From top: Acting Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael Leo Varadkar speaks to the press at at Leinster House on February 17; Eamonn Kelly
The attacks on voters for change by various journalists since the election has been very revealing of a cultural elite feeling itself under threat.
The FF and FG response to the election has been basically to attempt to discredit the alternative parties, mainly Sinn Féin, that the electorate backed for change.
And this line is supported by quite a number of influential “mainstream” journalists. Sometimes overtly, as in Pat Kenny’s and Paul Williams’ outbursts, but often more subtly.
For instance, Harry McGee writing in the Irish Times (February 24) about Leo Varadkar’s warning of “intimidation and bullying” from Sinn Féin, presents the article in such a way as to portray Leo Varadkar in a very favourable light, ending with a description that makes the taoiseach seem still engaged with building “that” future of 2040.
As if the confusion and what The Guardian described as “hysteria” of the post-election reaction is beneath him.
And while Una Mullaly and Fintan O’Toole among others, have far more objective views expressed in recent articles, there are many who still seem genuinely appalled by the results of the election.
Kathy Sheridan’s “Memo to Sinn Féin” in the Irish Times (February 19), while it concentrates on Sinn Féin, all but ignores the key issue at the heart of the election result: namely that Varadkar’s neo-liberal programme was creating social inequality.
And while many would agree that some of Sinn Féin’s language has been a bit uncomfortable at times, the result of the election is more about the electorate and Ireland’s structural inequalities than it is about Sinn Féin’s world view per se.
The message to FF and FG from the electorate was that the neo-liberal policies they are pursuing were being rejected.
But rather than taking this on-board, FF and FG and their media supporters are attempting really to insist that everyone who isn’t with them is tragically mistaken in their judgement.
But by taking this view, they are defending, not common economic sense, which is how they frame it, but they are actually defending structural inequality.
Everyone knows that media outlets take political stands and speak for certain viewpoints. But Breda O’Brien’s columns in the Irish Times during the election were a case in point of how loose the divisions between politics and journalism really are, with barely a pretense that such a division is even necessary.
One article in particular (January 25) while ostensibly concerned about “smashing” Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum politics, actually turned out to be something of a party-political broadcast on behalf of Aontú.
This is a familiar feint of her articles, where she sets out to discuss one thing and, wouldn’t you know it, ends up talking about Aontú, again, usually as the solution to the problem profiled.
But is that okay? It seems to me to be taking liberties. It’s like someone lost their job description, and in the absence of accountability they can pretty much use the space as they please. Why not support consumer products while you’re at it?
I was of the opinion that journalism should stand outside politics. That this is its role in a functioning democracy. That once it climbs into bed with a political party it’s no longer journalism in the accepted sense of being an independent voice outside political influence.
From that perspective, journalists who persist in promoting a leader who has been humbled at the polls on a question of policies that are actively creating inequality, are either agreeing to admire the Emperor’s new clothes, or have taken a conscious decision to stand with policies aimed at economic exclusion for some, in order to protect and enrich the interests of more privileged sectors of the community.
Since it has been shown that the type of policies pursued by Fine Gael do lead to social inequality, as discussed in my essay on Joseph Stiglitz’s book “The Price of Inequality” it follows that partisan journalism of parties creating neo-liberal policies, are also promoters of social inequality, using their journalistic platforms and status to this end.
The Price of Everything
It can be argued then that the damage to social inequality that neo-liberal policies cause, doesn’t stop at low wages, homelessness, hospital waiting lists and so on, but also finds its way into the fabric of cultural institutions, informing the way business is done and how “normality” is perceived.
Everything, including journalism, is then affected and demeaned and hollowed out by a system that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
It is in reaction to this alienating creed, that new ideas like basic income have been proposed to counter the effect of inequality by these systems of late-stage capitalism. And it was in reaction also to Fine Gael’s neo-liberalism that the established parties suffered so badly in the election.
Many people simply voted left in the election, for change. But all have been denigrated by various establishment journalists who, most likely, are acutely aware that political change, particularly in the back-scratching yes-man Irish political and socio/cultural system, could be a serious lifestyle threat.
They more than anyone must be aware of the clamour of youthful journalistic graduates, with plenty to say, banging on the gates of a profession that is itself in decline.
But it is a system that seems based on “agreeableness” as the main mode of promotion, whose consequence is silence and head-nodding in the affirmative. Not good attributes for meaningful journalism.
Already this silence is beginning to settle on the election result as the official narrative develops in its own sweet Pollyanna way.
The swing to the left in the election has also upset the comfortable middle-class parlour games that normally follow an Irish election, revolving as they do around the fortunes of mainly FF and FG, and whatever potentially comical fall guy either happen to rope into coalition to later saddle with all the blame.
The whole sorry cartel has been cracked wide open, and both establishment parties and their establishment media supporters seem quite lost as to how to deal with this new spin on events.
It is as if they are looking at a now suddenly more empowered electorate, and wondering, Who are they, crashing our exclusive party?
In the Name of Love
It is likely that FF and FG will reach a deal, no matter how brazenly self-serving it may appear. Coming together to form a government which they will no doubt insist is in the national interest, to protect everyone from the “barmy left”.
Their journo supporters will go on about how divisiveness was avoided and rationality was preserved as Micheál and Leo heroically overcame their historical differences in the national interest.
There might even be a Bono moment, where Micheál and Leo shake hands, the civil war declared over, and Bono sings “In the Name of Love”, quietly, on acoustic guitar, leaving not a dry eye in the house.
The establishment media yes-men will bring out the bunting and celebrate the new “peace”, while privately blowing party trumpets for the survival of the habitat that sustains their own sub-species.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.
Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet