“Nil point” in watching: Israel, Eurovision and BDS

With this week’s Eurovision events having started already, there is considerable debate being generated over the campaign to force national broadcasters and sponsors to boycott the event. Such calls come as part of the ongoing BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign, which is being conducted by members of Palestinian civil society in conjunction with international groups and movements around the world.

The aim of the campaign is to end the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, dismantle the system of Apartheid for Palestinians and Arabs within Israel and to have Israel respect the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Eurovision is just the latest strategic target for the campaign, which has previously successfully targeted business, sports and culture activities taking place within Israel.

The effectiveness of economic boycotts as a tactic, utilized during the American Civil Rights campaign and the struggle against South African apartheid, has led to a counter-campaign on behalf of Israel and its allies. Both the US and UK have passed legislation which effectively bans the boycotting of Israeli goods.

Within music and culture, there have been numerous concerts and tours cancelled (Lorde, Lana Del Rey), as well as a few that have gone ahead with much criticism (Radiohead, Nick Cave) thanks to a cultural boycott which to an extent predates the BDS campaign itself. There is a consistent line which is pedaled by defenders of such events, including many of the artists themselves. See if you can spot any particular commonalities:

“I don’t intend to engage in a detailed discussion as to how the boycott of Israel can be seen to be anti-Semitic at heart and, furthermore, does not work (rather, it risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you support), but even the estimable Noam Chomsky considers the BDS as lacking legitimacy and inherently hypocritical. What we actually have here is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what the purpose of music is.” – Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files Issue #13

““It’s deeply disrespectful to assume that we’re either being misinformed or that we’re so retarded we can’t make these decisions ourselves…. Now if you’re talking about trying to make things progress in any society, if you create division, what do you get? You get fucking Theresa May. You get Netanyahu, you get fucking Trump. That’s divisive.” – Thom Yorke, Pitchfork

These excuses have evolved a little bit from the one offered by Queen guitarist Brian May when asked about his band’s decision to play at the Sun City Casino complex in South Africa in the 80s.

“We’ve thought a lot about the morals o.f it a lot…and it is something we’ve decided to do. The band is not political – we play to anybody who wants to come and listen.”

Alright, so the bar for these events to be supposedly successful and worthwhile is clear in its terms, echoing general liberal notions that progress comes from exposure to experience and ideas of openness. There’s also a further assumption, implied or stated at times, that artists boycotting Israel means those most likely to support progress or change are the ones missing out, given these events are overwhelmingly attended by young and presumably right on Israelis.

This notion is false in the first instance for its dismissal of the role of economic and material consequences in societal change (see the aforementioned campaigns) but it isn’t even correct on its own terms.

This is due to the fact that the occupation and the apartheid system used to sustain it enjoys support, both tacit and otherwise, across the ideological spectrum within Israel. Whilst the Oslo accords are now looked back on with reverence given the de facto non-existent peace process since Camp David and the second intifada, even they provided a blueprint that is now used to copper-fasten the occupation, pending “final status” talks that will never happen.

The creation of “facts on the ground” through the building of illegal settlements within the occupied territories, the massive securitisation of Israel itself and the ongoing siege of Gaza, around which a new wall is being built, have meant a massive imbalance between the sides that has not been corrected by international institutions or major powers in the paltry negotiations to have taken place over the past decade.

In short, avenues for “change” are extremely narrow whilst simultaneously Isreal enjoys membership of many international sporting and cultural organisations. The Eurovision is similar to the World Cup and other major events, in that attracting it to a country is a goal of governments and it is frequently accompanied by ample opportunities for propaganda and self-promotion, with little to no evidence they leave a lasting positive effect on their countries politics. One need only look at the fallout from Brazil’s hosting of both the World cup and Olympics, which contributed towards the development of a serious divide between the political elite and populace that engendered the rise of the reactionary and fascist Javier Bolsonaro.

The only hope is that a general shift in the political and material circumstances can be achieved. When FW De Klerk called the 1992 South African referendum, which was conducted among white South Africans with the intent of giving him a mandate to see out talks on a new constitution to a conclusion, he did so as he knew the armed struggle, boycotts and sanctions had placed whites into a situation where peace was less costly than the status quo. White South Africans could not go to international sports events, watch touring artists or do many of the other recreational things which marked out their middle and upper class counterparts within North America or Europe.

