Politics Is Generational

An End to Politics?

I am not sure. It strikes me that all Politics is about the Future and if a person doesnt think they have much of a future….typically an unemployed youth is routinely described as “disenfranchised” and a mortgage holder with a couple of children at school is described as having a stake in Society.

Increasingly I feel that I have no stake in Society except a vague sense that I want my children and grandchildren to be happy and secure.

But beyond owning a Translink pass to travel free within Norn Iron (and all over Ireland from May 2017), I cant think of anything that really interests me about the Future.

Indeed I regard my Translink pass in much the same way that a Gun-owner in USA regards his membership of the National Rifle Association. If President Obama ever tries to take an AK47 from a gun-owner in tEnnessee, he will have to take it from his cold dead hand. Well….its much the same with my Translink pass. Take it from my cold dead hand!

Now…you might say that as I get older, provision of “care for the elde rly” might interest me. Sorry….no. I have visited Old Peoples Homes….and I am not really looking forward to my life shrinking into a single room  in a home with other old folks…a waiting room to a cemetry or…worse…a geriatric ward.

Is there such a thing as a “Right to Die”. Generationally, I cant get my head round that one. But every history book tells me that “Rights” are based on Economics….whether its abolishing  the Slave Trade or extending the franchise to working class …to women….to 18 year olds in 1970. ….or to 16 year olds in the next decade.

The Rights of Women is rooted in the need to get women into fields and factories in 1914 and….the need to get them out of fields and factories in 1919 to provide jobs for returning soldiers.

And repeating it all in 1939 and 1945. The Birth Control Pill…Abortion. All closely linked to Economics.

So as the population ages…we can expect politicians to recognise that keeping old people alive is not economic and they will generously cede that Dying is a “human right”….Euthenasia….Mercy Killing….dressed up as a good thing.

Not that it unduly bothers me. All I want…at a certain point in time is a one-way ticket to Switzerland.


In a way…a division in Generation…is as logical….maybe even more natural than Class. And Politics of Left and Right.

After all young people are increasingly vocal about paying for services for the Elderly. Their future seems even worse than mine.

Take this weekend. All that hoopla about the Climate Change Conference in Paris. i am somewhat underwhelmed. The target dates are not on my Timeline. And while I love polar bears as much as the next person…there is an aspect of economic manipulation that does not appeal.

In part…vocal environmentalists irritate me. Rainbow Warriors should be fighting economic    Injustice. But it seems sometimes that the Green agenda underscores economic Injustice.

Its the Economy Stupid.

The Person who drives a BMW can downsize to a Volkswagen. The VW driver can downsize to a Nissan Micra…and the Nissan Micra driver can downsize to a bicycle.

The rise of the Working Class is fuelled (no pun intended) by Aspiration. A system that curbs Aspiration only empowers the Rich.

And Gay Rights? It’s the Economy Stupid. Or at least partly. But when I first voted in 1970, Same Sex Marriage, would have been a risible term, not understood by Gay people. Gay Rights did not figure as a Human Rights issue. Nor in 1980 and maybe by 1990, it had got on the agenda but essentially the word “Marriage” only became an issue in the 21st century. There was a time I would have quibbled with the word rather thanthe concept. But I actually insist that people refer to my wife as my WIFE. And I think it absolutely right and proper that gay couples have the same right.

But it is generational. The demise of Holy Catholic Ireland made the result in the Referendum (May 2015). But it was not won by “gays”, “youth” or “athiests” or “political liberals”. The most pleasing aspect of the Referendum was that it was a victory for every Irish citizen. And yet, it is fair to point out that new citizens such as Poles or Muslims were less enthusiastic.

But this does not mean it was “faith based”.

Certainly at a SDLP Conference two years ago, the issue was expected to be more controversial than it actually was. SDLP is committed to Same Sex Marriage. Generational….and I think older folks who may not have led the fight see the right side of History.

Can we say the same about Abortion?

Certainly in 1967 when English laws became more liberal, I was just 14 or 15 years old and my father had to explain this news story. Significantly the new Abortion laws were not regarded as a left wing issue. It was an issue of conscience and the leading pro-Choice MP was not a socialist …it was David Steel of the tiny Liberal Party.

Was it a “Faith”, “Christian” or “Catholic” issue? To a large extent …yes. And certainly, this influenced British Labour Party thinking. Harold Wilson was savvy enough to know that Labour had a lot of seats in North West England with large “Irish” and recusant “English” populations…who were working class. Likewise in Scotland.

Indeed an ITV drama of the mid 1970s  “Bill Brand” told the story of a Manchester MP…an athiest lecturer under pressure from his Catholic constituency workers because he supported Abortion. The wise old Leader of the Labour Party sided with the Catholics.

To some extent, Labour accepting “pro-choice” rhetoric into its policy, alienated enough religious people to open the door for Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

Frankly this is not very different from the United States of America. The Abortion issue becoming political is a factor in the rise of blue-collar Republicans. Catholics of Italian and Irish heritage in the northern cities lost some of their historic link to the Democratic Party, as the Democrats took a more progressive stance on womens rights. Likewise Hispanic voters and Black voters.

Look at the American Republican Party in 2015….controlled by religious zealots ….to the detriment of “reasonable” fiscal conservatives. An unholy alliance which combined with even more radical and racist social conservatives will ruin the Republicans as any kinda “reasonable” alternative to Democrats for a generation.

Ireland is of course…diffferent.

Back in the early 1970s Contraception and Divorce was illegal in the Republic of Ireland. None of the three main political parties was going to risk advocating change….so nothing happened. Until Iteland joined the European Union and there was a ruling from the European Courts that the bans on Contraception and Divorce broke European Human Rights legislation. So within a decade, Ireland had both Contraception and Divorce and all Parties could tell its socially conservative voters that it was all Europes fault….but a price worth paying for the economic advantages of being part of the great European project.

The implosion of the Catholic Church as well as a sophisticated electorate and generational politics all played a part in the Same Sex Referendum earlier this year.

And Abortion in Ireland…South and North. I see it thru the prism of a small formative experience from 1983 and when my wife was expecting our first child and we were involved in an organisation for young Catholic couples in Belfast. The monthly get-together was addressed by a Pro-life group…a presentation on Abortion. It was not exactly the sorta thing a woman, six months pregnant would want to see.

It was 1983…and there was an Abortion Referendum in the Republic of Ireland. And Europe was not bailing anyone out. It was a decision that the Irish people had to make. And in England, Abortion was a big issue also for David Alton, a Liberal MP colleague of David Steel was pushing that the laws on Abortion had gone too far and looking for more protection for the unborn child. Alton was a Catholic….and his “Private Members Bill” had all-Party support but disproportionately supported by Christian and/or Catholic MPs in the British House of Commons.

Around this time , David Alton and his supporters took out full page adverts in the quality British newspapers. My recollection is that there were no Labour MPs in the adverts. But the worst of English Tory MPs were there….Gerard Vaughan, John Biggs-Davidson and John Stokes among them. Catholic and Thatcherite…they were pro-Life on terms of unborn babies yet not so pro-Life when dealing with the poverty that drove women to Abortion clinics. …or in dealing with the American cruise missiles being brought into England, or dealing with the murder of Argentinine sailors aboard the Belgrano battleship, or in dealing with the British mining and steel industries.

Certainly Pro-Lifers can be very selective.

And there was something very uncomfortable about that Belfast presentation in 1983. For the people making the presentation, Abortion was a single issue that made all other issues irrelevant. Education, Health, Jobs….even the Troubles were secondary.

Consider the context. A civil war in Norn Iron and just two years after the deaths of ten hunger strikers, we were told that it was ok to vote SDLP, Sinn Féin and even UUP and even DUP because of their pro-Life stance…but the bad guys were the Alliance Party who thought that “British laws” should obviously apply to Norn Iron.

Readers of this Blog will know that I detest the Alliance Party. I always have. I always will. But I thought that this was grossly unfair. After all the unionist parties advocated “shoot to kill” and capital punishment and only 24 hours before this presention, the IRA had shot an off-duty UDR man in the head as he drove his tractor on the family farm. Pro-Lifers can be remarkably selective.

