Prepare to receive your visitors

As you’ll recall, a couple of months back Pope Benedict issued his pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, addressing the sex abuse crisis. Of course, this has a broader application than just Ireland, which is why the letter is on the Vatican website in multiple languages, but as the epicentre of The Scandal, what happens here – specifically, what is done to clean up what Benedict calls “the filth” – should be taken as being exemplary for the universal Church. To put it bluntly, the situation here is so bad, the Emerald Isle gets to be the test case.

Which leads us to B16’s three-point action plan outlined at the end of his letter. The first point here was the year of prayer and penance, which should be the starting point for a spiritual organisation that’s gone so far astray. It’s a good idea, as far as it goes, although some very public acts of penance on the part of the clergy and particularly the hierarchy would be most welcome.

The second point was the proposal for a National Mission, in other words a boot camp for clergy. This is causing some elements of the Irish priesthood to go apeshit, and given the abysmal liturgical level here that’s not surprising. You don’t have to spend too long hanging around clerical circles to find reactions like

My God, have you seen what Benedict wants us to do? Prayer! Penance! Adoration of the Eucharist! What is this, the 1950s? We were trained to be social workers, not to waste time on all this sacramental guff! Whatever happened to the spirit of Vatican II?

I exaggerate a little, but not too much. This, remember, is the country where a priest can with impunity offer busy commuters a 15-minute Mass (what is he leaving out?) but where the Extraordinary Form remains effectively underground. This may only seem tangentially related to the abuse issue, but one of B16’s basic premises is that a renewal of Catholic identity can play an enormous role in fighting internal corruption.

Finally, there’s the apostolic visitation. This, for the uninitiated, is an in-depth inspection from head office which then reports back to the Pope with recommendations for change; and it’s this which has sent a shiver up the collective spine of the tainted Irish hierarchy. By way of comparison, there’s recently been a visitation concluded into the creepy Legionaries of Christ, the powerful and wealthy movement founded by the charismatic Mexican paedophile priest Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado. The current situation is that the Legionaries are on what Animal House aficionados would recognise as double secret probation, administered by a Vatican-appointed receiver, until Maciel’s old nemesis Ratzinger decides what to do with them. One option is to suppress the Legionaries altogether, although that would mean a huge headache in disposing of their €25bn assets. (As well as being monstrous in his personal life, Maciel was an incredible fundraiser. But then, what with paying off his victims and the mothers of his several children, he needed to be.) The other option is to thoroughly purge the Legionaries (most of the leadership having been as corrupt as Maciel) and reconstitute them as effectively a new organisation, minus the Maciel personality cult. That carries with it its own headaches.

But that is by the by, and mainly meant to illustrate what a big deal an apostolic visitation is. So we’ve been waiting for some time to find out the details of the Irish visitation, and who’ll be leading it. As it happens, the Holy See has chosen today, the Feast of the Visitation, to announce the five prelates who are being sent in as the crack cleanup squad. All are of Irish descent, and oddly enough, no fewer than three of them are bloggers. Here’s the statement from VIS:

Following the Holy Father’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, the Apostolic Visitation of certain Irish dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations will begin in autumn of this year.

Through this Visitation, the Holy See intends to offer assistance to the Bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as they seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors. It is also intended to contribute to the desired spiritual and moral renewal that is already being vigorously pursued by the Church in Ireland.

The Apostolic Visitors will set out to explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims; they will monitor the effectiveness of and seek possible improvements to the current procedures for preventing abuse, taking as their points of reference the Pontifical Motu ProprioSacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela” and the norms contained in Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland, commissioned and produced by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

The Visitation will begin in the four Metropolitan Archdioceses of Ireland (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam) and will then be extended to some other dioceses.

The Visitors named by the Holy Father for the dioceses are: His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, for the Archdiocese of Armagh; His Eminence Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, for the Archdiocese of Dublin; the Most Reverend Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, for the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly; the Most Reverend Terrence Thomas Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa, for the Archdiocese of Tuam.

In its desire to accompany the process of renewal of houses of formation for the future priests of the Church in Ireland, the Congregation for Catholic Education will coordinate the visitation of the Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. While special attention will be given to the matters that occasioned the Apostolic Visitation, in the case of the seminaries it will cover all aspects of priestly formation. The Most Reverend Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has been named Apostolic Visitor.

For its part, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life will organize the visitation of religious houses in two phases. Firstly it will conduct an enquiry by means of a questionnaire to be sent to all the Superiors of religious institutes present in Ireland, with a view to providing an accurate picture of the current situation and formulating plans for the observance and improvement of the norms contained in the “guidelines”. In the second phase, the Apostolic Visitors will be: the Reverend Joseph Tobin, CSsR and the Reverend Gero McLaughlin SJ for institutes of men; Sister Sharon Holland IHM and Sister Mairin McDonagh RJM for institutes of women. They will carry out a careful study, evaluating the results obtained from the questionnaire and the possible steps to be taken in the future in order to usher in a season of spiritual rebirth for religious life on the Island.

His Holiness invites all the members of the Irish Catholic community to support this fraternal initiative with their prayers. He invokes God’s blessings upon the Visitors, and upon all the Bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful of Ireland, that the Visitation may be for them an occasion of renewed fervour in the Christian life, and that it may deepen their faith and strengthen their hope in Christ our Saviour.

All five are pretty high-profile figures, too, and there’s some specific expertise there, which demonstrates a bit of seriousness. I’m pleased about the two Americans, both of whom I rate highly. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who’ll be taking charge of the Dublin end, is the guy who was drafted into the Boston archdiocese to clean up Bernard Law’s mess and has done a pretty good job of it. Meanwhile, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York is one of the Church’s best communicators and would be one of the people I would immediately think of in terms of Catholic prelates who actually get how bad the abuse crisis is. He’ll be taking on seminaries and priestly formation – for a few clues as to his thoughts on the matter, check out his recent lecture at Maynooth. While he’s about it, Maynooth could do with a beady eye trained on it.

The two Canadians I know less about. Terry Prendergast is quite an eminent theologian, a pillar of the SJ, and also took part in an apostolic visitation of Canadian seminaries in the early 1990s, which may be useful. Tom Collins is well thought of as a quiet, prayerful and understated figure, which is just as well since he took over the Toronto gig from the (ahem) colourful Cardinal Alojzij Ambrožič. Interesting point about episcopal politics – since Ambrožič turned eighty at the start of the year, Anglophone Canada has been minus a cardinal elector, and it would be surprising if one or other of these two didn’t get a red hat at the next consistory. They’re prelates on the up, at any rate.

