From Socialist Voice, October 2010

That interview

By the time you read this, the Fianna Fáil and Green Government may have collapsed and we could be facing the prospect of an overdue general election, potentially seeing a massive shift in Southern politics. And after all the barbaric cuts, bank bail-outs, NAMA, Government waste, record levels of unemployment, inefficiency, and corruption, the straw that broke the camel’s back may be Brian Cowen’s awful interview.
     Whether the Government survives or not isn’t the issue: the frivolous nature of the mainstream media and politics is.
     It was a dreadful interview by any standards, in both delivery and content (or lack of it). He stumbled over his words, at one point referring to the Croke Park agreement as the “Good Friday agreement,” which led to accusations of being drunk or hung-over, which ultimately detracted from the real issues.
     The issue is simple. The man apparently in charge of leading this country couldn’t answer some fairly simple questions about very serious Government matters, a point missed by those paragons of virtue, the journalists.
     When asked about the total budgetary cuts, Cowen couldn’t provide the figure being sought next year and was reduced to vague jargon in trying to explain the budgetary process. He repeated that a process of an “estimates campaign” is under way.
     Is this what is expected months before a budget is due to be adopted? And this from someone who served four years as Minister for Finance!
     In further discussing the impending budget cuts he cited the EU’s role thus: “What we’re talking about is dealing with the EU plans; we have to cut our deficits,” and the adjustments are for “ensuring that people understand that this Government is determined to meet the agreements it has reached with the European Commission.”
     There hasn’t been so much as a whimper regarding the EU’s role in forcing its neo-liberal economic agenda on Ireland in this form, let alone issues surrounding our national sovereignty and “economic independence.”
     Furthermore, there’s no questioning of why cuts must be introduced when billions have been handed over to Anglo-Irish Bank and other banks: it seems €3 billion was okay for the interviewer, but any more might be beyond the pale.
     On the issue of the implementation of the Croke Park agreement he was reduced to jabbering once more about his “estimates campaign” but made it clear that nothing has been done on initiating the agreement before 2011. He could barely muster an opinion on whether Dublin should have a directly elected mayor, a critical urban policy decision, and was allowed to squirm out of answering about the by-elections.
     This is not an isolated incident but part of an increasing problem of trivialising and dumbing down political coverage, which tends to concern itself with scandal, image and appearance over what Tony Benn used to call “the issues.”
     While politics is still the staple of the news media, this process has come to prominence as a result of the disappearance of differing ideologies between parliamentary political parties, which have become less and less visible and less important.
     For the media and the public, much understanding of politics has the structure of narratives centred on individual players and their personalities rather than their policies, ideology, or the like.
     As the fall-out continues, news of a 1.2 per cent drop in economic output and of Ireland facing a double-dip recession proves that not only is Brian Cowen out of his depth but so too is the Government.

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