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It’s no surprise that Biden said no, but welcome nonetheless

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/09/2021 - 4:58pm in

Tags 

ireland, Politics, USA

Poor old Boris Johnson. All he ever wanted was a picture of himself in the White House as Prime Minister and first he was forced to have a meeting with the Vice-President and wear a mask, as if he was not allowed onto the main set without proving his worth.

Then he had to meet Biden and not Trump, who he would have very much preferred.

After that, he was told he could not have a trade deal as despite all his fawning in the AUKUS deal we are not a US priority. Those who do not want chlorinated chicken should be very relieved.

And then he was told to keep his hands off Northern Ireland and that he should stick to the protocols he has signed, which he now deeply regrets and wants to change.

Biden is deeply pro-Irish. What Johnson ever thought he was going to win from him when Johnson is so reckless with the future of that island is very hard to imagine. But at least Biden stuck to his guns, and Johnson looks like he will come home pretty much empty-handed.

It was all meant to be so easy post-Brexit. The reality is that it is anything but. And sometime this message will eventually sink in with everyone except, perhaps, the rump that is now called the Tory party.

Sunak’s NIC rise is not just a disaster for most people, it’s a disaster for the whole idea of devolved government as well

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 4:31pm in

Unless the government briefing machine has gone very wrong we are going to see the announcement of 1.25% increases in both employer’s and employee’s national insurance contributions across the whole of the UK today. The funds are to be used to pay for increased spending by Westminster on the NHS, with the plan being focussed entirely on need in England. As yet no indication has been given as to how the devolved governments will get their fair share of these funds. I presume something will be done.

However, what I suggest is that whatever that ‘something that will be done’ might be it will not be enough to overcome the failings in this aspect of the decision being made. It is simply unacceptable that a decision made by England to address a crisis in a service that is managed and funded differently in each of the countries of the UK be imposed on the devolved countries.

Either those countries have devolved health care and associated budget responsibility, or they do not. If they do, that requires that they have tax autonomy. If they actually don’t now have that responsibility, as this decision implies, despite the legal representation that they do then the time for this type of devolved government has come to an end because it is no longer working.

Sunak’s wish to undertake class warfare against those on low pay when there is literally no need at this moment to fund an increase in NHS spending, let alone do so in just about the worst possible way, only very slightly disguises the naked aggression towards Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that is also an integral part of the modern Tory psyche.

Unfortunately for Sunak, his time has come at a moment when decades of deceit as to the intent of Tory politics has come to an end. Tory politics has not changed since the 80s. It has always been about English elite exceptionalism, contempt for most people and a desire to shift wealth ever upwards within society. However, from 1990 until the Cameron era there was an attempt to disguise that. But then the gloves came off, and now the bare-knuckles are apparent.

What is now happening is that the reality of Tory contempt is becoming apparent. It’s not that they do not care. It’s what they care about comes at considerable cost to most people in this country. And the consequences of that are clear. People will literally pay an unnecessary price in terms of additional tax just as they are being punished in so many other ways by the government and its failed policies. And in politics the compromises that have made the cooperation that underpins devolved government are being exposed, with the result that those systems will begin to fail.

For people in England one has to hope the ballot box will provide a chance to remove this government.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the choice is going to be even more significant. Why they should wish to be treated as the last English colonies for any longer is hard to understand. The reasons for independence are growing.

I am aware that the only reason that we are getting an increase in national insurance is that this tax increase was the one that worked with focus groups. Let’s not pretend that at some levels there was any more analysis behind this decision than that. But the fact that having got this result the alarm bells did not go off in the supposedly politically astute minds of the ministers responsible is what is really telling. Their DNA is now so indifferent to the lot of those on normal earnings, and so contemptuous of devolved government and the nations that they represent, that nothing told those ministers they were about to make a major mistake that could be profoundly politically costly. Just as they no longer want Covid testing data because it might indicate a problem, so they seemingly disconnected their political alarm bells on this one to satisfy the expediency of the moment. Their indifference has been exposed.

