Thursday, April 07, 2005

Complete Control

"Why are you reading English papers?..."

Last night I was at the Interpol gig in the Olympia in Dublin - the gig that I got a present of tickets for at Christmas. They were most excellent, really very enjoyable. I must also mention the stunningly relaxing journey I had this morning as well - I was staying in Portmarnock, north Co. Dublin, last night and got a DART (Dublin light rail) into the city at exactly 7am. I then got a LUAS (city tram) from the Northern railway station (Connolly) to the Southern (Heuston) at 7:30, had time to buy a paper, get a coffee and a sandwich (all very reasonable) before catching the Intercity to Cork at 8:30, which was in Cork at 11:30.

Very unremarkable, you would think, but mention public transport in this country and just about everybody will have a horror story to tell. I have to say, though, that I have never had a problem with the buses or trains. It's true that, for example, you can't get a train direct from Ireland's second city to any city other than Dublin. But it's also true that the population is just too small and east-coast centred to make any such service remotely viable. The return Intercity service and associated connections cost a total of €60.35, which is a bit prohibitive, but understandable to be honest. In general the problems with Irish public transport stem from a lack of capacity at peak commuter times. If, like me, you tend to travel at more abnormal times then there's rarely a problem but those services are never full.

Anyway enough of all that. The question above was posed by a fellow passenger on the Intercity service this morning. I had copies of Private Eye and the Guardian (as well as an Irish Times). "Well", I explained, "First of all Private Eye is funny and it does a particularly good job savaging and satirising hypocrisy, and exposing conflicts of interest, in both the British establishment and the British media in a way that no Irish publication does here."

Then I said "I buy the Guardian and the Observer because their world news sections tend to be more informative as they have better resources with which they can report from far-flung corners of the world. Also their op-ed writers are simply better than those writing in the Irish papers". Finally I said "I like the Irish Times but I won't buy any Irish Sunday newspapers because they're all piss-poor rags and I wouldn't wipe my arse with the Sunday Independent" (get off that fence me!).

I went on to explain something that I really don't think Irish people realise - the British General Election is very relevant to Ireland as a nation. Politics in Britain is becoming ever more cynical and ever more populist. The two main parties are pandering to the lowest common denominators in the fight for votes - crime, immigration and the NHS seem to be the big issues or, rather, they have been turned into the big issues by the two main parties.

Labour seem to have virtually stolen all of the Tories' central policies so the Tories have been forced into becoming ever more right-wing in order to keep an identity. Both Labour and the Tories are on a mission to scare the British people into voting for them. Fear is their weapon and they're both wielding it relentlessly - and will continue to do so for the next month. Labour are bad but the Tories' master plan would appear to be that, if they can't persuade Labour voters to defect, they'll at least try and persuade them to abstain with all the negativity. That's how cynical electioneering has got in the UK - disenfranchise people emotionally if not literally.

So what's the relevance to Ireland? Well, whether we Irish like it or not, our country is modelled on Britain - similar government, the same legal system and principles, a similar state education system, a similar tax and welfare system and a similar health service. At least that's the theory - for all the complaining done about the NHS it really is light years ahead of what we have. Ditto public transport etc. But my point is that if a policy is implemented in Britain we tend to follow suit. If Labour gets its way and introduces ID cards, for example, we won't be far behind and (as we seem to have a similar drink-fuelled crime problem and similar urban disillusionment) the recently introduced ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) could soon be introduced here with people being slapped with curfews and other such things on the evidence of hearsay.

No one has sympathy for teenage thugs terrorising people in run down estates but there is already ample evidence that ASBOs are being abused by the sort of people that will vote for whichever party promises to kick the most immigrants out of the country and lock up the most "criminals". And, like I say, we'll be right there behind them given half a chance. Is solving the causes of crime on anyone's agenda? Maybe we'll get lucky and the Lib Dems will hold the balance of power...

I'm pretty sure that person regretted opening their gob in the first place after all that.
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