But perhaps my real discomfort at the presentation was that I felt it was an ambush and not really something we needed to hear. And the even greater discomfort was my own cowardice at not speaking up…and making a case for NUANCE.

“Nuance” is the stuff of Politics. “Certainty” is the stuff of Religion. They simply dont mix. The 1983ish Abortion Referendum in the Republic was bitter and vitriolic. No nuance was allowed. It was simply a matter if “youre not with us, youre against us”. And frankly that is not unique to Ireland. The same can be said over “Roe versus Wade” in USA. It is a courts-based issue and just a month ago, I would have said that it was largely totemic in American politics. But that was before the murders by a deranged zealot at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

Frankly Norn Iron is not much better as I dodge the zealots of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice outside a clinic in Great Victoria Street in Belfast and past the leaflets and the petitions and the hostility that is evident. Clare Bailey of the Green Party…and a fellow mature student when I was at Queens University a decade ago is effectively building her South Belfast Assembly campaign around her Pro-Choice advocacy. It is of course the constituency…Queens….where pro-Choice plays best. And Clare has a reasonable chance of taking a seat, especially if the issue is in the news and Clare is savvy enough to make sure that it is.

But the 1983 Irish Referendum was really only the first steps in a pro-Choice campaign. Certainly the Catholic Church imploded but successive and sad cases have given the issue an incremental boost. If the Law  in Dublin (some years ago) turned a blind eye to hundreds of young women boarding planes to London, it could hardly turn a blind eye to a public declaration that parents (previously Pro-Life) were publicly intent on travelling to a London abortion clinic with a pregnant under-age daughter, raped by a family friend.

And the Court had to rule on social workers ….State employees after all….accompanying a pregnant child in care to London for an abortion as the least bad option. Her parents …members of the “travelling community” supported by the Catholic Church wanted the baby delivered.

In both cases, London abortions took place. Because in one case, the nations parents saw themselves in the position of the parents. And in the other sided with the social workers. Common Sense should always take precedence over the Law.

Yet in 1968 I marched for Civil Rights. I was 16 years old and few marching alongside me would have seen Abotion (or indeed Same Sex Marriage) as a civil right. I am now 63 years old…and I am pretty much Pro-Choice. All rights are a question of “balance” and of course economics. And pretty much the older generation has moved on. We cant bind our children and grandchildren to our own sense of probably outdated Morality.

I suppose I am saying that I accept that some things can be objectively wrong and subjectively right. Stealing fifty cents from a homeless person is objectively and subjectively wrong. Stealing ten dollars from a billionaire to feed your family is objectively wrong and subjectively right.

Yet the new language of “bodily autonomy” and “reproductive rights” irritates me.

Real people live in the real world and make decisions that are difficult especially when family is involved.

Sinn Féin have of course moved to a pro-Choice position. DUP and UUP remain pro-Life.

SDLP is still a pro-Life party. But the issue itself is pretty academic while no unionist party can allow it thru Assembly. And now we are into a second generation of Ireland being a post-Catholic country, there is clearly a generational shift. Abortion would be a much more difficult subject for SDLP than Same Sex Marriage….but in my experience, most young “Catholic” women dont see Abortion as a big deal.

It is ….NUANCE. Few men and few women of ANY age are absolutist.

What happens next within SDLP. I sense that those within SDLP who call themselves “progressives” are keeping their powder dry for a change in SDLP policy within (say) five years. There are still pockets of the potential SDLP electorate, who are conventional Catholics but its a dying demographic and despite unionist hopes, no Irish Catholic in their right mind would vote UUP or DUP. Arguably a short lived “Catholic Party” would emerge but the Church would be mad to back it.

Best case scenario…..The Norn Iron Courts (as in Roe versus Wade in USA) makes a binding determination and frankly politicians of all shades would be happy with a Court-imposed decision. Just like DUP and UUP would be delighted if Same Sex Marriage was imposed thru the Courts, Westminster or European Human Rights Court.