I have no idea if what is planned today will be the tipping point that reveals Tory thinking as the facade for abuse that it really is, but it might be. And that is the only silver lining I can find in all this. Because what is happening is disastrous at every possible level.

Brexit delivers Ireland a trade surplus with the UK, for the first time ever

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/06/2021 - 8:23pm in

As The Independent has reported:

A collapse in British exports to the Irish Republic since Brexit has handed Dublin an extraordinary trade surplus with London, new figures show.

The Irish government says new trading red tape explains a €2 billion plunge in the value of goods sales – 47.6 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared with the start of 2020.

The data published by the Irish government shows this:

That is a staggering change in fortunes. The collapse of trade direct from the UK is extraordinary.

My attention was drawn to this article by Dr Tim Rideout. I think it worth sharing his comments on it:

UK Office for National Statistics stats don’t, I understand, separate out Ireland, so you probably won’t see this if you look at our data. Probably the majority of the Ireland to EU transit traffic that used to go via Holyhead and Fishguard is now going direct to France on one of the many multi-times per day services that have been running since January. There is bound, in due course, to be a big impact on Wales – Ireland ferry services and ports in due course as just one of the consequences.

I agree with Tim. The consequences of what is happening are staggering for British business, and those who depend on this trade.

I will ask, yet again, what are the benefits of Brexit supposed to be?

Northern Ireland’s political instability is growing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 6:12pm in

Tags 

ireland, Politics

It is quite extraordinary for a political party leader to last less than three weeks in office, unless the party in question is UKIP, of course. But that is what Edwin Poots of the DUP has managed.

Let us leave aside how hopelessly ill-qualified Poots was for the task of leading any significant political party. Let’s instead note the consequences of his having first ousted Arlene Foster as First Minister of Northern Ireland and as DUP leader, and then note his own refusal to replace her himself, before then noting that he and his nominee to that post have now alienated DUP opinion by tacitly accepting that Westminster has out-manoeuvred them by agreeing a Westminster legislative route to delivering an Irish language bill for Northern Ireland, which has long been a Sinn Fein demand.

I support Sinn Fein in its demand for this bill. The suppression of the Irish language has long been a mechanism for the imposition of colonial power. My own name is, after all, an Anglicised and imposed version of the proper Irish, which in older Irish was O’Murchadha or more recently O’Murchu (and I am aware I am using male forms, because I am male). Why should that have been tolerated?

The issue may seem obscure, but it is at the core of the Unionist issue. The DUP wish to deny a right to those of Irish origin in the North - who may now be a majority of its population. They do so to support their view of the right of other countries in the United Kingdom to rule the six counties of Northern Ireland in a partisan fashion.

That last phrase is key. I am not going to discuss the rights and wrongs of the partition of Ireland here. I am going to say that the mood of most now is that partisanship around issues relating to the rule of any place with a profoundly colonial past is deeply divisive. The DUP know that. And they know that they are inciting partisan division as a consequence.

Poots, for all his very obvious failings, compromised. The DUP is having none of it. He is already being consigned to history.

The question is, what next? To the surprise of Tories, Northern Ireland votes on partisan lines. That may be to be regretted, but it has also been true. Until recently, that is. The increasingly unreasonable lines from the DUP, and its total incompetence on Brexit, has made it hard for an increasing number to tolerate. Sinn Fein, with all the stigma of its past still apparent to many, has moved in the opposite direction, cementing itself in political processes. And in between the Alliance Party has made gains.

What would happen if an election has to be called now in Northern Ireland, with Brexit inflaming tensions and the DUP in chaos? It is very hard to predict. I will not do so. But what seems clear is that Unionism is in a cul-de-sac of its own making from which the exit is not clear, whilst nationalists offer solutions in a way that few ever thought possible, and all because the Conservatives abandoned Northern Ireland in a way many could never have imagined.

