What Labour Delivered

'All protest is resistance to authority'

‘All protest is resistance to authority’

During the last government, the Labour Party liked to crow about all the things it “delivered”. No-one remembers what any of those things were. The Labour Party probably doesn’t remember now either. But plenty of people will now remember how, after demonising social welfare recipients, after promoting schemes to undermine paid labour, and after boasting about how the Troika had crushed attempts at a political alternative in Europe, they “delivered” show trials and criminal convictions for children protesting their rule.

This is what ‘making the centre hold’ boils down to these days: preserving the sanctity of the State and its dignitaries, and their basic right to do whatever the hell they see fit -because they’re the ones in charge- by going after children. And they cloak it in the language of upholding ‘public morality’, according to which it is perfectly moral to socialise private banking debt, slash spending in health, education and social services, and operate a tax haven for multinationals. Sure isn’t it all legal?

By contrast, the way they see it, if anyone’s at fault, if anyone’s acting immorally, it’s kids who lift their heads and refuse to go along meekly with the prospect of being robbed of a future.

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Ivy Feckett is Looking for Love by Jay Spencer Green: A Review


Jay Spencer Green‘s first novel, Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s, begins with Walter Benjamin’s famous observation that there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. In his second novel, Ivy Feckett is Looking For Love, we learn that the eponymous central character is a researcher who spends her days documenting all kinds of barbarism, from the pornographic to the genocidal. But to what end, and for whom?

The unrelenting dark seamy humour with a taste for the bizarre and surreal and tightly woven plotlines that characterised Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s abound in this offering. But the setting has shifted, from a Dublin in advanced neoliberal decay and debauchery, to the striving petit-bourgeois suburbs of Birmingham, and instead of the rakish and worldly CIA agent of the first book, Ivy Feckett is bookish and reserved unsure if she might ever fit in and find love, as the title says.

The subtitle of the book is ‘A Birmingham Romance’. Though the city has been doubtless the scene for many a romance among those who have lived there, it hardly enjoys the renown of Venice or Manhattan on that score. To my sensibilities anyway, a Birmingham romance sounds as incongruous as the homemade rhubarb or cauliflower wines served up by one of the main characters. Indeed, I imagine the kind of people who imagine Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s as the sort of thing they could get their teeth into might be a little cooler on this book, if they were to go by the title alone.

That would be a great pity, since I think this book in many ways outstrips Breakfast at Cannibal Joe’s in depth and ingenuity. It comes in the wrapping of a romantic comedy-mystery, and with its narrative twists and engaging characters it works splendidly on that level alone. But it also reaches for weightier social, political and philosophical questions too: what if the objects of our desire in human form are the very things that turn us into a means to their end? What happens when we devote all our energies to producing the very things that might destroy us? Where do love and kinship lie amid social structures that prize the likes of family values, religious devotion and entrepreneurial endeavour but are really a breeding ground for sociopaths and con artists? And can riding in a donkey derby really give you an orgasm?

The answers, such as they are, emerge in an ingeniously tale suffused with warmth and affection, for its characters (well, most of them), the places they inhabit, and the social world that brought them into being. But Jay Spencer Green is too astute a writer, a narrator with too keen a nose for the scent of abounding darkness, to allow what is ultimately a story about love, friendship and solidarity in the face of pervasive villainy to be padded out by gratuitous sentimentality. At the very least, Ivy Feckett ought to cement Green’s status as a cult novelist, and not just because this is also a novel about a religious cult. The book is accessible enough, and so abundant in fiendish humour and grounded optimism, that it could well be the founding document of a worldwide religion.

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I Support The Dublin Bus Workers – Again


Reposted from three years ago, with slight edit.

I fully support the Dublin Bus workers in their fight to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it really is still hard to take the abject whinging and sniping from ordinary people who think collective action in protection of wages and conditions is some kind of outrage against natural justice.

What, you think the IMF wants you to live a long and prosperous life? You think the ECB is on your side? You think the weekend, paid holidays and sick leave are gifts from above, from the likes of Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond and John Bruton [ADDS 2016: or Tim Cook and Apple]? You think Leo Varadkar finds it hard to sleep at night because you struggle with your bills?

