Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the tag “UK”

Jo Cox and hatred in politics

Certain events always stand out in people’s minds.  The murder of Jo Cox MP is going to be one of those for me.  I never met her nor was I overly familiar with her work before yesterday.  However, any human being would find such an event shocking.  If you have ever been involved in politics you will feel it even more.

Politicians often have to dismiss their fears to appear in control.  Nobody wants to hear a politician saying they were afraid or scared.  There is little sympathy for them.  When bad things happen to a politician there is a defence of ‘Oh they deserved it’…’they will get over it’ or the ever popular ‘it’s no worse than their policies.’

All of this stems from an extreme feeling of self righteousness.  That we are the only ones who can be right and if someone disagrees with us it cannot be just a different way of doing things it has to be because they are stupid, they are corrupt, they are ignorant, they are personally liable and they are less human.

Politics is about debate.  Robust and tough debate.  It must always be rooted in policy.  The slide into personal attacks is a slippery slope.  No party is free from it.  All public representatives get abuse.  Some like to blame some parties over another but the truth is different representatives get it from different sectors.  The problem is when people who should know better fail to see the start of the slide.  Once you move away from debating a policy to attacking the person you have begun that slide.  Once you stop accepting that a person’s disagreement with you does not make them any less smart or honourable than you, you are in trouble.

We go from personal abuse to jostling.  Jostling to something being thrown.  Something being thrown to a punch.  From there where does it go?  Where is the line?  I’ve known many politicians down the years from various backgrounds and parties who, while they never would admit it publicly, had times when they felt very worried for themselves or their families.

Hate is indeed at the root of this as Jo Cox’s husband said.  If you want to win a debate you can stick to facts but that will require a lot of talent, strategy and ability.  There is an easier lazier way.   Forget the actual argument.  De-humanise the opponent.  They can be political opponents, other nationalities, ethnic groups, other social classes.  Make them out to be genetically different.  Not like us.  Make out that they have cultural differences that are somehow more than just human creations.  The same rules don’t apply to them as everyone else.  They are stupid, incompetent, foolish, corrupt, vile, and odious.  Once you establish that you can start to say and do what you like.  That’s how hatred works.  It’s not a way of dealing with problems it’s a way of getting a pass to get around your conscience.

The shooting in Orlando, the shooting of Jo Cox and modern terrorism all fed off this hate.  A view that somehow it’s alright.  Jo Cox was elected.  If anyone disagreed with her there was a ballot box to change things.  If you disagree with any community or view then the ballot box is there to deal with all of these things.  To put anything ahead of that ballot box is to say that just because your view is not shared widely enough you have a right to circumvent it.  This can never be allowed to happen.

Nothing can change the fact that two little children will have to grow up without the mother who loved them. Absolutely nothing can ever make up for that.  No retribution, no change, no nice words can ever make it better.  It is final and permanent.  That’s what hate does.  The only thing each of us can do is to try being better people.  Stop looking around and blaming.  Stop looking for others to make the change.  You and I, we would never do anything like shoot someone.  We would never hurl vile abuse at someone in the street.  But where exactly do we draw a line, how much are we ok with?  Do we sometimes ignore a debate because we just dislike the person making the point?  Do we make throwaway remarks?  Do we say things like ‘They should be shot’?  You see each little bit of hatred we give in to allows someone further along the line to push their hatred a bit further too.

Scotland – Why #Indyref won’t go away

After a few difficult weeks Scotland has decided to stay together with England. Let’s hope for their sake it all works out. One cannot help but give a rueful shake of the head like we are watching a friend returning to a partner who has sworn that they ‘have changed’. Maybe they have.

Jason O’Mahony made the point this morning that ‘stability’ is always a huge force in any vote. Voters don’t really like risk all that much. Given the choice many will always opt to keep the status quo for fear that things can always get worse. I think Stability played a large part in the #indyref.

The problem for England now is that it has to live up to its promises. Leading figures have been love bombing Scotland for over a year. What happens now? Do they just stop? Is this the end of all the litany of people talking about how valuable Scotland is to them and how much it means to the UK? Like any relationship the big danger now is that once Scotland has safely moved back in, life returns to normal and people move on. This will leave Scotland feeling a little ignored and perhaps taken for granted now that a sword of Damocles no longer hangs over the UK.

Promises are always hard to keep. At least any promise that are worth making. England must now deliver and must do so against a backdrop of significant support for Scottish Independence. The Yes vote will be feeling bruised, but will eventually realise this was no more than a battle and the war is far from over. At the first sign of England delaying a promise they will be reminding everyone of what was said. It surely cannot be long before many cars wear a sticker saying ‘Don’t blame me I voted YES’. That’s what the future holds. The problem for England now is that the more it devolves power and honours its commitments the more accustomed Scotland may grow to the idea of standing on its own two feet.