When the results came in, they were a landslide in favour of negotiations continuing to a conclusion, including within the bastions of the right wing that had put De Clerk under pressure with by-election victories. Regardless of ideological affiliation within the white population, the circumstances had been created that meant an unjust political architecture had to end, at least in the formalised terms it had existed.

There are other historical examples too which I will forgo analysing for the sake of brevity, but the case for social change in repressive regimes by giving them what they want as part of their overall strategic goals remains weak and the moral and strategic case for a boycott of the Israeli Eurovision remains strong. Watch something else this Saturday!



The Independent Group and the Rise of Macronisation

When historians look back upon our current political environment, it will be hard for them to top Anna Soubry’s declaration on Newsnight that The Independent Group have no policies as a pithy summary of current political hegemony. “It’s almost difficult to articulate (the common ground between the MPs), as it’s just so obvious to us” Soubry explained when pushed about what binds the defectors from Labour and the Tories. Well quite.

The key elements of Soubry’s interview, and the wider political development of The Independent Group, have been in play for a few decades now. Here’s just a few of them:

-Extensive training to reframe even the most straightforward of questions. See Soubry’s incredulity at the idea of even having policies for an example.

-A focus on “evidence based policymaking” and on what “works”. The obvious questions of what evidence and what something “working” might look like are of course never answered.

-Treating balance, neutrality and reasonableness as political tenets, such that a contrast with left or right wing politics is made to imply there is something inherently unbalanced, biased and unreasonable about other political positions.

Despite all this, it hasn’t taken too much effort to coax more details from the Group, who have admitted they are opposed to raising taxes on the rich, probably about right for a group compromised of those on the right of the Labour party and eh, from whatever section of the Tories the other 3 could be described as being from. In addition, any political organisation will still be a sum of its parts, and one comprising characters, and I do mean characters, such as Mike Gapes or Angela Smith should probably expect a few speed bumps along the way.

There is little new in all of this, with the “third way” of Blair, Clinton, Schroder et al, having dominated electoral politics in the west throughout much of the 1990s. The left, the orthodoxy goes, would have to compromise with capitalism to make any progress. The right of course, well, they could stay where they were. Or just rebrand as “Big Society” Toryism or Compassionate Conservatism etc whilst keeping the large parts of their agenda intact.

What is more unique about The Independent Group is their mirroring of a wider tactical trend that has seen the establishment of separate parties and movements as a vehicle for centrist values and policies. Rather than attempting to steer social democratic parties towards free market policies, the strategy now is to construct new platforms which are devoid of the structures, logos or names of legacy political parties.

Inspired by the En Marche grouping of Emmanuel Macron, which was formed as a vehicle for the former Socialist cabinet member to gain a parliamentary group which backed his agenda, the trend can also be said to encompass the rise of Ciudadnos from being an anti-Catalan nationalist fringe party to a vehicle to disrupt the two party hegemony of Spain.

The need to discard legacy parties, a Macronisation process, is necessary for centrists for a number of reasons. First is the Paskoification of Social Democratic parties leading to their collapse as viable electoral vehicles, within Spain, Germany, Italy as well as the eponymous Greece. The reflection on these processes has generated some notable contradictions, with Hilary Clinton’s declaration that such parties are insufficiently tough on immigration being not untypical of the rhetoric.

The second reason is closely related to the first, with the memberships of these parties, who are unsurprisingly a little closer to everyday politics than elite figures, backing a turn back towards social democracy and leftist politics more generally. This led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, off the back of a pretty spectacular own goal by the traditional right and center in the party by opening up leadership elections to the membership. However this tendency has been successfully disciplined in other countries, Germany notable amongst them.

In general terms, the hollowing out of parties and their divorce from representing interest groups (at least on the left) has meant many politicians are more concerned with favorable media coverage than with motivating and mobilizing mass movements. However they must still operate under the existing political governance structures, and the threat of deselection within their constituencies focused the minds of TIG members, as a mentor of Chris Leslie’s let slip.

