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Showing posts from September, 2008

Leadership required in the face of DUP's hypocritical 'unity' calls

Every time a DUP representative appeals for ‘unionist unity’, surely even the most brazen hypocrite amongst them must feel a little unease at the rich brew of irony which they knowingly stir. Jeffrey Donaldson, who waited until after the 2003 Assembly election before resigning from the Ulster Unionist Party, is the latest to lecture Sir Reg Empey’s party on ‘dividing unionism’. The hypocrisy could scarcely be more bare-faced.

I have recorded my scepticism about aspirations to make unionism more monolithic before, on several occasions. Unionism should be seeking to strengthen its overall electoral strength, reflecting the politics of as wide as possible a cross section of the electorate. It should not be seeking to close ranks along communal lines. That restricts voters’ choice, stifles unionism’s attempts to appeal across communities, exacerbates the sectarian carve-up of Northern Ireland’s politics and ultimately, therefore, weakens the Union.

Since Peter Robinson was snubbed …

Ten 'names of Russia' which didn't make the list

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Just for fun I’ve compiled a list of ‘Names of Russia’ which did not make it into the final twelve. It is, I appreciate, rather heavy on literary figures. I’d be interested in readers’ comments or suggestions.

1. Leo Tolstoy – Literary giant, whose realist novels, in tandem with Dostoevsky’s works, defined Russian literature’s golden age. His political and religious convictions both reflected and shaped many of the prevailing political and reformist trends in late nineteenth century Russia.

2. Mikhail Gorbachev – Communist General Secretary whose project of evolutionary reform for the USSR sadly was unable to prevail when faced with centrifugal forces and nationalism unleashed by Boris Yeltsin and others.

3. Ilya Repin – Ukrainian born artist whose realist paintings informed Socialist Realism, but far exceeded the merits of that genre. Produced startling and varied canvasses often said to reflect the latent political power of the Russian people.

4. Nikolai Gogol – The father of R…

The dozen 'names of Russia' which epitomise the country?

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It is not just in Britain that governments like to indulge in a spot of identity navel gazing. In Russia a Kremlin sponsored competition has been taking place in order to establish the ‘Eemya Rossiya’ or ‘Name of Russia’. The premise was that one name, popularly chosen, should emerge which peculiarly embodies Russia’s culture and history. It is the type of initiative which you might expect Liam Byrne to endorse as part of ‘Britain Day’.

The Russian competition has been attended by controversy. Stalin was included in the initial long list of 500 names, suggested by the organisers. Indeed the Soviet dictator would have finished second in the poll, had he not been stripped of one million votes due to alleged vote rigging on the internet. Whether this can be ascribed to genuine vigilance on the part of the pollsters, or an attempt to sanitise an embarrassing verdict by the Russian people, the Georgian eventually finished twelfth, which in itself exposes Russia’s ambivalent attitude t…

Faint hearts never won fair ..... er ....... Cameron

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As the moment when the Ulster Unionist and Conservative parties must reveal the detail of their new relationship draws closer, perhaps some of those in the smaller party can be forgiven the odd wobble of resolve. With the modalities as yet unclear, and the stakes for the UUP undoubtedly higher, it is natural for party members to wonder whether the course their leader has set is the correct one. If, to extend the Politics Show’s rather laborious metaphor, Empey and Cameron are on the cusp of political marriage (an interesting image I grant you), there were always bound to be some pre-wedding nerves.

With the Conservative party conference commencing yesterday, commentators have begun to reflect some of this last minute anxiety, particularly as theory is put into practice and the Tories and UUP begin to sound like one party. Lord Trimble rounded off the conference’s first day by rallying his Conservative colleagues to contest every seat in the UK. This explicit statement of intent h…

Queens censoring political conversation on weblogs?

I’ve just had a text message from a concerned Three Thousand Versts reader (er, ok, it was my girlfriend) who has just discovered that this blog has been prohibited by Queens for its new term. In fact the ‘all weblogs and social interaction sites’ are apparently now blocked between 9-5pm.

Now whilst I understand that QUB wish to keep computers free for students to work, rather than to update Facebook, weblogs are often involved in discussions which have direct academic relevance. Why should Queens’ students not be involved in the type of open ended dialogue promoted on this site and others?

