the elderly. Immediately Finance Minister Peter Robinson declares that the necessary £50m isn’t there to do it. Furthermore, Robbo underlines that under the new dispensation the Executive is not accountable to the Assembly (although, by some mystical process, nationalist ministers are). Robbo further opines that the four nationalist ministers who voted for free personal care may be in breach of the ministerial by due to their voting against the DUP.

Sinn Féin Nua, in the person of Derry MLA Dr Martina Anderson, launches its big document [pdf] on engaging unionism. Martina is a very clever woman, and frankly I would have expected better from her than a farrago of platitudes, but that I suppose is the logic of the peace process. But the big document doesn’t really matter. In advance of its publication, Sammy the Streaker had already complained that, by trying to engage unionism, the Provos were being, er, sectarian.

Ian Óg Paisley does an interview in Hot Press wherein he gives voice to how repulsed he is by gays and lesbians. Some punter from the gay community came onto Talk Back to give out about this. Ten years ago, a spirited gay would have pointed out that the DUP is full of gays, and Wendy would have cut him off before he started naming them. Today, the gay speaker goes into fluent Gerryspeak about how the gay community wants constructive engagement with the DUP. And my heart sinks.

By the way, the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers, wherein Papa Doc holds the top position and Baby Doc is a junior minister, has responsibility for equality. That includes gay rights.

Máirtín the apprentice

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In re the election, there is a further point worth making. This refers to Sinn Féin Nua’s economic policy. Readers will recall that the Provos went into the election campaign with two signature policies, to raise corporation tax 5% to 17.5%, and to introduce a wealth tax on the super-rich. These policies, endorsed by the last Ard Fheis, were then summarily dumped by the party leadership under sustained assault from RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke. This then contributed even further to the Provos’ lack of economic credibility by blowing a huge hole in the costings for all the wonderful social programmes they wanted. This is a problem, because, while in the North the Provos can gain votes simply by being the Catholic party, in the South they need at least a few policies.

Skip forward to Dermot Ahern’s argument that PSF did badly because the young people of Ireland had rejected socialist and Marxist policies. Whether this is an accurate description of the Grizzly Manifesto the reader may decide for herself, but Dermot was not simply having a cheap dig. He was also issuing an invitation – fully embrace the neoliberal agenda, and you’ll be fit partners for government.

This view is shared by Provo press baron Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who reckons the Shinners need to be more business-friendly if they want to succeed. Máirtín, of course, is Grizzly’s most adept apprentice, and the Andytown News is frequently used to float policies that the republican base isn’t quite ready for. Amongst other things, Máirtín’s organ has spearheaded the campaign to get a 12.5% corporation tax rate introduced in the North, something the entire Assembly is currently petitioning El Gordo to agree to.

Máirtín, you’re fired.

Rud eile: It has been amusing to watch the unionist reaction to the southern election, most cogently put by the News Letter. In a nutshell, this can be summarised as “Yo!” I was especially touched to hear Ian Óg Paisley personally congratulate Fianna Fáil for defeating the Provo hordes. These are your partners in government, by the way.

Celebrate the moments of your life

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God, Electric Enda just doesn’t know when he’s beat, does he? Okay, he’s notched up a good result for his party and avoided joining Dukes and Noonan in that corner of Blueshirt hell reserved for failed leaders. You’d think that would be enough, but he still holds out hopes of becoming Taoiseach. Either he’s forgotten his basic maths, or the poor sap really thinks the Provos, Bev Flynn and/or Jackie Healy Rae would vote for him to take over the reins of state.

Right, so how do we explain the Provos’ result? Actually, it wasn’t all that bad. Their vote held up, actually rising in most constituencies (except, notably, for their shocker in Tallaght) but just not enough to garner extra seats. Plus, their continuing problem in attracting transfers makes it much more difficult to translate votes into seats. Beyond that… well, the established anti-Nornie sentiment in 26-county political culture may have entered into things. And then again, PSF voters who were still of the FF gene pool may have swung behind Bertie to keep the Blueshirts out.

But there were a few problems of their own making. Dermot Ahern has alleged that people won’t vote for radical socialist policies, but it couldn’t have hurt the Provos to be a little more radical. The fact that they could summarily drop their keynote policy for a 5% rise in corporation tax under media pressure went down badly with their base – party activists were openly wondering what was the point of Ard Fheiseanna if the leadership could pull that off – without appeasing the chattering classes. Then there was Grizzly’s disastrous performance on Prime Time, whereby he waffled, tried to bring everything back to the peace process and generally showed no understanding of southern politics.