Having to deal with the tricky question of your party members not agreeing with you, and even attempting to deselect you, isn’t the kind of thing you need when on a mission to save them from themselves, although the Independent Group are likely going to find Britain is not France, and old fashioned electoral politics may yet deal them a tough hand.

The final reason is the need to present a fresh and unblemished entity to the public, and perhaps more importantly, the media. Free of previous embarrassments and defeats, as well as the political meanings and positions that parties inevitably hold, the construction of these vehicles avoids having to reconcile such contradictions.

The strategy has, despite some setbacks, given TIG a strong showing in the initial polling but as the 2017 general election and Brexit have shown, political dynamics are not always easily captured by traditional assumptions pollsters make. The 2010 general election, where a positive showing in polling for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats actually saw them making no gains at, should give them pause for thought.

But there is a degree to which no such reflection will take place. The stakes for the individuals within the TIG, which is nothing less than their political careers, are too high for them not to try anything. And just as importantly, the possibility of failure for the wider centrist political project is nothing something they are prepared to countenance.

Who Voted For Peter Casey?: Part 2

Content warning: This post mentions the 2015 Carrickmines fire. 

In part 1 of this two part post, I took a look at a lot of the context of the race, including how Casey’s comments on the travelling community were what helped him to gain the exposure necessary to become a viable candidate to many. There’s since been some further articles on the same theme, with Niamh Kirk and Liz Carolan both worth a read.

There has also been concern expressed by the travelling community that they are now going to be used as a punching bag for electoral purposes, a frequent occurrence within local election contexts but something which now may be a reality within national campaigns too. There has long been backslapping over the absence of a far-right party within the Irish electoral landscape (see here or here), and an under-examination of the fact that right wing policies, such as denial of citizenship to everyone born here or direct provision, have been implemented and sustained irregardless of who is in power.

The political conditions that have limited the growth of newer parties also makes Casey’s performance unlikely to lead to the ushering in of a new party, or the significant transformation of an existing one’s policies. Instead it seems like it will keep the “debate”, such as it is, about the travelling community to the forefront, with perhaps less of a tone of respectability. The same factors that saw The Irish Times run a poll on its website asking if residents were right to physically block the path of Carrickmines’ survivors are the ones that have produced Casey as a supposedly significant figure.

The analysis of polls or election results should not be divorced from the political context which produced them, and the interminable post-mortem of the 2016 US Presidential election is instructive in this regard. Analyses have purported to prove Trump was elected thanks to the intervention of James Comey, the support of the well off who are economically anxious about their children’s future and (naturally) those damn Russians. Less attention has been paid to voter suppression/purging, the merits or otherwise of Clinton and her campaign or the fact that Trump mostly relied upon the GOP’s usual voter base.

With this in mind, how should we interpret Casey’s vote? As explained in part 1, Casey did perform better in rural areas compared to urban ones, albeit still lagging significantly behind Michael D. Higgins. But with data at a constituency level a little too general to make observations, I have managed to get my hands on some tally data which might help. However tally data does suffer from being less accurate than official results, as well as giving a small sample size. It does offer a great deal of insights though, especially when cross compared to census data.

This election also saw very few places run a full tally, with the political class of Ireland thankfully having more pressing things to do of a Saturday morning, but two constituencies that ran close to a full tally were Louth and Dublin Central, with both being no more than .5% out for each candidate*. Serious regressions or other statistical analysis aren’t really possible given the size and homogeneity of the sample, but here are some select insights from both constituencies.

Dublin Central:

Table 1. Electoral divisions in Dublin Central, ranked by Casey %.