I have a young son and one day made the mistake of telling him if he didn’t get ready for school immediately we were not going to a show we had tickets for. I told him it was his choice. Now either he didn’t appreciate the seriousness of it or he wisely gambled that I was over playing my threats. Either way he made me sweat on his decision. Having left it to him I was snookered. Eventually he went to school but I learned that the risk was too great to ever let him have that choice again or everything could get ruined. It will be a long time before any British government will be willing to let the Scots vote on independence again. The challenge for the ‘Yes’ side is to build that support until it becomes impossible for the Government to hold out in the face of overwhelming polls, but they will have to be overwhelming.

In the end there is a problem at the heart of the argument for England and Westminster. If the European Union were to be inspired by the Scottish No vote and announce that it was to remodel itself as a ‘community of nations’ in the style of the UK, who would be the first country to walk out? Yes, the UK. You see, English people would be horrified at the thought of an EU that contained one central government and that their main politicians went there and were subsumed in large European parties. The Idea that Westminster would become a devolved power with fewer rights than the EU government would shock them. The thought of a British Prime Minister not being the supreme authority on matters of state would be utterly unacceptable.

Most of the problems the EU has are derived from efforts to make a federal state that nobody wants. Despite all its flaws and current interference as perceived by some the EU still falls well short of a centralised state dictating all policy. The more it tries to move in that direction the more opposition it finds.

So we know that the EU cannot ever become a UK. The UK would not accept that. This begs the question of why? Why is it wrong for England to have a devolved parliament? Why is it wrong for England to have policy dictated elsewhere? And why is it ok and better for Scotland? There will be no moving of parliament to Edinburgh or Glasgow for a few months of the year. Scotland is merely a province no matter how it’s viewed. But you see that’s OK for Scotland, England is looking out for them, helping them, minding them, good old England. It would never do for England though.

Margaret Thatcher – a name to always spark debate

The passing of Margaret Thatcher will cause much debate and argument as regards her legacy. She has always been a person who brought out the strongest of opinions in even the meekest of people. She would have been proud of that to a large extent as she never shied away from an argument or from a decision.

There is no doubt that she was a formidable woman. She was certainly one of the most able politicians of the last 50 years irrespective of whether you agreed with her or not. She knew how to win elections, she knew how to play politics. For those of a right wing perspective she will always remain a hero. Over the course of a decade she smashed socialism within the UK. She championed right wing policy and the idea of free markets fearlessly. She led her country through the Falklands war and did so determinedly.

This was not a Prime Minister to be messed with. She was also a product of her times. The cold war world was one that was deeply split along the left/right divide with both sides going to extremes in order to prove their ideology. Thatcher and Regan could both rejoice at the fall of their old enemy Communism, where its leaders had tried so hard to prove an extremist left wing position that their people eventually could take no more. However, some of those old communists might also have a smug smile in recent times as eventually the right wing extremism of Thatcher and Regan would see many western populations suffering and their policies questioned. It was a time when politicians felt that they had to talk and act tough. Compromise of any sort was seen as a weakness.

Margaret Thatcher did achieve much in her career. She viewed her role purely through the prism of economics. From that point of view she helped to stabilise matters in the early ‘80s and to lead Britain through tough recession. Ironically one of the main reasons she achieved this was through, raising taxes and also having a 90% tax on oil extraction from the North Sea, neither of these policies seemed in line with her ideology but they were necessary. She took over a country that had become accustomed to a lack of competitiveness and inefficiency. She completely reformed the state sector and her policy of privatisation led to much greater efficiency in the British Economy. All of this came at a price however. She was not one to try negotiating or changing over time she was more of a sledge hammer than a surgeon’s blade. The pace of reform caused problems even for the private sector and customers.

Thatcher produced one of the most divided societies in the world. While some policies may have looked good on a macro level she brought untold misery to many families in Britain. Certain sections would benefit, but working class Britain was hit hard, she destroyed many services and cut funding in many areas that was to Britain’s disadvantage in the long term. The policy of deregulation and free markets was something that attracted business and encouraged investment in the short term, however as the world began to follow suit the effects of government backing off in such areas as banking are now being felt. Unemployment was higher in Britain in the 80’s and 90’s than it ever was in the 50’s or 60’s. Thatcher may have briefly halted the rise in Government Spending but she did not really reduce it and that was a particular failure. The same economies that followed her thinking suffered worst in the financial crisis and now carry huge deficits.
In Ireland, Margaret Thatcher will mostly be remembered for her intransigence. She showed absolutely no understanding of the issues in Northern Ireland and was one of the most divisive figures ever to appear in Anglo Irish relations. Her policies not only caused more pain and suffering but they also prolonged the conflict in Northern Ireland and led to even further loss of life. It is no surprise that it was only after her departure when John Major took a far more pragmatic view, that peace became a genuine hope in Ireland.

If Thatcher was to be admired for something it should be that she was clear about what she wanted to do and never hid from it, that she was decisive and strong. She was, however, far too attached to an ideology. She was completely unable to understand alternate view points. She seemed to have an innate fear of changing tack or seeming weak. This meant that she was completely unable to empathise with many of those that her policies hurt, at home and abroad. The good that her policies did was lost in the havoc caused by the means of getting them through.

Her name will spark debate all over the world. Love her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher was a politician and a leader that will never be forgotten.

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