Tony Gregory further alleges, and he’s been saying for about two years that the PSF vote in northside Dublin was plateauing, that following their big successes in the 2004 locals the Provos had got complacent and lazy, and were in no condition to take on the Bertie machine. Further, you had the selection cock-up in Dublin Central, where, despite huge amounts of money and energy being spent, Headmistress Mary Lou still failed to charm the inner-city macho men. Food for thought for those young PSF activists who’ve never experienced an electoral setback, and who have got used to the idea of being part of an inexorably rising national movement.

A bad result for the vaguely leftish independents. Catherine Murphy and Séamus Healy have gone, Finian McGrath just about clinging on and Tony Gregory returned as expected. This will doubtless have some effect on the left unity manoeuvrings around Dublin – Gregory for one has shown very little interest in jerry-built lash-ups like the CIL.

A bad result too for the Socialist Party, with Joe Higgins’ reputation as one of the best performers in the Dáil not saving him, and Clare Daly again failing to make the cut. It’s interesting that Joe’s result in Dublin West is very similar to Seán Crowe’s in Dublin South-West, and their electoral base is sociologically very similar. There is obviously something going on in those suburbs, probably a mix of boundary changes and demographic changes, something of the general political conditions, and possibly the SP being stretched by trying to run two big campaigns simultaneously.

If there is a silver lining – and I’m not rejoicing in Joe’s defeat by any means, he was a very effective Dáil performer and no doubt Clare would have been too – it is that it may provoke some fruitful discussion in the SP, which is likely to face some kind of mini-crisis after its perspective has run aground. The more boorish sectarian elements in the SP, the yobboes, braggarts and spoofers, will have got a knock – now it’s up to the more thoughtful elements to see what they can do. In any case the SP’s go-it-alone culture will come under some pressure.

The other candidates of the further left, with the exception of Richard Boyd Barrett, got a vote just big enough to encourage them but not nearly big enough to validate an electoral perspective. People like John O’Neill of the ISN, Joan Collins of the Communities and Workers Action Group and even an ineffable balloon like Cieran Perry of Red Action maintaining and even slightly expanding their bin tax vote from the locals. [Update: My stats have failed me - as Wednesday points out, they were down, albeit that they didn't collapse as they might have done.] All the same – in the locals Bríd Smith could poll 1700 votes in Ballyfermot as an SWP candidate. This time out, on a wishy-washy People Before Profit platform, in a much bigger constituency with a much higher turnout, she manages 2000 odd. Not really evidence of a rising far left.

Five thousand people in Dún Laoghaire voted for Richard Boyd Barrett. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

Let’s try that again. Five thousand people in Dún Laoghaire voted for Richard Boyd Barrett. How in the name of the deity is that possible? Don’t get me wrong, I like Richie. He’s a pleasant bloke with some organising ability and bags of energy. On the other hand, he’s a lacklustre speaker and a bit of a lightweight. The left’s answer to Enda Kenny, then. So how did he do so well? Is it likely that 5000 Dún Laoghaire residents have suddenly become convinced of the case for socialist revolution? Or is it more likely that the 800-odd he polled last time represents the hard left vote in that constituency? The healthy number of transfers he got from Fine Gael suggests the latter. Isn’t it more plausible that this is a bit of a left vote, a big whack of a Save Our Seafront vote, and something of the celebrity factor? The acres of press coverage of Richie’s parentage will have done him no harm at all; in fact, having his mum, the divine Sinéad Cusack, and stepdad Jeremy Irons turn out in support will have done him the world of good. Never underestimate the power of celebrity in Irish politics – that’s how Máiréad McGuinness got to Strasbourg, after all. And it seems our lovable, doe-eyed Richie has gone down a storm with the Hello!-reading ladies of Kingstown.

