Biffing Biffo

Because economics tends to be a tedious business I rarely watch programmes about it or read copy on it when it appears in the newspapers. But like most others I suppose, I have been drawn to the topic because of the dark cloud that hangs over our shared societal future. The only certainty is that there no longer is any certainty. Grim times ahead. We can not even console ourselves that the burden we are forced to bear will allow our children to escape it. They too will be forced to suffer; a bit like original sin in that sense, punished for something not of their making.

I watched Prime Time on Wednesday evening because Brian Cowen was due a grilling from Miriam O’Callaghan. Also because what sometimes passes for the Left in Ireland would have a chance to seriously critique the type of thinking that has produced our economic woe and which seems wholly incapable of successfully navigating a way through it.

What struck me about Prime Time was how well the Taoiseach actually performed in his interview with O’Callaghan. After the intense mocking he took on the Jay Leno show and elsewhere as a result of his ‘morning after’ debacle, it was widely thought he was chronically incapable of anything other than slurring his way through a serious interview. And if there was room for improvement it promised to lie in a slight shift from slurring to slugging his way through.

That was one image certainly put to bed. Cowen came over as assertive but not aggressive. His performance was all the more masterful because Miriam O’Callaghan is no slouch as an interviewer. There were times when Cowen had her on the back foot when the expectation was that she would leave him without a leg to stand on.

Cowen was not for taking his misfortune lying down. He came into the gladiatorial arena determined not to be eaten by lions and he wasn’t. His position distilled amounts to a simple proposition: bollix or worse that we have made of things don’t let the opposition sit there and pretend that they are going to do things any different.

The sad thing is that he is right. What Cowen probably understands is the logic of capital. As a former government Finance Minister he should. From the point of view of capital what needs preserved is not a few, or even many, bankers but the system of capitalism upon which the Irish economy is based. He knows that the other parties, even those nominally of the Left, will manage that system rather than subvert it and that they will be faced with the same type of challenges and decisions to be made that confronted him. He has put it up to them.

I had hoped that Joan Burton and Pearse Doherty between them might have proved him wrong but they didn’t. Doherty, who by many accounts made a brilliant maiden speech in the Dail where he hammered Fianna Fail economic strategy, was tested on national television. He is much better on the economic question than his party Master whose concept of economics is one plus one equals three and if you disagree you pose a threat to the peace process. Doherty outlined a number of alternative options his party would pursue but his figures did little to plug the fiscal black hole and tended to sound populist, another extravagant luxury the country can ill afford at this juncture. When he raised the issue of default but restricted it to the bondholders with AIB it seemed clear Sinn Fein were preparing to play it safe.

Burton proved no more persuasive. Her main concern seemed to be ensuring Doherty did not come up on her left cheered on by an emotional electorate. In that context she reminded the freshly minted Sinn Fein TD that his party was busy slashing and cutting the public purse in the North. It did not make Sinn Fein’s Left credentials look too strong. Few will buy into the fiction that the party is privatising its way to socialism under the tutelage of Che Cameron.

But Labour are no better, just more articulate with a greater degree of economic nous and less enamoured to power for its own sake.

That the leader of Fianna Fail should emerge as the most coherent, despite being the most wrong, witness for the economy on Prime Time, permits us a vision of the abyss we have fallen into with no way out.


  1. The 'opposition' parties in the Dail were at no time that I can recal actually opposed to what was going on during the bubble years. It is infuriating to see them perform now. Are the public so blind to buy into this crap.
    There is no way out of this with any of the Dail parties, they are all guilty and they are all incompetent. It's a case of who will be in government, not, who has a plan. Not a split hairs difference between them.

  2. Interesting article Antony,

    I did not see the programme. In the last few years I have become allergic to R.T.E and about 20 minutes of Morning Ireland, (just to make sure there is nothing really serious about to happen; like say a tsunami or a large meteor about to strike Wexford) is all I can stomach.

    Anyway Cowen is no gom, you don't get to be il duce of the Soldiers of Destiny by being an utter gobshite. An arrogant, spoilt and selfish child of privilege he probably is.

    Labour are finally realising that the southern electorate is not going to welcome a Sticky/Blueshirt coalition with open arms. We've been sold that pup too many times before. They are desperately rushing to grab some left wing credentials before the People Before Profit Alliance make s*** of them in working class urban areas.

    As for the provies, well they are just the left wing of the Soldiers of Destiny. Careerists, up for sale to the hightest bidder. If they have a dialectic, could someone please inform me what it is???


