As usual The Edmund Burke Institute will be closed for most of August. This year I am heading the Skye rather than to County Galway, and if I see anything of interest on my travels I might mention them here. But otherwise there will be little activity on this site until early September. In the meantime please be careful and safe!
By Michael Dwyer
To the surprise of many the invective post referendum has if anything intensified. Neither side has covered themselves in glory.
The rank and undisguised contempt of Remainers have displayed for their fellow citizens shown the ugly face of liberal Britain in a way that has shocked your correspondent, and many who had in fact voted to stay.
However an ugliness that has gone largely uncommented, is that shown by Mr Junkers and others in their public statements, about the dissolution of Britain’s contract with the rest of the EU is to be managed.
They have not gone for the nuanced warning or the veiled threat. Nor have they been careful to hide the underlying motivation of their animus. Britain is to be punished. It must suffer in consequence of the decision to leave. This pain will be a salutary warning to any other countries within in the EU which might be considering departure themselves. “Look” they are being told “ at what we can and will do to this powerful trading nation and ponder what we could do to you, smaller poorer and less connected people.”
This is not the language of respect or of democracy. It is not, surely the language which should accompany the decision of one sovereign democracy to leave peacefully an association of other democracies. This is not the language of rational diplomacy, but of the Mafia, and of the ideologue.
The optimists on the pro brexit side both within the UK and outside it pooh pooh the threats as mere bullying and an attempt to intimidate at the beginning of a negotiation. “The EU,” they say, “cannot afford a hard Brexit. Economically it would not be in its interests. After all the Union runs a considerable trade surplus with the UK and many of the member countries are also military allies and collaborators in NATO.”
It may be though that the optimists and rational actor folk are missing the point. What is the EU for ? Well once upon a time I think you would have had almost universal agreement had you answered that with ‘Peace and Prosperity’. Should that still be the case then the economics and politics would dictate a reasoned and reasonable negotiation.
However I do not believe that I am alone in believing that for some, perhaps many deep in the European ‘Project’ the teleology has changed.
For Junkers et al the purpose of Europe is increasingly Europe. The EU has become its own telos; it has become an end in itself. It may (they, no doubt, still believe) bring many happy consequences with it, such as peace and prosperity, but now in post Christian Europe it is acquiring an almost religious, even numinous, quality.
Here then is a problem that the sane, the sensible, and the moderates do not yet see. For the true believers the rational considerations of mere economics will not deter the ever onwards rush to the higher ideal that is Europe.
The metaphor most commonly used to describe the forward momentum is that of a train. Get on the Euro train to the future. Well the thing about trains is this. When your are on one getting off is very tricky indeed if it doesn’t want to stop. When it stops it is only for a moment, and then off it goes again. And most problematically, a train only really goes in one direction, where the tracks laid down by the owners lead it. In train terminology changing direction without changing the tracks is called a crash.
For small folk like us Irish we have to hope that we can make use of the stop afforded us by the UK pulling the emergency brake. It might the be time to get on the platform and check timetable, just to make sure we are quite happy with the advertised destination. If we are not, we had better get off now than either jump off at high speed or wait for the crash. Because with Junkers stoking the fire the crash is going to come.
UnHerd is a new web site organised by Tim Montgomerie who formerly ran the Conservative Home site ( which is, of course, among our British links). Mr. Montgomerie has form as a successful entrepreneur on the centre of British politics. Consequently, while we have not yet had time to explore Unherd, we have had no hesitation in adding it to our British links. We wish him well with this interesting project.
There used to be something called “silly season.” This was the time in the late summer, after Parliament had stopped sitting, when Fleet street, as it then was, relaxed its not very demanding standards and encouraged the inventiveness of its journalists. The column inches which had been devoted to the verbatim reports of what was going on in Parliament were instead filled with all kind of stories about crop circles, shattering windscreens, and to I do not know what all.
Such stories no longer have the prominence that they once enjoyed. The press has become more serious, and the arrival of American style fact checkers has caste an unwelcome gloom over our summers. Woodward and Bernstein with their obsession with “well sourced” ( i.e. boring ) scoops have a lot to answer for! But the phrase “silly season” has remained as a way of dismissing stories in the press which really do not cut it as real news. It is not surprising therefore that the wave of enthusiasm for Jacob Rees Mogg as the next British prime minister has been disparaged a silly season chatter, as in some respects it is, or was!
Moggy is good. There is no doubt about that. He is immaculately presented. He is bright. He is well informed, unnervingly articulate, and consequently a star on Youtube, where clips of his performances have deservedly become hugely popular.
In many ways he reminds me of William F. Buckley junior ( 1925-2008 ). Like Buckley he comes from a rich Catholic background ( God love her, his wife has just given birth the their sixth child! ) And above all like Buckley he is in love with the English language as a spoken medium.
