Kathy Sheridan analyses the danger of a ‘No Vote’ and gets the excuses in first in this Irish Times piece
The battle for the fiscal treaty has begun, but one side hasn’t taken the field yet. The No campaign appears to have skated away with the early momentum, and the Yes side has the jitters
Yeah, somehow the entire combined forces of the political, economic and media establishments will have to overcome their natural timidity.
UPDATE: They found their voice:
LESS THAN FIVE WEEKS out from the referendum, there is little to choose between Vicky Pollard, Little Britain’s teenage delinquent, and the Irish electorate. “Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no . . .”
This is pretty generous on Sheridan’s part. I’m pretty sure many Irish liberals think there’s no distinction in general between the Irish electorate and Vicky Pollard.
Gerard Sheehy, a financial-services adviser from Cahir, Co Tipperary, expressed almost exactly this view on Twitter a few nights ago
Finger on the pulse of the nation there, Irish Times.
I’m still in a state of complete flummox. As of tonight, I’m voting Yes, but I need some reassurance from the Government that they will be doing everything in their power not to draw down more money, ie, [they should] make more cuts. If they don’t need to borrow more money, then don’t. Your typical household wouldn’t/ shouldn’t do it, so we need to get the national house in order.
People are against treaty because they’re worried there won’t be enough austerity apparently. And by ‘people’, we mean this guy we met online.
So he’s a “yeah, but no, but” – but for polar-opposite reasons to the No camp as we know it, which reckons it will plunge the country into near permanent austerity.
What’s the mood like in Cahir? “Outside my virtual world – Twitter, etc – there is a sense of apathy. You have to bring it up,” Sheehy says. “The odds on a No vote have shortened from 5/2 to 6/4. Someone thinks that it’s not going to be passed.
These are- just to be clear- the random opinions of a man. Basically, if you’re middle-class your analysis is inherently worth printing.
At a public debate organised by the political cabaret Leviathan at the Sugar Club in Dublin this week
The Irish Times never fails to broaden the horizons of its readers.
its moderator, Andrea Pappin, asked how many of the 60 or so people present thought the treaty would pass. Six raised their hands. None of the four-person panel did.
“It’s gone,” she says. As a young, driven, pro-Europe activist who has worked at several levels in the system and is a veteran of both the Lisbon and the Nice campaigns, Pappin is no doom-monger. But as she watched the household- and water-charges debacles “limp on and on, you could see them putting the lid on the coffin of the treaty. Not quite the nails but the lid.
“I don’t know who decided the water authority was so urgent it had to be brought in before the referendum. Yes, I know the troika like their timetable, and this is the Usain Bolt of treaties in terms of speed, but that could have been deferred, since the charges aren’t going to come for two years anyway. There are ways of doing these things,” she says, launching into an imaginary, silkily persuasive exchange between Irish officials and troika mandarins.
Now we come to our theme. ‘No’ votes to European treaties are essentially accidental. They happen when people are angry about extraneous issues or distracted by football matches or ‘fish suppers’ and the like. The problem with democracy is these fickle plebs. After all, what reason could anyone have to be annoyed at the EU? The piece continues in this vein.
SO IS IT ALL Phil Hogan’s fault? A senior coalition TD reflects briefly: “Yeah. I think Phil should go to Europe. For good.” By this view, Hogan “has done serious damage. He has been dismissive. He doesn’t understand that it’s about the way you ask, it’s about how you ask. Language is important.”
If the vote had been 10 days ago, it would have passed, says another Government TD. So what has changed? “Well, people are starting to look at what’s going to hurt them.
Now we dovetail with the recent trope of ‘people would love austerity if Phil Hogan weren’t such an arsehole’.
Pappin’s novel solution is to put two questions on the ballot paper: 1) Do you just want to give the Government a kick in the pants? 2) Now, how do you feel about the treaty?
All referendums should be decided in favour of the outcome most likely to piss off Andrea Pappin. It is worth noting, however, that the nearest Liberals come to self-reflection is thinking that maybe they should be more patronising.
In political-science circles in recent weeks, the big debate has been around “the second-order election model”. In simple language, this theorises that all referendums are really plebiscites on government performance. So if this held true, instead of thinking of balanced budgets, voters entering the ballot box this time around would really be voting on the basis of household charges, water charges, septic-tank U-turns, turbary rights – or “turf and toilet, if you want to be unkind”, says Prof Richard Sinnott, associate professor in the department of politics and co-ordinator of the political-behaviour programme at the Geary Institute at University College Dublin
Imagine linking the Fiscal Compact treaty with Austerity. Silly proles!
Of the four Nice and Lisbon referendums, only Lisbon 1, in 2008, shows any correlation between satisfaction with government and the Yes vote. Both were below 50 per cent. But in the other three there was no correlation at all. In Nice 1, when two-thirds of the electorate professed themselves satisfied with government performance, well under half voted Yes. In Nice 2, although government satisfaction had slumped to a third, the Yes vote was up at two-thirds. In Lisbon 2, when government satisfaction had plummeted to a disastrous 13 per cent or so, the Yes vote soared to about 66 per cent.
So is Hogan off the hook if this goes wrong for the Yes side? Sinnott’s graph appears to dispute the second-order election theory, as indeed do the outcomes of the two referendums held last year.