What will the Yo brigade make of this? Well, I confidently predict that the Socialist Worker will proclaim it the “performance of the election”, overshadowing even Willie O’Dea. And, being familiar with his thinking from way back, I can read Swiss Kieran like a book. He will be aware that a dozen years ago, Militant was at the point of collapse, but managed to rebuild itself around Joe’s electoral success. (Albeit that the SP today is still about a third the size of Militant in its prime.) For an SWP with a paid-up membership in the double figures, and having severe difficulty selling the paper, a strategy of Socialism in One Constituency will be tempting in the extreme. It’s likely that the party’s resources will now be massively concentrated on getting Richie onto Dún Laoghaire council in two years’ time. And this will benefit the working class how exactly?

Bertie does the supermarket sweep

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There are a number of stages to dealing with the results of an Irish election. First you stare at the TV and exclaim “What the hell kind of country is this?” Then you sleep on it. Then you sit down with a cup of tea and a chocolate gravy ring, crunch the numbers and convince yourself it all makes sense.

The results are, I suppose, only dramatic in that they falsified the polls. It’s remarkable, but five of the six parties were pretty much within a 1% deviation from their 2002 result, Fine Gael being the exception. So it’s pretty much as you were for Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens; the Provos were a bit unlucky in that their big surge in Donegal didn’t deliver at least one seat to compensate for their loss in Tallaght; and the Desocrats, the weakest of the big six, fell below critical mass. If there hadn’t been a slew of opinion polls, we might have thought the results pretty dull, but consistent polling predictions of a Fianna Fáil meltdown and big gains for the Greens and PSF had skewed our expectations.

On one level, this is sort of the antimatter version of the Scottish election – the reassertion of the competitive two-party system, after a collapse of the main opposition last time out, resulting in a squeeze on the small parties and independents. On another level, the presidential factor would have played a role. Not for the first time, Bertie has played chicken with the electorate and, faced with the very real prospect of Electric Enda becoming taoiseach, the electorate folded. Besides which, one can assume that with the bien-pensants’ predictions of an FF meltdown, the wish was father to the thought.

I’ll write separately about the republican and left votes, because they have some implications for how we might build an opposition in the future. But there are a few observations worth making.

Firstly, I was taken aback by FG’s enormous gain in seats, from 32 to 51. In retrospect, this could have been predicted. The Blueshirts had a genuinely horrible result in 2002, not only seeing their vote slump but, due to a lack of transfers, losing out badly in terms of seats – they should really have scored around 40 last time out. So, Electric Enda has energised Fine Gael and made it look like a halfway serious party again. Factor in a 5% gain in share of the vote, plus a decent level of transfers from eliminated Labour candidates, and you have a recipe for substantial seat gains. However, these gains come at the expense, not of Fianna Fáil, but the forces who capitalised on FG’s collapse last time – the Desocrats and centrist independents.

Speaking of the Desocrats, who may well end up folding as a party, I’m surprised to find myself rather sorry at McDowell bowing out of politics. He’s one of those people, like Alan Shatter or Bob McCartney, who I’ve never had time for politically but who do add something to public life. As in: he may have been a bastard, but he was a bastard with substance, and it says something about our political culture that he can be ousted by a lightweight like Lucinda Creighton.

As for Labour, well, Rabbitte made a rod for his own back with Mullingar. I could have told him this ages ago – the only time Labour ever gained from a close association with Fine Gael was in 1973, and the resulting government was so atrocious you wouldn’t want to see it repeated. He then made a second rod for his back by trying to give himself wiggle room for an alternative coalition. And, while the Green and Provo hordes may have been held off for the time being, a vote share below 10% and a notably elderly parliamentary party should give Labour members pause for thought.

As for Bertie, he has a few tasks ahead of him, not least putting together a stable majority. One may guess that Bev Flynn will get the whip back in the near future, but even so, the two “gene pool” indies and the two Desocrats won’t get him to the magic 83. Will he be willing to reach a non-coalition understanding with the Provos? Will Clever Trevor get his feet under the table? Only time will tell, but things don’t look long-term stable just yet.

And that’s just the electoral end of things. Will the multiple judicial tribunals into corruption actually start claiming scalps, bearing in mind that Mahon will be reconvened soon? What happens when the boom goes tits up? And what of the factional manoeuvring within Fianna Fáil itself? As Kinky Friedman sang, when the Lord closes the door, he opens a little window.

Our hero from zero

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While we wait for the election results to trickle in, let us pause awhile to pay tribute to our Zelig-like Taoiseach, Bartholomew Ahern, an Irishman who is unique, to the point where the national broadcaster refers to him simply by his diminutive first name. We don’t often realise what a singular character Bertie is.