For others appearing on television is a duty, a chore, something that they have to do because it is demanded by the role that they play. But for those like Buckley and Rees Mogg, it is obviously a delight. This gives them a huge advantage. Buckley not only had things to say, but he relished the process of saying them. I detect the same pleasure in Jacob Rees Mogg. Unlike his father William, who was the editor of “The Times” and a highly professional journalist, young Jacob does not shine in print. His web site is unremarkable, but he dominates the studio in the way that Buckley did.
There is however a crucial difference between Buckley and Rees Mogg. Buckley had no real ambitions for office, despite the fact that he did run to be the mayor of New York City in 1965. Buckley understood that his gift was as a publicist. He understood that his “charism,” to use the theological term, was to be spokesman, and as an enabler of others as editor of “The National Review” – the magazine that he founded. But Rees Mogg is a member of Parliament who is being seriously promoted as a potential prime minister. While being articulate is, or should be, a necessary condition for being Premier, it is not a sufficient condition. This is especially true in parliamentary system like the British where nuts and bolts are everything. The overwhelming objection to Jacob Rees Mogg succeeding Mrs May as prime minister is that he lacks any kind of administrative experience. We know he can talk. But we do not know he can walk.
That said though, he is obviously, like Buckley, an enormously talented man. A man, moreover, who is popular not only within his own party, but is also liked by his opponents too. He is transparently decent, and is clearly to not on the make. For all these reasons he deserves promotion in the next reshuffle, perhaps even to one of the great offices of state. It is only by seeing how will he performs in such a position that we can judge whether he is a indeed new Disraeli, as his supporters imply, or whether Moggmentum is just a piece of silly season fun!
By Michael Dwyer.
The notion that it is only by carefully segmenting the nation into distinct and competing sets of victims we can create united and pacific country is one that eludes many. It has been tested to destruction.
In the polling conducted after victory of Donald Trump in last years Presidential election one of the most consistent themes that emerged among blue collar ex democrats who voted for him was not, as many would have liked, a nasty resentment for the advances made by persons of colour, but the perception that the playing field was no longer level, the rules no longer fair.
It is ironic that in an Ireland vastly more diverse than it was that the Dail should now chosen to invent Irish Travellers as a separate ethnic group. A combination of virtue signalling by politicians and rent seeking by the Representariat has brought this about. Whether the majority of ordinary travellers on the street desire to be considered as somehow other than simply Irish is not clear.
What is certain is that this will cost money, much more than anyone of our virtue loving TDs imagine. It will deepen the already concerning level of hostility felt by many settled people for travellers. It will further discourage the important conversation that must take place about to what extent poor outcomes are results of internal cultural issues rather than social marginalisation.
Finally and sadly, it is another nail in the coffin of the Republican idea. The ideal is that we are all citizens to be esteemed equally, none higher or lower, to be judged and protected equally under the laws of our Republic, regardless of race, sex, or creed. This decision is then another unconsidered uncosted step towards a democracy where power will be wielded by coalitions of victims.
A major talking point this week has been the suggestion made by Ray Bassett, a former Irish ambassador to Canada, that Ireland should leave the EU in the wake of Brexit. Mr Bassett’s argument is essentially economic. He believes that the Irish economy is still so intertwined with the British that Ireland will pay an unacceptably high cost if it remains in the EU after Britain has left.
The part of the interest in all this is the way in which Mr. Bassett’s argument reveals the limits of purely economic thinking. Of course in one way we are all Marxists now. Economics is important. But as J.R. Lucas emphasised they are not all important. And no doubt the British connection is still vital in Ireland- especially up and down the East coast- although London does feel a long way away in Galway.
Human beings though are not solely controlled by economic motives. They have loyalties, loves and hates which go far beyond getting and spending. Just as the British people showed when they voted in June 2016 that taking back control was more important to them than the claims of the experts- most of whom seemed to be economists- so the Irish people at present believe that the European Union is more to their political taste than a free trade relationship with Britain- which seems to be the alternative being promoted by Mr. Bassett.
There are two parts to the explanation for this. There is, of course, the difficult legacy of Anglo Irish history. Ireland still wants to differentiate itself from England. If England measures in miles, then “sure as eggs is eggs” Ireland will want to measure in kilometres. But this tendency is becoming less important. England is increasingly being seen not as the ancestral enemy but simply next door. More important now is the point that Britain and Ireland have quite different experiences of the EU. In Britain the EU appears to be just another level of intrusive, unnecessary, and welcome bureaucracy. But in Ireland it is associated with modernity, efficiency, good administration, transparency, and a new prosperity. In Britain the EU is about square bananas, whereas in Ireland it is about new motorways. Unsurprising then the EU has sunk deep roots in Ireland. The Irish people were as much puzzled as shocked by Brexit. They just didn’t “get” what the English Brexiteers were worried about.