Sinnott also believes it is too soon in the campaign to be getting alarmed about people’s lack of knowledge of the issue. “But it’s not too soon to be getting very alarmed,” he says, about the plunging level of positive sentiment about Europe.
In another graph, an 11-year span shows Ireland’s positive image of Europe spiking at about 70 per cent in 2004. From autumn 2007, there is a gradual decline, up to spring 2011, then a precipitous nosedive to under 40 per cent in autumn 2011.
For success, you need an underlying stable level of support,” he says. While that support may not cross the line to an outright No vote, it might easily become a stay-at-home vote. And the greatest enemy of the Yes side is apathy.
This paragraph is sublime. It contains the only actual evidence in the entire analysis, suggesting that (shock!) people might be voting no to the treaty because they disagree with it. This is recounted, before Sheridan breezes on to the next standard excuse for the defeat of EU treaties, cheerfully assimilating nothing.
In Lisbon 1 – won by the No side – nearly half the electorate didn’t vote. In Nice 1, a whopping two-thirds stayed at home. Dig down, however, and you discover that that referendum was lost because far more of the previous Yes voters (from the Amsterdam treaty) stayed at home than the No voters. That 17 per cent turnout differential was by far the largest factor in the losing of Nice 1, says Sinnott.
The Lisbon 1 vote was pretty standard for a referendum. But obviously, if the Austerity Treaty is passed on a low turnout, we’ll see a large scale scramble to re-do the vote.
EXPERIENCED CAMPAIGNERS are in trenchant agreement that referendums are about ideas rather than logic.
“It’s a very simple equation,” says Pappin. “Emotion trumps logic. Talk all you want about structural deficits, but people are voting on an idea.” A fine example of this is the Libertas poster that featured in Lisbon 1 of a pitchfork, telling Peter Mandelson, the then EU commissioner, where to shove it.
David Cochrane, who in that campaign worked for Libertas, the effective fulcrum of the No side, and now runs the online forum Politics.ie, says it’s about getting “an emotive response” from people. “You want them to feel good about it.
Meanwhile, back in this campaign, there is a view that the No side has skated away with the momentum. “Last Sunday, Simon Harris said the Yes campaign hadn’t started yet,” says Cochrane, nodding his head in bafflement. “I thought, Uh oh, alarm bells ringing, brings me right back to Lisbon 1. When one side hasn’t turned up to play the game – that’s the risk. You let the No side out there, setting the terms, they get to do things such as commandeer the language. The Government is calling the treaty one thing, the opposition something else.
Not many people know this, but the correct title is the Intergovernmental Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The Government is calling it the Stability Treaty, which is rather new, since all the commentators up to now have been calling it the Fiscal Compact, with “treaty” an optional extra. In fact, the “fiscal compact” is one provision within the treaty. Meanwhile, the No side has entrenched it as the Austerity Treaty. Everyone knows what that means. It means an instantly recognisable No.
The government is calling it the ‘Stability Treaty’ in its publically-funded, apparently neutral information campaign, in a blatant attempt to sway the referendum. This is obviously not worth commenting on, a politically neutral state not being a central tenet of liberalism or anything.
ONE MAN WHO remembers Lisbon 1 with a shudder is Brendan Butler, director of policy at Ibec, the employers’ body, and “a veteran of every referendum known to man”, as one observer put it. “That was the worst, very badly managed. The No side took total control of the issues from the start.” But this one is different, he believes, “not nearly as complex”, and he claims to have no worries about the short lead-in.
“I genuinely believe this will be fought from May 8th, the day after the bank holiday. That’s when it will really kick off. So, effectively it will be a 21-day campaign, and that’s okay. This is not nearly as complex as previous referendums. So far, there are no references to issues that really concerned people in those – such as losing a commissioner, things like the corporation tax rate, conscription, abortion.”
There is of course no evidence that people voted on the basis of corporation tax, conscription or abortion during the Lisbon Treaty. Nobody was talking about fucking conscription at all. But this claim is like the Virgin Birth to Irish liberals.
In other words, none of what Garret FitzGerald
Peace Be Upon Him.
called the “extreme nitpickers” of the left and right who coalesced on the No side.
This isn’t an opinion peace calling for a Yes vote. This is the Irish Times trying to be balanced.
The Government’s big challenge is “to avoid the impression that we’re being threatening or blackmailing,” says Andrew Doyle, Fine Gael TD for Wicklow. “It’s legitimate to ask how foreign investors will perceive Ireland in three years’ time in a different European landscape, but that will be construed as a threat. I’d ask the people who are saying No to outline the landscape if we vote No to this treaty. They’re not telling us the consequences if we are excluded.”
Maybe someone should say something about the consequences of a Yes vote. But this would be to miss the point of the Irish Times. The article ends on this appropriately inane note.
Andrea Pappin reckons that the “Michael O’Leary factor” is required – someone who will spell out, in a sentence, why this treaty matters. “Sure, he’s Marmite in Ireland,” she says. You either love him or you hate him. But he could be just the deus ex machina the Government needs.
On the one hand, this article is pretty typical of how the referendum campaign will be covered in the next few weeks. On the other hand, its comprehensive proof of the redundancy of a blog devoting to parodying liberalism.