A roundup

Snowed under

Its been a busy few weeks. Christmas and new year saw me in the States and since I got back I’ve been hard at work (round the job) on a project. Watch this space and all that…

Ive scribbled a couple of things though which have sort of fallen between the old blog and here. The Commentator, for which I’m Contributing Editor, has carried a couple of my articles this month. First was The economic reality of 2012, a look at the prospects for the global economy in the coming year. Its grim reading but then I think it will be a grim year.

Next up came an article on the coalition government’s attempts to cap the amount of benefits a family can receive to the level of the average national wage. This is such a no brainer in terms of fairness that you wonder how anyone has the gall to oppose it but there you are. I should add that The Commentator have changed the title of every item I have ever sent them. Not this time though, so read up on Why Britain is f*****

I also occasionally contribute to Global Politics and with the US Presidential race revving up I pondered the tricky question of the foreign policy of my favoured candidate, Congressman Ron Paul. Reading is most recent book I found myself wincing at times but I can put that to one side this election because the big question is not whether the US should bomb Iran but whether it will be able to afford to. Anyway, you can read all about it in the unimaginatively named Ron Paul and Foreign Policy

I enjoy writing for Middlebrow Magazine under a non political pseudonym. I try and steer clear of the sorts of topics I cover elsewhere and cover other interests like film, drama, music etc. But my article Animal spirits, Asymmetries and Austrians is a run down of some of the most popular of the spate of recent books on the economic crisis.

That’s all for now. More old rubbish is on the way so, in the words of Shaw Taylor, keep ’em peeled.



Ron Paul and foreign policy


I was in a Minnesota casino hotel room with a six pack watching the results and fallout of the Iowa Caucus. It was the closest I’ve ever come to fulfilling my teenage dream of being the next Hunter S Thompson.

Then Fox News cut away mid speech from Ron Paul, who came in third just 3% behind the nominal winner Mitt Romney, to hear what Newt Gingrich had to say. Newt had come fourth, 9% behind Congressman Paul.

Paul has been getting this sort of treatment all along. Perhaps Fox News believes, like Romney and Gingrich, that Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy place him outside the “mainstream”

The issue Romney and Gingrich were attacking him on was Paul’s opposition to the use of military force to prevent Iran getting a nuclear bomb. This is a hot button issue for the GOP candidates. Speaking after Iowa each of them, except Paul, made a point of mentioning the possibility of confrontation with Iran.

But while Paul’s stance may place him outside the mainstream of Republican presidential candidates it doesn’t place him outside the mainstream of the American public. Polling evidence indicates that opposition to action against Iran is not the sole preserve of half a dozen hippies and that support tumbles when diplomacy is given as an option.

How has Paul come to this position? He is neither opposed to war per se nor even to pre emptive war. He told an audience in Iowa that “You don’t have to wait until they have put their feet on our soil”

Paul’s opposition seems more specific than a simple pacifism. Quite simply, he doesn’t view Iran as a threat. He told the same Iowa audience that “there are no signs” that Tehran is building a bomb. Given that Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said on CBS’s Meet the Press last night “Are they [Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? Uh, no, but we know that they are trying to develop a nuclear capability,” then the hysteria directed at Paul by his neo-conservative and liberal interventionist critics seems overdone.

Paul has other reasons for not seeing Iran as a threat. He has claimed that the Iranians feel surrounded, with nuclear armed states like Israel and Pakistan on their doorsteps and US military bases in every neighbouring country. The Iranians are acting logically, Paul appears to believe, to actual threats. He spoke of his belief in a reasonable Iran again in Iowa when he said “What are the odds of [the Iranians] using [a nuclear weapon]? Probably zero. They just are not going to commit suicide. The Israelis have 300 of them.” Essentially then, Paul is expecting reasoned behaviour from Tehran.

This is more problematic. When the Iranian president says he wants to see Israel “wiped off the map” is he reacting rationally to perceived dangers or is he just a loon? Just as history shows that interventions can go badly wrong it also shows that some people are exactly as dangerous as they appear to be. Paul’s insistence on seeing unreasonable people as being as reasonable as he is could be a major weakness.

But does it matter? The fact is that with a trillion dollar deficit and a debt ceiling rising like a Fourth of July rocket, America cannot afford another war. To watch presidential candidates speculating on which country to bomb next is like watching a bunch of homeless guys peering through the window of a BMW dealership and wondering which i8 to buy.

The people up in arms about Paul’s foreign policy have got it back to front. America’s wealth was not based on its ability to project military power; its ability to project military power was based on America’s wealth.