All this is reflected in the opinion polls. The EU is still very popular in Ireland. And any proposal to withdraw Ireland from the EU would have to be voted on. And there is at present no chance that any such referendum would pass. Indeed it would probably be very heavily defeated in every constituency in the country.
The danger then of Mr. Bassett’s visionary proposal is that it will detract attention from the real difficulties that further European integration poses for Ireland. This country’s newfound wealth is not due just to access to European markets- important as they are; but also to our low rate corporation tax- and, of course, the much higher equivalent rate in the United States. It is simply impossible, as Mr. Bassett recognises, to imagine modern Ireland without our low business tax regime. It is the very foundations of modern Irish prosperity. And yet this relative advantage of that Ireland enjoys is under active threat from integrationist forces deep within the EU that are determined to harmonize tax rates throughout the Union. The most important immediate challenge then for Ireland today is simply this: How can we protect our low business tax rate on which our prosperity depends?
It is not obvious in the short run, that talk of Ireland leaving the EU will make this vital task any easier. Given the state of our public opinion about the EU, we have then, on this issue, no choice but to collaborate with our European partners. For now we need all the friends we can get in Europe if our present tax regime is to continue..
In the long run though Mr. Bassett’s proposal may will be of value if it concentrates the minds of Irish decision makers on another but less immediate question that faces this country, namely whether of not Ireland is really a good fit in a European super state dominated by France and Germany, or whether some alternative might be worth considering? But that, as we say in North Wexford, is “another day’s work!”
“Every wise man has desired the reunion of our civilization and has desired it in spite of increasing despair, for now four hundred years. Wise men are rare; but the most foolish can see to-day that the reunion of our civilization is vital to its mere survival. For our disunion has reached a pitch in which we are capable of destroying ourselves in mutual combat to no purpose, nation against nation, each killing itself n the struggle; [ and ] after that, class against class.”
Hilaire Belloc, Wolsey ( 1930 ) p. 6
“The “anywhere” people are cosmopolitan. They do not feel strongly attached to any particular place, local custom or traditions. They are very multiculturalist in outlook. In their hands “somewhere” starts to look like “anywhere” because, in the name of diversity they tend to leech local communities of their own identities. The local culture becomes submerged.
In Ireland today, there is a very strong attempt to make Ireland an “anywhere” place, to leech us of our particular colour and identity even when that is harmless to any reasonable person.”
David Quinn “Making a desert and calling it progress” Irish Catholic May 11, ’17
“Think of [ President Trump’s proposed ] wall as an expensive public-art project that will marginally increase the profits smugglers and traffickers [ will ] make from circumventing it.”
Gunther Peck in the “Duke Magazine” Winter 2016
The fog of political battle is still dense over Britain. But just as sometimes I can see the hills of Wales to the East of me rising above the Irish Sea so the outlines of what has happened in Britain are now gradually becoming clear. The result of the election, due in equal measure to the unexpected effectiveness of Jeremy Corbyn, and a miserably mishandled campaign, has changed the balance of forces. The mandate provided for by the result of last years referendum has been compromised. There can now be no Brexit but a relatively soft Brexit. And this has deepened an already wide fissure in British politics.
Just as for many years, and to a surprising extent still today, the form of Irish politics was about Ireland’s relationship with Britain so for the foreseeable future British politics will be moulded by the aftermath of Brexit. The immediate question for British conservatives is whether Mrs May is now a suitable leader of their party?
Mrs May is a decent woman. But as soon as the above question is posed it becomes obvious that, at best, her future is as a backbencher. The problem is not so much that she lost seats in the election when a competently run campaign could have increased them, but the flaws in her character that the election and the subsequent disaster of Grenfell Tower have revealed. Her problem is not that she cannot feel, her problem is that she cannot communicate. Her demeanour is defensive, even stilted. As we saw her instinct is to avoid debate. But willingness to engage and communication are now everything. The leader of the Conservative party has to be able to persuade the Brexiteers that they cannot have everything that they want- at least not for now. The leader of the Conservative will also have to persuade the Remainers that there is no escape from Brexit. They will too have manage the relationship with the devolved governments- without re-igniting Scottish and Irish nationalism. They will have to handle the most complicated negotiations that Britian has ever conducted, as well as being able appeal to public opinion throughout the EU, at the same time as helping to create new trading relationships throughout the world.
These are challenges indeed. There could well be no one who could meet them all. But clearly they are well beyond Mrs May’s capacities. She has repeated too many stale mantras, and she has already had far too many “Ratner” moments. The longer she stays the more damage she will do. Only a new leader of the Conservative Party can hope to manage Brexit and win the next general election that could come all too soon.
RTE got close to the truth when it referred to a “botched snap election!”