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The narcissism of minor differences

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 14th, 2020 at 08:46:08 PM EST

An Taoiseach Leo Varadker has called a general election in Ireland for February 8th. - in the immediate wake of Brexit actually happening at the end of January and the devolved institutions being restored in N. Ireland following an agreement between the N. Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments.

The timing is significant for a number of reasons. Fine Gael's slim Dail majority had become increasingly precarious as the "confidence and supply" agreement with Fianna Fail had faltered and as various independent and other TD's threatened to withdraw their support. A no-confidence motion in Health Minister Simon Harris could well have been carried and would have further high-lighted the governments greatest failing while in office.

Leo Varadker and deputy prime Minister (Tanaiste) Simon Coveney are widely seen as having done a good job on Brexit and so it was in their interest to hold the election while Brexit was still high on the news and political agenda. When the two governments and the N. Ireland parties finally agreed to the restoration of the N. I. Assembly and Executive after a 3 year hiatus, another important item on the Government's to do list was ticked off.

That said, a win for Leo Varadker and Fine Gael is anything but a done deal. Fine Gael have led the government for almost exactly nine years since 2011 and it is rare for any Irish government to win 3 elections in a row. There is considerable yearning for change in the country, despite full employment, the economy growing at c. 5% p.a., and the government actually running a surplus. Failures in public housing, healthcare, and transport policy have sapped the electorate's patience and homelessness, rapid housing rent increases, hospital waiting lists and impossible commuting times are likely to figure prominently in the campaign.

The problem the electorate faces is the lack of credible alternative options. Fianna Fail, the largest opposition party is still tainted by the memory of having run the country into the ground in the 2008-12 crash and its leader, Michael Martin, was a prominent minister in that disastrous government. In contrast, Fine Gael can claim to have turned the economy around with tangible benefits for the electorate in terms of GDP growth and employment with the unemployment rate declining from a peak of 16% in 2012 to 4.8% now:

Irish GDP

Unemploment rate

Average hourly earnings have also shown a steady if irregular rise in recent years despite the threat of Brexit and a slowdown in the European and World economy:

Average hourly earnings

Although Fine Gael is often derided as a centre right party of the propertied and professional classes, the GINI index for Ireland has actually declined in recent years and the taxation system is relatively progressive and redistributive in its effects:

Ireland GINI index: The lower the number, the less the level of income inequality

This places Ireland roughly halfway on a table of income inequality in EU countries and slightly better than the EU average.

The government debt/GDP ration has almost halved in the last 7 years from 120% to c. 60% although this figure has been distorted by the global multinationals relocating intellectual property to Ireland and booking sales in other countries to their Irish subsidiaries thereby grossly inflating our GDP numbers.

Debt/GDP ratio

Household debt has also declined by two thirds from almost 120% of GDP in 2009 to c. 40% now.

Household debt/GDP

The government has also overseen the passing of several progressive referenda recognising marriage equality, legalising abortion, liberalising divorce and eliminating the crime of blasphemy.

But eaten bread is soon forgotten and elections are usually fought and won on what parties are promising to do in the future rather than what they did in the past and with aspirations, promises and rhetoric trumping the harsh realities of what the parties will actually do once in office.

Nine years in power have also seen an accumulation of government failures which are more likely to be highlighted during the campaign. These failures include a growing problem of homelessness, the treatment of refugees, a failure to ensure sufficient provision of both rental accommodation and new housing for sale, poor planning resulting in massive congestion of Dublin, in particular, the failure to ensure value for money in the health budget and the capital cost of the new children's hospital in Dublin which has doubled from 0.9 to 1.7 Billion in the last two years.

But the government also suffers from some emotional political problems: a perception that Varadker and co. represent the Dublin professional elite and are insensitive to the concerns of poorer and rural voters. A perception that they have grown arrogant and tired in office and have run out of ideas. A perception that they are ideologically wedded to the idea of a free market which has demonstrably failed to address social needs in the housing sector, in particular.

But if not Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, who can the voters turn to? Sinn Féin have been losing ground because of their failure to represent Ireland's interests on Brexit at Westminster and failure to get the devolved institutions in N. Ireland working again. This weeks agreement to restore the institutions should address that latter concern, but Varadker and Coveney will try to garner the lions share of the credit for that. Most parties will also continue to refuse to form a coalition with Sinn Fein because of that party's relatively recent association with violence in both N. Ireland and the Republic.

The Labour Party has suffered from the malaise of nearly all social democratic parties in Europe, a perception that they represent mainly secure and well remunerated employees in the public service, and the sense that their social liberal agenda has been hijacked by Fine Gael. There is little there to enthuse younger voters in less secure employments.