America’s most pressing problems are not around foreign policy but the economy and Ron Paul is the only candidate who can really sort this out. Only then will the US regain the strength to consider fresh military exertions. Iran, Syria, whoever, frankly the country whose problems the next president ought to prioritise is America’s. It isn’t always the economy stupid, but in 2012 it certainly is.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

The rise and fall of Occupy London

No, you’re not

One night last week the BBC news ran an item about the Tobin Tax on financial transactions. An economist bobbed his head up and down speaking rather earnestly about why it would be damaging. Then something extraordinary happened; the report cut to a rather nondescript person standing at the Occupy LSX camp outside St Pauls Cathedral who maintained that it definitely would be a good idea.

Why, I wondered, were they giving a few dozen oiks* like this a national platform? Why not drag someone out of the Dog and Duck and ask them? I felt like Jacobin Mugatu in Zoolander when confronted with Blue Steel; “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”.

Occupylsx began back on October 15th when protestors were, entirely predictably, denied permission to ‘occupy’ the London Stock Exchange, a building which is already pretty well used and not apparently in any urgent need of further occupation. They found an eager welcome at St Pauls Cathedral. Fewer people attend Church of England services each week than watch Eggheads on BBC 2 nowadays so the clergy, which also has a fair degree of sympathy with the protestors, probably thought it would be fun to have some new people to hang out with for a couple of days.

Alas the Church had underestimated the protestors’ staying power and sheer ingratitude. When the church was forced to close its doors for the first time since World War Two a number of high ranking churchmen at St Pauls resigned. Faced with a loss of tourist revenue the church asked the protestors it had given shelter and succour to when they were turned away from the Stock Exchange to leave. The protestors repaid the church’s generosity by telling them to get stuffed. Church politics drowned out actual politics and the protest, instead of being about capitalism, turned out like a scruffy episode of The Barchester Chronicles.

Recognising the loss of focus the protestors launched a new occupation on October 21st, this time of Finsbury Square, a square outside the City only notable for being where the 271 bus terminates. This occupation attracted almost no attention and the attempt to refocus the movement fizzled. Compared to 32,988 ‘likes’ for the Facebook page of Occupy the London Stock Exchange, the Occupy London Finsbury Square page has just 51.

With interest dwindling even in the main occupation at St Pauls the protestors decided on another attempt to refocus the movement. November 18th saw the occupation, or breaking and entering to give it its legal name, of an empty office building in Hackney owned by the bank UBS.

Once inside the protestors opened a ‘Bank of Ideas’, as one occupier put it “The Bank of Ideas is an educational space where people will be able to trade in ideas and creativity rather than cash”

If this all sounds a little vague don’t worry. According to minutes of the meetings at the Bank of Ideas concrete proposals for radical change are being made. November 21st saw a “Proposal to make a white board to illustrate decisions made” and another “To establish an ‘Art School’ and ‘Healing Space’ for healers, group therapy, art and movement, music, dance. Space for WG’s (Working Groups) and individuals, for occupy volunteers and general public”. That was as nothing compared to the minutes of the first meeting which declared “you have to BELIEVE you are going to be here longer, the energy can push us through! ‘feel the magic’”

And these are the people the BBC is asking about the Tobin Tax. When you see them being taken seriously perhaps you can understand why someone might feel like Will Ferrell’s elaborately coiffured fashion designer.

Unlike the occupy protestors in New York, who have still failed to come up with a list of demands after two months, the London occupiers issued a statement almost immediately. But it was striking how much it looked like statements issued at every protest over at least the last twelve years. That is because they are a hard core of activists, do not have mass support, and they represent very few but themselves. They are seasoned activists who are launching one occupation after another to try and hold the media’s attention.

On October 22nd more than 2,000 people demonstrated outside Parliament in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership but you’d never have known from the BBC. That is ten times as many as are sat outside St Pauls playing pan pipes for Palestine. Yet it is the small, unrepresentative, hard core members of the occupy movement who are put on the TV. They are not the 99%. They do not have numbers. Just persistence and a favourable tailwind wind from the media.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

* Substituted by the editor for the original ‘drug addicts’

Clerically clueless – The Church and the protestors

The hottest love is the soonest cold

It is difficult to understand quite what protestors expected to happen when they tried to ‘occupy’ the London Stock Exchange a couple of weeks ago. Firstly, it’s a pretty well used building already so is in little need of further ‘occupation’. Secondly, it’s a privately owned building. Even Britain’s supine Police force was unlikely to allow a well advertised act of breaking and entering to take place.