Finally, we have Val Doonican Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. I must be honest, I’m not so thrilled about this. Yes, +Cormac is a distinguished prince of the Church, and yes, he does have the background of presiding over the implementation of the post-Nolan child protection norms in England and Wales. And yet, he exemplifies the backslapping old-boys’-club school of ecclesial politics that’s done so much damage here. CMOC is taking the primatial see, which raises the question of whether Brady can be gently persuaded to get out of the way. Which, however, can’t be separated from the issue of who might replace Brady, and watch out for Noel Treanor angling for position.

That’s your cast of characters. What substance they’ll come up with as a result of the visitation is another matter. There is, as I’ve mentioned previously, the musing of B16’s friend and former student Fr Vincent Twomey on cutting down the number of Irish dioceses from the current twenty-six to something like eight. With quite a lot of episcopal retirements and resignations coming up, it’s entirely possible that vacancies will be left vacant. And, while the decline in vocations lessens the old problem of people getting into the priesthood who should never have been ordained, there’s still a big issue surrounding formation that Dolan will have to give some serious thought to.

I stick by my view that what’s needed is a cultural revolution in Irish Catholicism, possibly in tune with what B16 used to talk about when he was just Cardinal Ratzinger – a Church that may be smaller and leaner, but would be more rigorous and more faithful. Better fewer but better, as someone once said. But that’s a reflection for another day.

PFLP statement on Israeli piracy

From the PFLP:

PFLP condemns the murderous crimes of the Israeli pirates and salutes the heroes of the Freedom Flotilla

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemns the latest Israeli massacre on the high seas, in international waters, the brutal assault on the international Freedom Flotilla to Gaza on May 31, 2010. The Israeli state terror pirates, said the Front, attacked the humanitarian aid and international solidarity ships with firearms and commandos; the Front said that this is the latest crime against humanity committed by the occupation state, illustrating its blatant disregard for international law.
The Front saluted all of the members of the Freedom Flotilla, particularly the martyrs and wounded, saying that these are martyrs of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause, and of the struggle of people everywhere for liberation, justice and freedom, and will be immortal in our struggle, and that the Flotilla’s prisoners are with the prisoners of our Palestinian Arab nation, prisoners of freedom in the hands of a terror occupation state.
It called upon the Palstinian movement in Palestine and in exile and all progressive forces around the world to continue and escalate their actions at Israeli embassies and consulates around the world, including emulating the example of the Turkish people in occupying the Israeli embassy in Anakara, and demanded an immediate end to any so-called indirect or direct negotiations with the murderous regime.
The Front demanded that all Arab nations end their relations with the occupation state and cut off diplomatic ties, demanding serious international action at an official level to bring the criminal leaders of the occupation state to justice in international courts and severely punish them for their crimes. Furthermore, the Front said that the United States government and all silent and complicit governments bear responsibility for this latest crime as well as all of the ongoing crimes of this occupation state against the Palestinian Arab people.
The Front pledged to hold fast to the examples of these activists, the latest martyrs of the great struggle of people for liberation and return and for justice in the face of an occupier and invader. They shall live on, the PFLP pledged, in the determination and resistance of the Palestinian people to see justice and freedom and end the crimes of the terror state.


M’lud, the government of Israel, in connection with the charge of piracy on the high seas, asks for a previous offence to be taken into consideration:

The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a United States Navy technical research ship, USS Liberty, by Israeli jet fighter planes and motor torpedo boats, on June 8, 1967, during the ongoing Six-Day War. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two Marines, and a civilian), wounded 171 crew members, and severely damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula, about 25.5 nmi (29.3 mi; 47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish.

But hold on, wasn’t that all sorted out long ago?

The Liberty Veterans Association (composed of veterans from the ship) states that U.S. congressional investigations and other U.S. investigations were not actually investigations into the attack; but, rather, reports using evidence only from the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, or investigations unrelated to culpability that involved issues such as communications. In their view, the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry is the only actual investigation on the incident to date. They claim it was hastily conducted, in only 10 days, even though the court’s president, Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, said that it would take 6 months to conduct properly. The inquiry’s terms of reference were limited to whether any shortcomings on the part of the Liberty’s crew had contributed to the injuries and deaths that resulted from the attack. According to the Navy Court of Inquiry’s record of proceedings, four days were spent hearing testimony: two days for fourteen survivors of the attack and several U.S. Navy expert witnesses, and two partial days for two expert U.S. Navy witnesses. No testimony was heard from Israeli personnel involved.

And again:

Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State at the time of the incident, wrote:

I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.

Retired naval Lieutenant Commander James Ennes, a junior officer (and off-going Officer of the Deck) on Liberty‘s bridge at the time of the attack, authored a book titled Assault on the Liberty (Random House, 1980; Ballantine Books 1986; Reintree Press 2004) describing the incident during the Six Day War in June 1967 and claiming, among other things, it was deliberate. Ennes and Joe Meadors, another survivor of the attack, run a website about the incident. Meadors states that the classification of the attack as deliberate is the official policy of the association, to which all known survivors belong. Other survivors run several additional websites. Citing Ennes’s book, Lenczowski notes: Liberty‘s personnel received firm orders not to say anything to anybody about the attack, and the naval inquiry was conducted in such a way as to earn it the name of “coverup”.

Indeed it was covered up by the Johnson administration, and survivors were ordered under military discipline not to talk about it. The incident should be well known, certainly much better than it is.

Well now. The Israeli government has previous on this sort of thing, and Flying Rodent nicely captures the sheer batshit belligerent insanity involved in the outrageous attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza. Is insanity too harsh a word? Note that a Turkish-flagged ship in international waters is legally Turkish territory, and thereby Israel has effectively declared war on a Nato member state, not to mention its main ally in the region. Then again, back in 1967 they did actually sink a US Navy ship without facing any repercussions. Imagine the reaction if Iran or China had done something like this.

That said, even the Berlusconi government in Italy, usually very close to Israel, has issued a condemnation. Even William Hague, a longstanding member of Conservative Friends of Israel, has called for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The White House, which has already had to put up with Netanyahu swaggering about Washington like an emperor surveying a vassal state, can’t be terribly pleased. Which again prompts the question – does Netanyahu think he can get away with literally anything? More to the point, is he right?

A dozen or more Rachel Corries created in one night, executed for the crime of trying to bring humanitarian aid to a population suffering a horrendous level of collective punishment because they elected the wrong government. Nice one, Bibi. If you wanted to prove that you don’t understand anything but sheer brutality, you’ve just done it.

