Nov 17th, 2006 by Donagh
In the Young Ones Rik Mayle played Rick the agit-prop politics student who shouted â€˜fascistâ€™ whenever he started to lose an argument. The character was a satirical swipe at all those mid 80â€™s student lefties who simply regurgitated Trotskyite slogans and spitted out their venomous hatred of the Tories and Margaret Thatcher at every available opportunity. The mid 80s in Britain was, after all, a time when the domination of various Labour governments and ideologies of 70s Britain has been swept into the dustbin of history.
The 1980s and the economic policies of Thatcher and Regan changed a lot of things â€“ effectively moving from the Keynesian model of government managing the business cycle to the Friedman model of cutting taxes and deregulating financial systems.
But what is curious is the style with which they chose to deploy those ideas. While they claimed that the left was trapped in an echo chamber of repeated mantras belonging to an outmoded economic and sociological ideology, they, for the first time, started to couch their own arguments explicitly as an alternative economic and sociological ‘ideology’.
Instead of talking about society and community, it was all about individualism and freedom of choice. Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that there is no such thing as â€˜societyâ€™, which well and truly stuck it to the leather-patches-on-the-elbow-of-their-tweed-jacket wearing, Citron driving beardy lefties who dominated the sociology departments of British universities in the 80s.
And itâ€™s an ideology that the Anglo-Saxon world (which Ireland, whether it likes to admit it or not, if effectively a part) remains signed up to, despite the odd modification to take into account the rise of globalization. Public-private partnership is the norm, freedom of choice remains the mantra and despite some re-spinning of the key phrases, there is little to differentiate the ideology of the 80s from the mainstream economic thinking of today.
These days though, despite the thinking remaining the same politicians are attempting to move away from such rigid pronouncements, claiming instead a middle way between two competing ideologies. But there remains a portion who feel that this is an unnecessary smokescreen and who still unashamedly endorse the founding principles of the original ideology.
In Ireland of course, the closest to this class of politician can be found in the Progressive Democrats: the pro-business, tax cutting, de-regulating, public-private worshipping political futurists.
This is not to suggest that the PD are simply agit-propers for the free market; they are clearly also political pragmatists with a clear intellectual acumen and political skill that has kept their puny party in government since 1997. But itâ€™s also true, (detractors can let fly at this) that of all the political parties in Ireland they have stuck to the mantras of the pro-Thatcherite right.
And as yesterdayâ€™s exchange between McDowell and John Gormley of the Green Party about allowing tax relief for nursing home owners indicates, their chief ideologue, like those pimply Cliff Richard loving student lefties of the 80â€™s, is still capable of crying â€˜fascistâ€™ when thereâ€™s a chance of losing the argument.
If it was a one off, I couldnâ€™t make this point. But by comparing Richard Burton to Joseph Gobbells, when the Fine Gael TD challenged McDowell on Gardai numbers in the Dail earlier in the year, you can see that we have a pattern. Unfortunately the Ranelagh Rottweilerâ€™s doesnâ€™t have enough hair anymore to have little pig tails, but we can keep a look out to see if the lapel of his jacket starts to sport those little button badges with ‘Up with the World Bank’, ‘The Cato Institutes Rocks’ or ‘Iâ€™m with Berlusconi’ written on them.