Whilst I’m sure the intention is not censorship, the effects might be rather similar. Is it really beneficial for students to be deprived of access to Iain Dale, Slugger, Guido Fawkes etc?

The SNP's flirtation with radical Islam

On online magazine Demokratiya, Tom Gallagher has an article which examines the SNP’s courtship of radical Islamists as a means by which to manage the Muslim community in Scotland and deliver its vote for the nationalists. Gallagher believes that Salmond’s party is playing a dangerous and divisive game in this respect, albeit it one which is consistent with the nationalist predilection for emphasising ‘group rights’ rather than individual rights.

“The SNP is using multicultural levers to manipulate religious identity in Scotland for electoral advantage, which I believe is likely to revive inter-confessional tensions as well as those between secular and religious interests.”

In its attempts to wow, particularly the Catholic and Muslim votes in Scotland, the SNP is approaching the communities as sectional interests rather than appealing to voters as individuals.

“They have mobilised not just autocratic Catholic prelates but radical Islamic politicians in the hope that by offering them …

McCann on those who wish to retain 'ugly scaffolding'

Whilst Eamon McCann’s brand of computer-disc-purloining politics is hardly my cup of tea, I do admire his commitment to fairness and the absence of the least shred of communal or sectarian bigotry which he exhibits.

Given these qualities, it is scarcely surprising to read McCann’s defence of Mark Durkan’s suggestion that ideally the Northern Ireland Assembly’s system of designation will ‘biodegrade’, nor is it surprising that he has identified the tribalism which has driven the strongest criticism to which the SDLP leader has been subjected. Referring to Durkan’s suggestion, McCann notes,

“Some, obviously, think this “nonsense,” and that anyone daring to envision a political system no longer structured in accordance with sectarian designation must have some petty, ignoble reason for so doing. That tells us rather more about them than about Durkan. “

'Rooted cosmopolitanism', Yahya Birt's contribution to Britishness debate

A Pint of Unionist Lite and Scottish Unionist have already picked up on an article by Yahya Birt, carried first in Emel Magazine, examining Britishness in the Muslim community. Far be it from this blog to pass up an opportunity to muse on British identity! Therefore I thought I would hop on the bandwagon and highlight some of the finer thoughts which this piece articulates.

In his commentary, O’Neill emphasises the increasing tendency, when considering the question of Britishness, to capitulate to nationalist assumptions and insist that respondents define their identity in exclusive terms. Thus we have polls (and the census) which ask whether someone feels Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English or British, but does not offer a combination of two or more categories.

Birt believes that Britain’s ethnic minority groups are, in general, comfortable with their British status. Taking the specific instance of Muslim Britons, he comments, “Polling usually confirms that Muslims are comfortable i…

Over to the Tories

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Brian Crowe has marshalled a calm response to Gordon Brown’s conference speech, avoiding the spittle flecked apoplexy which it induced in me. Over at Burke’s Corner he has provided a thoughtful critique of its weaknesses, synthesising the most penetrating comment from newspapers and the web.

Brown’s speech was aimed primarily at repairing damaged morale within his own party. Brian’s view is that, consequently, it did little to speak to the country as a whole and where the Prime Minister bothered to address pressing issues at all, his rhetoric was heavy on platitudes and light on specific policy.

Burke’s Corner is eagerly looking forward to David Cameron’s response at next week’s Conservative party conference. Similarly, Gaby Hinsliff has turned her attention towards next week’s proceedings in Birmingham, asking ‘what does Cameron have to do to win back initiative?’ at the Guardian’s politics blog.

Although the article’s title somewhat presupposes the disputable thesis that Brown …

10p tax rate. Why is Gordon really sorry?

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Listening to Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Conference yesterday, an uninformed visitor to our country might have been tempted to conclude that the reason the British people are turning against the Prime Minister is because he is ‘too serious’, or merely because we are a nation of curmudgeons who have become heartily sick of his ceaseless attempts to instil ‘fairness’ in the United Kingdom.

If only this were so, the country would be functioning perfectly under Labour’s tutelage and the only factors which might possibly animate a desire to oust the government would be boredom and self-interest. I’m afraid that this is resoundingly not the case. There are concrete reasons for Labour’s difficulties at the polls. People are genuinely angry with the government.

Having examined Labour’s erosion of civil liberties yesterday and visited its assault on the country’s constitution on numerous occasions, let's for a minute look at the issue of the 10p tax rate. A Labour policy which …

Because they care!

