Tag Archives: conservative

The Red Carpet and The Mob

In light of the re-emergence in Ireland of The Risen People – finally driven to rebel not just against the unjust water tax but by relentless austerity, authoritarian rule and rampant corruption among the political class, I think it is appropriate to publish a recently discovered piece written in 1969 by my father, Pearse. It will demonstrate how much of a circle game life can be if underlying problems are not dealt with. I know it would do my father’s heart good to see the Irish people come out to take control of their country. If he was still with us he would be at the barricades.

This is what he wrote –

Bernadette [Devlin] has been giving our beloved establishment a rather thin time. She doesn’t seem to realise fully just how firmly based our institutions really are. After all, our conservatives scored heavily in the last general election. The good old profit motive was fully endorsed by the electorate. The remnants of the Irish race, left here at home prefer to lie down, and be counted-out. We have lost faith in ourselves, and God seems to be on the side of the stronger battalions.

Bernadette is quite wrong to equate our gentle whimsical green Tories with the tough, die hard bull Tories of merry England, such as Sir Gerald Nabarro and his ilk. To be quite fair to our own dear Tories, they would all be socialists only for what happened to them – they were born lucky, and got rich. There’s the difference.

Bernadette’s abrasiveness is wasted on our smooth operators down here. Of course, they may only be pretending to be Tories, because any leftish tendencies, any slight list to port might result in the offender getting a ‘belt of a crozier’ to steady him up. A wise statesman plays it cool because he knows the score. It’s like this:

In the beginning God made a long red carpet, and rolled it out to infinity across the good flat earth, and He said, ‘Let there be kings’. And lo, there were kings. There were fat kings and thin. Tall and short kings. Foolish kings and wise ones. Kings white and black and all shades between. Kings good, and kings evil. Oodles of kings and all equally invested with divine rights, all trooping down the red carpet in endless succession, by the Grace of God.

They came with all their retinues in gorgeous array. Princes and Prelates, Dukes and Earls, Baronets and Knights all duly supporting their divinely accredited monarchs.

All was not exactly rosy on the nice red carpet. Heads rolled in grisly profusion. Crowned heads, heads with coronets, mitred heads, and plain ordinary swelled heads. No king on record lasted long without his head. That was a fact of life, divine rights notwithstanding. The natural order was preserved –  the survival of the fittest and all that. A bit messy, but no hard feelings. ‘The King is dead, long live the King’, and that sort of thing.

At some stage of the game the supply of kings started to dwindle. This was only to be expected. The royal mortality rate was rather high, due to one occupational hazard or another. Only a fool would want to be a king who wasn’t actually born with a crown on his head.

The kings in their heyday were very partial to a well-filled stocking, and they had lots of leisure, with predictable results. They say the Hapsburg chin was discernable in the most unexpected corners, for instance. There was no formal study of genetics in those days of course, but we know that the cutest hen lays out. This is where the hard-line Tories come from.

Wealth and power was a reasonable substitute for a crown especially when the divine right was extended to private property. Anyway there were only a limited number of crowns. The idea was to stay put on the red carpet with all those solid churchmen – to play it safe in saecula saeculorum Amen. Official Tory policy.

Suddenly, much too close to the red carpet, hordes of unruly peasants and workers appeared, churning up the mud and kicking up a row trying to get onto the plush. Couldn’t the damn fools see that there simply wasn’t enough room? By Gad, sir, the cheek of them, all swinish anarchists and socialists, fighting each other and everyone else.

Keep back, fools! Back to your places. Be content. It’s not for long anyway and there’s pie in the sky for sure.

Preach to them, Bish. Tell them they’ve never had it so good. Think of something quick. Tell them God is on our side. Tell them its a sin. Get through to them Bish, for heaven’s sake or we’ll all be dished.

Look at the silly bastards trampling each other in the mud, and blood. Serves them damn well right. Steady boys steady. Press on regardless and show no mercy. We can’t have millions of stupid clods getting mud all over the bloody carpet.

