Friday, 30 October 2009

Infantilising the Northern Ireland electorate

I try to ignore Brian Walker’s contributions to Slugger, really I do, and broadly, in this endeavour, I am successful. His dense swamps of prose are easy to identify by their lack of paragraphing, and they rarely contain enough content to snag an unwilling reader’s eye. Just occasionally, however, my Walkerdar lets me down and I am unfortunate enough to find myself knee deep in the muddled, muddy mulch which comprises Brian’s political analyses.

Today, regrettably, I’ve been forced to extricate myself, one boot at a time, from such a sucking, fetid morass.

It is a confusing experience, as one finds oneself surrounded by disconnected, swirling sentences, untethered to a coherent argument. In truth there is generally some type of emotional core identifiable, deep within a Walker post, although usually it is better to feel it instinctively, rather than attempt to understand it by following through its so called logic. Around it forms a dizzying and condescending miasma of woolly worthiness.

In this case Brian’s central emotion is anxiety that non Northern Irish parties might disturb the serene vessel which he understands represents our politics. Not that Walker is a fan of the DUP or Sinn Féin you appreciate. He believes that they are parochial parties and that Northern Ireland’s politicians are incurably short-sighted. However, woe betide any party which seeks to look beyond the boundaries of these six counties. They are in danger of ‘widening the sectarian divide’.

Apart from the mysterious expansion which this religious cleavage is set to undergo, through the introduction of more secular political discourse, Walker also contends that national British parties’ involvement in Northern Irish politics, “throws into confusion what people are voting for”. The same thesis holds if parties from the Republic, and Fianna Fail are the primary case in point, decide to run candidates here. That’s it. That’s the entire substance of the argument.

Asides from the gaping logical lacunae and the awful writing, the most offensive aspect of this type of post, is that it is profoundly, jaw droppingly patronising! It rests on an assumption that people in Northern Ireland cannot be trusted to participate in normal political discourse. In order to render the ‘sectarian divide’ manageable they must forever be required to submit to its political manifestation. Whichever democratic verdict they reach on the province’s constitutional status might be reflected by an illusion of respect for the principle of consent, but in reality they are doomed to exist in political suspended animation (albeit for their own good).

It might be nonsense derived from a liberal sensibility, but nonetheless it is offensive. And it is based on a serious misinterpretation of the Belfast Agreement. The Good Friday accord entitled people in Northern Ireland to determine their constitutional future and required that that determination be respected. It certainly did not entrench in law a tacit understanding that politics here should remain perpetually semi-detached.


Glyn Chambers said...


As a Conservative candidate, I don't generally have the time to comment on blog threads (except yours on the odd occasion), but I just happened to look at Slugger now as I prepare to leave work and, as you say, it was so absurd it could not be allowed to pass.

I'll copy Mr Walker's words and my comments here, with your permission:

“My objections to mergers are two fold. Nationalists looking to Dublin and Unionists to London risk widening the sectarian divide at a time when it desperately needs to be narrowed.”

Yes, keep the natives sandbagged into their respective unionist vs nationalist camps. That did a lot to reduce the secatrian divide, didn’t it? You are surely being ironic here, Brian? I mean, no thinking person could seriously advance this ludicrous argument.

“And two, it throws into confusion what people are voting for.”

Yeah, deary me, we wouldn’t want people voting on unimportant things like taxes, the recession, Afghanistan, the Lisbon Treaty, immigration, crime etc, would we? Keep the simpletons focused on putting their thumb print down for their tribe. Honestly, arguments like this make me sick. If there wasn’t such a thing as a “Northern Irish cringe”, you can see it here now - for those who revel in isolation, division, irrelevance and mediocrity.

Jeffrey Peel said...

Hmm, yes I go along with what you argue Chekov but it comes crashing down when one considers your own enthusiasm for the UCUNF project. You refuse to accept the fundamental pointlessness of the UUP and the degree to which it's blocking real politics. Yes I know Garland and McGimpsey think the Conservatives are raping and pillaging the UUP's Party structure, but we all know that the UUP's membership is populated almost entirely by people who have no conception of how real UK politics works or how to behave in a real political Party. The MLAs, I gather, are divided down the line in terms of the Conservative deal - and Reg is so terrified of offending anyone that he couldn't even refer to the Conservative Party in his recent Party broadcast.

Therefore we're some distance, still, from participating in real politics when we have the UUP and Conservatives competing for members and seeing eye-to-eye on very little of any substance. Meanwhile Labour has no real enthusiasm for proper organisation here and the SDLP/Fianna Fail project seems to be going nowhere.

We're at one in terms of the need for real participatory politics but the current status is such that we're still a hell of a long way from achieving it.

Chekov said...

Jeff - remind me again of the vehicle by which YOUR party, both locally and nationally, have chosen to advance the aim of normal politics? I see UCUNF as a project, as yet in its infancy. I don't see the arrangements as they are currently constituted as an endpoint. But neither do I see the point in howling impotently from the sidelines about its inadequacies. The UUP is not pointless, because it has the members, votes and representatives who need to be moved towards a more conventional discourse. That is already happening, WHICH IS THE REASON that you find people like Garland and McGimpsey kicking against the arrangements. Although I entirely agree that there is a long way to go.

Seymour Major said...

Brian Walker was comparing the now failed SDLP/Fianna Fail proposed pact with the Conservatives and the UUP as if it was comparing like with like.

Of the first passage which Glyn Chambers has quoted, had the words "...and Unionists to London..." had not been added, I would have agreed with it.

Anonymous said...

As usual Peel has no solution, he exists in a Black and White world with no recognition of the current situation.

His pathetic answer is continue to run candidates even though they have NO chance of success.

Sorry Mr Peel the people in NI deserve better than your holier than thou (not bad for a humanist) attitude that Conservatives should not be sullied by the riff raff in the UUP.

I am surprised that you can live in a country where so many people vote for parties that you so clearly despise.

Walker and Peel should lock themselves in a room and see if they can find real solutions, not the tripe they spout.

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