DUP anxiety about the welfare of Ulster Unionist party members has rapidly become an obsession. Previously their concern was for North Belfast MLA Fred Cobain and whether talks between the UUP and the Conservatives were upsetting for him. It soon transpired that there was nothing to worry about.

Now that Cobain has become the party’s chief whip, the dupes are no longer so attentive. Instead they have turned their fastidious attention toward David McNarry, the outgoing whip, who (despite the new job as finance spokesman which awaits him) they insist is being ‘punished’ or ‘demoted’.

I’ve no doubt that McNarry will soon assure Dundela Avenue that everything is just fine. The DUP’s pastoral care must have come on a lot since the days of Paul Berry. It’s really rather touching.

"Trying to work out what animates Russian behaviour should not be considered a treasonable offence"

Often it is diplomats, rather than politicians, to which we must turn for a sane and sober assessment of international events. On Open Democracy’s Russian blog, Sir Roderic Lyne, former ambassador to the Russian Federation (2000-04), has called for temperate analysis and assessment to prevail, when considering western relationships with Russia. His predecessor and namesake, Sir Roderick Braithwaite, previously called for more understanding of Russia’s position, in an article which was highlighted on this blog.

Lyne begins by cutting through the hyperbole which attended the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

“This is not Russia's 9/11; nor Prague 1968 nor Budapest 1956 nor Munich 1938. The thesis that the Cold War has come back is untenable ……… Emotion stirred by half-truths, ancient prejudice, spin and counter-spin makes bad policy. As the embers begin to cool in the villages of South Ossetia, all sides will need to ask themselves where the conflict has left us, and where we …

Author gives timely reminder why Labour must go

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The Counter Terrorism Bill, which includes plans for 42 day pre charge detention, is due for its third reading in the House of Lords next month. It is likely to face a robust challenge and could well be voted down in parliament's second chamber.

John le Carré, the novelist and former spy, has picked a particularly timely moment, therefore, to register his disgust at the proposed legislation.

“I'm angry that there is so little anger around me at what is being done to our society, supposedly in order to protect it. We have been taken to war under false pretences, and stripped of our civil rights in an atmosphere of panic.”

The author’s comments reflect widespread disillusionment, amongst those of liberal sensibility, with Labour’s systematic destruction of basic liberties. Arguments against erosion of freedom have married increasingly harmoniously with Conservative calls to preserve rights, fundamental to the UK’s constitution. David Davis MP enjoyed backing from both camps…

A must read - O'Neill on Edgar Graham

I’m not in the habit of posting links, which I believe noteworthy, but to which I have nothing to add. Today I must make an exception after reading O’Neill’s piece about Edgar Graham on A Pint of Unionist Lite. Graham was only twenty nine years old when he was callously murdered by republican terrorists, because he was both talented and a unionist. O’Neill unfolds events surrounding the murder, in a post which is simultaneously a tribute and a poignant appeal to fellow unionists not to take freedom to articulate their position for granted.

If you have not yet read it, I urge you to do so.

A blockage in the executive plumbing?

Shaun Woodward believes that policing and justice might be devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive within 12 months. I suppose he MIGHT be right. In the same speech he stressed the importance of the executive beginning once again to meet. Yet in contrast, on the Politics Show, the Northern Ireland Secretary seemed to suggest the present ‘tense situation’ is not a crisis and that the media have been responsible for exaggerating its import.

For 12 months Northern Ireland’s ‘government’ comprised an optical illusion and now that illusion has been shattered. Executive business has heaped up unresolved throughout the period of devolution and now, thanks to the recalcitrance of Sinn Féin, the executive has stopped meeting entirely.

The Labour government are becoming increasingly desperate to get Gerry Adams’ party out of a hole and to re-animate the Stormont charade. If that is achieved, the carve-up will rumble on, performing its impression of government until the next bout of in…

Review: Kosovo, What Everyone Needs to Know

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Tim Judah is The Economist’s Balkan correspondent and, however justified O’Neill’s reservations about that magazine might be in general terms, he remains arguably the most authoritative British journalist writing about the region. ‘Kosovo, What Everyone Needs to Know’, is his latest book, a slim, but surprisingly detailed account of Kosovo’s history, up to and including the unilateral declaration of independence and its aftermath.

In previous books Judah has drawn on personal experience and enlivened his histories with a smattering of anecdote. The confines of this OUP series demand a more concise approach. Nevertheless, the book is readable and manages largely to furnish its readers with both sides of the story. Occasionally impartiality is achieved at the expense of the flow of prose, often place names are provided in two or even three languages.

Judah ably charts the current conflict’s origins in a low intensity Albanian terrorist campaign. He notes the unwitting role which …

A More United Kingdom? Nice talk, shame about the actions.

As a GCSE English Literature student, the only text that I loathed more than Wordsworth’s ‘Lyrical Ballads’ was ‘Cider With Rosie’ by Laurie Lee. You might say that I was not exactly entranced by bucolic English idylls at the age of 16, whether they were rapidly changing or not. I wanted instead, to read some god-awful nonsense by William Burroughs or subject myself to fifteen hundred pages of Norman Mailer.

Honestly, I cannot remember whether Lee’s book deserved my disdain, I suspect not. Nevertheless, when I discovered that Liam Byrne’s Demos report, ‘A More United Kingdom’ (PDF), quotes ‘Cider With Rosie’ at the outset, it immediately acquired a bundle of negative associations, before I had even begun to inspect it properly.

Byrne’s report has already attracted ridicule, with its 27 suggestions to celebrate a proposed national day, one of which is drinking! Undoubtedly, despite weighing in at 90 odd pages, much of this document is fairly fatuous stuff. Nonetheless, leaving a…

We're off to Dublin in the green

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The notion of a ‘Celtic nations’ tournament has been knocked about for a while. In the absence of any English enthusiasm to resurrect the old Home International Championship, it has been left to Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Republic to push ahead with plans of their own.

Concrete detail is only now beginning to emerge. The Four Associations Tournament will first be played in Dublin in 2011. It will comprise a league format, with 2 games taking place in February and a further four in May.

The competition certainly sounds like a great idea in theory. Rather than national teams participating in three anaemic friendlies, full blooded derby matches will offer players and spectators a much more challenging, rewarding experience.

In recent years Northern Ireland fans have enjoyed travelling to matches in Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow. In addition Windsor Park has hosted two home matches versus Wales and a memorable victory against England.

Tickets for the Croke Park t…

Ryder Cup underway

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It is time to grip the old ‘Gentleman’s Persuader’ once again, as the Ryder Cup is underway in Valhalla. Europe has made a habit of dominating the opening exchanges in recent years and just now has eased ahead in two of the opening foursomes, the other pair remaining all square.

I expressed some concern about the captaincy of Nick Faldo in a previous post. He did little to inspire further confidence earlier in the week when his opening selections were photographed by a fortuitous zoom lens. The captain attempted to pass off his scribblings as a ‘lunch list’. Cunning stuff Nick, especially as the paper comprised exactly the pairings which took to the course a couple of hours ago.

Meanwhile the US captain, Paul Azinger, appeared to invite misbehaviour by the home crowd with an equivocal message, “We want to get them rockin … We don't want anybody out of hand, but of course there will be alcohol served and of course be some minor cases, but we are engaging the crowd”.

We shoul…

Convenient dictatorship - Azerbaijan

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Georgia’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, has his own singular methods for dealing with opposition to his corrupt regime. Recent history which has been conveniently forgotten in the rush to acclaim his country as a bastion of freedom in the Caucasus.

Saakashvili is not the only American client in the region. Azerbaijan is corrupt, anti-democratic, repressive and an important strategic ally of the US and Nato. Ilham Aliyev is currently holds the presidency which was conferred on him in much the same fashion as a family heirloom.

On Comment is Free, Nina Ognianova highlights continued abuses of human rights, oppression of press freedom and the lack of democratic credibility which will attend forthcoming elections.

Don’t hold your breath for a storm of western opprobrium. Azerbaijan is too conveniently placed geographically and too rich in oil and gas to consider rocking the boat. Now if the regime were pro-Russian, that would be a different matter.

Fermanagh by election results as they happen

First count

Sinn Féin (Coyle) 1815
SDLP (Flanaghan) 739
DUP (Foster) 1925
UUP (Johnston) 1436
Alliance (Kamble) 231
Independent Republican (McHugh) 158

Quota 3153


SF have asked for a recount. Assuming the results are upheld, Alliance, SDLP and Independent Republican will drop out for the second count.

Second Count

UUP 1640
DUP 1994
SF 2327

Arlene Foster is likely to win after UUP transfers are distributed.

Final count

DUP 3165
SF 2383

Nothing more to see here. I will not be a hypocrite and pore over results. There is little surprising or particularly instructive here.

Belated gloating and the wonders of positivity

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It is much easier writing gloomy posts about football rather than upbeat ones. By that rationale, I should be devoting a blog or two to the continuing woes of Ballymena United. But rather than wallowing in the ceaseless misery which accompanies every supporter of the Braidmen, I will attempt to accentuate the positive and comment on Liverpool’s remarkable week.

At the outset I must confess that I was unable to catch the entirety of last Saturday’s match. Instead, I deduced its progress from a series of initially ominous and then progressively delirious text messages, before enjoying hugely the BBC’s highlights. Although I might not have watched it live, nevertheless I feel bound to offer those readers with an inclination toward Manchester United hearty and heartfelt taunts.

I was fortunate enough to attend Liverpool’s previous victory against the Mancs, when Peter Crouch secured a 1-0 FA Cup win in February 2006. Prior to that match, Liverpool had last beaten United in 2004, wh…

Walker loada rubbish

Former BBC employee Brian Walker has overrun Slugger O’Toole lately with countless poorly structured, poorly written posts. It is possible quickly to recognize and avoid these by subjecting each Slugger piece to a cursory inspection and identifying those which feature characteristic lack of paragraphing and a tenuous grasp on the technicalities of linking source articles. Although I generally evade Walker’s posts by this method, occasionally (and unfortunately) I have persevered and found that their content is as unrewarding as the style in which they are written.

Today, for instance, I inflicted upon myself Brian’s thoughts on a mooted Fianna Fail / SDLP merger. In actual fact, he is right to welcome news that the Southern Irish party has dropped this proposal from its agenda; however, the logic by which he arrives at this conclusion is parochial nonsense. To summarise, Walker believes that pursuing realignment with larger parties, whether they are from the rest of the UK or from …

You know it's going to happen

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Without wishing either to stretch a metaphor or put literal minded readers off dinner, Northern Ireland’s politics comprise a cramped, crowded, sweaty, incestuous hothouse. This week the hothouse is being strapped to the back of a media lorry and transported down the road to Enniskillen. The council by election which is to take place there will no doubt by minutely dissected and its significance projected endlessly (and speculatively) unto a bigger stage by those parties which feel they have done well. That is the nature of the, frankly vaguely ridiculous, hothouse.

The truth is that this by election will be influenced by a series of peculiarities, local or otherwise, and the significance accorded to its result should not be overstated. The News Letter’s Stephen Dempster is correct when he states that this is not Dromore and that extrapolating the state of unionism from the election is not a possibility. This election is of unfortunate provenance, it features a pressurised battle…

A silly time to promise tax cuts?

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Nick Clegg’s stated desire to cut tax for low and middle earners and to finance these cuts by freeing his party from certain public spending commitments has met with a predictable response. Left wing commentators complain that the Liberal Democrat leader is jettisoning principle and flirting with Thatcherism, meanwhile right wing analysts believe that Clegg’s proposals are mere sophistry and would not deliver meaningful tax cuts at all.

The Liberal Democrats are seeking to present themselves as a tax cutting party for two principal reasons. Firstly, the party is seeking to reposition itself in line with prevalent public opinion and move demonstrably away from Labour, a party which is perceived as statist, centralising and wasteful of public money. Clegg wishes to carry a convincing fight to Labour at the next General Election. Secondly, with the Conservative Party increasingly buoyant, Lib Dems must protect seats they currently hold, which may be threatened by a resurgent Tory Pa…

Headline of the year!

Albeit a little nausea inducing, courtesy of Mark Devenport. Some nonentity from Hollyoaks has expressed his disapproval of Iris Robinson's anti-gay comments in a celebrity magazine.

Mark's headline - "Iris in 'Heat'".

Harmonising hymn sheets for the UUP / Tory marriage

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Without wishing to pre-empt the findings of the UUP – Conservative Working Group, it is my understanding that some detail will soon emerge as to how the parties’ relationship might develop. This will entail, at a minimum, the Tories endorsing Jim Nicholson and contributing to his campaign in the European election and an embargo on candidates from the two parties running against each other in the foreseeable future. It is as yet unclear whether modalities of nomenclature are ready to be announced or whether the Northern Irish party will receive financial backing from Conservative coffers.

More evidence of increased cooperation is already emerging. Tom Elliot MLA has rowed in behind a Conservative spokesman on the environment, endorsing Peter Ainsworth’s view that Labour is not providing enough support for British formers and that more emphasis must be placed on promoting local produce as an alternative to expensive and environmentally unfriendly imports. Meanwhile Sir Reg Empey ha…

In support of clod-hopping Tyrone GAA types!

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I am not known for my love of County Tyrone nor for my interest in GAA, however I managed to drive to Enniskillen and back over the weekend, past Dungannon, through Augher, Clougher, Fivemiletown etc., without noting anything either intimidating or offensive. Two wrongs don’t make a right and complaining about a Tyrone GAA pennant on a car in a car-park is as pathetic as objecting to a British Olympic Association flag or the infamous 'Boots’ Union Flag'.

Provided it doesn’t entail dragging their sofas unto the streets of Belfast, then getting blocked before playing hurling amongst cars, the people of Tyrone are entitled to enjoy their sport and culture unencumbered. Perhaps both sides here need to start treating others as they would wish to be treated themselves as a preliminary to arguing their own case for discrimination.

Britishness - avoiding the straightjacket

Alexandra Runswick’s post on Our Kingdom discusses an RSA / Heritage Lottery Fund lecture entitled ‘Britishness – A values based approach is not enough’, a contention precipitated by Labour’s attempts to draft a ‘Statement of British Values’. Keynote speaker, Dame Liz Forgan, argued the importance of culture to the formation of national identity, noting “that while values are fixed, culture is porous and constantly evolves”.

She raises an important point. Certain cultural commonalities are naturally key constituents around which an identity coheres. History, language, common institutions and indeed common values undoubtedly help forge the culture which we share. However, I would add two notes of caution to Forgan’s analysis. Firstly, as I have already intimated, values, culture and institutions cannot be easily separated. Rather the three interact and mould each other.

The values which are inherent in Britishness have necessarily been shaped by the UK’s constitution and the in…

The finest travel writer

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I first became aware of Philip Marsden’s travel writing when I read ‘The Crossing Place’, his nuanced journey examining Armenian history and identity. I've enjoyed re-establishing the acquaintance, having got my hands on Marsden’s ‘Spirit Wrestlers’, an account of his travels in southern Russia and the Caucasus, examining the ethnicities and religious sects who subsist in that region.

The book is ten years old, but it is particularly relevant given recent problems in areas the author visits. Marsden actually travels through South Ossetia, living with a local doctor named Pushkin and meeting the breakaway republic’s president, on his way to 'Georgia proper'. Even discounting contemporary relevance, it is simply a joy to read writing of the calibre Marsden produces. His prose is rich, nuanced, perfect in pitch and tone. It makes me profoundly jealous.

He shares none of the cynicism which characterised Daniel Kalder’s account of travelling in Russia’s ethnic republics,…

The power of tribalism

Via Pete Baker at Slugger, a particularly pertinent article (given the debate carried below) by Henry McDonald on the Guardian politics blog, has come to my attention. McDonald addresses the vehement derision with which many nationalists greeted Mark Durkan’s suggestion that designation might one day become unnecessary and that cross community, voluntary coalitions might spring up.

“In essence, the criticism, much of it venomous, directed at Durkan illuminates the power of tribal politics in Northern Ireland. By merely daring to gaze into the future and hint that perhaps one day there could be sufficient respect and trust to produce a government of volunteer parties Durkan faced accusations that he was not only naive but in addition disloyal to his own tribe.”

Let people enjoy their Sunday!

The low profile which Ian Paisley has maintained since his retirement has actually impressed me. I suspected that his ego would require him to remain a public figure and that he could easily become the ‘ghost at the feast’ of Northern Ireland politics. As yet he has not fulfilled that role and has contented himself, in terms of public participation, merely with a column in the News Letter.