The Greens have seen an uptick in their electoral performances of late, but are still handicapped by their participation as a junior partner in the last, disastrous Fianna Fail Government. The rise of climate change awareness and activism should see their electoral performance continue to improve and they are seen as potential coalition partners for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail - both of whom are trying to hijack the green agenda for themselves.

In the past two general elections the electorate have tended to pronounce "a plague on all your houses" and voted in large numbers for a plethora of independents campaigning primarily on populist and local constituency issues. It is not clear, as yet, to what extent voters will prioritise local issues or instead vote to form a viable government with a clear policy agenda.

The macro issues of Brexit, global corporate tax reform, climate change and the disintegration of the global order created by "western" dominance since the Second World War will impact hugely on Ireland in the next few years, but it is not yet clear to what extent most voters will take these issues into account when casting their ballots.

Opinion polling prior to an election actually being called can be notoriously unreliable but for what its worth most recent polls have had Fine Gael and Fianna Fail more or less neck and neck but polling only a combined 50% plus of the vote, with Sinn Fein polling around 15% and a host of minor parties (mostly on the left) and independents polling around 30% of the vote.

Behaviour and Attitudes polling

Red Sea polling

The left wing vote is splintered into a number of small parties, one of which has split even further, and even the loose alliances of independents have tended to fracture. The contest is therefore not so much between major left and right parties, but between two centre right parties and a host of small left wing parties and more populist independents. Only Sinn Fein and the Greens have a clear identity in the minds of most voters but for many, Sinn Fein's historic association with violence is still disqualifying.

The likely outcome is therefore a weak minority coalition government led by either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail with the Greens and/or Labour and some independents in tow. Most likely a second election will be required to yield a more decisive result before a more stable government can be formed. A grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is ruled out by both parties as it would undermine their rationale and identity as two centre right parties with relatively similar ideological dispositions.

A grand coalition would also result in Sinn Fein leading the opposition and mopping up all protest and dissident votes in any subsequent election and becoming a threat to the Fine Gael Fianna Fail duopoly. It is essential for the maintenance of the current political game that the electorate are persuaded that they have a genuine choice between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. It is what Fintan O'Toole (and Sigmund Freud) calls "the narcissism of minor differences" and it keeps the political classes and the twitterati entertained.

Whether it will be any different this time around remains to be seen. Varadker has been a relatively popular leader but Ireland would not be Ireland if we didn't try to chop off the tall poppy at the knees. Only in times of crisis will we rally around one leader, and for most people there just isn't a crisis right now. Obviously that is not a perspective necessarily shared by the homeless, the sick waiting for a hospital bed, refugees, young people working hard and still unable to make the rent, or those concerned with social or climate change, but for many politics is an indulgence requiring little thought and only the most superficial engagement with the personalities and issues at stake.

So we will probably have a status quo election, with only minor variations in the relative strengths of the parties and a government with different personalities but pursuing policies more or less the same as the current one. I wait in hope to be proved wrong.

I suspect that, in most European countries, any government which turns the economy around by the degree to which Fine Gael has done in Ireland, would be returned to office with a resounding mandate. But Ireland is different, for a number of reasons.

Firstly Fine Gael and Fianna Fail share similar free market driven ideologies, and support the same policy of tax competition with our neighbours. So there is a limit to the degree the public will actually credit Fine Gael with the turnaround. The most that will be said for them is that the didn't screw things up like their predecessors did.

Secondly, the electorate have short memories. Fianna Fail has been remarkably successful in distancing themselves from past depredations helped by the fact that most of the key players in that debacle have left public life in some disgrace.

Thirdly, politics in Ireland is all about personalities and emotions. People vote for people they like or perceive as competent. For many, Varadker is too clever by half, too glib, too much given to spin and sound bites. Michael Martin, leader of the opposition doesn't rate any higher, but then he hasn't been in office.

Fourthly politics in Ireland is still largely bound by tradition. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael arose from the ashes of opposing sides in the civil war fought in 1922 over the Treat with Britain giving independence to 26 counties but retain 6 - in N. Ireland - as part of the United Kingdom. People still vote the way their families always did.

Fifthly, Fianna Fail has some genuine achievements to its name, chiefly in the period 1960-1979, but also some in the 1990's. Some people's allegiances go back that far.

Finally, politics is also about identity. You may be voting for an idiot, but you feel he is your idiot.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 14th, 2020 at 10:12:41 PM EST
Sigmund Freud, The Taboo of Virginity, in Ivan Smith Freud-Complete Works.(2010)

Many observers of primitive races living to-day put forward the view that their impulsions in love are relatively weak and never reach the degree of intensity which we are accustomed to meet with in civilized me. Other observers have contradicted this opinion, but in any case the practice of the taboos we have described testifies to the existence of a force which opposes lobe by rejecting women as strange and hostile.