Things such as weekend, paid holidays and sick leave were fought for and won through long years of struggle on the part of working people. The thrust of public policy in Ireland, as elsewhere, is toward the destruction of the social fabric, in the interests of the wealthiest in society. The goal is to crush the power of organised labour, privatise public services and roll back the social gains that took decades of effort on the part of working people to achieve. This is a pattern we have seen time and again, in the US, in the UK, in Greece, in Spain, and presently, in Ireland.

It takes resolve and determination to stand up to that, and I have nothing but contempt for the sniveling hyenas who think other people’s wages and conditions should be destroyed simply because they themselves have no rights at work and because they think the best way of saving their own hide is to ape their boss.


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The Apple Order

Yesterday I dropped off €115 to the children’s primary school, to cover the cost of materials. This payment is on top of the hundreds of euro already paid for school textbooks.

As I may have mentioned before, this is something of an alien practice to me. In Northern Ireland, where I went to school, the costs of school materials are covered through general taxation.

There are advantages to school materials being paid for through general taxation: for one, it fastens the principle that education isn’t a commodity but a public good. Here, not only is getting a good education good for you, but it is also good for me and everyone else, and so everyone contributes to the education of everyone else. The reality of the UK education system as a whole does not quite reflect this principle, of course, yet the principle, for most people, is still worth having.

In the Republic of Ireland, the fact that school material costs have to be paid for by parents fastens the contrary principle: education is a commodity, not a public good. According to this, your education should, at the end of the day, come at your own expense. Anything else is a temporary concession, not a right.

When, in your childhood years, and somewhat beyond, it comes at your parents’ expense, this is bound up with the sense that you are your parents’ property, a commodity in their portfolio to be developed. In so far as you pay for the education of others, this is thought of as an unwelcome imposition, more than anything else. From this perspective, the State supplies education services as a consumer good. You pay for them through your taxes because this is the most cost-effective way of acquiring these services.

In practice, all the best people in the Republic of Ireland pay for their own children’s schooling out of their own pocket because educating your child means getting everything for them, even if it means nothing for everyone else. Well, not entirely out of their own pocket, mind you, since the cost of teachers in the exclusive fee-paying schools they use is borne by the State. And why shouldn’t the State pay for it? Aren’t these parents making a far greater sacrifice for their children than those who send their children to fully-funded state schools and who prefer buying cigarettes and alcohol to shunting their children further upwards the ladder of respectability?

While we’re at it, why shouldn’t the State incentivise top executives, who wish to move to Ireland to create jobs, by effectively subsidising them in sending their children to private schools? I am pleased to report, once again, the State actually does this at the minute. If you’re a top executive in, say, Apple, then Apple can pay your child’s private school fees up to €5000 tax-free, for each child. Better that the money goes in that direction rather than, say, providing school materials free to the undeserving, or making the gilded offspring of top execs endure the indignity of learning alongside the great unwashed.



I had a brief exchange on Twitter recently on related matters with a government TD, Noel Rock. Rock claimed that it was wrong for people who had to make do without a third level education to be paying in order for others to receive one, as would be the case if third level education were paid for through progressive taxation. Well indeed: and while we’re at it, why should older people pay for younger people to learn how to make the world a better place, when they’re going to be dead anyway? Let old people pay private firms through the nose for all their geriatric medicine before they die, and to hell with them if they can’t. Sure didn’t Christine Lagarde say people were living too long anyway. Conversely, why should the young contribute toward the pensions of the old, who have already had their chance? With intellectual heavyweights like Rock to the fore in politics, at least the war of all against all will be short.


The other night I was putting the school textbooks into the children’s bags and I opened up the Senior Infants textbook ‘Grow in Love’. It is a religious education book. It cost us €8.99. Earlier in the day I had read posts from people who were -rightly, in my view- incensed that the State broadcaster RTÉ had shown live of Mother Teresa’s induction into Heaven’s Hall of Fame. Well, here’s what they teach 5 year olds in Ireland’s state-funded schools in 2016, so it’s not as if RTÉ was doing a solo run on this. Just as you pay your licence fee to RTÉ so that it tells you why you need to give up your auld sinful attachments to pensions and universal benefits, you also pay for your children to learn to admire someone who thought the poor accepting their lot was a beautiful thing. But it doesn’t stop there: the child is supposed to read it with her family. So you are, in fact, paying for your child to proselytise to you about the virtues of charity.