Oh to Hell with it all, there’s too many of them. They’re everywhere. Press the button. Finish the lot. It could never be the same again anyway.

Pearse Stokes

16th December 1969


Alternative to Irish media hegemony is vital

The Irish people, we are constantly reminded, are an innately conservative lot. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from that conservatism being present from birth, part of the DNA of the Irish, it is solely the consequence of cultural formation. At one time it could be argued that that conservatism was the result of  a peculiar form of Catholicism, Ultramontanism, inflicted on the unfortunate people in the early 19th century. There is truth in that, but it tells only part of the story. The decline in the power of the Catholic church in recent decades has not led to a significant shift from conservatism. The answer to this prolonged ideological stasis lies in the media landscape of Ireland.

Ireland is virtually unique among European countries, and many countries in the wider world, in having no significant left-wing press. The three national daily newspapers in the ‘Republic’ of Ireland are to all intents ideologically interchangeable. The ideas and values they present to the readers are essentially conservative on politics, liberal on social  matters, and neo-liberal on economics. The same is true about the Sunday newspapers, and about broadcast media whether privately owned commercial stations or the semi-state national broadcasting company, RTE.

In this media environment, any ideas, values or principles that come out of left-wing ideology are routinely rubbished and ridiculed, usually with an air of authority and often with a sneer. Socialised medicine was recently rubbished on RTE radio as ‘Utopia’ – used as a pejorative term of course – as if the health systems in much of Europe, far superior to ours, could be dismissed just like that, an unattainable daydream. A recent demand by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland that public funding of €100 million for private schools should be withdrawn and used instead for severely disadvantaged public schools met a similar barrage of criticism, much of it from privately educated broadcasters and journalists.

That the existing Irish media not only failed utterly to challenge the ‘Celtic Tiger’ neo-liberal ‘market driven’ economic policies but actually promoted the crazy construction ‘boom’ that those policies were designed to fuel, demonstrates not just the failure of the Irish media to perform its functions  of informing the public and of holding the powerful to account, but its complicity in the creation of a national economic catastrophe. Instead of raising all of the pertinent questions arising from insane economic policies, those voices – most often of the left – which were raised against disastrous public policies were either silenced or rubbished.

The right-wing media hegemony must be broken if there is to be any basis for Ireland being able to claim to be a truly democratic State. The absence of fair presentation of ideas and values that offer an alternative to the political hegemony of permanent right-wing government by one or other of the civil war parties, the ideological twins Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, denies both the notion of a ‘free’ press and the repetitive claim that the Irish electorate is well-informed and well-served by its national media.

The defence of the Irish media that is routinely trotted out is that the media give the readers what the readers want. In the first  place there is no alternative offered, secondly an audience is through repetition over time cultured into believing that what is presented is the ‘norm’ and is the ‘common-sense’ position, particularly when the same small panel of ‘experts’, drawn from the ranks of the political class and elevated to celebrity status by the same media, is used over and over again in print and on radio and TV shows.

The belief is fostered that there is no market for a daily newspaper with the capacity to challenge the Irish Independent, Irish Times and Irish Examiner. A newspaper needs readers, not just to recoup costs through the cover price but more importantly to attract advertisers. To do this it is necessary to have a readership that it is worth marketing products to, and so middle-class and wealthier readers are important, but so too are lower income readers who also consume products and services and need public service information ads.

The approximate circulation figures for the national dailies are: Irish Independent 140,000; Irish times 102,000; Irish Examiner 46,000. Could a new left-wing daily newspaper match those figures, even the lowest? And from which part of the population might it do so?

In the recent General Election the two conservative political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, garnered just under 1.2 million votes. The combined vote for those other parties that are, or claim to be, of the left was approximately 760,000, not counting leftist independents. Another figure worth considering is the total trade union membership in this State of about 600,000. Out of either of those numbers it is difficult to see how a good quality alternative to the current trio of conservative newspapers would not be able to match at least the lowest circulation figure, that of the Irish Examiner.