This is a nightmare scenario when we have a UK government perpetually spinning lies about its own position on Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit. The prospects for stability do not look good. This should be of concern to us all.

I am ashamed of Johnson, and at least as fearful of what he might yet do

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/06/2021 - 4:39pm in

I wrote quite a number of tweets yesterday whilst watching the various press conferences that closed the G7 summit. The most popular was this:

It took seconds, but it summed up a moment in history. The reason it succeeded was that it reflected a dire weekend that a reasonably competent UK prime minister could so easily have turned into a diplomatic success.

Instead there were disasters. Johnson failed to avert the vaccine disaster, which I wrote about when I first heard the plan, saying:

Gordon Brown was right to pick up on this. As visions for the world go this one fell very far short. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning there are reports of hospitals being overwhelmed by delta variant Covid cases. This was preventable. It could have been avoided if Johnson had permitted the Oxford Universty vaccine to have been open source, as those who developed it wanted. But he refused that. It because the AZ vaccine instead, and now millions, if not billions, will not get vaccines on time as a result. The consequence will be an untold number of deaths. Johnson failed to avert tens of millions of deaths this weekend by not throwing all his effort at this.

The summit also failed on climate change. Nothing of consequence happened on coal.

And it failed on human rights. Nothing of consequence happened on China.

But it could reasonably be said that much of this was down to Johnson because what he quite deliberately put on the table was Brexit. Or rather, he put his own refusal to comply with Brexit on the table.

The Brexit row is easily summarised. The former Treasury solicitor, Sir Jonathan Jones, who resigned over Brexit, summarised the issue in one tweet, saying:

That is what is in dispute, in summary. Johnson says he refuses to recognise part 2 of this. But he signed up to such an arrangement in the Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, and the world and the EU (not unreasonably) want him to abide by his word.

Johnson does not abide by his word. That is not what he thinks is required of him. He is wrong. Quite literally, the world only works when people abide by their word. That is why we place a lot of importance on people doing so. The expectation that they will is the basis of which almost all human behaviour is based, with the knowledge that the hurt resulting from people’s failure to do so is high.

That hurt will, in this case, be very high. Not only does it make it virtually impossible to deal with the UK in a diplomatic sense, which is, I am quite sure, the sentiment the remaining six within the G7 will have taken away from the summit this weekend, but there are invariably other consequences.

In the current case that failure undermines the Good Friday Agreement, which so vitally removed the border in Ireland, which in turn delivered the longest peace that island has enjoyed for a very long time.

There is no one who can doubt the consequences of this. President Biden knows it all too well. But I suspect Johnson is willing to breach that deal. And to provide cover for doing so I am quite sure he will happily watch Unionist paramilitaries create violent situations, believing, incorrectly, that this will precipitate the EU caving in.

It won’t. It’s will just show the world the sort of man we have in Downing Street.

I live in fear on this issue.

Fear for Ireland, as a whole.

Fear for the integrity of UK politics, where Johnson is so willing to lie about what was agreed, and where there will be a willingness to hear his view amongst some.

Fear for the UK as it becomes an outcast in international communities, and rightly so, which some will, however,  welcome.

Fear too for the social consequences within the UK as the stress from this escalates, or rather is deliberately escalated.

Fear too that the reasons for all this remain incomprehensible, because no one has ever as yet explained what Brexit is all about, unless its only and sole purpose is the generation of pointless division, of which this crisis is but one example.

Fear too as to where this will lead.

I am ashamed of Johnson. But that does not mean that I am not fearful of what he might do. The worst, by far, is yet come.

Amid all the fuss – what Macron actually said..