And not a great day for the BBC, who I know don’t have access to those on the flotilla, but all the same, the “Have you anything more you’d like to say, Mr Regev?” atmosphere got to be a bit much. As luck would have it, their online report invites comments. (h/t)

Statements from the IPSC, Workers Party, Sinn Féin, éirígí, Socialist Party, SWP; and more at Cedar Lounge, amongst many other places.

Casting a jaundiced eye

Tim has his own entirely justified beef – for which he’s not likely to get the apology he wants – Jamie has given up too, and D2 has a sharp point about the decline into farthood. To be honest, the main thing that keeps me reading Private Eye is sheer inertia – if I had to actively go out and buy a copy, rather than having a sub, I’d probably have given up on it a few years back.

I’ve wondered whether me not laughing at the jokes any more was just a function of age. I’d heard the same thing from other people, but none of us are getting younger. Not, though, that there’s nothing there worth reading. The back pages still have useful material, though a bit lacking in focus since Paul Foot died. Bookworm is often good, and Remote Controller usually very good. But I do kind of agree with Jamie that the in-jokes and private vendettas… well, they were always there, but there was more to it as well. You used to read Street of Shame to find out Robert Maxwell’s latest enormity; these days, what you’re likely to get is an off-colour crack about Bryony Gordon’s tits, and shit, I can do that stuff. Do it funnier, too.

Add to that the comedy sections suffering from a complaint that Alice Cooper often talks about, how he felt under such an obligation to roll out the greatest hits that there was no space in his shows for any new material. Yup, it’s yet another Rocky Horror order of service…

I was thinking of Ingrams there. Ingrams used to tell a story, which was a classic Ingrams story in that it may well have been made up but still illustrated a point. The starting point of this was an ashen-faced Paul Foot arriving in the office after interviewing Enoch Powell. “My God,” gasped Paul, “I liked the bastard!” (I can sympathise with Paul on this score, having once had a similar experience with Horst Mahler.) This led Ingrams, once he had a few quid, to move to the country and only come to London for work purposes, the theory being that his scalpel would be blunted if he had to mix socially with his targets. This, together with Ingrams having been a notably authoritarian editor, helped give the Eye its edge. The old man also had the sense to get out before he’d outstayed his welcome, though not before he’d sacked most of the old gang and lined up a young sycophant to replace him.

And so here we are. The old gang are either dead or chuntering away into elderly crankiness, Hislop and Wheen have been in situ since the 1980s (and are of an age where they could conceivably carry on for another 20 years), and there’s a notable lack of new inspiration. As D2 says, the sycophants of yesterday are the old farts of today, who beget sycophants of their own. The viciousness of old is blunted by the farts being part of the media-luvvie circuit themselves. The vendettas are there yet, but transparently based on little more than personal grudges. The gossip bits are now covered by Guido and his ilk, who can do it all online with much more immediacy than a fortnightly mag can muster. And if I have to read another “Ratbiter” column bigging up Douglas Murray and David Toube as experts on Islam, I’ll be not inconsiderably annoyed. Oh yes.

On reflection, perhaps D2 is a bit harsh in saying that the Eye has transmogrified into Punch. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was a decompression chamber for Oldie readers looking for something a bit more sedate.

Stormount culture heid-yin channels the late Archbishop Ussher

Stormont culture, arts and leisure minister Nelson McCausland (DUP, North Belfast) is a funny cove. There’s the matter of his extraordinary political trajectory from UUUP (remember them?) to Independent to UUP to DUP, but that isn’t the half of it. Nelson seems determined to encapsulate within his own person as many loyalist tropes as possible. He’s an Ulster-Scots enthusiast, and will recite chunks of Burns from memory if you ask him. He has an unnerving tendency to whip out his accordion to provide the masses with musical entertainment. He was for many years the heid-yin of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, a small group of earnest people who liked to go about chaining up swings on the Sabbath. He also used to be a British Israelite, and for all I know may still be. The great man even has his own blog, where you can read his whimsical thoughts.

So this story surprised me not one bit:

The culture minister has asked museums to give more prominence to Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and alternative views on the origin of the universe.

Nelson McCausland wrote to the trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) saying he wants the issues given consideration in the short term.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) said it was part of its commitment to a shared future strategy.

It is understood National Museums NI has not yet responded to the letter.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr McCausland said: “There are a range of perspectives and I want simply to have in there consideration given to reflecting the diversity of views in Northern Ireland.

“It’s also in fact a human rights issue and an equality issue because culture rights, the rights of people in Northern Ireland, should be implemented.”

In the letter, Mr McCausland said he believes his department and the trustees “share a common desire to ensure that museums are reflective of the views, beliefs and cultural traditions that make up society in Northern Ireland.”

He says National Museums’ contribution to the shared future agenda can best be achieved by “practical measures”.

Among these measures are consideration of how best to recognise the role of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and other fraternal organisations.


He specifically mentions the “Plantation to Power Sharing” exhibition which is currently on at the Ulster Museum and suggests that the trustees should consider changes to the exhibition before the summer months.

In terms of Ulster-Scots, Mr McCausland wrote that the local history exhibition should recognise the contribution of the Hamilton Montgomery Settlement, considered to be the most important event in Ulster-Scots history.

The issue of the origin of the universe and the different theories explaining it was previously raised by Mr McCausland’s DUP assembly colleague Mervyn Storey.

He said that he wanted the views of creationists – the concept of God creating the universe in contrast to the scientific theory of evolution – to be represented in the exhibitions.

Without specifically mentioning creationism, Mr McCausland’s letter includes a request for the trustees to consider how alternative views of the origin of the universe can be recognised and accomodated.

In a statement, DCAL said it welcomed the discussions on the NMNI’s potential contribution to the shared future agenda and was awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, SDLP culture spokesman Thomas Burns said it was “a mark of a liberal society that its cultural institutions should be free of party-political interference”.

“Any attempt to politicise public spaces or dictate to cultural institutions is a serious threat to our hopes of a shared society and should be resolutely resisted,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff criticised Mr McCausland’s letter as “wholly unacceptable”.

Well, now. Museum exhibitions on Orangeism, or the north’s links with Scotland, are one thing; these are part of our history, like it or no. It’s the weird science of the Young Earth creationists, who are legion in the DUP, that raises eyebrows in the metropolis. Indeed, the Stephen Nolan show this morning had none other than Professor Dawkins, taking a break from the Lord George Gordon Re-Enactment Society to indulge in a bit of bashing of the straw minister.

This is the sort of thing that makes respectable unionists in places like North Down think twice about supporting the DUP; after all, could you really introduce these guys to David Cameron? It’s all a matter of how it reflects on Norn Iron in the all-important British view. As for me, I think Nelson should be a museum exhibit himself, as exemplifying the wondrous phenomenology of the unionist mind.

More on this from Mark.

Pierre Broué: The March Action

The following short article was first published in Fourth International vol. 1 no. 2, Summer 1964.

March 1921. An atmosphere of civil war. Armed nationalist bands provoke workers suffering from crisis and unemployment. In central Germany hard-fought strikes break out; the miners have bloody tussles with the police. On March 16, Horsing, the Social Democratic security chief, announces that the police will occupy the mining district of Mansfeld. Objective: to restore calm, disarm the workers.

The police were welcomed with firing. Rote Fahne, organ of the German Communist Party, on the 18th appealed for resistance: ‘Every worker should defy the law and take arms where he can find them.’ On the 19th a thousand police occupied the district: the strike spread to all trades in the affected region. The workers barricaded themselves in their factories; on the 23rd there was fighting throughout the district. On the 24th the Central Committee of the German CP called for a general strike. It was not followed. Fights between workers broke out everywhere: the strikers, few in number, took on the ‘blacklegs’ who remained in the majority, the Social Democrats and the trade unions indignantly denouncing the attempted ‘rising’ of the communists. . . .

Here and there Communist officials organised false attacks on themselves in order to provoke the indignation of the masses and bring them into the struggle. In the centre of the country the factories were surrounded and bombarded and gave up one after another: the Leuna factory, the last to do so, surrendered on the 29th.

On the 31st the CP rescinded the strike order. Illegal once again, it was to experience an unprecedented crisis: a number of its leaders, including Paul Levi, denounced its adventurist policies and were expelled. Shortly afterwards the Third World Congress of the Communist International gave its verdict on the ‘March Action’, in which it saw a ‘forward step’ at the same time as it condemned the theory of ‘the offensive at all costs’ which its supporters had put forward. The German party lost a hundred thousand members, including many trade union cadres, who had refused to follow it, condemned its actions or been overwhelmed by the publication in the bourgeois and socialist press of documents which incriminated its leaders.

It was some time before it was understood that the March Action brought to a close the post-war revolutionary period, that it was the last of the armed actions of the proletariat which had begun with the struggles in Berlin in January 1919. The contribution which this affair made to the failure of the German Communists to build a revolutionary mass party, a Communist Party of the Bolshevik type, has yet to be measured.

The building of the party

The Bolsheviks thought that their revolution could only be the forerunner: the problems posed in Russia could only be resolved on a world scale and, in the meantime, the decisive battlefield was Germany, where the bourgeoisie, after November 1918, owed its survival to the alliance between the officer corps and the Social Democratic and trade union apparatus against the Workers’ Councils. The murderers employed by the socialist Noske won the first round: by assassinating the revolutionary leaders Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the outstanding founders of German communism, they decapitated the young party which was coming into being.

The vanguard, moreover, was deeply divided. Years of opportunism had fed a violent anti-centralising reaction in the German working class; the years of war pushed the young generations towards impatience and adventures. Against the leadership around Paul Levi a strong leftist minority called for the boycotting of elections, condemned work in the trade unions and wished to retain from the Russian experience only the lesson of the insurrection, which was possible at any time since the workers were armed and the bourgeoisie was provoking them. Lenin, who polemicised against them in Left Wing Communism, nevertheless wished to keep them in the party, but Levi took steps to expel the leftists.

Despite the difficulties, the new perspectives seemed to confirm his viewpoint. The Independent Social Democrats [USPD], born of the split from the Social-Democratic Party during the war, had recruited hundreds of thousands of instinctively revolutionary workers whom Levi hoped to win for communism en bloc. Their leaders had collaborated in the crushing of the Councils in 1918, but the difficulties of the working class in post-war Germany, the prestige of the Russian Revolution, the tenacious action of the International, radicalised them and won them gradually towards communism. In September 1920, at their Congress at Halle, the majority of the Independents decided to ask for affiliation to the Communist International and to accept its 21 conditions. In December the Unified Communist Party was born: it had over half a million members, a solidly organised vanguard with strong fractions in the big unions, control over local unions in several industrial towns, 40 daily papers and several specialised reviews and periodicals, an underground military organisation and considerable financial resources. It was the instrument which had so far been lacking to bring the proletarian revolution in Germany to a successful conclusion, all the communists thought.

The conquest of a majority of the proletariat

The Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 had set itself the task of the construction of such parties, with the perspective of an early conquest of power in several countries. Summing up its work, Zinoviev, president of the International, declared: ‘I am profoundly convinced that the Second Congress of the Comintern is the prelude to another congress, the world congress of Soviet republics.’ And Trotsky explained why the Communists wished to see a split in the working-class movement: ‘There is no doubt that the proletariat would be in power in all countries if there had not been between the Communist Parties and the masses, between the revolutionary masses and the revolutionary vanguard, a powerful and complex machine, the parties of the Second International and the trade unions, which, in the epoch of the disintegration and death of the bourgeoisie, placed their machine at its service. From the time of this Congress, the split in the world working class must be accelerated tenfold.’

Zinoviev indicated the meaning of the split at Halle: ‘We work for the split, not because we want only 18 instead of 21 Conditions, but because we do not agree on the question of the world revolution, on democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat.’ For the Communists the split was not simply a state of affairs destined to last for some time, but an immediate necessity in order to eliminate definitively from the workers’ movement the reformist leaders who acted as ‘agents of the bourgeoisie’. It was the preface to the reconstitution of unity on the basis of a revolutionary programme, a condition for victory in the struggle for power.

Once the split had been realised there was still the question of wresting from the reformist chiefs the millions of proletarians who made up their following. Lenin, more than anyone, sought to win support in the Communist Parties for the understanding of the necessity for a United Front policy; later, Zinoviev said of this policy that it was ‘the expression of the consciousness that (i) we have not yet won a majority in the working class; (ii) the social democracy is still very strong; (iii) we occupy defensive positions and the enemy is on the offensive; (iv) the decisive battles are not yet on the agenda’.

It was from analysis such as this that at the beginning of 1921 the leaders of the German CP addressed an ‘open letter’ to the trade unions and workers’ parties proposing common action on an immediate programme of defence of living standards. The letter, which Lenin described as a ‘model political initiative’, began with the recognition that more than ten million workers still followed the Social Democratic leaders and the trade union officials and obeyed their orders. ‘Communist strategy,’ wrote Radek, ‘must be to convince these large masses of workers that the trade union bureaucracy and the Social Democratic Party not only do not want to fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also do not want to fight for the most fundamental day-to-day interests of the working class.’

However, the Second Congress fixed as a first objective the construction of parties capable of leading the struggle of the masses for power: for Zinoviev and a part of his group, in the headquarters of the International, the idea of the ‘conquest of the masses’ apart from the march to power was an opportunist conception. They saw the ‘open letter’ as an instrument of demobilisation.

Destructive activism

Rallying to the Zinoviev line after having been one of the authors of the ‘open letter’, Karl Radek then wrote to the German CP that it was necessary to break with the wait-and-see attitude which it had followed while it was still a sect and become conscious that, now that it was a mass party, it had become a real factor in the class struggle. It was necessary, he wrote, ‘to activise our policy in order to draw in new mass support’. For his part, Rakosi, emissary of the International at the Italian Socialist Party Congress at Livorno, adopted the same activist position and took pleasure in the perhaps inevitable but catastrophic split, which left the overwhelming majority of the revolutionary workers behind the centrist leaders of the Socialist Party and reduced the scarcely founded Italian CP to the status of a sect. Against Levi, who maintained that they had no right to split when the movement was in retreat, he boasted before the Central Committee of the German CP of the necessity and virtue of splits, developing the theme of a ‘too large party’ which ‘would strengthen itself by purging itself’.

Another collaborator of Zinoviev, a compatriot of Rakosi, Bela Kun, bore the responsibility, as emissary of the International, for having thrown the German CP into the ‘March Action’. Did he, as has been supposed, follow the suggestions of Zinoviev, who was frightened by Russian internal difficulties at the time of the Kronstadt revolt? Did he try to ‘force’ a revolutionary crisis in Germany to prevent the Russian communists from having to make the retreat of the New Economic Policy? In the present state of documentation no certain answer is possible. What is certain is that Kun placed his prestige as Comintern delegate behind a theory of the offensive which was to be used to justify the position of the CP in March and was to end in disaster.

It is equally unquestionable that the centralised structure of the International, the doubtful practice, introduced by Zinoviev, of Comintern agents not responsible to the parties which they supervised, raised a problem of organisation which would be pointed out by Lenin at the Fourth Congress, but never really tackled.

Lenin on the party and the March Action

It is known today, on the other hand, that Lenin and Trotsky had to wage an energetic political struggle in the leadership of the Russian CP and the CI against the partisans of the offensive, at the head of whom stood Zinoviev, before imposing their point of view at the Third World Congress. It was upon Trotsky that the task devolved of showing that the international situation had been modified since 1919, that the taking of power was no longer on the agenda, but that the Communist Parties had to turn to the conquest of the masses: a condition for the struggle for power in the next phase of revolutionary advance.

To Lenin fell the task of denouncing, ‘wringing the neck’ of, the theory of the offensive, holding up to ridicule the puerile arguments of its defenders — the ‘kuneries’, as he called them, of Kun, as well as the boasting of the Italian Terracini, who took advantage of the Bolshevik example in order to excuse the small size of his own party.

Lenin joined Levi in denouncing the March Action. He was careful, in approving someone who had broken party discipline, not to anger those who, through discipline, and in good faith, had followed absurd slogans. He conveyed his inner thoughts to Clara Zetkin, who, very fortunately, later recounted them. Lenin thought that Levi’s criticism was justified. Unfortunately, he made it in a ‘unilateral, exaggerated and even malicious fashion’, in a way which ‘lacked a sense of solidarity with the party’. In short, ‘he lost his head’ and thus concealed the real problems from the party, which turned against him. For this he had to be condemned by the Congress and was. But Lenin added: ‘We must not lose Levi, both for ourselves and for the cause. We cannot afford to lose talented men, we must do what is possible to keep those that we have.’ Lenin declared himself ready, if Levi ‘behaved himself’ (for example, by working for the party under an assumed name), personally to ask for his re-admission after three or four months. ‘The important thing,’ he said, ‘is to leave the road open back to us.’

Speaking to Clara Zetkin of two workers, Melzahn and Neumann, supporters of Levi and delegates at the World Congress, who had even been reproached by hecklers for the posts which they held in the trade unions, while they replied by attacking ‘hair-splitting intellectuals’, Lenin said: ‘They are wonderful . . . I do not know whether they will make shock troops, but there is one thing of which I am sure: it is people like these who make up the long columns with solid ranks of the revolutionary proletariat. It is on their unbreakable force that everything depends in the factories and the trade unions: these are the elements who must be assembled and led into action, it is through them that we are in contact with the masses.’ He added, speaking of the Independent leaders who had come to communism in 1920: ‘With them also patience is necessary, and one mustn’t think that the “purity of communism” is in danger if it sometimes happens that they do not succeed yet in finding a clear, precise expression of communist thought.’

Through these informal words of Lenin to the German militant can be seen the constant concern of the revolutionary leader for his party. Lenin saw that a leadership cannot be built in a few days by bureaucratic decisions, but develops and raises itself up in years of patient effort. It was vital not to ‘close the doors’ by purely negative attitudes to erring comrades but to aid them, develop a deep sense of the solidarity of the party and enable them to take their bearings. The party of the workers’ vanguard had to bring together different generations, comrades with varied experience: the young, the impatient, the ‘leftists’ together with the older, more solid and prudent, often ‘opportunist’ members. The intellectuals had to be brought into harness with the practical men of the trade unions. The contacts of the party had to be enriched and its understanding, consciousness and means of action developed by the qualities brought into it by people from very different, yet close, backgrounds: syndicalists, socialists, anarchists — who sought a common goal by different roads, like the proletariat itself. All these men had to be brought into a common struggle by a constant effort to construct the party, raise the level of its consciousness and by fighting to raise the level of the consciousness of the masses. ‘Learn, learn, learn! Agitate, agitate, agitate! Be prepared, prepared to the utmost in order to use the next revolutionary wave with all our conscious energy.’

These are the real lessons of the March Action. Thus, as Lenin stressed in a letter of August 14, 1921, to German militants, revolutionaries must learn ‘to determine correctly the times when the masses of the proletariat cannot rise with them’. Ten years later, in the face of the Nazi hordes, there would not be a revolutionary party in Germany, but a Stalinist party and a Social Democratic Party which equally shared the responsibility for the disaster of 1933. The responsibility of those who were unable to build the party which was necessary in Germany is no less crushing. After them, however, it is no longer possible to underestimate the difficulties of the enterprise, and to believe that it is enough to ‘proclaim’ ideas in order to win, without undertaking the hard labour of construction of the historic instrument for their victory.

More on this general theme can be found in Tony Cliff, “Trotsky on Substitutionism“, and Duncan Hallas on the collapse of the WRP.

Friday jukebox

Well, it’s been a bit fallow around here lately, especially since the superhuman exertions of the pre-election period. Worry not, for some more material is in the pipeline. But for the meantime, let’s do our traditional filler – yes, because you didn’t demand it, it’s past time for a music post. Enjoy, or bury head in hands if more appropriate.

