Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Don't dig that kind of croonin', chum!"
"You must be one of the newer fellas!"

Anyone failing to recognise Frank and Bing in High Society is a philistine with sweaty feet and stinky socks. If Malcolm's memory holds, "the smelly-socks brigade" was one of the "Dear Bill" terms for journalists. For the moment, enjoy:



Almost anent that frolic of delight, the downside of periods of "peace" in Northern Ireland is each one requires a refresher course for Westminster-orientated journalists, regardless of sock-condition, once normal service of continued crisis resumes. In that spirit, we come today to James Forsyth, assuring us that:

The Tories' Northern Ireland policy has nothing to do with electoral advantage

If a politician (as e.e.cummings had it) is an arse on which everyone has sat except a man, what does that make a journo regurgitating Tory PR pap?

Forsyth gets worse when he gets personal:
The mutterings you hear from the Northern Ireland Office is that the Tories decision to contest seats in Ulster means that they can no longer be seen as impartial. That’s true but I don’t think the British government should be neutral about Northern Ireland’s status.
Now, let's place that in the context of established, bipartisan policy:
9 November, 1990
Peter Brooke's "no selfish strategic interest" speech.
Peter Brooke said Britain had no "selfish strategic or economic interest" in Northern Ireland and would accept unification, if the people wished it. "It is not the aspiration to a sovereign, united Ireland against which we set our face, but its violent expression." The speech had a huge impact on republican thinking and paved the way for the Downing Street Declaration.
What makes Brooke's cool, clear commonsense all the more remarkable is Margaret Thatcher was still (just) Prime Minister. So a hands-off policy has endured through seven administrations: the final three weeks of Thatcher, John Major I, John Major II, Blair I, Blair II, Blair III and Gordon Brown. Is that the longest continuity in Anglo-Irish policy since the First Home Rule Bill was introduced?

Were it to be succeeded by Cameron on trainer-wheels, pandering to Unionists for cheap electoral advantage (nothing strategic, nothing selfish) all is changed, changed utterly.

Little Englanders

To understand the shift in Tory policy, one needs to look back a bit.

The 1997 Election wiped out the Tory Party in Scotland and Wales. The now entirely-English Parliamentary Party got the message:
PRESSURE for an English parliament increased last night following a poll showing half of Tory MPs back plans for an all-England assembly.

The independent Campaign for an English Parliament was due to be launched today as the Tories prepared for their annual conference in which demands for English devolution will be high on the agenda.

A Scotland on Sunday poll of 47 Tory MPs found that 22 wanted an English parliament, with 21 opposed. Four were yet to decide. The MPs were all English - the Tories have no members in Scotland or Wales ...
After the 2005 Election, the Tories were the largest party -- in England. Elsewhere -- Scotland, and Wales -- their vote and representation (one seat in Scotland, three in Wales) were still nugatory. The one UUP seat in Northern Ireland was Sylvia Hermon in North Down, of whom:
I was elected as an Ulster Unionist; if my party chooses to move to call themselves a different name then I'm sorry. The people of North Down have stood by me in the most difficult of times. At the present time I can't see myself standing under the Conservative banner.
The England First campaign continued. David Davis, still shadow Home Secretary, was demanding "English votes" for English parliamentary business. Alan Duncan, a close associate of Davis and then Shadow Trade Secretary, went on television to say:
... we for instance, the Conservatives, have a majority in England. We have MPs from Scotland, essentially telling England what to do, when they are doing the opposite in Scotland, have no control over what they are doing in their own constituencies in Scotland and are not in any way accountable for the effects their actions have on England.

I mean, I'm beginning to think it's almost impossible now to have a Scottish Prime Minister because they will be at odds with the basic construction of the British constitution
Then, in October 2007, David Cameron discovered the Union:
Speaking in the shadow of both the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace, Mr Cameron said: "It is my desire and my duty to help shape the future, and the future of our Union is looking more fragile, more threatened than at any time in recent history."