  3. Mackers,
    Prime time will not kill it's own base, not when they know it is their base which is at stake.
    Populist politics is not owned by s/f, just the pragmatism adopted by all opportunistic parties.
    There is always road out, not capitalist, not the so-called stagest method, but you Mackers, having wound the clock, must make sure it strikes.

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  5. Larry,

    I see no way out of it nor have I heard anyone suggest a way out of it that has persuaded me. Regrettable, but it is what it is.


    I think you are right about the nature of the next government. And it is going to be more of the same. Even if it were SF & FG rather than Labour & FG nothing substantial would change.


    what is the road? You tell us it is not stageist nor capitalist. Presumably it is socialist. But society will need more than it to be stated for it to be embraced.

    As for winding the clock I questioned the time it displayed on its face. I suppose winding the clock would be the construction of an alternative project. Had I done that I guess I would have a commitment to seeing it strike. Nor am I a revolutionary, being of the view that they shaft us. I don't see anything about to strike and announce the hour of the revolution. Though I would like to see the road out as you envisage it. I think we need to consider all proposed roads out.

    You are right, SF does not own populism. But that does not make them any less populist. What would concern me there is that their authoritarianism and centralism linked to populism makes for a dangerous mix.

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  11. There is a new european mortgage
    which can not be paid back
    to-days tenants in office cant make the ends meet- so they will be kicked out in january-febuary

    it will be up to the new tenants to
    make sure that the people still own
    the property and not let the european wanna be landlords dictate to all

    i dont see the new goverment lasting the full term as the people
    will want results fast and not slogan's- no results no goverment seats.

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  15. "He is much better on the economic question than his party Master whose concept of economics is one plus one equals three and if you disagree you pose a threat to the peace process."

    Great line Anthony.. funny because its true!

    Im surprised thats all michaelhenry had to say. In saying that, he's probably housesitting in Louth for the Master!

  16. Ruairi, someone should be house sitting for him, as apparently he got into diffs for never being at the address in Louth that he registered as his home. Too many houses and then it all gets confusing, just like all the masks he slides in and out of sometimes he isn't quite sure which face should be on display and to whom!

  17. Fionnuala Perry thats the reason why i said that..

    He's not that high and mighty when he cant even vote for himself!

  18. Editor of Spectrezine Steve McGiffen had ba very good article in the Morningstar on Tue.
    He commented the reality was that Europe was not creating a new currency at all with the Euro."Instead, those countries which joined the eurozone were adopting the deutschmark."
    On the ammendments of the Lisbon Treaty and its emerging Federal nature he said this...
    "It is already clear that the billions committed to the emergency fund will prove inadequate. Under such circumstances, it seems certain that the €440 billion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) which the EU established in May will evolve into a fully-fledged lending institution which will play the role of both doctor and policeman when a member state's economy suffers a major collision or swerves of the road.
    This week, EU leaders will be discussing amending the Lisbon Treaty to allow the EFSF to be transformed into a just such a permanent instrument.
    As the EU is about to issue its first criminal law, as the same Lisbon Treaty which enables it to do so also empowers it to establish armed forces, the idea that we are heading for a federal union - one slipped in through the back door rather than openly discussed and voted upon by the peoples of the 27 member states - seems now more fact than suspicion.
    Eurozone leaders are determined to find a form of words which would avoid the need for a referendum. This is in keeping with the entire project, the purpose of which is to remove any democratic influence on macroeconomic policy."
    An altogether very good analysis.
    Full article here...

  19. Stefan,

    It's all good. I busted a gut campaigning against Lisbon and Lisbon 2.

    This kind of skullduggery will provoke revolutions all across Western Europe.

    Bring it on,


  20. We did our bit campaigning for NO2EU and got 1% of the UK vote in the European Parliament elections but we failed to put up an MEP unlike Sinn Féin and BNP.
    Definately an air of discontent abounds especially post Wikileaks.
    The pundits are predicting the fall of Spain next.From another article this week...
    "The Spanish government says it won't happen. And to further reassure the financial markets, it is pushing ahead with a massive austerity programme aimed at halving the public deficit - Europe's third largest - to 6 per cent of GDP within two years.Faced with the massive thumbs down by his Socialist party's natural supporters, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero appeared to take stock. Some hoped that he was about to do a second U-turn from the man who swapped expansionary economic policies for austerity in May. But the hope didn't last.The trigger was another wave of panic in financial markets. Investors holding Spanish government bonds - sovereign debt - were worried about the ability of Europe's fourth-largest economy to service its debts in the wake of the crisis in Ireland, which also said that it didn't need a bailout. The price Spain paid to service its debts went up, putting up the cost of borrowing for Madrid."
    article link...