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/06/2021 - 7:17am in

It is instructive to watch this French Television piece, which indicates that Macron knows precisely what the United Kingdom is and is not trying to split it up. He is so obviously clear it has to be doubted whether the UK government’s version is related to fact or fantasy – in fact knowing the truth... Read more

Just where Biden’s sympathies lie

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/06/2021 - 5:41pm in

Tags 

ireland, Politics, USA

I missed this a day or so ago, but if anyone has any doubt where Biden’s sympathies lie in this world this should really make that very clear:

I have little to add to that, except to note that I agree regarding Yeats.

Theater, Politics, and Critic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 9:30pm in

The New York Review’s current issue (June 10, 2021) features a new essay by Fintan O’Toole, “The King of Little England,” which recounts the ways Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, is now plagued by the same disruptive forces he pandered to in order to engineer his ascent to power.



Fintan O’Toole

As with his superb earlier characterization of Johnson, “The Ham of Fate” (August 15, 2019), O’Toole’s analysis is brilliantly alive to the play of public life—how integral the art of dissimulation and theatrical performance are in the merging of politics and the entertainment industry found in twenty-first-century Anglo-American culture. Johnson—in this, like Trump—acts as a showman, a braggart, and a clown in order to rule without real responsibility. And it works, for as long as the razzle-dazzle holds enough of the audience in thrall.

Such insights have become O’Toole’s signature in a series of essential essays on politics and leaders for the Review—most memorably in his portrait of Joe Biden as the mourner-in-chief, but also in profiles of Bernie Sanders and William Barr. Although O’Toole is a longtime political writer for the Irish Times, what distinguishes his work from that of other opinion columnists and the churn of Beltway commentary is its breadth of literary and cultural reference and this sense of politics-as-theater, both of which owe much to his other career, as a drama critic. I was curious to know what set him on this path.

“My father was a bus conductor [in Dublin] and one of the regular passengers on his route was the front-of-house manager at the Abbey [Theatre],” he explained via e-mail from County Clare this week. “She used to give him free tickets for quiet nights and I started going with him when I was thirteen. I couldn’t get over it, seeing O’Casey and Shakespeare and Shaw. Discovering, when I left college, that someone would pay you, however badly, to write about it seemed almost too good to be true. And I still got free tickets.”

That college was University College Dublin, but earlier he’d attended a Christian Brothers school. Was that as fearsome an experience as Irish Catholic clerical education is often reputed to have been?

Certainly for working-class kids like me, the education system in Ireland was pretty brutal. There were, of course, a lot of very decent Christian Brothers, but their overall ethos—to use a word they liked—was violent and abusive. The Catholic church, of which this system was a part, had far too much power in Ireland—and you know what they say about absolute power. It destroyed itself in the end through its own moral corruption.

One of the reasons I remain an old-fashioned social democrat is that a political decision in the late 1960s (very late but utterly formative for me) meant that I could go to secondary school without paying fees, and that in turn opened the way to university. Like so many kids of my generation, I was the first person ever in all the generations of my family to do that.

And what that gave you was a sense of wonder that perhaps does not exist for those who take it for granted. Two of my first teachers at UCD, Denis Donoghue and Seamus Deane, have died in the last few weeks. Both were world-class literary critics. Their deaths have reminded me of how blessed I was.

A strong theme in O’Toole’s writing about Britain and Brexit is a profound skepticism toward nationalism. That may be part of being “an old-fashioned social democrat,” but I asked how he saw it.

If you’re Irish, as I am, you know a lot about nationalism. It’s been the dominant political ideology in the country for almost all of my lifetime. I was ten when the Troubles started again in Northern Ireland, but even before that my childhood was steeped in the epic martyrology of the Irish struggle for independence. I think from all of that, you learn two things.

One is that nationalism has a claim, in one way or another, on all of us. It’s not rational, but it is undeniable. The Ireland I grew up in was something of a basket case, yet I would still never have wanted to go back into the UK. But the other thing most of us in Ireland learned the hard way is that nationalism can very easily slip into a kind of nihilism where “us” is merely “not them.” It’s always easier to define yourself by what you are not. Once you go down that road, you’re open to ridiculous distortions of your own identity and to hatred of whoever happens to be the Other.

I have no quarrel at all with the right of English people to be proud of their country or with the idea of England itself as an imagined community that people might want to belong to. The problem is that from the seventeenth century onwards, Englishness was wrapped up in two other concepts: the Empire and the Union. The first of those is gone and the second is, to say the least, under strain. Englishness is re-emerging but it is a love that dare not speak its name. There is no coherent idea of what it might mean in political or cultural terms.

So it is all too easy to manipulate. It became, with Brexit, a kind of parody of a national liberation movement with the EU standing in for the imperial oppressor that must be overthrown. That is innately absurd.

There again: politics as burlesque, farce, and, too often, tragedy. It was the theater connection that first brought O’Toole to the US, when he was hired as a theater critic for the New York Daily News by Pete Hamill—“He was fired a few days before I arrived, but they were stuck with me.” He’s been going back and forth ever since, living in Ireland but also teaching at Princeton, and, of course, becoming acutely literate in American, as well as Irish and British, political drama.

“A piece of theatre, even a bad one, is a very complex event—it’s slippery and transient, and you have to pay a lot of attention,” he said. “So I think drama criticism is a good testing ground for any kind of writing in which you are trying to get behind a shifting moment and make some sense of it for a reader.

“You don’t want to feed cults of personality or fall into the ‘great men’ mode of history,” he went on, “but I’ve published some biographies over the years, and I do think that the way the personal and the political overlap in certain public lives can be illuminating for both arenas.”

Those biographical works include studies of the Irish dramatists Tom Murphy, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and George Bernard Shaw. And O’Toole himself worked for a spell at the Abbey Theatre in its early 1990s heyday, when it was achieving international renown with Garry Hynes’s productions of plays by Murphy and Brian Friel, in particular.

“I was supposed to be a kind of dramaturg, but I mostly just spent my time watching her [Hynes] with the actors in a kind of awe,” O’Toole recalled. “The highlight for me was being involved in her very radically revisionist production of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Easter Rising, which in turn is the context of the play. It really upset a lot of people by restoring the shock of poverty and violence to what had become a period piece.”

Such a bracing sense of discovery is often a reward of reading O’Toole’s own work: his current essay opens with an aperçu of Nietzsche’s about revenge, used here to devastating effect. Besides such great stage writers as he’d already named, I wanted to know who O’Toole’s other intellectual lodestars were.

I grew up with the cold war and in that very divided intellectual climate where you had, on the one hand, the evils of Stalinism and, on the other, the United States doing terrible things in Vietnam, Cambodia, and then in Latin America. You were supposed to choose between them. It was crucial to me to discover writers who forced you to think more broadly and deeply about the way power worked in the world: Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin, Frantz Fanon, George Orwell, Susan Sontag—all those who were at once urgently engaged and undogmatic. And then when it came to writing criticism, there were Kenneth Tynan and the incomparable Joan Didion.

One other writer, perhaps, in that firmament might be Seamus Heaney—whose biography O’Toole is resuming work on, after the past year’s disruption by the pandemic. What does Ireland’s great poet mean to him, I asked.

Yeats said that Ireland was “great hatred, little room,” but Heaney had no hatred in him and he made the little room of the familiar place so imaginatively expansive. I think most Irish people feel genuinely grateful to him for the way he kept that space open even in the worst times—I know I do. 

The post Theater, Politics, and Critic appeared first on The New York Review of Books.

Theater, Politics, and Critic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 9:30pm in

The New York Review’s current issue (June 10, 2021) features a new essay by Fintan O’Toole, “The King of Little England,” which recounts the ways Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, is now plagued by the same disruptive forces he pandered to in order to engineer his ascent to power.