Meet your new overlords

Right, have we settled down? Have we got over the initial reaction to the Cleggeron civil partnership? I think we have, so it’s time to have a look at just what the ConDem government promises. From glancing at the text of the Pact of Blood, there are a number of themes that leap out. I suggest that the Lib Dems played a rather weak hand on their key policies – they haven’t got PR and probably won’t even get AV, which means they’d better hope to God this is a successful and popular coalition if they don’t want to be wiped out – but that both leaders have reason to be happy.

Firstly, let’s backpedal a bit. I always thought Clegg’s personal preference was for a deal with Cameron, but it was never entirely certain that he wouldn’t deal with Labour (especially if Brown vacated the stage) or that his party wouldn’t push him to. In TV interviews during the coalition talks, elder statesmen like Lords Steel and Pantsdown, not to mention ex-MPs Lembit Öpik and Evan Harris (the latter two getting some media gigs while between jobs, of course, although I did wonder where Julia Goldsworthy had got to) conspicuously left that option open. Now, the Lib Dem party line is that Labour wasn’t negotiating seriously, and that the whole thing was scuppered by cranky media appearances from the likes of John Reid and David Blunkett; but I don’t entirely buy that.

Here’s a really good analysis from Julie Hyland of the media shitstorm that followed Brown’s resignation as Labour leader – the key to making a Lib-Lab coalition a possibility. We had a concentrated 24-hour period of absolute fury, not only from the Murdoch and Rothermere media – Adam Boulton’s performance being particularly memorable – with the press banging on about how this was totally illegitimate, and even on the BBC dire warnings about how “the markets” – which is to say the spivs who created the economic crisis – wouldn’t tolerate Cameron not being put into Number 10. It’s clear that the Lib Dems buckled; also that Labour buckled in two different ways.

One way was the Labour leadership giving up the ghost in the negotiations; the other was the hostile response from various Scottish and northern Labour panjandrums on Newsnight. There were a lot of bad reasons for this: they don’t like PR (which would work against Labour in Scotland); they really hated the idea of working with the SNP; they didn’t like Gordon Brown. But the main reason as far as I could see – and remember, this was coming from the über-Blairite faction – was that the ConDem option would be much more efficient at imposing austerity and hammering the working class. Which kind of begs the question as to what exactly Reid and Blunkett are doing in the Labour Party.

But that’s in the past now. What are we looking at for the future?

Firstly, I’d like to repeat my wish that Britain had a genuine party system with a proper socialist party, a proper conservative party and a proper liberal party fighting it out on distinct manifestos, as opposed to a situation where the neocon scum – Blairites, Cameroons, Orange Bookers – control all three big parties. Let the neocons run on their own programme and see how well it fares against real alternatives, say I. But that, unfortunately, is not where we are.

Where we are is a situation where the Tories, in the most propitious of circumstances, still couldn’t get a majority government let alone the landslide they thought they could sleepwalk into not long ago, and where the Lib Dems, having just won support from the electorate on the basis of an essentially anti-Tory campaign, have allowed themselves to be joined at the hip to the Tories for the next five years. This suits both leaders down to the ground. It allows Cameron to nobble the Tory right, who’ve never liked him anyway, and it allows Clegg to nobble the Lib Dem left. Cameron has had to throw a few cabinet jobs the way of the right, but nothing much in the way of policy.

Neither leader dissents from the Friedmanite economic consensus that’s dominated British politics since Thatcher. There are some technical disagreements about how to deal with the crisis, but there’s no disagreement about bailing out piratical spivs and screwing the working class to make it happen. That is, from the left’s point of view, the most important point.

What’s equally important is that in terms of culture war politics, both leaders are basically liberal. This is why cultural conservatives like Tebbit, Heffer and Hitchens minor have never liked Cameron, a Macmillanite Whig by inclination, and why those on the left who have convinced themselves that the Tories are gagging to ban abortion and reintroduce Section 28 have got completely the wrong end of the stick. To anyone who’s actually followed the progress of Cameron and his inner circle of louche West London swells, the articles to that effect in the Grauniad op-ed pages or on Liberal Conspiracy have something of the air of surrealism.

The other point to be made is that this ties in nicely with the way the Lib Dems have been moving under Clegg. I referred in the last post to folks not paying attention – the prime example of that would be the coups against first Charlie Kennedy and then Menzies Campbell, and what these signified ideologically. The whole point of the Orange Book project was to dispense with the Kennedy project of left-of-centre liberalism and refashion the Lib Dems into something very much akin to Guido Westerwelle’s FDP in Germany. Clegg, in a very real way, is Westerwelle redux; and the egregious coalitionist bullshitting from the party’s leftist conscience Simon Hughes is an indication of how deep the collapse goes. One might expect no better of Clegg, a former lobbyist, but Hughes’ whole political shtick is based on him being Mr Liberal Principle.

So anyway, the Pact of Blood. What does it say?

  1. There’s going to be an emergency budget aimed at reducing the deficit by crucifying the public sector.
  2. There will be a comprehensive spending review, with an attack on public sector pensions flagged up, but the enormous white elephant that is Trident is sacrosanct. Suck on that, Liberal CNDers.
  3. Personal allowances will go up, which looks like a fiscal loosening directed to the benefit of low earners, but with VAT also going up the net effect will probably still be regressive.
  4. There’s some fairly vague talk about banking reform, but don’t bet on anything that would spook the red-braced spivs. The Bank of England will get back powers over banking regulation, and there won’t be any entry into the euro.
  5. The Tories have got their cap on non-EU immigration, and the Lib Dems haven’t got their earned amnesty. At least, there is a pledge to end detention of children for immigration purposes, which shows how low the system had sunk.
  6. Fixed-term parliaments, a referendum on AV – which may well be lost, especially if the Tories campaign against it – and a very dodgy proposal to make it harder for Parliament to vote a government out of office. There’s also the Cameron proposal for fewer constituencies of a standard size, which could very easily turn out to be another gerrymander. A committee on Lords reform, and some consideration of the devolved settlements. Also the right of citizens to recall MPs, which sounds great in theory, but just wait until Murdoch decides to target some particular MP for recall.
  7. Raising the retirement age and imposing tougher conditions on workfare.
  8. Gove’s “free schools” boondoggle is still in there. There is no mention of the Lib Dems’ crackpot policy of banning faith schools from selecting on grounds of, er, faith, so we may at least have seen that kicked into the long grass. Higher education funding is deferred to the publication of the Browne report, with the proviso that the Tories will get their way and if the Lib Dems disagree with the Tory response they’ll abstain.
  9. On the EU, the standard Tory position of working the EU system while making “sceptical” noises is retained.
  10. The civil liberties bit is what’s got libertarians excited, such is Labour’s atrocious record in this area. At the very least, the scrapping of ID cards and the National Identity Register are a good thing. Extending FOI provisions, restricting DNA databases and the spread of CCTV, libel reform, protection of trial by jury, defending the right to protest all sound pretty good, and this stuff was all in both the Tory and Lib Dem manifestos – it’s instructive that on this, Labour will be attacking the new government from the right. Note, however, that there are caveats there along the lines of “without good reason” – a government can always find a reason, like terrorists or paedophiles, to justify an authoritarian measure.
  11. Most of the environmental section is unexceptional, except to note that on the new construction of nuclear power plants, provision is made for the Lib Dems to speak against any such proposals and then abstain on any vote. This would seem to be a standard mechanism allowing Cameron to get his way, and Clegg to throw a bone to his activists without actually voting against things that his party opposes.

