Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"I know you are, but what am I" : opposition, the far Left and the hilarious tragedy of it all

With the new household charge coming into effect this year, the United Left Alliance was out in force, pledging their non-compliance with the new tax. Joe Higgins, Claire Daly and Luke "Ming" Flanagan among others (the usual suspects) stood behind a giant banner proud as chops that they could be seen to be doing something for the people of Ireland. The banner was big enough to be seen from about a hundred metres away, as wide as all those purposeful politicians being blinded by the lights of publicity, and standing about a metre tall as the all grabbed at an edge to keep it upright. Past a hundred metres, though, and you'd probably be able to make out the commotion, probably even able to guess what was going on, but perhaps that bit too far away to see it. Were it not for all those television cameras and photographers the majority of the people of Ireland would have been too far away to make out what was going on, past muffled voices and distant banners. Their message did get out though - they were not going to pay the household charge. Good for them. Maybe, maybe ...

Then, a couple of days later, Luke "Ming" Flanagan was on Ray D'Arcy's show giving out about Roisin Shorthall's attempts to tackle binge drinking by raising the cost of all those cheap bottles of beer that you can get in the local off-license. Tis a pithy, really, no more one euro bottles of Stella! Then again, as a nation we have a merry relationship with the devil's drink, but it is a merry relationship that on many occasion has transgressed into the realms of obsession and over-infatuation. Like the spotty teenager starry eyed for his one true love which will last forever - it has to, it must, this was written in the stars, ordained by the angels and gods of yesteryear, those sweaty awkward encounters that held within them such dizzying heights. Well, as a nation, we can easily become ensnared and enthralled in that pungent elixir of lager, wine, vodka, rum, the black stuff, and whiskey, or as it is known in Irish, "uisce beatha" - the water of life. That this is the name we give to whiskey says it all really. On the other hand, if you fail to miss the irony, then it is possible that you hail from the other side of the Atlantic ...

Anyway, there was Mr. Flanagan, outraged by Mrs. Shorthall's plans. He called it irresponsible. He said that advertisements for alcohol should be banned instead. He described how emphasis should be put on educating people not to drink like there's no tomorrow. Indeed, some of us seem to drink as if there was going to be an apocalypse the next day, as if we have this one night, and only this night. In such a case, apart from people who fall into despair knowing the world is about to end, for many I suspect there would be a shrug of the shoulders, followed by a maybe audible "fuck it, lets go out in style." In this case, however, speaking about a Saturday night in Dublin, it is more likely that this apocalypse is instead a metaphor for the hangover the next day. This then creates a kind of loop of logic, a premonition of a tough day ahead of vomit, red eyes, and sitting around like a vegetable. But if this is the premonition that allows us to say "Fuck it, lets get locked," then we end up drinking because we know we might be dead tomorrow. That is to say, we know we will be dying tomorrow. A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy then, one which leads to the most moronic explanation as to our collective drinking problem: "We drink because we drink." A terrible loop of logic that makes perfect sense!

Can the government do much in this situation? Ming the merciless makes some good points. Perhaps alcohol advertisements should be banned. Perhaps we should at least attempt to re-educate our children (and ourselves - we mustn't forget about ourselves!) about the dangers of alcohol abuse and how, in many many countries, what we consider to be a quite sociable fellow would actually be deemed an alcoholic. And maybe these things would make a difference. I agree with merciless one on all those points. But, then, why would he attack Shorthall on this issue? Surely this is a step in the right direction at least? A pint in the pub will still cost the same. One of the arguments he made was that tourism would suffer. Is he saying that tourists come over, go to the nearest off-license, but six dutch gold, go home (or down to a nearby park) and sit around with their friends skulling cans until someone looks at their watch, realises its ten to ten, and there is this mad scramble to make it down to the off-license before it closes and get another naggin of vodka to keep them going till twelve or so, when they'll finally fall off the threshold of their house, stumbling around town until they find a pub where the bouncers turn a blind eye to drunk persons verging on the paralytic. That's not the tourists, Ming, that's us.

There was the further accusation supporting Ming's stance, made by a listener to the Ray D'Arcy show, a loyal minion and follower of the popular cult leader. It was that behind Shorthall's crackdown on cheap drink (crackdown, or craic-down?) was the Vintners association trying to force people back into pubs and out of their houses. God forbid that they have to face the world at some stage, or that they be seen drinking in public! This all may be true, but so what? I for one think that this is a step in the right direction and that, though it may benefit pubs, it may also act as a deterrent to a certain degree. Besides, I think that your drinking should be done in the pub, that it's a social experience, this drinking malark. I am a firm believer in public and private spaces - and perhaps I'm a bit old fashioned in that respect.

So, here we have Luke "Ming" Flanagan critisising something not only because it doesn't go far enough (in the same way that the first battle of a war does not go far enough in that this isn't the battle to win the war - d'uh!) and also because he says it will have a negative effect on tourism. The first thing that popped into my head was, "Some people will do anything for a bit of publicity," followed by a kind of familiar sinking feeling as I realise once again that public debate has descended into this kind of tit for tat shite, where all policy is wrong by virtue of the fact that those saying that its all wrong are in opposition. This is opposition for opposition's sake, a cynical and negative type of opposition, where opposition becomes a defining feature of those in opposition. They exist to oppose. End of story.

I just hope that, behind closed doors, away from the glare of the insatiable hacks and doom-junkies, there is actual debate happening, actual rational debate, where people level with each other, have firm and intelligent ideas, and aren't afraid to say that they may not know the answer to every single little thing in this vast universe of ours. Hopefully ...

In some ways, this is the tragedy of the far left in general. When they do come up with an interesting policy, or oppose that which ought to be opposed (such as we've seen over the last couple of years, and which doesn't need any further explication), they are easily dismissed, because, at the end of the day, it seems to the punters (you and me) like their word isn't worth much, and that this is just another thing that they're opposing.

If I could say one thing to them it's this: shape up, become more serious minded about all this. It ain't no laughing matter, after all, so stop treating politics like a game. Rise above the bullshit. Or else sink in a tragic comedy, or a comedic tragedy, that seems to have the far left in Ireland in its grip.

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