Fintan O’Toole

As with his superb earlier characterization of Johnson, “The Ham of Fate” (August 15, 2019), O’Toole’s analysis is brilliantly alive to the play of public life—how integral the art of dissimulation and theatrical performance are in the merging of politics and the entertainment industry found in twenty-first-century Anglo-American culture. Johnson—in this, like Trump—acts as a showman, a braggart, and a clown in order to rule without real responsibility. And it works, for as long as the razzle-dazzle holds enough of the audience in thrall.

Such insights have become O’Toole’s signature in a series of essential essays on politics and leaders for the Review—most memorably in his portrait of Joe Biden as the mourner-in-chief, but also in profiles of Bernie Sanders and William Barr. Although O’Toole is a longtime political writer for the Irish Times, what distinguishes his work from that of other opinion columnists and the churn of Beltway commentary is its breadth of literary and cultural reference and this sense of politics-as-theater, both of which owe much to his other career, as a drama critic. I was curious to know what set him on this path.

“My father was a bus conductor [in Dublin] and one of the regular passengers on his route was the front-of-house manager at the Abbey [Theatre],” he explained via e-mail from County Clare this week. “She used to give him free tickets for quiet nights and I started going with him when I was thirteen. I couldn’t get over it, seeing O’Casey and Shakespeare and Shaw. Discovering, when I left college, that someone would pay you, however badly, to write about it seemed almost too good to be true. And I still got free tickets.”

That college was University College Dublin, but earlier he’d attended a Christian Brothers school. Was that as fearsome an experience as Irish Catholic clerical education is often reputed to have been?

Certainly for working-class kids like me, the education system in Ireland was pretty brutal. There were, of course, a lot of very decent Christian Brothers, but their overall ethos—to use a word they liked—was violent and abusive. The Catholic church, of which this system was a part, had far too much power in Ireland—and you know what they say about absolute power. It destroyed itself in the end through its own moral corruption.

One of the reasons I remain an old-fashioned social democrat is that a political decision in the late 1960s (very late but utterly formative for me) meant that I could go to secondary school without paying fees, and that in turn opened the way to university. Like so many kids of my generation, I was the first person ever in all the generations of my family to do that.

And what that gave you was a sense of wonder that perhaps does not exist for those who take it for granted. Two of my first teachers at UCD, Denis Donoghue and Seamus Deane, have died in the last few weeks. Both were world-class literary critics. Their deaths have reminded me of how blessed I was.

A strong theme in O’Toole’s writing about Britain and Brexit is a profound skepticism toward nationalism. That may be part of being “an old-fashioned social democrat,” but I asked how he saw it.

If you’re Irish, as I am, you know a lot about nationalism. It’s been the dominant political ideology in the country for almost all of my lifetime. I was ten when the Troubles started again in Northern Ireland, but even before that my childhood was steeped in the epic martyrology of the Irish struggle for independence. I think from all of that, you learn two things.

One is that nationalism has a claim, in one way or another, on all of us. It’s not rational, but it is undeniable. The Ireland I grew up in was something of a basket case, yet I would still never have wanted to go back into the UK. But the other thing most of us in Ireland learned the hard way is that nationalism can very easily slip into a kind of nihilism where “us” is merely “not them.” It’s always easier to define yourself by what you are not. Once you go down that road, you’re open to ridiculous distortions of your own identity and to hatred of whoever happens to be the Other.

I have no quarrel at all with the right of English people to be proud of their country or with the idea of England itself as an imagined community that people might want to belong to. The problem is that from the seventeenth century onwards, Englishness was wrapped up in two other concepts: the Empire and the Union. The first of those is gone and the second is, to say the least, under strain. Englishness is re-emerging but it is a love that dare not speak its name. There is no coherent idea of what it might mean in political or cultural terms.

So it is all too easy to manipulate. It became, with Brexit, a kind of parody of a national liberation movement with the EU standing in for the imperial oppressor that must be overthrown. That is innately absurd.

There again: politics as burlesque, farce, and, too often, tragedy. It was the theater connection that first brought O’Toole to the US, when he was hired as a theater critic for the New York Daily News by Pete Hamill—“He was fired a few days before I arrived, but they were stuck with me.” He’s been going back and forth ever since, living in Ireland but also teaching at Princeton, and, of course, becoming acutely literate in American, as well as Irish and British, political drama.

“A piece of theatre, even a bad one, is a very complex event—it’s slippery and transient, and you have to pay a lot of attention,” he said. “So I think drama criticism is a good testing ground for any kind of writing in which you are trying to get behind a shifting moment and make some sense of it for a reader.

“You don’t want to feed cults of personality or fall into the ‘great men’ mode of history,” he went on, “but I’ve published some biographies over the years, and I do think that the way the personal and the political overlap in certain public lives can be illuminating for both arenas.”

Those biographical works include studies of the Irish dramatists Tom Murphy, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and George Bernard Shaw. And O’Toole himself worked for a spell at the Abbey Theatre in its early 1990s heyday, when it was achieving international renown with Garry Hynes’s productions of plays by Murphy and Brian Friel, in particular.

“I was supposed to be a kind of dramaturg, but I mostly just spent my time watching her [Hynes] with the actors in a kind of awe,” O’Toole recalled. “The highlight for me was being involved in her very radically revisionist production of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Easter Rising, which in turn is the context of the play. It really upset a lot of people by restoring the shock of poverty and violence to what had become a period piece.”

Such a bracing sense of discovery is often a reward of reading O’Toole’s own work: his current essay opens with an aperçu of Nietzsche’s about revenge, used here to devastating effect. Besides such great stage writers as he’d already named, I wanted to know who O’Toole’s other intellectual lodestars were.

I grew up with the cold war and in that very divided intellectual climate where you had, on the one hand, the evils of Stalinism and, on the other, the United States doing terrible things in Vietnam, Cambodia, and then in Latin America. You were supposed to choose between them. It was crucial to me to discover writers who forced you to think more broadly and deeply about the way power worked in the world: Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin, Frantz Fanon, George Orwell, Susan Sontag—all those who were at once urgently engaged and undogmatic. And then when it came to writing criticism, there were Kenneth Tynan and the incomparable Joan Didion.

One other writer, perhaps, in that firmament might be Seamus Heaney—whose biography O’Toole is resuming work on, after the past year’s disruption by the pandemic. What does Ireland’s great poet mean to him, I asked.

Yeats said that Ireland was “great hatred, little room,” but Heaney had no hatred in him and he made the little room of the familiar place so imaginatively expansive. I think most Irish people feel genuinely grateful to him for the way he kept that space open even in the worst times—I know I do. 

The post Theater, Politics, and Critic appeared first on The New York Review of Books.

Out of the political confusion of this week the new is waiting to be born

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/05/2021 - 7:11pm in

There is one very clear message from this week’s elections. It is that politically the UK is in a very confused state. This needs some discussion. A thread follows.....and was posted on Twitter minutes before this post was published here. It was as follows:

Scotland has a strong pro-independence majority at Holyrood. No one but a charlatan could deny it.

Wales has rewarded competent, even if slightly boring incumbency. Plaid Cymru did not make the cut through it hoped for. And yet Labour’s win is so distinct it feels like an expression of independent Welsh thinking nonetheless.

Except that is that elsewhere - in Manchester, Liverpool and London, Labour also proved it can deliver and win repeated terms in office.

Unionism in Northern Ireland is in chaos, and without leadership at present.

The Tories won Hartlepool. The Red Wall is theirs for now. But they cannot win Cambridgeshire or the Isle of Wight.

The Greens did well.

Despite all that it is easy to see Johnson as dominant. That is what the media portrayed on Friday. But now? Really? What is actually happening?