But what of setup and running costs? A creative approach would be needed, but one ally that a new newspaper has is new communications and printing technology, combined with the capacity to print simultaneously in different regions or provinces to reduce distribution costs and speed delivery. By setting achievable circulation targets and initially using freelance journalists and interns alongside a core of seasoned professional staff under a good team of editors it is feasible to challenge the existing Irish national dailies for readers, and more importantly to set out to win readers away from the Irish versions of British newspapers. There is also, very likely, a large cohort of potential readers who opt for a quality British newspaper, or for none at all.

The plain fact is that until an alternative to the existing conservative national daily newspapers is put in place, then the media hegemony which sustains the political hegemony will continue its work of distortion and propagandising, maintaining a roadblock on the journey to the day when we can legitimately say that this State is a democratic one.

Election Mania: notes from the asylum 4

On his ‘Tonight’ programme on TV3, Vincent Browne has taken the parties of the Left to task for their failure to tap into the mood for change among the electorate and asked various representative of those parties – ‘Why?’.  None of them has given the glaringly obvious answer.

In a multi-party democracy those who control media coverage control the propaganda war. These ‘controllers’ include senior editors and producers, and senior journalists and ‘elite’ commentators. But more than that, control is influenced by the ethos of the media outlet, whether a TV or radio station, or a newspaper or magazine.

In the Republic of Ireland there is no organ of the mainstream national media – TV, radio or printed press – that meets the test for diversity or pluralism as those terms apply to balanced coverage of various political ideologies. Not only do we not have any significant organ of the media that could be described as left of centre, counterbalancing the conservative ethos of the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Irish Examiner, and RTE, TV3 and other national and local broadcasters, but within those organs there is evidence of a strong bias towards maintaining the ‘status quo’ and treating parties and individuals who are outside the mainstream dismissively, and even contemptuously.

Press ownership by wealthy individuals and companies, and by the State in the case of RTE, is one reason for this attitude on the part of the employees of media producers. They are, naturally, mindful of who they work for and to and of the need to hold onto their positions. But the real problem is an attitudinal one, a failure on the part of very many producers/editors and journalists to apply the central principles of fairness and accuracy to their coverage of politics and public policy options.

Understanding who producers/editors and journalists are with regard to social class, training, cultural influences and social peer and workplace pressure is a valid way of understanding why there is a uniformity across the media in the treatment of any political movement which diverges from the status quo. It is reasonable to say that the vast bulk of political coverage in the media is far more reflective of the views of those living in the leafy suburbs of South Dublin, than of the mass of people who live in housing estates, in rural towns and villages, or in remote communities.

Two examples will back that up – the narrow selection of ‘expert’ political commentators, and the skewed selection of discussion panels on popular current affairs programmes on radio and TV, invariably drawn from the ‘political class’ – politicians, professionals, business men and women, academics. The research is simple to do, and using a sociological approach the outcome inevitably demonstrates that the influential voices are almost invariably establishment voices with minor and usually inconsequential variations.

Since it is mainly through the media that we get information and ideas – but also ways of thinking and seeing the world we inhabit – it is vital for the citizens and for democracy itself  that a full range of information is accessible, that different political ideas are respectfully debated and analysed, and that the cosy bourgeois consensus in the media is ended.

In the absence of journalists moderating themselves by ensuring that the principles of fairness and accuracy are observed, and indeed pressurising their employers to allow themselves as professionals to do so, then it falls to society, if its members really do believe in deomocracy, to apply that pressure from outside.

Those Left-wing parties who failed to identify this to Vincent Browne and the TV audience as the major problem they face in seeking to end the hegemony of the Right in Irish politics, need to urgently begin to address the matter in a unified way in public, to apply the sort of pressure that they are capable of doing both inside parliament and on the streets, and even to consider the viability of alternatives to the corrupted media in Ireland. A failure by the Left to challenge media hegemony now means repetitious failure of the Left in the future. This organised challenge must be the first item on the Left’s agenda, post-election.

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