‘Help us to learn from the lives of Mother Teresa, and other holy men and women’, says the prayer in the textbook made for the five-year-old in a State-funded Irish school but paid for by her parents because it is the responsibility of parents, not Apple and not Denis O’Brien, to pay for their children’s education. Many people who were poor lived in Calcutta, the tableau informs, as if they could just as well have lived in Blackrock or Foxrock but somehow wound up in Calcutta. The Catholic tradition of selecting and venerating saints has a very dubious history, to say the least. Most such saints either came from the upper orders in the society in which they lived, or, they were lowly figures whose sainthood was bestowed because they learned to accept their lot in life. And of course the example of their sainthood is usually contrasted with the venality and fallen nature of the rest of us. There is a kind of continuity, then, between the worship of saints and the cult surrounding stupendously wealthy CEOs and celebrities. There is something singular about them, something that confines us to individuality, not collectivity. The simple account of Mother Teresa in the book for five-year-olds is not all that different from the way such stories are presented to adults, either. You are led to forget, in Mother Teresa’s case, but also in the case of glittering billionaires, that most of the work was not done by them but by the great many others who elevated them to prominence.

All this has the effect of loosening you up to believe that if the likes of Apple have accumulated vast profits, then it is because people like Steve Jobs or Tim Cook have conjured them out of an unpromising nothing, something you, o lowly one, could never do. Or, as Marx puts it, the more value we create, the more valueless and worthless we become. Hence, maybe they are entitled to that money after all, and maybe they are right when they say that they pay tax because the people who work for them pay tax, and that in fact it is the rule of capital that gives life to us as political beings, and that we should just submit to it once and for all, less this life be taken from us altogether.

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Against The Family


There is nothing natural nor primary about ‘the Family’, the entity enshrined in the Irish constitution. ‘The Family’ is an ideological abstraction, and an obnoxious one at that. The ways in which people live together and experience kinship are not fixed in time, and even now are far more varied than this looming abstraction would have you believe. What is more, the roles of parent and child contained in the family ideal have not always been the norm, not least since the way we recognise children nowadays is something quite new in human history.

Given that the constitution declares ‘the Family’ as ‘the necessary basis for social order’ and ‘indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State’, it should come as no surprise that any event that calls the validity of this ideological abstraction into question should meet with a defensive reaction on the part of those who have come to see the current social order as the natural order of things, and who see it as their calling to defend this order. Indeed, the State has a horrifying history of punishing those who do not fit in with this order.

The imaginary beast of ‘Middle Ireland’, in the minds of those who speak about it and write about it, is largely composed of a vast host of Families who conform more or less to the Family ideal set out in the constitution. Little platoons, as Edmund Burke put it, comprising pillars of the community, small-c conservatives who will always do you a good turn and who will prove decent to the core in your dealings with them. There they are, at GAA matches, at Tidy Town clean-ups on the roadside, chatting with the priest after Mass. Practical-minded people who have no truck with fancy notions that might disturb the idyll that largely prevails. Responsible breadwinners and devoted mammies. In this regard it is not surprising that a large part of the popularity -in so far as he is popular- of the current Taoiseach rests on the image fashioned of the active GAA man and schoolteacher, down to earth and full of bonhomie.

Alan Hawe certainly seemed to fit the bill in this regard. It may well be that those who spoke so highly of him in the wake of his murderous rampage had previously seen in him the kind of person that they themselves ought to be, because he appeared to conform so well to this image of the world, which many people presume to be the right one. For the chroniclers of ‘Middle Ireland’, the very idea that ‘the Family’ itself gives life to a multitude of atrocities, that it amounts in many cases to a form of prison, particularly for women and children, is not so much unpalatable as unthinkable, and so they seek out voices that confirm that whatever about Alan Hawe, all is well with ‘the Family’ as such.

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The End of the Garden Party

Many if not most of the MPs in the Labour Party who want to get shot of Jeremy Corbyn have more in common with Tory MPs across the chamber in the House of Commons than with either Corbyn or most of the people who vote for them. They are the sturdy backbone of political Britain, and Jeremy Corbyn is -in the words of a New Statesman columnist- ‘a cancer‘.