Consider this: The Irish electorate holds its political class in well-deserved contempt. (Although one is tempted by Sir Garret’s observation that, when you think of the Irish electorate, the political class doesn’t look quite so appalling.) Yet, whatever the anti-politician mood, it never seems to stretch to Bertie. You see, Bertie isn’t really a politician, he’s more like a cowboy plumber.

The nurses have been waging a courageous and militant campaign, rudely intruding on the virtual election wherein the media insist we are all obsessed with stamp duty. The public consistently put health at the top of their agenda, and Harney has been having a torrid time of it. But Bertie comes through unscathed.

The D case is indisputably the fault of the Irish political class, which has had fifteen fucking years to legislate on the X case. For ten of those years, Bertie has been in power. Yet he escapes the odium.

The constant spotlight on Bertie’s convoluted personal finances would have destroyed a lesser man, but every time Bertie is accused of corruption his poll ratings actually go up.

Bertie has actually managed to out-Dev Dev. The Long Fellow said that he only had to look in his heart to know what the Irish people wanted. By contrast, the Irish people only have to look at Bertie to see what they want. He truly is the man for all seasons.

The multinational capitalist looks at Bertie and says, There’s the man for me, the man to keep our low-tax globalised economy on track.

The trade union bureaucrat looks at Bertie and says, There’s the man to keep us round the partnership table.

The Shinner looks at Bertie and says, There’s the man who might get us into government and just maybe a little closer to a united Ireland.

Big Ian looks at Bertie and says, There’s the Taoiseach who recognises partition and wants to be a good neighbour to the Orange state.

Yes, Bertie gives everybody just enough to hope for some more.

Bertie also represents in his person the defeat of the dialectic. In Bertie contradictions don’t lead to a higher unity, but only to more contradictions.

Bertie is a devout Catholic and a man of unorthodox marital arrangements.

Bertie is simultaneously for and against the war in Iraq.

Bertie has met personally a huge proportion of the population, but to those who have known him for years he remains an enigma.

Bertie is a capitalist and a socialist. And why not? In a political culture where Gerry Adams is a republican and Joe Higgins a revolutionary, why not Bertie the socialist?

We should cherish Bertie while he is still around, for we won’t see his like again. But I still wouldn’t vote for the sleekit bugger.

Awfully awfully Fortnight

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Flushed with success from having annoyed a bona fide philosopher, I am pleased to report that Splintered Sunrise has also annoyed a leading local pundit. Long-term readers will recall a somewhat tongue-in-cheek review of Fortnight magazine we ran a while back. This has attracted the attention of Fortnight honcho Malachi O’Doherty, who wishes to point out that he isn’t really a neocon. Okay, I’ll take your word for it, Malachi.

Malachi also directs our attention to his website, no doubt worried that someone who only knew his work via Splintered Sunrise would be as well-informed as, well, someone whose knowledge of Irish republicanism is derived solely from reading Fortnight. As a public service, I am happy to add Malachi to the links on the right.

This then provides the perfect opportunity to take a look at the new, revamped Fortnight. I’d been meaning to do this since the relaunch was plugged on last week’s Hearts and Minds, with a rather bizarre discussion between presenter Noel Thompson, Fortnight managing editor Rudie Goldsmith and Newton Emerson, who I am startled to learn is on the Fortnight editorial board. Much as I like Newt, I couldn’t help feeling that it might have been better to bring in somebody like Brian Feeney to rip the piss out of Fortnight.

So what of the new magazine? It’s a bit thin, physically I mean, but very stiff paper disguises that. The division between the arty-farty back half and the political front half remains. As for the politics… well, you knew what to expect with the old Fortnight, which is why I approached it with trepidation every month. We would have Malachi on why Gerry Adams is a bastard or why the unionist middle class need to get up off their arse and seize back leadership; Anthony McIntyre on why Gerry Adams is a bastard or why Irshad Manji is the greatest thinker of our times; Henry McDonald on why the Provos are like al-Qaeda; and Gary Kent on why the Provos are like al-Qaeda. Tony, Gary and Henry might sneak in digs at the SWP, which must have baffled the nice middle-class people who read Fortnight; Malachi, who’s by far more interesting than the other stooges, would get some Catholic theology in there somewhere.

Malachi is still there, for a comforting sense of continuity, with a think-piece on whether Ian and Marty will get on with each other in the new dispensation. But in general, the main thrust of the new Fortnight seems to be on governance. This is “governance” in the Norn Iron sense of making Stormont work, in the same way that “community development” here means teaching UVF men to fill out grant applications. So we have a reasonably useful piece by Graham Gudgin on the public finances, plus articles on education and the RPA. Also a pull-out on equality, which I’ve tried and failed to get to the end of.

There is something missing here, and that something is politics. In a sense, Fortnight is a victim of its own success in that it pioneered many of the concepts of the peace process. Now that devolution is restored, and the local media determined that this time it’s gonna work, all the big political issues are deemed sorted and we have only to face the brave new technocratic future. Maybe, but this makes for dreadfully boring journalism. If you want lively commentary these days, you may have to resort to the Hibernian.

Rud eile: As further proof that this blog is hitting the big time, I’m hugely pleased to get this plug on the Beeb. Thanks for the recommendation, Mick.

Rud eile fós: By way of contrast, any blog author will know how compulsive looking at your site stats can be. And it’s nice to know that traffic is healthy, but WordPress stats helpfully break down your search engine terms for you. The good folks at Shiraz Socialist get a witty regular feature out of this. I’m slightly sobered to realise that, since taking the piss out of Gail Walker, we are attracting a lot of people looking for saucy schoolgirls. And, based on an ancient TV review, we still get a steady trickle of readers who want learned Marxist commentary on Suranne Jones’ big boobs. Still, it takes all sorts, and if the traffic falls off I suppose we can always get it back up with an article on Lucy and Michelle, of lad mag fame. It’s also heartening to see that somebody out there is googling Kevin Wingfield. Pass it along – Splintered Sunrise, your top source for Kevin Wingfield news!

I have annoyed a philosopher

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While getting stuck in to Johann Hari (age 13¾) and his comical misunderstandings of Slavoj Žižek, I included a brief (and slightly flippant) thumbnail sketch of analytical philosophy. Over on the indispensable D-Squared Digest, this drew a response from Prof Chris Bertram of Bristol University, who I remember (though he probably doesn’t remember me) from the far-off days when he was on the New Left Review, before he and Norm and Branka and the rest discerned greener pastures elsewhere. I’m slightly bemused as to why Chris would defend AP, as he isn’t an analytical philosopher but a post-Rawlsian (or neo-Kantian) political philosopher. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to discover that Chris is still alive, and will post a considered piece on AP shortly.

But young Johann’s use of postmodernism as an all-purpose insult (he also ties it to that other modern swear-word, “Leninism”) is illustrative of a more general tendency among those sections of the British punditocracy who aspire to be intellectuals, and also links back to my long-delayed critique of Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? That is, and this may pain Johann, Nick and Francis Wheen, but their take on philosophy is uncannily congruent with that of the Socialist Workers Party. Our pundits may not remember this – Johann would be too young and Nick’s memory has been dodgy of late – but the SWP spent the entire decade of the 1990s on a huge crusade against the danger posed by postmodernism to civilisation in general and rational thought in particular.

This too involved some comical misunderstandings, although they would hardly have been apparent to the SWSS students who wore “Bollocks to Postmodernism” T-shirts. The reader will recall the famous book Against Postmodernism by Alex Callinicos, the Greatest Living Philostopher Known to Mankind. This was quite a stylish and enjoyable polemic, marred only by Alex’s seeming confusion as to what postmodernism was. Drawing on Renaissance Man Chris Harman’s critique of the retreat of the European far left, Alex tended to identify the postmodernists with the Nouveaux Philosophes, who of course were a completely different tendency. Therefore, apart from a ridiculous lack of proportion that implies Francis Fukuyama was leading an army of PoMo barbarians in an assault on Hackney, Alex assumes that the postmodernists were attacking Marxism from the right.

This is wrong. Alex, one assumes, will be aware that Lyotard cut his teeth in the neo-Trotskyist Socialisme ou Barbarie tendency. This is not a coincidence. The postmodernist critique was aimed primarily at the French Communist Party tradition of Marxism, or if you prefer neo-Stalinism. Therefore the postmodernist challenge was an early part of the philosophical deconstruction of Stalinism, which one would have thought would endear it to a neo-Trotskyist like Callinicos and woolly social democrats like Hari and Cohen alike. In fact, I would argue that the main problem with the postmodernists was their failure to distinguish between Marxist philosophy and Stalinist ideology, a failure rooted in their inability to come to grips with the Trotskyist tradition.

So there was a lot of value in the postmodernist approach, except that they went too far and developed into the philosophical equivalent of Lenin’s infantile ultraleftism – who can forget Foucault’s writings on the Iranian revolution? – a kind of intellectual analogue to the Spartacist League (only more polite). In fact, it is my contention that Alex would have better occupied his time by writing a book called Against Spartacism, because you’re more likely to meet a follower of Jim Robertson than a loyal follower of Derrida at a British university.

And this brings me back to the point. You wouldn’t guess, from reading our pundits, that analytical philosophy was actually the establishment position in British academe and has been for about 50 years – Cohen and Elster, cited by Chris, were revising Marxism using the techniques of analytical philosophy long before postmodernism came on the scene. Instead, they prefer to ignore what is taught in British philosophy departments in order to pretend that postmodernism is sweeping all before it. Frankly, this is bollocks. While postmodernism has gained some influence in sociology and humanities departments – which were pretty much post-Marxist by the mid-70s – it remains utterly marginal in philosophy departments. And, you know, Marxism Today didn’t require Foucault or Derrida to do what it did. It simply required Jacques, Leadbetter and Aaro.

But does this seep through into our public discourse? No, it does not. And, while postmodernism has plenty of faults, it deserves to be taken seriously, not to be used as a prop for Johann, Nick and Francis in their Beavis and Butt-Head attempts to make French thought look much sillier than it really is. At least postmodernism attempted to form a limited model of social criticism, something analytical philosophy has never been.

Paramilitaries retain role in police oversight

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I note from today’s Belfast Telegraph that since proconsul Hain rejigged the Policing Board, Dawn Purvis of the PUP/UVF no longer sits on this august body. She has been replaced by party colleague David Rose, so the loyalist paramilitaries will continue to be represented at the heart of policing.

 Also in today’s Tele, the unmissable Gail Walker column. This week Gail has a go at Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow (59) for allegedly having an affair with a 34-year-old woman. To which I say, so what? It’s not like he picked up some teenage girl from Methody. Still, all’s fair when you’re having a go at the “liberal left”.

Saorstát social democracy

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Fresh from my success at calling the weekend polls, I’ll revisit the southern election. It hasn’t to date been very interesting, partly because the parties are saying very similar things about most of the big issues, and partly because the media are intent on making this a presidential campaign, which is bloody stupid in a parliamentary election with PRSTV voting.

Anyway, a presidential campaign suits Bertie, because even a jaded Bertie fast approaching his sell-by date trumps Electric Enda. Enda’s main success in this campaign has been to confirm his image as a likeable bloke with tons of energy. However, being a likeable bloke doesn’t get you the taoiseach’s job in and of itself. Even Jack Lynch, who was famously affable, was also a devious bastard of Bertie proportions when it suited him. Electric Enda, meanwhile, has failed to shake off the widespread perception that he’s, well, a little bit lightweight.

As I’ve indicated, I expect the Provos to do quite well this time out. Whatever about their national poll rating, all indications are that they are doing well in areas where they need to do well. The bookies are quoting them as holding their five seats and picking up their three targets in northside Dublin, but you also have to factor in two excellent chances in Donegal and sporting chances in Waterford, Wexford and Sligo. It will also be interesting to see whether PSF’s difficulty in attracting transfers is on the wane. So, depending on the rub of the green, their seat tally could be anything from 7 to 12. In any case, and whatever Gerry thinks, the southern membership wouldn’t be displeased if they didn’t get into government. Another five years of building up the organisation, grooming candidates and cannibalising the more plebeian sections of the Fianna Fáil and Labour bases would suit them down to the ground.

Labour illustrate how hard it is to make predictions under STV. Despite flatlining for months at around 12%, barely ahead of PSF, they are widely anticipated to pick up twice as many seats. But Labour won so many seats with narrow margins last time out that, again depending on the rub of the green, they could be up a little or down quite sharply. Apart from the Provos, Labour have a further difficulty in the rise of the Greens, who are no longer a niche party for tree-hugging hippies but are making a strong pitch for the votes of nice middle-class people with nice liberal opinions, which describes a big chunk of the Labour electorate, especially in greater Dublin. The Greens these days are cultivating a profile not far distant from Labour’s, only without the vestigial socialism and with a much less elderly parliamentary party. This is likely to be a long-term problem for Labour.

