A tale of two Berties

With Bertie Ahern’s lap of honour entering its final week I came across something quite interesting that I felt I had to share with the wider world (or at least the tiny portion of the wider world that might wander by here).

I had a relative who lived in Ahern’s constituency of Dublin Central for most of her life, for a long time with her sister but in more recent years by herself. Sadly she died last year and since then my mother has kept an eye on the house while everything gets sorted out; the usual odd jobs of ensuring the post is taken care of and so on.

Yesterday she came home with an interesting letter that had come to the house from the Office of the Taoiseach, addressed to my deceased relative. The letter is a mass-produced message from Ahern to his constituents in relation to his resignation as well as another few points. I’ve scanned it and it’s available here.

So Ahern set a letter to a constituent who doesn’t exist any more – no big deal really. Although, perhaps he should have known better considering the personally-signed mass card he sent at the time of her death last year (available here).

It’s a funny little mistake and still no big deal. The fact that Ahern (or Ahern’s staff) recognised the death of a constituent but failed to take her name off his mailing list is hardly earth-shattering stuff. That said, and without wanting to over-analyse this, I think it goes a long way to explaining the two sides of the man; the part that gave him such a successful career and the part that brought his success to an abrupt end.

On the one side of the coin, both of these messages inform us of the things he will be remembered best for. Here we see a politician who understands the power of grassroots campaigning and of being a ‘man of the people’ who is constantly in touch with what’s going on locally. We see a politician who never misses the opportunity to boost his own profile (the mass card came just before the last general election) or to campaign on behalf of an issue of importance to him (the letter talks about the Lisbon Treaty, for example).

We see someone who strives to add the personal touch to everything and in doing so creates the illusion of a relationship with each person that ensures a lifetime of support. Taking this skill from the doorsteps to the negotiating table, as so often he did, meant he could convince each side of the battle that he was doing his best for them and them alone, even when he was not.

On the other side of this coin we see an example of the traits that will forever form the negative aspect of his legacy. We see a politician with a lack of joined-up thinking in what he does and says and one with a tendency to think just of short-term gain regardless of what he said or did before. We see a politician who says and does what it takes and favours the quick fix or the kick-to-touch over consistency of action.

Taken in isolation both of these letters would only improve his standing in people’s minds but when put together they suddenly highlight a certain level of insincerity to anyone who truly believed that Ahern was personally interested in them and them alone. They remind people that what is being promised today may not be what was promised before or will be promised again. Remember, it wasn’t a single answer at the Mahon Tribunal that finished Bertie but rather the many answers he gave put in their overall context. Thinking in terms of dealing with the immediate problem, he strove to adapt his story as each new piece of information came out, regardless of what he had said before and in ignorance of what might be coming down the line – and so the mask eventually slipped.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this but I do think it is a microcosm of the man. It’s certainly an interesting insight into how his legendary local machine works.

On Newstalk’s Culture Shock tonight

I’ll be doing the Sunday newspaper preview on Newstalk’s Culture Shock tonight for anyone who’s doing nothing at 8:45pm or so.

You can tune in online or if you’re in Ireland through your FM, DAB or Internet radio; through your UPC or Sky digibox or by making your way to their city centre studios and pressing your ear up tightly against the glass.

With that range of options you’ll find it hard not to listen.

Cock the vote

Young Fine Gael have just launched their poster campaign for the Lisbon Treaty and its vaguely risqué nature is causing quite a stir… well, not really, but a few people are talking about it.

Young Fine Gael’s press release on the campaign states that the organisation aims to “Excite Electorate on Lisbon Treaty” however as Damien points out, all they’re really doing is making the same mistakes as Rock The Vote Ireland.

The central error of Rock The Vote in last year’s election was that it failed to address [b]any[/b] of the issues at all, instead offering its viewers hollow talking points where the messenger took precedent over the message. So rather than have a discussion on the issues that mattered to young people, they had celebrities saying “rock the vote” to camera. As a result any discussion around the campaign focused on the celebrities they managed to attract rather than the point the celebrities were meekly trying to get across.

For Young Fine Gael the same distracted reaction is already happening – any talk around their campaign has not been about Lisbon’s merits or otherwise, it’s been about the way in which the youth group decided to campaign on Lisbon. The ads were obviously designed to generate a reaction under the assumption that all publicity is good publicity but instead the distraction created is clearly counter-productive to the intent behind the creation of the campaign in the first place.

The other main failing of Rock The Vote was in its inability to justify its message. When it told young people to go out and vote, the obvious retort was “why?”, to which the campaign could give no answer. When Young Fine Gael tells people to go out and vote yes to Lisbon, again the obvious retort is “why?” and it’s certainly not answered within the poster.

Shockingly, when you go to the press release you [b]still[/b] don’t get any real reason to vote for Lisbon.

In the press release, YFG President Barry Walsh states:

Young Fine Gael does not propose the young people of Ireland support this Treaty purely on the basis of past economic and social benefits to Ireland. Rather, we believe it should be supported because of the real potential it offers to further improve the prospects of the young people of Ireland and Europe. The benefits to young people are clear.

The release then goes onto list a number of the “clear” benefits to young people, many of which focus purely on the basis of past economic and social benefits to Ireland, such as the “Massive EU investment in Ireland” and “Opportunities to study and work abroad”.

The release promotes Lisbon as a way of giving people “Equality regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation”, “Environmental protection” and “The Euro”; which (like the two listed in the last paragraph) would all be valid arguments if a ‘No’ vote lead to Ireland being instantly kicked out of the EU. But it won’t.

Finally the list bizarrely includes benefits like “Food quality”, “Peace” and “End to the Roaming Charge Rip off”; the latter of which I’m sure Pat Phelan would be happy to chime in on.

So after seeing the poster campaign and reading the press release of an organisation actively campaigning for a particular outcome it’s still not possible to get an answer, complex or simple, as to why we should do what they say we should do. This is candy floss campaigning and pure attention seeking.

The fact is that on a vast topic like Lisbon, press releases and poster campaigns will do nothing to inform the people and (Old?) Fine Gael itself is organising local talks around the country to talk about the treaty in a constructive way. This is a good idea – Young Fine Gael’s hollow poster is not.

All of this enhances my view that the youth party movement in Ireland is the manifestation of political lip-service that needs to be completely overhauled or abolished. The intention of these parties should be to encourage real youth participation but instead they have become little more than a point of gestation for college students aiming for a career in politics. They preach to the choir and no-one else and they have failed miserably, just like Rock The Vote, to make any young person any more politically active or aware for reasons other than their own career enhancement.

If you don’t agree with the suggestion that youth parties are out of touch, just analyse the aforementioned campaign for one second. Putting aside the point that it went looking for the wrong kind of attention, the idea was to be controversial in order to get this attention. To do so they made a poster that is about as provocative as a Debenhams advert. I rest my case.

Don’t buy an iPhone (yet)!

O2 are going to love me for that headline but this is nothing to do with their price plans or the device itself, which is still tempting me even with its flaws.

Basically, anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to have an iPhone (and who does?) should hold off buying one for the next month or so as the much rumoured 3G iPhone model is on its way.

As is tradition with Apple, there’s no official announcement but all the pieces are falling into place.

Firstly AT&T, the iPhone carrier in the USA, has said it expects all its devices sold for its network to be 3G within a matter of months; when asked if that included the iPhone the spokesperson stressed the word ‘all’. Secondly, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray checked 20 Apple Stores in the US and found they were all sold out of iPhones – in the iPod world such a decline in availability is a clear indication that a new generation of device is on the way. Thirdly, and on the back of the above news amongst other indicators, influential Mac site Macrumours.com has changed its Buyer’s Guide recommendation on the iPhone to a ‘Only buy if you need to’.

Last but not least well-known American tech journalist Walt Mossberg has said he expects a 3G iPhone within the next 60 days; which means he expects a 3G iPhone by early June. Early-mid June just happens to be when Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference takes place (this has been the location of many big Mac announcements in the past and this year will see a big focus on third party development for the iPhone itself).

Just to qualify this warning – it’s unlikely that Ireland will get the 3G iPhone at the same time as the US, simply due to the limited amount that will be available in the first few weeks. It’s also entirely possible that they (Apple/o2) may not roll the 3G model out officially in Ireland until later in the year, for fear of the backlash that would come from releasing a product in mid-March and making it obsolete by mid-June. There are also rumours that the current iPhone will remain on the market, bar a few cosmetic (and perhaps storage size) changes, with the 3G model being marketed as the premium version of what already exists.

However this warning isn’t just aimed at people planning on buying an iPhone from o2 – it’s also aimed at those thinking of importing from the US. If you can old off until late June or July you may end up getting a 3G model (with 16GB storage or even more) for the same price as the current 16GB model… and if the currency markets continue on their current trend it’ll work out as an even better deal than it would have anyway!