This feels incredibly Gramscian to me. The Italian philosopher famously said that there is always a moment when the old is dying and the new is waiting to be born. I suspect we are in that moment now.

My suspicion is that much is dying. The UK is, for a start. Brexit is history. We all now know that. But its legacy is that the UK is dying. Without a common membership of a common union it has nothing left in common to hold it together. Scotland has just realised that first.

Labour is also dying. Again, Scotland is leading the process of change, but the reality is that Labour is built around materialist constructs of class war - and they do not resonate with most people any more. That consigns it to history in its current form.

The Liberal Democrats are dead. Centrism is rightly seen as indecision in a world where new direction n is required. The party has nothing left to say to anyone any more.

And the Tories are nearly dead too. The party I once knew - of MacLeod, Gilmour and Walker and their likes - who once dominated Tory thinking has long been a memory. Major was its last outpost.

What is not acknowledged is that the Tories now have no ideology at all. Neoliberal monetarism killed the one-nation Toryism, but that philosophy has also died now. Sunak’s quantitative easing is evidence of that. But so too are freeports - a meaningless gesture passing as policy.

All the Tories have going for them now is populism. And that is built around Johnson, a character built for that role without a rival close to his ability in performing it within his party.

Johnson succeeds where Cameron and May did not. Remember that the Tories did not look good under them, and majorities were hard to find. But there is nothing to Johnson except the promotion of division and discord as cover for failure. That is what populism does.

Expect much more division and discord, is my prediction. But also do not expect anything close to building back better, or reconciliation of the nations, or levelling up. There is no intention to do any of those things. Nor to deliver better public services.

The public will notice all of that. It will be unavoidable. And so too is something else. And that is that Johnson is not going to hang around in Downing Street for a long time. Commitment is beyond Johnson. And his friends have already left Number 10. So too will he.

Will he make it to 2024? Maybe, but probably not, and by 2026? I can’t see him as leader then. Who will succeed him? The Tories are as bereft of talent as Labour is. We have hollowed out politics. But what that means is that there is no one else to lead the division and discord.

What Johnson is doing is taking the Tories towards a dead end as surely as Starmer is taking Labour in that direction. Very different men can neither deliver managerialism or discord to a country anxious for direction, when none is on offer.

The reality is that both our leading parties are walking the political path to oblivion. Labour as it stands is structured for a fight that belongs to the early twentieth century. The Tories are intellectually bankrupt, seeking now only the refuge of the scoundrel.

What happens then? I except the answer is quite a lot.

We have to redefine the nations. There will be four - although quite what relationship Northern Ireland will have with Ireland is not clear. I see no chance for a Union any more.

Scotland will develop new parties. The SNP will not be a single entity after independence.

Wales will have a surviving Labour Party. Its own Methodist roots will ensure that. But Plaid will have a different left of centre vision. The right will have little to do in either country.

And in England? More Covid, no levelling up, cuts to public services (which are planned), more corruption, Johnson being under continual attack from the Tory media (which is already happening) and economic failings will account for Johnson.

The Tories will seek to find another populist. But whoever it might be will repel people. Only Johnson has the ability to make the repugnant views of populism acceptable in England. The Tories will be in deep trouble by then.

And Labour? They will be in as much trouble, unless they abandon their infighting. Whether that is possible is in doubt.

So what will happen? In England I do not know. I am genuinely unsure in ways I am not in the cases of Wales and Scotland. England needs electoral reform. It needs to tackle corruption. It needs new thinking. It has to create a new story of what it is.

Scotland and Wales know what they are. That is why they have hope. England has to find it. The peculiarly English first past the post system, the two party dominance and the failed ideologies of past eras that say nothing to us now all suggest this will not happen.

But it has to. And I am sure it will. England changes. It always has. Its politics are bankrupt. That’s the only conclusion on English politics from this week. But, from out of this bankruptcy, as Gramsci said, the new will be born. The sooner the better.

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