Crawley*, in language which differs only slightly from the current terminology of psycho-analysis, declares that each individual is separated from the others by a 'taboo of personal isolation', and that it is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feeling of strangeness and hostility between them. It would be tempting to pursue this idea and to derive from this 'narcissism of minor differences' the hostility which in ever human relation we see fighting successfully against feelings of fellowship and over powering the commandment that all men should love one another. Pycho-analysis believes that it has discovered a large part of what underlies the narcissistic rejection of women by men, which is so much mixed up with despising them, in drawing attention to the castration complex and its influence on the opinion in which women are held.

We can see, however, that these latter considerations have led us to range far beyond our subject. The general taboo of women throws no light on the particular rules concerning the first sexual act with a virgin. As far as they are concerned, we have not got beyond the first two explanations, based on horror of blood and fear of first occurrences, and even these, we must point out, do not touch the core of th taboo in question. It is quite clear that the intention underlying this taboo is that of denying or sparing precisely the future husband something which cannot be dissociated from the first sexual act, although according to our introductory observations this very relation would lead to the woman becoming specially bound to this one man.

It is not our task on this occasion to discuss the origin and ultimate significance of tabboo observances. I have ddone this in my book Totem and Taboo, where I have given due consideration to the part played by primal ambivalence in determining the formation of taboo and have traced the genesis of the latter from the prehistoric events which led to the founding of the human family. We can no longer recognize an original meaning of this kind in taboos observed among primitive tribes to-day. We forget all to easily, in expecting to find any such thing, that even the most primitive peoples exist in a culture far removed from that of primaeval days, which is just as old as our own from the point of view of time and like ours corresponds to a later, if different, stage of development. [2355-2356]

* Crawley, A.E. The mystic rose: a study of primitive marriage. London: Macmillan, 1902; Totem and Taboo; Wikipedia index, "History of Australia (1851-1900"

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Wed Jan 15th, 2020 at 02:28:48 PM EST
The narcissism of small differences (German: der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen) is the thesis that communities with adjoining territories and close relationships are especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to details of differentiation.[1] The term was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917, based on the earlier work of British anthropologist Ernest Crawley. In language differing only slightly from current psychoanalytic terminology, Crawley declared that each individual is separated from others by a taboo of personal isolation, a narcissism of minor differences.[2]


In terms of postmodernity, Clive Hazell argues that consumer culture has been seen as predicated on the narcissism of small differences to achieve a superficial sense of one's own uniqueness, an ersatz sense of otherness which is only a mask for an underlying uniformity and sameness.[6] The phenomenon has been portrayed by the British comedy group Monty Python in their satirical 1979 film Life of Brian[7] and by author Joan Didion in an essay (part of her 1968 book Slouching Towards Bethlehem) about Michael Laski, the founder of the Communist Party USA (Marxist-Leninist).[8]

In 2010, author Christopher Hitchens cited the phenomenon when talking about ethno-national conflicts.[9] "In numerous cases of apparently ethno-nationalist conflict, the deepest hatreds are manifested between people who--to most outward appearances--exhibit very few significant distinctions."

It could also be said of Brexiteers and their obsessive hatred of the EU, or the Nationalist/Unionist divide in N. Ireland. But in Ireland it has become increasingly difficult to sustain, as the passions evoked by the civil war have subsided, and the lack of substantive policy differences between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have become abundantly clear.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 15th, 2020 at 03:07:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the term was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917

evidently not, but y'all run with that.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Wed Jan 15th, 2020 at 05:34:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course the EU Commission doesn't get involved in election campaigns, but...
President of European Commission pays tribute to Taoiseach's role in Brexit deal
The new president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said a deal on Brexit would not have been possible without the "hard work" and "patience" of the Government, as she paid tribute to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's leadership on the issue.

She said she has heard "a lot of stories and anecdotes" since taking up her position including "details" that chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier shared with her about the road to securing a deal.

"One thing is, for me, clear. It would not have been possible to reach this agreement without the very hard work, the patience, and the unity of everybody here in Ireland," she said.

"Without the work of the Government, without the work of the politicians in the parliament, the civil service, the whole country coming together, this would not have been possible. Thank you a lot for your leadership and the co-operation that was excellent. I think we see now the results, they are excellent too," she told Mr Varadkar at a press conference in Dublin yesterday evening.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 15th, 2020 at 10:03:34 PM EST
At least the Green Party are proposing a radically different set of policy priorities:
Ireland needs to change `entire transport, energy, waste and food systems'
Mr Ryan said Ireland needs to change "the entire transport system, the entire food system, the entire energy system and the entire waste system for the better" and that this "will take at least a decade".

He said he was "not worried one bit" about recent comments from Minister of State John Paul Phelan, who described some members of the Green Party as "nutters".