Electoral Division Casey Duffy Freeman Gallagher Higgins Ni Riada Spoilt
North City 17.14% 1.43% 7.14% 0.00% 61.43% 7.14% 5.71%
Cabra East B 15.07% 1.23% 5.24% 2.54% 60.69% 12.78% 2.46%
Cabra West D 14.39% 2.55% 6.92% 3.46% 58.47% 11.84% 2.37%
Cabra West A 13.87% 1.76% 6.05% 4.49% 53.71% 18.16% 1.95%
Ballybough A 13.76% 1.26% 5.68% 3.28% 60.61% 14.02% 1.39%
Cabra West B 13.42% 0.99% 5.65% 4.66% 47.74% 26.13% 1.41%
Cabra East C 13.01% 1.28% 5.23% 4.34% 64.41% 10.59% 1.15%
Drumcondra South B 13.00% 1.50% 4.00% 4.00% 67.00% 8.50% 2.00%
Cabra East A 12.39% 1.44% 4.79% 2.62% 70.43% 6.23% 2.10%
Rotunda A 11.90% 0.23% 7.09% 3.66% 63.16% 11.67% 2.29%
Mountjoy B 11.63% 2.33% 6.05% 3.26% 63.72% 10.23% 2.79%
Mountjoy A 11.43% 2.29% 5.71% 5.14% 55.14% 18.00% 2.29%
Arran Quay B 11.09% 1.36% 6.23% 1.95% 72.18% 6.03% 1.17%
North Dock B 10.39% 1.40% 4.89% 3.84% 60.09% 15.20% 4.19%
Cabra West C 10.32% 1.08% 5.38% 3.66% 63.33% 14.62% 1.61%
Arran Quay A 10.07% 1.74% 4.51% 3.47% 70.14% 9.03% 1.04%
Inns Quay A 9.87% 0.26% 7.01% 2.86% 68.05% 10.39% 1.56%
Rotunda B 9.52% 2.38% 4.76% 0.00% 69.05% 9.52% 4.76%
Inns Quay B 9.27% 1.07% 6.77% 3.03% 62.92% 13.73% 3.21%
North Dock A 8.68% 2.43% 4.86% 2.43% 73.26% 6.94% 1.39%
Ballybough B 8.59% 0.89% 5.19% 2.96% 71.11% 5.93% 5.33%
Inns Quay C 8.18% 0.61% 6.97% 4.85% 61.21% 16.67% 1.52%
North Dock C 7.71% 1.50% 5.57% 3.64% 58.03% 21.20% 2.36%
Arran Quay C 6.87% 0.72% 4.88% 4.34% 72.33% 8.14% 2.71%
Arran Quay E 6.55% 0.73% 4.66% 2.47% 76.86% 4.80% 3.93%
Arran Quay D 5.44% 1.39% 4.75% 3.24% 73.26% 7.75% 4.17%

Casey fails to come close to his national vote in any of the Electoral Divisions (EDs) that make up the constituency, but there are marked differences in performance. However his highest vote being in the North City ED is somewhat misleading, as there were only 70 votes tallied for a 11% turnout in that area, which comprises most of the streets around the north inner city, the majority of which are given over to retail.

Of more interest, and maybe of more significance, are larger areas where Casey did well, such as most of Cabra and the small part of Drumcondra that is in Dublin Central. These are largely older areas with a higher owner occupancy rate when compared to the likes of the Arran Quay EDs, which comprise the areas around Arbor Hill and Stoneybatter, both areas with a large number of renters. This chimes somewhat with the below observation from Gavin Reilly:

However in looking at tally data from the two referendums, the results are less clear.

Screenshot 2018-11-01 at 5.08.44 PM


As a mixed urban and rural constituency, Louth should allow for some interesting comparisons.