So the protest was rather silly from the off. But as they kicked their heels outside the stock exchange the protestors knew enough to know that they would get a warm welcome from the Church of England, an institution which has become rather silly itself.

And they did. Canon Giles Fraser of St Pauls Cathedral not only welcomed the protesters but asked the Police to leave. Right on Rev!

Alas, this soon blew up in the Canon’s face. The protestors had more staying power – during the day at any rate – than he perhaps suspected and St Paul’s was forced to close its doors for the first time since German bombs were falling on it in 1941. Soon there were mutterings of legal action to remove the protestors and Canon Fraser resigned. A few days later the Dean resigned too.

Canon Fraser isn’t the only Anglican clergyman to make himself look silly recently. The Bishop of Chelmsford teamed up with Vanessa Redgrave to protest about the eviction of the residents of Dale Farm. But when asked on Radio Five why he didn’t offer some church land for the Travellers to live on, he blustered and evaded. Charity begins somewhere else.

These sorts of situations are always on the cards. Since at least the time of Archbishop Ramsey (1961 – 1974), who seemed more interested in the legalisation of homosexuality and the evils of the Vietnam War than the salvation of man’s eternal soul, the Church of England, or its leadership at least, has been getting political. And it is less the Conservative party at prayer than a bunch of grumbling socialists.

In 1985, under Archbishop Runcie, the Church stepped forward to oppose Margaret Thatcher’s government with the publication of ‘Faith in the City’, a dreadfully outdated document (even then) which criticised her government and harked back to some mythical Keynesian Golden Age. Thatcher, a low church Methodist no more ready to be lectured to by high churchmen than high Tories, loudly rubbished it.

Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop, has kept this tradition up. He has criticised the ‘Big Society’, free schools, and the coalition’s legitimacy itself and he revealed his hidden economist to attack the government’s deficit strategy.

Those who see Jesus Christ as first century Galilee’s answer to Che Guevara would argue that the Church has a duty to speak out on such issues and to an extent it does. The trouble is that when you board the protest bus there’s no guarantee that the bloke you end up sitting next to won’t be a bit weird and incoherent. As clergy inside St Pauls lined up to defenestrate themselves outside it was reported that “a dozen or so protesters wearing tattered suits and white zombie makeup performed a clunkily choreographed mass dance routine to the tinny sound of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, waving a huge, black banner saying: ‘Dancing on the grave of capitalism.’”

For the protestors the whole episode has been a waste. They set out to protest something vague about capitalism and have ended up protesting something vague about the inner workings of St Pauls Cathedral. An attempt to re-connect with the original aims of the protest by setting up a second camp at Finsbury Square (which is round the corner from a branch of Barclays) fizzled.

But the biggest loser has been the Church of England. Like a sad old man enjoying the flirtatious attentions of a young woman, the ailing, aging, and increasingly irrelevant Church jacks in the job of saving souls and dives into politics, gulled by the promise of an infusion of youthful vigour.

But it is a one way street. When the dalliance at St Pauls spelled trouble for the Church the warm welcome of the clergy was forgotten by the protestors who loudly and aggressively proclaimed that their right to protest trumped all else.

By flirting with silly people the Church has made itself look very silly. There’s an old saying that “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon” The same goes when supping with Michael Jackson impersonators.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

Correcting the contextualisers

All property is theft

The response of some to the riots which swept the UK last month was to say “Yes, we know this is criminality, but you can’t ignore the cuts/poverty” While stopping short of excusing the violence which left five dead and caused millions of pounds of damage there was an attempt by these people to ‘contextualise’ it.

Contextualising is often little more than pinning the tail of your pet political cause to the donkey of whatever is in the headlines that week. So it was with the riots. As Kristian Neimetz blogged for the Institute of Economic Affairs the riots had nothing to do with material poverty. Neimetz points out that:

“The standard rate of Income Support for a non-working single mother with one teenager is currently £562.60 per month. On top of that comes Child Benefit, currently at £87.97 per month, and Child Tax Credit at £168.90, assuming only the most basic rate. The rate of Housing Benefit depends on where she lives; it is £1000 per month in inner southeast London, £1213.33 in inner east London and £1256.67 in central London (which includes Camden and most of Hackney). Council Tax is also covered. This is at current rates, meaning after the ‘savage cuts’, and ignores other benefits which are a bit trickier to qualify for.”