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 15th, 2020 at 10:12:22 PM EST
Somewhere in the USA prospective donors to Campain 2020 are muttering, "A ridiculously brief polling period. Now identity politics! FFS!"

The Longue Durée: Commemorating RIC and Black & Tan Colonialism
"What replaced Irish language and culture in some quarters was a culture of fawning West-Britishness, perhaps best personified today in the figure of Minister for Justice and Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan who pushed the idea of commemorating the Royal Irish Constabulary and Black & Tans hardest."

by Cat on Thu Jan 16th, 2020 at 05:44:54 PM EST
Campaigning continues as poll puts Fianna Fáil 12 points ahead of Fine Gael
Survey puts Sinn Fein at 19%, just one point behind Leo Varadkar's party

As politicians enter their fifth full day of general election campaigning, a new poll puts Fianna Fail 12 points ahead of Fine Gael .

The Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitudes poll places Micheál Martin's party at 32 per cent while Leo Varadkar's party has fallen seven points and sits at 20 per cent, just one percentage point ahead of Sinn Féin at 19 per cent (down one). The newspaper's previous poll in December put Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on an equal footing at 27 per cent each.

Most of the survey preceded the announcement of a February 8th general election by Leo Varadkar on January 14th and over 900 voters were interviewed between January 2nd and 14th, according to the newspaper. The Greens sit at 7 per cent (up 1) with Labour at 4 per cent (down 2).

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 19th, 2020 at 11:02:16 AM EST
From your analysis up top ... this is surprising?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2020 at 07:58:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I found it so

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jan 20th, 2020 at 08:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For a few of reasons:
  1. All previous opinion polls showed FG either well ahead or at least level with FF. I can't think of any reason that might have triggered the sudden change.
  2. Objectively, FG have done a lot better than FF in their previous periods in office  -  see Bank Bail-out - which is less than 10 years ago, when the whole country was suddenly impoverished. Political memories seem to be even shorter than I thought.
  3. Much as I oppose the main thrust of FG's "free market" policies, FF are no better, but even more incompetent. It is hard to name a single competent front bencher in FF other than Leader Michael Martin himself, and he is tainted by his involvement in previous administrations. FG aren't much better, but have a few semi-competant people at or near the top.
  4. I would have expected a surge for the Greens, and perhaps some left wing parties, but not FF. That said, it could be argued that Ireland was (almost) always a FF tribe led country, with them temporarily losing out because of gross mismanagement. Maybe it's just a case of their core vote returning to them after they have completed a term of penance. That said their voter age profile has always been ageing.

That said, I haven't seen the details of the poll, the number of don't knows, crosstabs etc. I will reserve judgement until I see more polls, preferably by other pollsters.

It is also true to say that most apolitical people won't really engage till they see the TV debates and get a flavour of what the manifestos promise. I would suspect there is still a huge swathe of people who haven't made up their minds, and they may up playing it safe and voting for the status quo. Having done well on Brexit, the Varadker/Coveney team may be given a fool's pardon on the other issues they have failed on - or at least one last chance to address them.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 20th, 2020 at 11:43:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Election 2020: FF edges ahead of FG as SF surges in new Ipsos MRBI poll
Fianna Fáil enjoys a small lead over Fine Gael following a sharp drop in support for the Government party in recent months, according to the first Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll of the general election campaign.

With 19 days to go before the election takes place, Fianna Fáil has taken the lead over its main rival for the first time in three years, while Sinn Féin also performs very strongly in the poll.

The Green Party is also set to make gains, while Independents and smaller parties are on course to lose several Dáil seats.

The poll was taken on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week in the days after the election campaign began. The survey was conducted face to face among 1,200 adults at 120 locations in every constituency. The accuracy level is estimated at plus or minus 2.8 per cent.

Excluding undecided voters and those unlikely to vote, 25 per cent of respondents said they would vote for Fianna Fáil (no change), 23 per cent for Fine Gael (down six), 21 per cent for Sinn Féin (up seven), 5 per cent for Labour (down one), 8 per cent for the Green Party (no change) and 18 per cent for Independents and small parties (no change). The comparison is with the most recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll last October.

This poll is more in line with my expectations except for the surge in support for Sinn Fein - presumably because they have finally decided to re-create a N. Ireland Executive and end the deadlock with the DUP there. I remain to be convinced this will actually materialise on Feb. 8th.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 21st, 2020 at 12:15:21 AM EST
The pension age is now a major election issue - so where do all the parties stand?
RTE posted a somewhat informative, impartial-like feature last week.
by Cat on Tue Jan 21st, 2020 at 12:30:19 AM EST
REUTERS | Irish unity preparations price for Sinn Fein coalition support
"Sinn Fein says it is willing to form a coalition with either party and that it offers the only viable alternative to another minority government."

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Tue Jan 28th, 2020 at 06:57:48 PM EST

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