Polling District Casey Duffy Freeman Gallagher Higgins Ní Riada
Killanny 26.10% 9.83% 7.12% 7.46% 40.68% 8.81%
Julianstown 21.54% 8.30% 4.09% 6.14% 53.79% 6.14%
Bush 21.48% 1.53% 5.88% 8.44% 53.96% 8.70%
Stabannon 21.48% 3.70% 1.85% 9.26% 58.15% 5.56%
Clermont Gate 21.46% 2.61% 5.41% 8.96% 55.78% 5.78%
Drakestown 21.22% 4.94% 3.78% 7.56% 54.36% 8.14%
Knockbridge 20.30% 3.38% 7.89% 10.90% 51.50% 6.02%
Tallanstown 20.24% 3.37% 3.20% 7.59% 59.02% 6.58%
Castlering 19.91% 3.24% 4.63% 6.94% 59.03% 6.25%
Sandpit 19.78% 6.90% 5.41% 5.41% 58.02% 4.48%
Collon 19.64% 4.17% 7.14% 6.94% 53.57% 8.53%
Mullary 19.59% 4.73% 5.18% 5.41% 61.26% 3.83%
Ardee Urban 19.35% 4.49% 4.72% 11.22% 48.22% 12.00%
Kilcurry 18.98% 4.86% 3.94% 4.63% 56.02% 11.57%
Willistown 18.85% 3.14% 5.76% 3.66% 60.73% 7.85%
Clonkeen 18.47% 4.05% 6.76% 9.91% 53.60% 7.21%
Dunleer 17.66% 4.14% 3.59% 8.28% 58.76% 7.59%
Darver 17.53% 3.45% 5.46% 7.76% 61.21% 4.60%
Termonfeckin 17.42% 8.71% 4.06% 4.93% 58.64% 6.24%
Fieldstown 17.40% 6.49% 5.71% 7.79% 57.66% 4.94%
Ardee Rural 17.37% 4.03% 5.72% 10.17% 55.72% 6.99%
Kilcurley 17.09% 6.93% 4.16% 7.39% 53.35% 11.09%
St Peters Drogheda 17.09% 7.57% 6.41% 6.99% 51.84% 10.10%
Kilsaran 16.67% 3.86% 5.28% 10.37% 52.24% 11.59%
Dundalk Central 16.65% 1.94% 5.05% 6.67% 59.56% 10.14%
Tullyallen 16.44% 6.33% 3.78% 7.31% 56.03% 10.11%
Rampark 16.40% 2.12% 3.17% 10.58% 56.08% 11.64%
Louth 16.39% 4.52% 6.02% 9.53% 54.68% 8.86%
St Marys 16.38% 5.60% 5.57% 4.60% 61.96% 5.89%
Dundalk East 16.24% 1.91% 3.41% 5.02% 57.65% 15.77%
Bellurgan 16.21% 1.92% 3.57% 11.81% 55.77% 10.71%
Walshestown 16.15% 6.54% 3.46% 7.31% 64.62% 1.92%
Ravensdale 15.91% 2.10% 3.50% 5.42% 60.31% 12.76%
Laurence Gate 15.77% 7.02% 4.17% 5.34% 58.85% 8.85%
Dromiskin 15.60% 3.67% 5.24% 6.55% 58.98% 9.96%
Philipstown 15.43% 5.25% 7.41% 8.33% 52.47% 11.11%
Monksland 15.41% 0.72% 3.58% 4.66% 53.76% 21.86%
Blackrock 15.27% 2.48% 6.46% 6.69% 62.25% 6.86%
Dysart 14.76% 5.90% 4.43% 5.54% 61.25% 8.12%
Dundalk West 14.64% 2.88% 5.16% 6.14% 58.78% 12.39%
Julianstown (Laytown/Bettystown) 14.62% 4.58% 6.02% 5.72% 62.72% 6.33%
Clogher 14.60% 6.91% 4.87% 7.38% 56.20% 10.05%
Duleek 14.16% 7.51% 6.25% 4.47% 57.63% 9.97%
Carlingford 13.55% 1.48% 3.69% 4.19% 65.52% 11.58%
West Gate 13.14% 6.96% 3.99% 4.96% 60.44% 10.51%
Faughart 13.05% 3.94% 5.17% 7.39% 55.17% 15.27%
Creggan Upper 12.93% 2.72% 4.76% 3.74% 42.18% 33.67%
Monasterboice 12.77% 4.26% 6.74% 7.80% 62.77% 5.67%
Baltray 10.42% 7.72% 3.86% 3.86% 70.27% 3.86%
Omeath 9.89% 2.26% 4.24% 10.17% 58.19% 15.25%
Greenore 9.63% 3.33% 5.19% 8.89% 62.96% 10.00%

Here the story is a little more straightforward and largely mirrors the national trends, where Casey does well in some of the rural parts of Louth and fares slightly less well around Dundalk, Drogheda and on the Cooley peninsula. However he matches his own national vote in Julianstown, which lies between Drogheda and Balbriggan, and is very much part of the commuter belt. Due to my own time constraints and desire to get this out in a timely fashion, I’m going to forgo comparisons with the Marriage Equality and Repeal referendums for Louth.

Overall, the signs seem to indicate that support for Casey is part of a larger tradition of right wing and conservative ideology in Ireland, albeit without simple contours and points of departure. What is also increasingly clear is that the new rise in “populist” right wing candidates, who are categorised by the media as underdogs in a battle against political correctness, relies on the same support basis as the traditional right wing.