You can actually live a pretty sweet life on benefits. Beveridge’s safety net has become a hammock.

This isn’t to say we don’t have poverty in Britain, we do, but only because poverty has been redefined to mean having less than half the money of the Duke of Devonshire. The rioters outside my east London flat didn’t look too poverty stricken, wearing Franklin & Marshall gear and filming their mayhem on iPhones. The truth is that in a real sense there is very little material poverty in the UK today.

The contextualisers also said that cuts to youth services played a role in the riots, as though these kids would stop burning buildings down if only they had a ping pong table. It also never seemed to have occurred to the contextualisers that earlier generations of children refrained from rioting when all they had to distract them was a Hula Hoop.

Neimetz dealt with this cuts argument in his blog but, again, we saw the common, utter confusion among the contextualisers about what it is the government is actually doing. It is not cutting the debt but the deficit, which is the rate at which the debt is growing. At the end of this Parliament government spending is forecast to be nearly £100 billion higher than when the coalition took office. So much for cuts!

That’s not to say that there was no context for these riots – there was. Base criminality. According to statistics released this week three quarters of those appearing in court for their part in the riots have previous convictions. They weren’t reacting to poverty or cuts; they were just out doing what they normally do.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

The wet shoe diaries

“A man’s got to know his limitations”

King Cnut is remembered by history for pulling up his throne on the beach, ordering the sea back and getting his feet wet. His attempt to assert royal power over the forces of nature was a soggy failure. Policy makers in Europe and the US are currently engaged in a similar exercise; standing at the seafront ordering the economic tides to recede. They are unlikely to have any more success than the old king.

In Europe and the US the issue has become sovereign debt. In Washington the problem is the rapidly growing amount of it. That is also the problem in Madrid, Lisbon, Dublin, Athens, Rome and, scarily, now Paris too. In European capitals the debt issue has been exacerbated by the additional question as to what extent a shared currency means shared debt liability.

Last week saw bad news on both of these fronts in the war against sovereign debt. In Europe borrowing costs for the two biggest debt basket cases, Italy and Spain, shot to ten year highs, over the 6% economists deem sustainable. On Wall Street the stock market saw its worst falls since the dark days of 2008 and the US lost its AAA credit rating for the first time ever. The economic tsunami threatened to wash the world back into recession.

The Cnuts of our time in Washington and Brussels were quick to take to the beaches and order it back. Sounding a little like ‘Sunset Boulevard’s’ Norma Desmond President Obama said: “This is the United States of America. No matter what some agency says, we will always be a triple A country”. In Europe Olli Rehn, the EU’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, declared the rising borrowing costs for euro members “incomprehensible” and “not justified by the economic fundamentals”. Rehn sounded an unsuitably macho note when he warned that “the political will to defend the euro should not be underestimated”. Yet no one doubts the will of the EU leaders to save the euro as it is currently constituted. It is their ability to do so that is now in serious doubt.

This clash between the will and the ability, the politics and the economics, the upheld hand and the advancing tide lies behind much of the current chaos. The simple fact is that for all Olli Rehn’s Nietzschean strength of will, a choice will have to be made between kicking some deficit countries out of the euro or putting taxpayers in surplus countries like Germany on the hook for their debts. While in the US, Barack Obama’s outraged assertion that the US is big and that it is only the credit rating agencies that got small, will not change anything. The fact is that a country which has seen its debt grow from 6 trillion dollars in 2001 to nearly 15 trillion dollars and proposes to add another 2 trillion to that total can be justifiably said to have a debt problem.

This is not to say that politics is powerless in the face of economics, it used to be called Political Economy after all. But the politicians aren’t trying to battle impersonal economic forces; they are trying to will away the economic consequences of their very consciously taken decisions.

The spiralling US debt is a problem and markets are right to be worried about it given the inertia of the politicians for years. This is a situation deliberately created by President Obama, his almost equally free spending predecessor, and the pork barrel crazy US Congress over several terms. The euro is doomed in its present form and it was the politicians who created it and ignored its terminal flaws when they did so.

Even in the short term the politicians and not the markets are to blame. Wall Street crashed but what else did anyone expect after the non-deal on debt cobbled together by Congress? Borrowing costs in Italy and Spain rocketed but what did people expect when Italy’s austerity measures were revealed as highly suspect and Spain’s prime minister called an early election?

