Sometimes the Irish left reminds me of nothing so much as the classic movie Tin Men. Surely you remember the stellar performances from Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito as rival aluminum siding salesmen. Well, the SWP and the Socialist Party are a bit like that. Their day job may be purveying the ideological equivalent of aluminum siding, in subtly different brands indistinguishable to your average punter, but what they really enjoy is denouncing each other as liars, cheats and frauds. To be honest, sometimes it’s seeing the funny side that stops you getting altogether depressed.
Well, the brands may be similar to the naked eye, but that’s not to say they’re the same. You find the same sales paraphernalia of street stall, tabloid newspaper and petition, but a closer examination shows there are differences. Militant have always preferred to deal with bread-and-butter issues, preferably with a trade union connection. Often this shows them at their best, as with their current agitation around the completely worthy case of the sacked airport workers. The Swips, by contrast, get most excited around big international events.
To tell you the truth, I’ve been a little worried about the local Swips, as they seemed to have lost their spark of late. But last week none other than Swiss Toni himself was in town addressing the troops. I chose not to go, figuring that there were more fun things to do with my evening. For one thing, Kieran’s speaking style has always reminded me very much of Mike Banda, although he lacks Mike’s characteristic warmth and good humour. For another, he was speaking on the Crisis, which would be the same Crisis he’s been predicting for the last thirty years. All things considered, a nice cup of tea and some BA Robertson on the stereo seemed a better bet.
And lo, the Great White Chief seems to have invigorated his acolytes. On walking by Queens yesterday, my eye was caught by a large yellow poster bearing the legend “Free Tibet” and a photo of an oppressed Tibetan. On closer examination, this proved to be advertising a meeting under the rubric of “People Before Profit”, which is the Swips’ funny hat of choice at the moment. What this has to do with socialism or the class struggle is not immediately apparent – and the poster had no slogan other than “Free Tibet” – but I suppose it marks a return to the tried-and-true methodology of being the loudest advocates of whatever’s popular with the kids.
There may be a pitfall or two here. I hear that the Chinese community in Dublin are starting to organise counter-demonstrations. And I don’t know how many supporters of the Dalai Lama there are in the north of Ireland, but there are a hell of a lot of Chinese. Attracting Amnesty-type students is one thing, but do you really want to run the risk of attracting lots of angry Chinese?
On the other hand, these are the guys who not so long ago were running pro-hijab demonstrations outside the French embassy. The Swips’ love affair with the Muslims may have foundered on the rocks of factional politics in Respect, but could an alternative be presenting itself? Could Buddhism be the new Islam?