NOT making decisions is what Norn Iron and Republic of Ireland politicins do best. That s why Sinn Féin handed Welfare back to London.





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11 Responses to Politics Is Generational

  1. Fair points. I’m “pro-choice” myself. Aside from all the other reasons, I find the idea of “exporting” our abortions to the UK and Holland, and further afield now, to be quite repugnant. There is also the gender unfairness of it. I’m not saying that abortions don’t effect the male partners, of course they do. I have witnessed it at firsthand. However it is the women who carry the heaviest burden, often not just emotionally and physically but frequently also financially. A sense of republican justice makes it wrong. Though, yes, nuance is important and I certainly wouldn’t fall out with “pro-life” advocates.

    On equal marriage, I was astonished by the visceral opposition of some East Europeans I work with to the vote and its subsequent passing. Many Polish were incredibly intemperate in their opinions, though the Latvians, Lithuanians and Czechs were only slightly better. To be clear, I found this hostility from some thirty plus people of all ages and sexes out of perhaps forty) . Even Irish “gay marriage” skeptics of a certain age and background were far more generous in their opinions. The handful of Muslims in the job just found the concept of the vote incomprehensible in the first place and went off on one any time it was discussed. Even the ones I know are drinking, weed-smoking, putting-it-about agnostics.

    • I think youre right that exporting the problem is unacceptable. But at heart I just cant tell a woman “dont have an abortion”. A man just cant say that in 2015.
      The Eastern European thing also shocked me. We are light years ahead of the Poles on Gay Rights and with 10 per cent of the people in the Republic born outside Ireland…Eastern Europe, West Africa, Britain, USA etc it is an indication of how a small country can be influened by Migration.
      As a default “lefty” my tendency is to think that Migration had little or no effect but in the summer of 2014 I was in Galway and was slightly surprised by the numbers of European taxi drivers, hotel staff erc and one very nasty security person in a Galway shopping centre.
      I had not been on Galway for a few years and the level of nastiness in language surprised me….the charitable view is that some requests can sound like demands if the nuances in words are not known….but I shocked myself by how many times that I expected people to be “easy going and warm” and they turned out to be “unfriendly and cold”.. Not particuarly good in a tourist environment.
      It just didnt sit well with me….maybe we re just unlucky.
      The ill-feeling lingered with me for months and even recalling it annoys me…because I had such high expectations based on decades of happy memories.
      The extent to which people of faith can set us back rather than make us more modern is going to be a problem.
      And discussing my feelings with a Mayo man a few months ago, he casually mentioned that the Eastern Europeans were undermining the Irish language in the West….that wasnt something I had ever considered.

  2. Political Tourist says:

    Your not from another generation FJH, if you remember the 60s and all that.
    The last generation from another time was Thatchter and Mary Whitehouse.
    And oh, our parents.

  3. Cork sf supporter says:

    Sinn Fein does seem more socially liberal on gay marriage and abortion yet they manage tomaintain solid growth ofsupport in. Rural remote areas such as Donegal and Tyrone.

    • the problem with reading off a Sinn Féin press release is that you lead with your chin.
      And I am forced to rreply with obvious answers that appear like hitting below the belt.
      trying to suggest that Sinn Féin has a good human rights record flies in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
      Their members have actually abused and raped women. And SF have covered it up.

      • Cork sf supporter says:

        SDLP voted for the SPAD bill that meant ex POWs were stripped of jobs, so their record on human rights not unblemished.

      • I am not sure that compares.
        Are you sure that Slab Murphy is a POW? You might wish to take the opportunity of criticising him for ripping off taxpayers North and South.

      • Cork sf supporter says:

        Well since you raise money would be remiss not to mention SDLP is not innocent… Think of Conal McDevitt who was forced to resign over serious financial misconduct.

      • It would be even more remiss if you didnt mention that most people thought Conal could have

  4. Oooops most people thought Conal could have taken the hit and survived.
    I suppose its a matter of scale.
    Sinn Féin seem to have their “average industrial wage” snouts in more troughs than SDLP.

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