The economic forces which are now conspiring against the wishes and wills of politicians were, though, set in motion by politicians who felt they were invincible. When Angela Merkel talks of her desire to assert “the primacy of politics over the markets” she is seeking to assert the primacy of a world without consequences over a world with consequences. She and her fellow governmental leaders want to continue inhabiting a dream world. It’s time to wake up.

Historical revisionists have gone to work on Cnut and now believe that he went to the seaside knowing full well he would fail and that he was actually trying to demonstrate to his awestruck followers the limits of his power. Our current leaders look to be sincere. Yet they have taken decisions for expedience sake and are now looking to hold back the tides of economic consequence with sheer willpower. Expect some very wet and ruined shoes in Washington and Brussels before too long.

The seventeen percent solution

House of pain

The prospect of a default by the United States might be grisly to contemplate but, with Treasury figures suggesting such an outcome is just two weeks away, it can’t be avoided.

If the United States suddenly found itself unable to borrow any more money it would have to slash spending. It would no longer be able to roll over its current debt or borrow to pay off old debt and so confidence in the debt would fall and the value of that old debt and the dollars it is denominated in would crash. Interest rates, on the other hand, would go sky high. Some of the trillions of dollars shipped abroad in recent years to pay the Chinese for consumer goods would probably emerge from underneath the mattress of the Chinese central bank and come back home to be cashed in for American assets before they lose too much value. This flood of money would send inflation surging. The American economy might crash and take the rest of the world down with it except for a few isolated tribesmen in the Amazon who have never heard of a debt ceiling

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A Greek euro tragedy

Internal devaluation

This week saw a two day general strike in Greece ahead of a vote in parliament on whether to implement £25 billion of spending cuts demanded by the European Commission as the price of another bailout for its busted economy. Protests were held which turned into riots. Parliament still voted for the cuts.

It is possible to feel sorry for the Greeks. Their costs and wages are hideously uncompetitive. Until 2001, when they joined the euro, the Greeks could have devalued their currency, but instead inflated it, in other words, so that the costs and wages came down in real terms without the political battle of making cuts in nominal terms.

To continue reading click here

Ed Miliband’s waiting game

Turning up at the March for the Alternative without an alternative

In 217BC the Roman army was wiped out by Hannibal’s Carthaginians at Lake Trasimene. The Roman general appointed in the aftermath, Quintus Fabius Maximus, reckoned, quite reasonably, that his army would be destroyed in a similar fashion if he fought Hannibal so he settled on a different strategy; he did nothing. He would wait the Carthaginian out. The strategy worked and was named in his honour, the Fabian strategy.

Fabianism, such a vital part of the history of the Labour party, takes its name from the Roman general; the Fabian Society, founded in 1884, eschewed violent revolution in favour of the gradual democratic evolution of socialism, hence its name.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband has been taking this ‘do nothing’ strategy too far. He seemed oddly proud to announce that, when it came to ideas, the Labour party is currently “a blank sheet of paper”. Nowhere is this lack of ideas, direction and leadership more apparent than on the matter dominating British politics; the economy and how to deal with Britain’s horrendous budget deficit.

Back in September 2010 Miliband said “I won’t oppose every coalition cut”. Since then he has opposed every coalition cut. Even a cut as ‘progressive’ as ending Child Benefit for top rate tax payers has been opposed by Miliband.

And Miliband and Labour refuse to tell anyone what they would be doing instead. Rather, when asked if he would reverse any of the measures he opposes Miliband said “I can make no commitment to do anything differently”. He is not alone. His Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, said “Ed Miliband and I are clear on this; no commitments to reverse these changes, they would be irresponsible”.

Labour used to have a plan. Alistair Darling, Chancellor under Gordon Brown, proposed to halve the deficit in four years. This involved £14 billion in savings for the year commencing in April, just £2 billion less than the coalition. Both Ed’s signed up to this plan yet have steadfastly refused to outline what they would cut.

The Fabian Strategy here is obvious. The UK is in a dreadful fiscal situation, borrowing £450 million per day £120 million of which is spent on paying the interest on the existing debt – more than on schools, hospitals and the Police. Sorting this out will require the kind of fiscal tightening Britain hasn’t seen in 30 years – since the last time a Conservative government was elected to clean up the mess left by a Labour one. There really is no way to avoid or postpone this. And Miliband, unless he is an utter fool, knows it. But he can, he hopes, keep his head down, stay away from anything smacking of controversy, and ride a wave of discontent back to power in four years when he will, he hopes, arrive in Number 10 with the dirty work done.