Ireland is not any different in that regard nor immune to the consequences of these trends, and complacency or equivocation will continue to allow the likes of Casey and others to do damage. Rather than attempt to find comfort in the insignificance of Casey’s vote, what the result implies about our politics should be confronted, in all of its forms.

*My thanks go to those who ran the tally in both constituencies.



Who Voted For Peter Casey?: Part 1

Since the exit polls emerged late on Friday,  predicting an emphatic win for Michael D. Higgins, you could be forgiven for thinking the incumbent president had actually lost. The polls also correctly foreshadowed an unanticipated decent performance for former wooden spoon contender Peter Casey, and it was this result which has occupied much of the coverage of the count.

Casey had managed to come last in all of the polls leading up to the election, suggesting the final ten days, which included an RTE Prime Time debate and two Virgin Media debates, made a serious difference.

Screenshot 2018-10-29 at 10.12.28 AM The 17th of October, the day after the final preliminary poll was published, proved to be the turning point, as Casey appeared on an Irish Independent podcast and made remarks about the traveling community that were rightly condemned. Casey even drew admonishment from the Taoiseach, although Casey’s words about the traveling community being a supposed drain on the public coffers had been echoed before by a member of his cabinet, Josepha Madigan. The Taoiseach has also described Fine Gael as a party for people who “get up early in the morning” and run campaigns against welfare cheats.

The coverage of his remarks not only did Casey’s prospects no harm, but gave his campaign a massive boost. An analysis of Google searches related to Casey shows an explosion in public interest, all coming from his appearance on the podcast.

Screenshot 2018-10-29 at 11.00.27 AM

Just as with the 2011 campaign, the debates played a role in shifting the dynamics of the race, but unlike Sean Gallagher’s largely self-inflicted downfall, Casey was able to double down on his remarks and present a coherent, and abhorrent, vision to the public. This  gave him the momentum needed to become the viable candidate for those looking for an alternative to Higgins and the only other candidate who stood out in the imagination of voters.

There was near consensus that Casey’s remarks were unacceptable, but much hand-wringing or even defensiveness over the role in the media in facilitating Casey’s surge.

But who were these voters who had been wooed in the dying days of the campaign? There were some initial indications as the votes were counted, with Casey performing better in rural areas, although there was anecdotal evidence there was not just an urban-rural divide, but one based on age, income or other demographic factors.

On a constituency basis, Casey’s top five best performances came in Tipperary, Roscommon-Galway, Limerick County, Galway East and Donegal, although he also just about matched or outperformed his national vote in the partly urban Limerick City, Waterford and Galway West. It is difficult to draw too many inferences at this level of analysis though, given the the size of Dail constituencies, although tallies may help and should be covered at a later stage if I come into possession of any.

For now, the Red C exit poll is the most detailed source of demographic information.

Screenshot 2018-10-29 at 2.06.38 PM

The broad trends are clear, with Higgins’ holding a large lead in every category, with a minimum of a 30% lead even among farmers (F under social class).   Casey is firmly 2nd as well in all categories, and only narrows the gap slightly among the elderly.

There is a 4%  difference in Casey’s vote among those holding managerial, technical and professional professions (ABC1s) compared to manual workers (C2DE), and he does best among farmers. One thing to bear in mind is the inability of occupation classifications to capture all of the dimensions of class, which under any political definition should include property ownership and income. For the Marriage Equality referendum, polling data also projected a gap in support between working and middle class communities which did not materalise to any significant degree.

With the promised “debate” now taking place, supposedly thanks to Casey’s provocations and in the broader public interest despite the inevitable damage it will cause, it is important to put the results in context. The bottom line is that 23% of the vote in a low turnout election is not the significant watershed moment that it is being advertised as. It becomes even less so when you consider it was achieved by reheating some of the government’s own positions with less polished language, so the idea of Casey being an “underdog”, “insurgent” or even the much abused “populist” can be dismissed, as can the notion the Taoiseach has become a social democrat.

In part 2 I hope to do further analysis based off whatever tally data I can lay my hands on. Thanks for reading and please consider making a donation or supporting in any other way the work of Pavee Point, which you can do here.