And, er, sin é. Cameron has his way on anything that’s important to him, it doesn’t look as if Clegg has got any of his party’s trademark policies, and the two parties are close enough anyway at leadership level to make it a comfortable mesh. Whether there are strains put on the deal by bolshy MPs or peers or activists we shall see – I’d be surprised if there weren’t – but this gerrymander that says you need a 55% negative vote for the government to lose the confidence of Parliament is presumably aimed at guarding against that.

And so we move on to a brief consideration of who’s going to be implementing all this. Apart from Cameron in the top job and Clegg as his fag, what does the cabinet look like?

Of course, the Tories get all the top jobs. The boy Gideon gets to be Chancellor, which should make us all jittery, and William Jefferson Hague gets the Foreign Office. Given Dave’s track record on foreign policy, this raises the appalling vista of Hague having to be the voice of reason. Meanwhile, Crocodile Shoes has gone to the politicians’ graveyard that is the Home Office. She should at least provide entertainment value. As Cristina Odone points out, neither the left nor the right like Theresa – the PC left despise her for having voted for retaining Section 28 a hundred years ago, notwithstanding her mea culpas since, and for being unsound on abortion, while the unreconstructed right deride her as the Tories’ answer to Harriet Harman. Whatever about that, since her recent predecessors at the Home Office include Mr Brightside and Wacky Jacqui, it’s not like the designer shoes she’ll have to step into are intimidatingly big.

That strange wee man Gove takes education, and will be introducing compulsory Dungeons & Dragons for the kids. At justice we have Fat Ken, presumably to add a bit of gravitas, where I’d really have liked to see the civil libertarian David Davis. For the leftist trainspotters out there, ex-Trotskyist Eric Pickles takes charge of local government. Eric pledges to empower local authorities, which would be a neat reversal of the Thatcherite power grab that did him so well in Bradford. Sayeeda Warsi, the living embodiment of Tracy Flick, is in there as Tory chairman. And Columbo Letwin, who Cameron esteems but doesn’t let out in public very often because of his disturbing propensity to tell the truth, is given a discreet job at the Cabinet Office.

The Lib Dems at cabinet level are very much of a piece, Orange Book neocons to a man. Nice, cuddly Uncle Vince gets the business portfolio, though he’ll have to recuse himself from any discussions of the oil industry. David Laws, former vice-president of JP Morgan, gets the number two slot at the Treasury – that’s right, an investment banker put into the Treasury. Chris Huhne at energy will be in charge of constructing those new nuclear power stations he’s opposed to. And Danny Alexander is the new proconsul for Scotland. Interesting that the job didn’t go to the Lib Dems’ Scottish leader, Alistair Carmichael, but then Carmichael has often made public his disagreements with Orange Book nostrums, so he doesn’t really fit in with the new orthodoxy.

There are a couple of appointments that have me worried. The extremely belligerent Doctor Fox taking defence, and promising to be the second coming of Al Haig, is one. Owen Paterson being made Norn Iron proconsul is to be expected, although his role in trying to broker a revived UUUC prior to the election surely puts a question mark over both his judgement and Dave’s. And I’m not sure about putting Cheryl Gillan in charge of Wales – she does have the advantage of actually being Welsh, so we’re not talking about a return to the John Redwood period, but appointing a Welsh Secretary whose constituency lies outside Wales looks suspiciously like a reversion to an old Thatcher/Major practice. The Tories and Lib Dems between them hold eleven seats in Wales – were none of those MPs considered up to the job?

And then there’s Iain Duncan Donuts, architect-in-chief of Cameron’s Dickensian “Big Society”, running the DWP where his task will be to out-evil James Purnell. This worries me, and it even worries me that Cameron has been talking a lot about “the common good”. Clifford Longley is very excited about this, tracing the roots of the phrase in Catholic social thought, but I seriously doubt if Cameron even knows what Social Catholicism is. The thing about IDS is that he used to be a hardline Thatcherite but says he’s changed his ideas and become concerned about the poor after reading the Catholic bishops’ social manifesto Taxation for the Common Good. Given the Old Labour proclivities of the Bishops’ Conference, and that the “Big Society” seems to owe more to Samuel Smiles than Leo XIII, I’m a little sceptical about this, and more than a little worried about this idea of farming out the functions of the welfare state to the voluntary sector. What’s even more worrying is the Lib Dems’ Steve Webb being IDS’ sidekick – to know why, read Webb’s contribution to the Orange Book, which managed to mix the worst aspects of Cameroonian “Broken Britain” rhetoric and New Labour pettifogging statism into one great melange of silly.

I would further point out that our devolved Department of Social Development doesn’t vary benefits but mirrors what’s decided in London. If I’m worried, Alex Attwood should be terrified, because there are a lot of benefit claimants in his constituency and he’ll have to implement whatever mad scheme comes down the line from DWP.

You know, it’s only a matter of time before people start saying, “Gordon Brown wasn’t that bad, was he?” And given how awful New Labour could be, that’s saying something.

Shit on toast

Like I suppose most of you reading this, I’m feeling a bit depressed tonight. Awful as New Labour has been in many ways, the return of Tory government will do that to you. I’ll reflect on the Tories when I’m feeling a bit less dyspeptic. What I will say tonight is, I hope all those lefties who fell for Cleggmania and have spent the last three or four weeks boosting the Fib Dims are feeling a bit silly now. Because anyone who was paying attention could have seen this coming.