This is not merely a matter of policy. You only have to look at the annual Spectator garden party pics and see the likes of Harriet Harman and Liz Kendall sharing a Pimms in the company of David Cameron and Theresa May to realise that for them, politics is both an elite profession and a social clique. It is a role and vocation for the cultivated and enlightened.

The hapless Angela Eagle was likely pushed forward to challenge Corbyn because, among other things, she went to a comprehensive before she went to Oxford. Hence the Parliamentary Labour Party coup plotters view her as the kind of figure who ought to know how to bridge the gap between elite political society and working class Labour voters, in a way that a braying calamity like Tristram Hunt, say, could not. The trouble is she hasn’t a notion. Leading media voices think she’ll do just fine, of course, but that’s because they haven’t a clue either.

Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s appeals, the time of kinder, gentler politics has passed. Gone are the days when a Labour politician could vote to bomb a country or to privatise elements of the health and education services or to punish welfare recipients, and feel insulated from public anger.

In this new climate of nastiness, when people sometimes seem more vocal in speaking out against such matter-of-course procedures as bombing the Middle East and impoverishing poor families, it is hard for people who, in bygone days, could pass themselves off as ‘conviction politicians’ who want to give shape to such nebulous concepts as ‘aspiration’. Their credibility has plummeted because they find it impossible to come straight out with it and say without qualification or prevarication that they’re against austerity. For them, when Jeremy Corbyn proposes that austerity is a political choice and not a self-evident necessity, it makes the task of convincing the Tory-voting parent in their head all the more difficult.

In truth, the only real conviction they do have is that it is they who are entitled to be where they are, and no-one has any right to deprive them of that. No-one has the right to get in the way of the succulent sinecures that await when they move on from the political profession, least of all the kind of crumpled socialist throwback they learned to laugh at when they started climbing the greasy pole 20-25 years previous.

The Labour membership? They can all get stuffed too, because if they were worth anything, or if they knew anything, they’d be MPs or peers already. And anyway, isn’t it their job to speak on behalf of others because they’re too dimwitted and untutored to do it for themselves?

In this, the Labour MPs seeking to oust Corbyn are at one with the Tories too: their conception of democracy is that of Churchill: “the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper”, and nothing more.

But even that is too dangerous for them these days, when there is every chance that the ‘little man’ -and there are hundreds of thousands of them!- is no more than a mindless member of a personality cult whipped up by wealthy Trotskyite public schoolboys.



And it is certainly convenient to think of them in that way, and to present them as if the sum of their desires is best encapsulated in a solitary brick hurled through a constituency office window.


Talking socialist and acting fascist‘ – Labour Party grandee Peter Hain’s description of Corbyn supporters. Where have we heard things like that before?

The Enemy Within, an account of the Miners’ Strike written by one of the ‘public schoolboys’ referred to above by Caius College Cambridge graduate Alastair Campbell (loyal assistant to Tony Blair, Fettes College and St. John’s, Oxford), recalls a

‘multiplicity of other similar episodes during the dispute, such as the Sun’s attempt to publish a front-page picture of Scargill appearing to give a Nazi salute – which Fleet Street print-workers refused to typeset – under the legend: ‘Mine Führer’’.

From 'The Enemy Within', by Seumas Milne

From ‘The Enemy Within’, by Seumas Milne

But it might be even worse than that. Imagine if they were something else other than brick-throwing terrorist bully-boys and fascists, the like of whom have not really appeared in British politics since the Miners’ Strike. Imagine if they were in fact witnesses to the social devastation wrought by Thatcherite and Blairite governments. Or if they were ordinary members of the public who see a Corbyn-led Labour Party as the best chance for obtaining the kind of things a majority of voters desire, such as renationalising the railways, taxing the rich, banning nuclear weapons, rent controls, a proper public health system. Or people who can think for themselves.

That would undermine democracy as Britain has known it, and that is why every sinew of every right-thinking person must be strained to the limit, every avenue to democratic participation must be shut down, every conceivable financial obstacle to voting erected: to stop these mindless drones from realising their desires, lest the garden party come to an end.

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Consolations for the Little People



Leona Helmsley, who was fabulously wealthy from real estate, famously told her maid: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Helmsley was imprisoned for tax evasion, but the principle that only the little people should pay taxes is pretty much conventional wisdom now. Witness how governments, the Irish government included, mount stout defences of keeping corporation taxes down, and make it a matter of national pride to do so, while at the same time cutting public services and ramping up indirect taxes: it is time the little people paid their share.