He added: "The SNP now promise to deliver independence in 10 years and at the same time there are those in England who want the SNP to succeed, who would like to see the Union fail.

"They seek to use grievances to foster a narrow English nationalism. I have a message for them: I will never let you succeed."
By July 2008 Cameron was seeking a formal link with the Ulster Unionists. This was the only way to reconcile two opposites:
  • The Ulster Unionist Party had broken with Thatcher's Tories over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The issue then was the Irish Republic having a consultative rôle in Northern Irish affairs.
  • A truly "unionist" party required a Tory name on every Westminster ballot paper.
So was born UCUNF, another of those unfortunate acronyms peculiar to Northern Irish tin-ears (the Ulster Unionist Council being another).

It didn't need an eagle eye to spot the problems:
A UUP spokesman said: “The Executive Committee of the UUP has overwhelmingly endorsed the creation of a Conservative and Ulster Unionist Joint Committee to oversee and facilitate co-operation between both parties.”

He said the joint committee would: “bring forward proposals on manifesto commitments and the branding of candidates, ensuring that the heritage and appeal of both parties are respected and that the popular appeal to the whole Northern Ireland electorate is maximised.” ...

The UUP spokesman said the arrangement would operate on the basis of consensus between the parties.
Read it quickly and one might, just might, overlook that the UUP heritage includes the Orange Order, the odd sectarian march, and a bit of gender inequality.

Back to Forsyth

His CPHQ-inspired line is that the recent Hatfield House connivings:
were bringing together their allies in Northern Ireland, the old Ulster Unionist party, and the DUP. But that was because no deal can be done on the devolution of policing and justice without support from both unionist parties.
Again, a quick read might fail to observe that use of "allies": does it refer only to the UUP? If that's so, Malcolm, that old pedantic grammarian, suggests two phrases need swapping. For, as it stands, surely it includes the DUP? And, what's that about "the old Ulster Unionist party"? Has the UUP been formally integrated into the all-embracing Tory Party? Has anyone politely informed Sir Reg that he's now running merely the branch office (for which, see below)?

Another thing. The Tories in London deny (see Ecclesiasticus, XIII, 1) that they touched sectarian pitch, and therefore remain undefiled. Yet their "old" "ally", Sir Reg in Belfast seemed to be saying two things yesterday. His straight emphasis of the UUP's continued and continuing separatism was part of his crafty and crafted cryptic allusion to those three withdrawn candidates (two Roman Catholics and two women, who do seem to know what was going on, and didn't like it):
what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party.
A nice reminder: in those Byzantine corridors of Stormont and 174 Albertbridge Road, the art of opaque double-talk is still developed. As is the cult of local independence: the Unionist goal is not to be lackeys at Westminster -- they've had Craigavon's
Protestant parliament for a Protestant people
and quite liked it. Many, especially west of the Bann, would like to have it some more. An Ulster Unionist's deliberate coded ambiguity is something that Tory Headquarters does not comprehend and has yet fully to develop. It's something, too, these newer-fellas in the press corps need to study to comprehend.


No, Dave. No, Sir Reg. No, Mr Fraser. Those are stinking socks, and this won't wash.
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3 comments:

Toque said...

I think Cameron's courting of the Ulster parties has a lot to do with the West Lothian Question, as I commented on the Progress blog.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Toque @ 1:04 PM:

Fair enough.

Curious how the "West Lothian Question" emerged only on 14 November 1977 (and I'm long-time admirer of much of the outpouring of Black Tam of the Binns).

After all, the relationship of the rest of the UK to Scotland was hardly symmetrical all the way from 26 July 1706.

Toque said...

The 'West Lothian Question' was coined in 1977 by Enoch Powell.

However, the 'in and out principle' was one that Gladstone struggled with during the Irish Home Rule debate. The territories involved were different but the conundrum was the same.

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