Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What's in a name?

Well, let's try Owen Paterson:
MP for North Staffordshire ...

Since July 2007, he has been Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
And, as of the last week, increasingly the centre of a storm, as -- finally -- explained cogently by Nick Robinson for the BBC:

The Tories hosted a secret meeting bringing together Ulster Unionists - who are now formally in alliance with the Tories - and their bitter rivals the Democratic Unionists at an English country house.

The venue was Hatfield House, home of Lord Cranborne, the former Tory MP and peer who opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement negotiated by Margaret Thatcher and has long been regarded as a "friend of unionism".

The agenda for the"secret meeting" seems in doubt:

The talks were - according to the Conservatives - to resolve differences over the issue of how to resolve the breakdown of trust at the top of the Northern Irish Executive which threatens to force new assembly elections. They came at a time when the DUP was weakened by the Mrs Robinson scandal. If new elections were held, Sinn Fein could emerge as the biggest party in Northern Ireland - which would make Martin McGuinness first minister.

Some who attended the talks insist that they also focused on the dream of "unionist unity" - co-operation or, perhaps in the long term, merger, between the UUP and DUP - which could prevent Sinn Fein's electoral triumph and, in Westminster elections, deliver a dozen unionist MPs who might be expected to support the Conservatives. Very helpful indeed if David Cameron faces a hung Parliament after the next election.

In other words, either way Mr Paterson was trawling in some very deep waters. Whichever way that little lot is spun, it looks as if he was muscling in, meddling in local sectarian politics, and seeking partisan opportunism. Not the even-handedness expected of a putative occupant of the potty-of-state at Hillsborough Castle: such, too, is the expressed view of the Northern Ireland Alliance Party. The SDLP is scathing:
No-one is buying the Tory line that this secret, all-unionist meeting was an attempt to overcome political instabilities.

If this was the genuine motivation, then why haven't the Tories met with the nationalist parties which represent half of the population living here?
Meanwhile Sinn Féin look wise and stay quiet.

So, what have we here?

Paterson and the Tories protest innocence: they were doing the decent thing, not elbowing aside Secretary of State Woodward, just oiling the squealing wheels of Unionist Policing and Justice “policy”. With the DUP hierarchy attending, it must be supposed that Robinson wants movement on that agenda. Why such altruism needed to be kept from public scrutiny, nobody has yet explained.

If, on the other hand, the Hatfield House Cabal was in part or in whole a stitch-up of NI constituencies to benefit the London Tory machine, for very obvious reasons it has to kept away from the public, and indeed most of the UUP and DUP. Then the whole basis for the meeting becomes abundantly clear. By objective standards the gathering was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, and held in the wrong way. When it slithered out for general scrutiny, three would-be Conservative candidates in Northern Ireland promptly withdrew their names from the lists. What adds spice to the pot is these three were:
  • Peter McCann, a BBC producer for Top Gear, who must on any grounds qualify as one of Cameron’s A-listers, but who happens also to be a West Belfast Roman Catholic;
  • Sheila Davidson, a high-profile businesswoman, another “star” candidate, who happens also to be a Roman Catholic;


  • Deirdre Nelson, a Ballymena councillor who defected from the DUP to the Tories last summer.

On the surface, three highly eligible, able and photogenic potential candidates. Yet, two RCs and two women: not qualities which command respect from your average DUP stalwart.

[Yeah: that last bit is a cut-and-shut from the Home Service .]

Enter, from behind the arras, Sir Reg Empey

Commenting on those three resignations, he was in full Pontius Pilate hand-washing mode:
However what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party, and it is not me to comment… Until final candidates are selected they have their processes and we have ours.

My own Party is continuing through its selection process, which we hope will be completed shortly. Some constituencies have completed their process, and others are very close to doing so.
That totally fails to explains why the process was strung out to this degree, all the way from early last autumn and still unresolved now, with a General Election due whenever the whistle blows. Was it inertia, a lack of collaboration between the UUP and the Tories, the contracting parties in UCUNF? Or was it a deliberate UUP ploy: “if we hang it out long enough, they’ll get the message and go away”? Either way, it should be a black mark against Paterson, who is supposed to be the primum mobile here.

So, back to the issue of names.

Malcolm noted that he was not alone in giving Paterson an extra "t"; Nick Robinson has made the same slip:
The Tory leader insisted that the Conservatives would fight all seats in Northern Ireland - so, by implication, not make way for the DUP. He backed his Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Patterson who, friends say, was just trying to help ensure that devolution stayed on track.
Is this just a typo, or is there something Freudian?

For, out of a long-neglected synapse, Malcolm dredged a connection. It was that sectarian thing at the back of his mind. Of course there’s nothing sectarian about the Tories cuddling with the DUP: perish the thought. Never, oh, no! Except there's that quote in Henry McDonald's piece for the Observer (curiously omitted from the London edition Malcolm received):
"This meeting confirmed our fears that the party leadership is preparing to agree to a sectarian DUP-UUP carve-up of constituencies. Peter and others resigned on a matter of principle, that principle being a wholly secular, inclusive pro-union politics untainted by sectarianism.

"If Owen Paterson was doing this on his own, the party leaders should fire him. If not, then it seems the leadership has agreed to get into bed not only with the UUP but now the DUP. This is the triumph of tribalism over inclusive, secular politics."

That same Peter McCann, rather than the anonymous"source close to the trio", was later quoted:
Our sister party [i.e. the UUP] seemed to be intriguing into a public link-up with the Democratic Unionists. That was the point where I decided that the process was not going where I wanted.
Nothing about wanting to spend more time with his family!

The synapse triggered recollection of the former US ambassador to Guatemala, Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr. So settle down, kiddies, while Grandad Malcolm tells us a story ...

1954: the CIA's Guatemalan coup d'état

The government of Guatemala set about a redistribution of the idle lands expropriated from German owners during the Second World War. It so happened that much of this was coveted (but not in use) by the United Fruit Company. The President of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, offered United Fruit (who would still retain 162,000 acres, of which they were cultivating only 50,000) $600,000 of bonds for the rest: that, incidentally was United Fruit's own valuation, for tax purposes, of the worth of the lands.

United Fruit could not get Truman's administration to see sense: that the Arbenz regime was "Communist". Lubricated by generous campaign donations, that view changed once Eisenhower was established in the White House. It was, assuredly, sheer coincidence that the Dulles brothers (one head of the CIA, the other the Secretary of State) were major shareholders in United Fruit.

Patterson was the Eisenhower man in Guatemala. He adapted the Duck Test to comment on the Arbenz régime:
Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.
Duck or goose, Guatemala was trussed, basted and cooked. A military junta took over in the summer of 1954.

So, here's to you, Mr Paterson.

Quack. Quack. Sphere: Related Content

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