Will it work? Already there are rumblings from his own party. Hazel Blears, a member of the Brown cabinet, said “The public expect us to at least give a broad direction of travel. They are pretty reasonable – they don’t expect you to dot every i and cross every t about your policy – but I think they are worried that we haven’t been as clear as we ought to be”

And voters seem unimpressed. Labour have enjoyed narrow opinion poll leads over the coalition parties but on the issue of the key issue of the economy voters consistently prefer the coalition to Labour. At the last count ComRes found that Cameron and George Osborne had approval ratings of 37% and 25% on the economy compared to just 18% and 14% for Miliband and Balls. Even Nick Clegg scored 24%.

The Fabian Strategy didn’t do much for Fabius, the Romans got fed up with waiting for a victory and sacked him. So far Labour’s headline opinion poll figures have insulated Miliband from such a fate. But he has staked everything on the failure of the coalition’s economic program and, if the program works, Miliband, with nothing of his own to fall back on, will be in trouble. Surrounded by deputies who all want his job, he may well end up, not like Fabius Maximus, but Julius Caesar.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

The failure of Fianna Fáil

So long Soldiers of Destiny

Fourteen months ago Fianna Fáil were in a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. The PD’s no longer exist and on 25th February Fianna Fáil was wiped out at the ballot box.

The defeat was seismic. Going into the election Fianna Fáil had 70 seats out of 166 in the Dáil Éireann ruling in coalition with 6 Green Party members. Afterwards the Party was reduced to 20 seats having lost 24% of their vote, the worst result in the party’s history. The Green Party lost all its seats.

The defeat was also historic. Fianna Fáil were founded in 1926 by Eamonn De Valera who had fought in the Easter Rising of 1916 and been a leader of the Anti-Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. The winners of that war, the Free State government established by the treaty with Britain, formed a party named Cumann na nGaedheal, later Fine Gael, which dominated Irish politics in the first decade after independence.

Formed to rid Ireland of what it saw as lingering British influence Fianna Fáil became one of the most successful political parties in the western world. In the 79 years since the election of its first government in 1932 Fianna Fáil has been in power for 61 of them.

Beyond its commitment to Irish Republicanism Fianna Fáil never had much in the way of a coherent ideology. Its perennial opponents, Fine Gael, were generally described as ‘centre right’ but whereas they often worked in coalition with Labour in their rare spells in government it was Fianna Fáil which allied with the free market PD’s in the 1980’s and 1990’s to enact a raft of reforms which reinvigorated Ireland’s moribund economy.

If a party has no clear ideology what sort of person does it attract? Sadly for Fianna Fáil and Ireland the answer was all too often crooks and chiselers on the make. The business dealings of the notoriously corrupt Charles Haughey, Taoiseach on and off between 1979 and 1992, prompted two separate public inquiries. His successor but one, Bertie Ahern, was embroiled in yet another corruption tribunal.

It was this ceaseless quest to line its own pockets that did for Fianna Fáil. They schmoozed with Ireland’s bankers who were getting rich thanks to the low rates they could borrow at following euro membership. And when the banks got into trouble in 2008 Fianna Fáil agreed, late at night, behind closed doors and with almost no consultation, that the Irish taxpayer would cover their losses. The party of De Valera’s ‘frugal comfort’ lashed themselves and their prospects to the fortunes of the banks and as the banks losses spiraled Fianna Fáil’s electoral prospects withered.

The prospects for Fianna Fáil are not good. The rump left in the Dáil are mostly the party’s old hands, linked with the government that bankrupted the country. A party which has relied on patronage (also known as kickbacks) will find this power deserts it in distant opposition. A party founded on Republicanism has been crowded out by Sinn Féin. They have no flag left to rally round.

The prospects for other parties appear better. With 37 seats Labour had their best election result ever and look set to join Fine Gael in government. But that could just be the start of their troubles. They are closely linked to Ireland’s trade unions which are unlikely to suffer the implementation of EU dictated austerity in silence. Unless there is significant give in the conditions of Ireland’s bailout from Brussels Labour could end up skewered like the Liberal Democrats across the Irish Sea.

Fine Gael has not been in such a commanding position since the late 1920’s but they too could find a warning in Britain. There a coalition elected to clean up the fiscal mess of a previous government is struggling in the polls against the party which left it. People have short memories and the more unpleasant the medicine the more they are inclined to discount the illness that necessitated it.

For Labour and Fine Gael triumph might be short lived but Fianna Fáil, once the natural party of Irish government, will struggle to capitalize. A sad impasse for the Soldiers of Destiny, but an utterly deserved one.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics