From top: Ryan Tubridy (left) and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show last Friday; Eamonn Kelly
Last Friday, May 1, International Workers Day, Caretaker Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, addressed the nation, outlining a wind-down of Covid-19 restrictions. There was consternation in some quarters that the address had not been followed by a press Q&A.
This aspect of proceedings, the questioning, would be taking place on RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show that evening, with Ryan Tubridy acting as a kind of nominated journalist invited to grill the leader.
Varadkar’s spin unit burn up an estimated €100,000 of public money per month to make Varadkar’s neo-liberal Fine Gael look good.It’s instructive that even with that type of funding they somehow always fail to put on an entirely convincing show.
This show was no different. That’s what happens when you don’t value or respect the arts; you think if you fling enough money at it that any bozo can act the clown.
The setup, ironically enough, sounded like something from Chavez’s Venezuela or Putin’s Russia. The great leader cocooned with just one selected media person empowered to ask questions.
A carefully managed Q&A featuring an RTÉ stalwart who, strictly speaking, isn’t really a journalist per se, but more of a light entertainment personality with impeccable political establishment credentials.
Afterwards, social media pounced on the fact of Varadkar having to consult his notes during the interview, which probably pleased the FG spin unit no end, since the moment, whether intended or merely happy accident, acted like a magician’s distraction, sending many critics of Varadkar’s neo-liberalism in the wrong direction.
Because this show was about schmoozing the Irish electorate into swallowing the idea that neo-liberals were the best gang to tackle climate change, despite the truckloads of evidence rolling in from laboratories all over the world that neo-liberalism, the ugly face of late-stage capitalism, is actually an aggravator of climate change.
What Neo-Liberals Do
Neo-liberalism has two main goals: rolling back the welfare state and privatising everything. To sell these goals as good ideas it schmoozes people into believing that the return of “lots of good jobs”, which neo-liberalism is forever promising, and which Varadkar promised on The Late Late Show, will be worth the trade of personal freedoms; potential homelessness; lower wages; higher rents; private medical services and climate catastrophe.
Naturally neo-liberals tend to thread carefully while trying to sell this bag of goodies. Their moves are like the moves of cat-burglars, or comedy camouflage experts, encroaching with minute advances after long periods of apparent stillness.
The surprising thing is, they are often successful in selling the awful package. For instance, in the last election, despite the evidence of mounting social injustice, homelessness, emigration and suicide, a full 20.9% of the electorate still went out, presumably of sound mind, and voted for Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael.
But why would the spin unit think it a good idea to attempt to sell the party as the best bet for a Green future on a light entertainment show?
This idea of The late Late Show being a light entertainment show was in fact a bone of contention back in the mid-1960s when Gay Byrne, the innovator of the show, had made it more than a simple light entertainment show, turning it into a forum where the Irish people could meet and talk about issues that affected them and the society.
But, as I mentioned in a previous piece, this aspect of the show was deeply resisted by some, among them Ryan Tubridy’s grandfather, Todd Andrews, who wanted Byrne off the show, intent on making the platform an apolitical light entertainment vehicle.
I mention this now because it was Byrne’s innovative development of the show as a forum for a national conversation that now made it valid for Leo Varadkar to appear on the show, having decided against a press conference, to avail of that understanding of The Late Late Show as a national forum.
The opportunity to sell the big idea opened up when Tubridy asked about the ongoing talks with the Greens to enter coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Leo Varadkar had just begun his answer to the question when Tubridy, who has a tendency, unlike Gay Byrne, to pay more attention to his questions rather than his guests, dived in with another question.
But Varadkar panicked and pulled him back saying that the previous question was important and needed a bit more time for a fuller answer.
And so it proved to be, because the question had opened up the interview to allow neo-liberal Leo to argue that neo-liberal politicians are better equipped to meet climate targets than left wing parties would be.
Because, according to the neo-liberal view presented by Varadkar, the Left would spend their time “fighting” with the business community.
Isn’t that just wonderful? The very flaw at the heart of neo-liberalism, essentially enriching business at the expense of community, and by doing so, contributing to global climate devastation, is offered as the solution to climate change, because neo-liberals get on well with the business community, the same community whose hunger for perpetual growth is contributing to climate change.
And this wonderfully slippery message delivered direct to the Irish people with their guard down, from the cosy homely hearth of The Late Late Show, where the nation had gathered to hear the government plan for the lifting of restrictions, and to sympathise and empathise with the victims of an ongoing health emergency.
We Are…Not the Left
The claim betrays the vacuity of ideas at the core of Varadkar’s neo-liberal ideology.
Lacking the ability to define themselves by any particular standard other than neo-liberalism, which must remain a partially hidden agenda, since its outcomes are so damaging to fundamental social justice, Varadkar’s Fine Gael instead define themselves by repeated reference to leftist ideas.
In other words, what Varadkar’s neo-liberal party stand for is, not being the Left.
Varadkar suggesting, with a straight face, that Fine Gael’s relationship with the business community is a safer bet for meeting climate targets than anything the Left might initiate, is either a statement borne of ignorance of the damage the ideology he champions is wreaking on the environment; or, he simply doesn’t give a damn about the climate, no more than he ever seemed to give a damn about the 10,000 homeless he smilingly helped conjured into existence.
Nevertheless, here he was, claiming that he would somehow out-left the Left, despite being hopelessly Right, and somehow become Green while also creating “lots of jobs”, predicated on the out-dated neo-liberal model of limitless growth in a finite system.
He was, in other words, like old Fianna Fáil, attempting to be all things to all sectors.
Ryan Tubridy helped with the schmooze like an awkward well-intentioned youth trying to help a blind man across a busy road; but in such a way as to suggest prior briefing.
His contribution was concerned with reassuring those voters who had concerns of a Left nature: specifically, concerns related to social housing and the Covid-19 welfare payments.
When the topic of construction workers returning to work was brought up, Tubridy rushed in to mention social housing. To which Varadkar replied, as other Fine Gael personnel have been doing in recent times, that social housing is continuing and ongoing. Even apparently despite the lockdown.
That must be amazing news for the 10,000 homeless now quarantined in hotel rooms, with their landlords happily exporting buckets of public cash to the Cayman Islands.
The second contribution by Tubridy came when he asked Varadkar about the possibility of extending the Covid-19 welfare payments, to coincide with the return to work of various sectors, as outlined in the resuscitating the economy plan.
The answer was in the affirmative, to which Tubridy helpfully chimed in: and that’s a nice gift for May Day. May Day being worker’s day and a red-letter day for the Left (excuse the pun).
However, as soon as Tubridy had so helpfully underlined the apparent coincidence of a rare Fine Gael promise to condone a welfare payment, the promise delivered on May Day, a backstage light flickered and the Fine Gael spin unit was momentarily revealed in silhouette, pulling levers.
Varadkar’s neo-liberal Fine Gael are probably not engaged on some grand plan towards world domination. It’s likely more mundane than that. They have simply chosen sides and basically do all the things that you’re supposed to do when following a neo-liberal agenda. It’s like following a recipe: first you privatise the public services….
Presumably after you’ve dismantled all public services and impoverished everyone but a few billionaires, something wonderful is supposed to fall into place, inaugurating some neo-liberal Shangri-La.
Fine Gael’s particular political machine is designed to pursue these old models based on out-dated and discredited capitalist and neo-liberal ideas. It runs clickety clack on neo-liberal tracks. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t continue with “business as usual” and hope to avert climate catastrophe.
But they do understand simple logistics like “meeting targets”. That’s why they love the Greens’ 7% emissions target. They could politic that kind of thing all day and on through the night.
It’s right up their alley, since it consists of figures that can be bent and twisted and hidden and “re-clarified” until… well, until doomsday. It’s the very thing they do exceptionally well.
Fine Gael entering into a coalition with the Green Party will place demands on the Fine Gael party that the party has never had to face, since such a coalition will require the party to totally reappraise and reform its core neo-liberal ethos, which conflicts so profoundly with the aims of the Green movement and climate repair.
Many people are now coming to the realisation, particularly since Covid-19, that it is time to lockdown capitalism itself for a while, to allow the climate to literally breath and recover from the virus of capitalism. This type of thinking immediately reveals Fine Gael policy as hopelessly out of date and out of touch.
Plus, the last election clearly showed that there is little appetite in Ireland for the ruthless American style brand of neo-liberalism that Leo Varadkar represents.
On this score it might be wise of the Greens to insist, as a condition of entering coalition, that Varadkar steps down from the Fine Gael leadership, to allow his own party to more easily adapt their political model to the rapidly changing times.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.
Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet