Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The writs and wrongs of Northern Irish politics

Malcolm's ISP has just been Virginated, and, for much of Tuesday, went AWOL, to his continuing and extreme vexation. Hence, he is somewhat delayed in responding to "the issues".

Almost inevitably, two significant "issues" came via the magnificent Slugger O'Toole. Mick Fealty's daily dose of the "peculiar institution" that is politics in the Province should be essential reading. Anyone who wonders where Fealty is coming from might profitably start with the brief interview here. Anyone who has hesitation about the range of his talent should peep here.

One "issue" was first aired by the BBC Northern Ireland page. Martina Purdy outlined an astonishing "contract" being imposed by the DUP on party candidates:

A two-page contract with a letter of resignation attached has been received by a number of candidates standing in the [forthcoming Assembly] election.

BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Martina Purdy said one of the clauses imposed a £20,000 fine on members as a form of discipline.

"Another clause, which has also caused upset, asks candidates to sign a letter of resignation which could be invoked by the party leader Ian Paisley if the member is in serious breach of his or her obligations under the contract," she said.

Slugger O'Toole's debate on the "issue" is extremely illuminating, showing the depth and the density of the great Ulster mind. Some of the comments show that all is not well in the hallowed halls of Paisleyism. Those exclusive and self-regarding brethren may well be at odds. "Heh, heh", says Malcolm, sulking in the corner, between muttering expletives about "Bloody Branson".

The other "issue" is the welcome return of an old chestnut: should the [British] Labour Party organise in the Six Counties? The bearer of the tattered standard of this lost cause is that refugee from the IMG, wee Kate Hoey. Slugger delightfully renders her as "Hooey": of which Malcolm mutters "Sic!. Lordy, Lordy, it's a long and winding road from the Fourth International to the Countryside Alliance."

Now, Malcolm has a bone to worry on this topic, going back a long way. Once upon a time, way back in the '70s, he was up for selection (for a local London Borough candidacy, indeed). One of the (irrelevant) questions thrown at him was which Party he would support in Northern Ireland. He answered, quite honestly, that it would have to be the newly-formed SDLP. This was the black-ball for him: later, curious, he asked for a prompt on the "correct" response. He was coldly informed the "proper" position was ... wait for it! ... the Stickies, Official Sinn Féin. [Oh dear, Malcolm has just kicked the cat, forcefully.]

Malcolm's view is he signed up for the Irish Labour Party more than four decades ago. North of the Border was "Hic sunt dracones"; but NILP was a fellow affiliate of the Socialist International (as is the SDLP). And, as Longhorns Coach Darrell Royal, Asleep at the Wheel, and Blessed Molly Ivins all had it: You gotta dance with them what brung ya!

So, Hoey is out-of-line. The [British] Labour Party cannot and should not walk out of its long-term affiliation to the SDLP. End of story.

Hoey, of course, is coming from a different perspective. Depite her adolescent flirtation with Trots, she has failed to escape her Unionist background. To her ilk, the SDLP is a "nationalist" (for which, read Catholic) party. So, all the chattering classes of the Malone Road and environs need an alternative. Hence, comfortable bolt-holes like the Alliance Party.

[British] Labour, by contrast, has a historic commitment to James Connolly's non-sectarian 32-Counties Republic. Malcolm recalls that, in the year (1959?) when Harold Wilson chaired the Labour Conference, the Starry Plough was paraded through the Hall. The original Starry Plough of the Irish Citizens Army, which had been impounded by Imperial forces in 1916, was returned to the National Museum of Ireland for the 50th Anniversary of the Rising (again, Harold's gesture).

Of course, the SDLP is never going to deliver Connolly. Nor has the Connolly solution, or a globalised "Third Way" version thereof, been, explicitly, on [British] Labour's agenda for some time: if only (as Malcolm puts it) because, when you're up to your arse in alligators, you're not contemplating the blue horizon. And, yes, Malcolm is sensitive that "Third Way" is a term highjacked by some very dubious characters on the Far Right. However, Malcolm grunts an acknowledgement that Peter Hain is more purposeful, pragmatic and progressive than most of the previous occupants of the regal apartments of Hillsborough Castle.

So sorry, folks, says Malcolm: ignore siren calls from Sporty Spice of Vauxhall. There's no easy option there. Realistically, the Malone Road set will continue to dissipate their considerable voting strength by going for the palest, best house-trained red-white-and-blue on offer. If that gives moderate UUP or even Alliance candidates some wind, so be it.

Eventually, though, there has to be a native-grown grassroots movement of likeminded folk in the Six Counties, aware that health-and-social-welfare and the three Es (environment, employment, education) are more significant than one's hereditary place of worship. David Ervine had some conception of all that, which is why he will be missed. However, change-of-attitude will not come, says Malcolm, from an encyclical from the present or next occupant of 10 Downing Street, or from elsewhere in Westminster. Neither [British] Labour nor Toryism has any real intent (or hope) of becoming a viable ground-force in the North; and so will not dissipate money or effort therein.

Meanwhile, pick the bones and read the runes, courtesy of Slugger. And, appends Malcolm, a murrain on Virgin Media.

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1 comment:

yourcousin said...

Oh Malcolm say it aint so, say you're not a stoop.

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