And, since this is supposed to be a left blog, I’ll do a quick review of the further left. The Socialist Party’s manifesto is just as dull as you would expect, although I was interested in them proclaiming “Water charges victories North and South”. Well, one of those was ten years ago, and the other comes under the heading of counting your chickens. Some windy platitudes on the North, as the SP aren’t keen to advertise their neo-unionism in the South – God knows why, because there are lots of people in the South who wish the North was a thousand miles away. And really, extremely youthful appearances from Joe and Clare in their official photos. Have the leaders of the working class discovered Botox? I think we should be told.

Next to the Socialist Workers Party (Swiss Toni prop.), running under the “People Before Profit” rubric. In years gone by, the SWP used to lash the SP for its parliamentary illusions, but now appears to believe that Irish politics can be transformed if only party honcho and friend of this blog Richard Boyd Barrett gets a seat in Dún Laoghaire. I really recommend having a look at Richie’s address to the proletariat of Kingstown if you get the chance. I know Richie has the theatrical gene, but I couldn’t help thinking of Groucho in Horse Feathers singing “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”. Richie has principles, you see, and if you don’t like his principles, he can always get some more. As always with the SWP, the tone could be more accurately captured with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks and Yos.

Skipping lightly over the Workers Party, which is running exactly the kind of low-profile campaign it usually does, we conclude with the WP’s former comrades in the Togliattite Irish Socialist Network, who are running the personable John O’Neill in Finglas. John has two key pledges, neither of which he has a hope in hell of fulfilling. The first is that he won’t coalesce with the right, but will try to forge an alliance with Séamus Healy and Joe Higgins (neither of whom, by the way, are looking terribly secure). The second pledge is that he’ll take the average industrial wage – although the Provos take the average industrial wage, and it hasn’t waterproofed them against corruption. Still, I was very taken with his mock pizza ad. A bit of humour in politics is never a bad thing.

DUP to Provos: Slap it up youse!

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If you’re familiar with the importance of symbolism over substance in Norn Iron politics, you won’t have been at all surprised at the row that’s broken out over the memo from new regional development minister Conor Murphy (Sinn Féin Nua), who prefers to refer to “Northern Ireland” as “the North” or “here”, and a village in the North West as “Derry”. This was splashed on the front page of yesterday’s News Letter as an enormous scandal, as if Conor had instructed Protestant civil servants to refer to the “Occupied Six Counties”. Well might Conor protest that the memo was only referring to speeches and documents to be drafted in his own name – and I believe him, because otherwise he’d be in trouble under Section 75 – that did not assuage the paranoid Prods jamming the lines to Talk Back.

Dunseith had Conor squared off against the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, who loves this sort of thing. Gregory, who himself comes from Derry, huffed and puffed about how a minister who didn’t use the exact form of words “Northern Ireland” wasn’t fit to be a minister. When challenged by a punter on his respect for cultural diversity, Gregory made a rather opaque comment which I took to mean that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of Edwin Poots introducing the Acht Gaeilge, at least not without equal funding for Ulster Scots. Which raises the enthralling prospect of yet more staff manning useless hotlines that nobody calls. Can I get a job at the Boord o’ Ulster Scotch by any chance?

This reminds me of a brainstorm by David Trimble (remember him?) when he first took over as head of our toy administration. The Civil Service doesn’t have a firm rule on this, but there is an informal rule of thumb that you can address letters to either “Derry” or “Londonderry” (or I suppose “Doire Cholmcille”) according to what form your correspondent prefers. Trimble tried, and failed, to bring in a directive which would ensure that all official correspondence would go to “Londonderry”. Since even Derry Prods refer to their home town as “Derry”, and “Londonderry” is only used by unionists with a point to make, the subtext was obvious.

Meanwhile, Róisín McAliskey has got arrested again, on an extradition warrant so old it could nearly be written in Latin. What the German authorities think they’re playing at, and who stands to gain from reopening this case, beats me. But the thing that struck me was the feeble response from Francie Millions, who reckons the peelers should be spending their time enforcing law and order. Thus the revolutionary party.

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