Yes, you know who you are. You let your enthusiasm run away with you. You wanted to believe we were still in 2005, with that nice antiwar Charlie Kennedy taking a stance to the left of Labour. You didn’t think the Orange Book was of any importance. You assumed they were a left-liberal party, even as they said they were a liberal party. You dismissed out of hand the suggestion that Nick Clegg was basically a dispositional Tory who couldn’t exist in the Tory Party purely because of its stance on Europe. You found that nice Vince Cable so reassuring, at least if you just listened to his soothing voice and didn’t pay too much attention to what he was saying. You were impressed by Evan Harris, with his groovy ideas about euthanasia and libel reform. And didn’t they look fresh and shiny and new?

It was so easy, wasn’t it, to see the Lib Dems as you wanted them. All you needed to know was that they weren’t the other two. If you were of a left-liberal disposition, it was so tempting to envision the Lib Dems as being like Labour only better – without the war and authoritarianism, without the dreadful Gordon Brown and all his grey placemen, without those boring trade unions – but new and hip and young, like Labour only without the disadvantages. And even as Cleggy signalled for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that he was going to go with the Tories, you could allow yourself – just for a few days – to dream of the progressive majority. Well, we all make errors of judgement. When you’re finished shouting at the TV, you should take a deep breath, put the kettle on and think things over.

Meanwhile, let’s just ponder something. What we can look forward to, and (though God knows I don’t credit the Labour leadership with any initiative) what might make things interesting, is the inevitable Lib Dem civil war. David Alton may be yesterday’s man, but he has been a sharp observer of Liberal politics for a very long time and his thoughts are worth pondering. On a more prosaic level, even if Clegg can keep his fractious MPs in line, he’s got his party activists to think about – and beyond them, the voters.

There’s a basic psephological point here. The Lib Dems benefit a lot from tactical voting, as we know. Since they failed to make the much-anticipated breakthrough against Labour in the northern cities, their MPs tend to sit for rural and suburban constituencies in the south. Their main rivals in those seats are the Tories; twice as many Lib Dem MPs have a Tory as their nearest challenger as a Labourite. They benefit rather a lot from squeezing Labour votes on the basis that they are the best-placed anti-Tory candidates. So, how easy will fighting elections on an anti-Tory basis be now? And that’s without considering Simon Hughes or Sarah Teather, who have held off Labour challenges on the basis of positioning themselves to Labour’s left. Hughes’ seat is safe, but I fear wee Sarah may be toast.

One thing about the maths. The Lib Dems hold 57 seats in the Commons. If we take majorities of less than 10% – which is to say seats that would be vulnerable on a 5% swing – as being marginal, that encompasses a full 27 of those 57, and some of those majorities are very small indeed. If pissed-off Lib Dem voters decamp to Labour or the Greens in any numbers – or if some choose to vote real Tory rather than ersatz Tory – then Cleggy had better hope that he gets PR as part of the deal. With PR, he could lose half his votes and come out ahead in terms of seats. Without PR, the Lib Dems could be Donald Ducked in a very serious way.

And oh yes, he’d better hope that law on fixed-term parliaments is rushed through quickly, for if I was Nick Clegg I wouldn’t want to be facing my voters any time soon.

A modest proposal

Well, with Brown exiting the stage, the talks on a Lib-Lab coalition are on as I write. And there’s one thing that’s annoying my brain in terms of the TV pundits and what they have to say about the arithmetic, and the prospect of a rainbow coalition.

First, the basic arithmetic. The winning post to get a bare majority in the Commons – taking into account the five abstentionist Sinn Féin MPs – is 323. Labour and the Lib Dems together have 315 – as the pundits point out, a little short, although more than the Tories can command on their own. Clearly the combo would require at least eight additional votes from somewhere.

Where could they pick up eight extra votes? To me, the answer has been obvious all along, but few people seem to have cottoned on to this. Where do you get eight votes? Easy.

You get them from the DUP.

At this point the bien-pensants go spare, at least those who have considered the issue. Because I find it highly amusing how British political correspondents don’t get the basics about this place. There was on Thursday night and Friday morning some talk on the teevee about how Cameron could count on the support of the “Ulster Unionists”. Would that perchance be the UUP led by Sir Reg Empey, which is indeed allied to Cameron? Because that party doesn’t have any MPs. What you’ve got is the DUP.

The pundits, thereafter, have tended to automatically lump the DUP into the Tory column. I assume this is because they’re reading Norn Iron politics on a left-right ideological spectrum, and thereby assuming the DUP have an affinity with the Tories. This doesn’t really work, for reasons I will get onto in the next post. Firstly, let me say that the DUP’s actual record in Westminster is one of wheeling and dealing with whomsoever can get them something they want, and indeed Sammy and Ian Jr have been going around the studios showing a bit of leg. Secondly, the DUP has just come out of an election campaign against Cameron’s local allies, fought on a fiercely anti-Tory basis. So an alignment with Cameron, while it can’t be ruled out, can’t be taken for granted either.

What’s more, this would put rather few demands on the Lib-Lab alliance. This wouldn’t be a question of having the DUP in government – we’re not looking at Sammy Wilson becoming minister for climate change – but of cooperation in Parliament, not voting down the budget and such. Nor do the DUP have any wacky policy demands – most of the stuff they care about is devolved to Stormont. What isn’t devolved is fiscal policy, and what they care about in terms of Westminster is protecting the block grant – this was their main line of attack against the Tories – and maybe getting a little cheque for police widows and such. And again, since Norn Iron is such a small place with a small economy, this would be much cheaper than any deal that might be struck with the SNP or Plaid – English taxpayers would hardly notice it, and it could be passed off as a peace process overhead.

This would probably be made more palatable if we put it in terms of the Norn Iron Grand Alliance, which would mean our thirteen MPs who take their seats collaborating to squeeze advantage out of the hung parliament. It helps that the other five are not averse to Lib-Labbery – the SDLP have taken the Labour whip for decades, Alliance have had close ties with the Lib Dems since the 1970s, and Lady Sylvia Hermon broke with the UUP due to her affinity with Labour. (One presumes there would also be moral support from the five abstentionists. Naomi Long raised this in the Assembly today, and Martin McGuinness was notably warm on the subject.) There are no automatically pro-Tory votes over here – nor, importantly, are there parties competing with Labour as the SNP does.

So, is this likely to happen? I don’t know, although if there is a Lib-Lab understanding it makes perfect sense in terms of the maths. It would, of course, cause conniptions in some of the Grauniad-reading advocates of a centre-left progressive alliance, that such a government would be reliant on hillbilly Paisleyites to get its agenda through. Which is sort of why there’s a part of me that hopes it happens, for thon would be deadly crack. And, let’s face it, a government of Blairites and Orange Bookers couldn’t be dragged any further to the right by the DUP.

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