We are not accustomed to thinking of hospital ward closures or increased class sizes or discontinued bus routes as taxes, but that is what they are in effect: to get what you need, you must pay more, either through fees to private providers, or through simply shouldering the burden yourself.

What would Leona Helmsley have made of Console, the suicide charity? Forget about the present scandal for a moment, and just think about the work that it does. The organisation depends on volunteer labour. People giving of their time, without pay, to help people in situations of crisis. At the very same time they are helping people, however, they are also relieving others of the obligation to do anything. They are relieving others of the additional tax burden (how easily the idea of tax as a ‘burden’ comes to mind) of having to fund proper public services and facilities so that these needs might be addressed properly and systematically. Whilst big names might make donations or put in appearances or act as patrons to signal that it is all in a good cause, the task of keeping things running is very much a matter for the little people: the fundraisers, the volunteers, the donors. Leona would approve.

Eduardo Galeano once said that he didn’t believe in charity because it was vertical and humiliating, whereas solidarity was horizontal. But it isn’t so simple when it comes to charitable organisations. Much fundraising and volunteering work does happen along horizontal lines, on the understanding that you’re doing something for someone like you, not someone beneath you. The problem is that all this work is then appropriated in the service of a greater good that treats exploitation and domination as the natural order. Here, mutual aid is not the alternative or the antidote to neoliberal capitalism, but its necessary complement. Think Brian Cowen’s call for a “meitheal mentality” when his government was poised to introduce huge cuts to public spending in order to pay off private banking debts. Or David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.

What’s more, fundraising and volunteering is vigorously encouraged by private firms, whereas mobilising on matters of social rights is seen to cause conflict and disorder. Moustache growing, pyjama days, sponsored head-shaving: approach your HR department because you want to raise money for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and there’s a good chance you’ll be given every encouragement. It’s fun, it builds teams, it gives the company a nice image. The same encouragement is unlikely to be forthcoming if you say you want everyone to dress in black to protest cuts to health services.

On top of that, paying charities to provide what ought to be public services keeps those pesky unions at bay. You never know when they might demand more for the people they serve, so it’s far better to deal with people who will take what they will get and shut up.

When the Console scandal hit the headlines, one of the chief angles of concern was how this would affect other charities, and whether public donations would fall as a consequence. Radio presenter Ryan Tubridy pleaded with listeners to continue to keep charities in their thoughts. It would be a cold day in hell, of course, before he or any other high-profile RTÉ presenter would use the airwaves to plead with the government not to make cuts to health or education budgets. Some weeks earlier, Tubridy had used the same spot to lavish praise on Rory McIlroy for donating the beastly sum of €666,000 in Irish Open winnings to charity. McIlroy is worth over €300m. Generally, the public is not scandalised that athletes earn such astronomical sums of money. Nor for that matter do they care much when they avoid paying taxes: McIlroy’s fellow golfer Padraig Harrington received little opprobrium, if any, for being named in the Panama Papers. If only it were just billionaire real estate tycoons who believed taxes were for the little people. (Incidentally, Harrington helped launch one of Console’s helplines back in 2009).

The individual appointed to take over at Console following the Paul Kelly scandal -in which the suicide charity founder feathered a lavish nest with both public money and private charitable donations- is David Hall, a man who runs a private ambulance company. This appointment is hardly the act of a body whose primary concern is the violation of the rights of people to receive proper medical attention in times of crisis. The primary concern here, rather, is to ensure the standards of financial probity expected of any private firm.

Kelly -who is clearly a slimeball sociopath- is the object of character analyses in the press that portray him as an anomalous and strange individual. However, as noted here, there is rather less concern with just how it was that so many among the great and good were willing to believe his story, or how the various state institutions were willing to throw so much money at him. What if Kelly in fact reflected back an image that they themselves wished to see? Perhaps there is a desire for some sort of living proof that private enterprise plus charity plus a compassionate countenance is still better than social rights, still the only solution to social catastrophes brought about by neoliberal orthodoxy and the emaciation of welfare states, and, deep down, still the best answer to the threat from the red menace and the godless hordes.


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