It is predictable enough that this week he has used this platform to attack Glentoran and the Irish Football Association for rearranging a fixture to last Sunday. I am always slightly bemused by the suggestion that playing sport is a violation of this so called day of rest. If, as Paisley believes, God provides us with Sunday for our own benefit, that we might “rest both mind and body from the matters that occupy us during the other six days”, enjoying that day by watching or playing football is a fine way to rest the mind and rejuvenate the body!

Johnston distances himself from sexist remarks

Ulster Unionist Fermanagh by election candidate Basil Johnston must be congratulated for swiftly moving to distance himself from unfortunate comments made by former MLA Sam Foster to the effect that DUP candidate Arlene Foster's role as wife and mother would mitigate against her effectively doing her political job. Whether these remarks were sexist, or whether they were merely unfortunately expressed, undoubtedly they represented an unacceptable attack. Arlene Foster's candidature should be questioned, on the grounds that she is already an MLA and a minister. Her status as a mother and a wife is irrelevant. Whether Sam Foster recognises that or not, Basil Johnston certainly does.

Is progressive Conservatism an oxymoron?

Richard Reeves, director of centre left think tank Demos, has been considering Conservative claims to a ‘progressive’ agenda on ‘Comment is Free’. The piece is worth reading in its entirety, but a number of passages are particularly pertinent, given the debate which Chris McGimpsey’s comments have sparked and the wider themes of Conservative ideology, with which this blog has been grappling over the past few months.

Reeves is sceptical regarding the claims of conservatism to a long history of prizing social justice. Whilst he acknowledges the bona fides of Disraeli’s ‘one nation Conservatism’ and the legacy of William Wilberforce, he is quick to dismiss the Torys' post-war endorsement of the National Health Service and Keynesian economics. However, regardless that he remains unconvinced by narratives which trace a continuous ideological lineage for ‘progressive’ Cameron Conservatism, Reeves dismisses Labour’s contention that Conservatives cannot genuinely frame a programme whi…

Ending designation offers no threat to nationalism

Mark Durkan’s weekend speech to the British and Irish Association at Oxford University, carried in full in the comment zone of a post on El Blogador, has attracted a wealth of comment across the blogs. In a section of the speech, the SDLP leader expressed his belief that the current power sharing arrangements at Stormont will be transitional and that, as confidence and normality in Northern Ireland’s politics increases, there will be an opportunity to remove ‘ugly scaffolding’ inherent in the present dispensation and progress beyond the system of designation.

Durkan’s comments chime resonantly with the views of Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey. Indeed, the conviviality of the speech to unionist perceptions of where the institutions should be headed, has undoubtedly contributed to the vehemence of Sinn Féin’s response. Martina Anderson’s statement is typical. A sneering implication that unionists cannot be trusted to participate in normal democratic politics.

Of course there …

My ritual pre match keen of pessimism

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After the weekend’s bitter disappointment, Northern Ireland have an opportunity to get our World Cup 2010 campaign up and running when we face the Czech Republic at Windsor Park tomorrow night. Once again we will be required to line up without influential front man Kyle Lafferty, and increasingly it looks as if George McCartney will be another absentee.

If McCartney misses out, even Nigel Worthington should have the tactical nous to reshape the back four in relatively effective fashion. Jonny Evans can move to left back, which apart from covering McCartney’s absence, also allows Hughes to resume his successful centre back partnership with Craigan. Chris Baird or Gareth McCauley would then be asked to take up the right back berth vacated by their captain.

The manager will probably choose McCauley, because I imagine he will think it foolhardy to pick a conventional 4-4-2 midfield, rather than selecting Baird as stopper. In fairness, on this occasion he might be right. With Damien…

McGimpsey's view is grounded in outdated assumptions

To a degree I sympathise with the dilemma posed by the proposed Ulster Unionist – Tory pact for those who share an outlook similar to Chris McGimpsey. He regards himself as a custodian of the working class community in West Belfast which he represented for many years. His view of UK politics is still formed by the assumption that the Conservative Party’s policies are inimical to the interests of poorer sections of society, whilst Labour’s instincts are more inclined towards social justice. Whether he still believes there is a clearly defined left – right divide, certainly he retains a strong aversion to the Tories.

I understand the instincts which caused McGimpsey to pen an attack on the possible realignment, but I believe that he is wrong.

Labour governments, under Blair and Brown, have instigated a string of measures which have all but severed any lingering association that party may have had with social justice. It was a Labour government which abolished the 10p tax band. Th…