Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Margaret Ritchie's balls and a lack of sectarianism in Northern Irish politics. The weird world of John Coulter.

Margaret Ritchie may have won twice as many nominations to become SDLP leader as her rival, Alasdair McDonnell, but the South Belfast MP has managed a coup of his own. The party’s deputy leader can now count ‘radical unionist’, John Coulter, amongst his backers. I’d imagine he feels humbled, perhaps even ashamed.

Coulter, in his weekly contribution to that venerable political digest, the Irish Daily Star, sets out the case for McDonnell, in characteristically linear fashion. If you dare read his piece, first fasten your mental feet around the stout shaft of a logical pogo stick, because you’re about to hop all over the place! Basic anatomy, religious fundamentalism, southern politics, northern politics and wild baseless conjecture are the inchoate selection of ingredients scattered unevenly atop John’s latest opinion pizza.

A warning for Glentoran fans. Read Coulter’s opening gambit carefully. That 6-0 defeat might still smart, but he’s not proposing a particularly devious scheme to get rid of your manager.

“Big Al McDonnell is the only nationalist boss who can help create a future New Force/Fianna Fail Stormont Executive.

Sorry to wee Maggie Ritchie, but she lacks the political balls to bring the SDLP back into government and return moderate nationalism to its glory days under John Hume.”

We’ll skate over the assumption that the SDLP might still wish to shackle itself to a party whose support in the Republic is collapsing, shall we? The suggestion that Ritchie’s ‘lack of balls’, political or otherwise, might undermine her leadership credentials immediately locates Coulter’s commentary at the less enlightened end of the spectrum.

But his musings about nationalist politics are positively mainstream in comparison to his analysis of unionism, and in particular the Conservatives and Unionists pact.

“The big problem facing the New Force of UUP and Tories is not candidate selection, but how to mobilise the estimated 100,000 church-going Protestants who have put Bible before ballot box and not bothered their wee holy bums to vote.”

No doubt, in unguarded moments, David Cameron explains the project in similar terms. Or, definitively, not!

Where Coulter’s estimate of 100,000, non voting, ‘church going Protestants’ has sprung from, we can only surmise. The notion that religiosity is a common barrier to political commitment in Northern Ireland should leave even the casual reader boggle eyed with disbelief. If a vast quantity of politically abstentionist evangelicals have been patiently waiting for a Conservative alliance to put ‘Biblical Christianity back into unionism’, I’m Skippy, the bush kangaroo.

John wants UCUNF to, “stop pissing about trying to present itself as some kind of trendy political paradise for atheists, humanists or other assorted secular nutballs“. Nutball is as nutball does, one is tempted to respond.

A lot of intellectual energy has been expended, attempting to tease out the identity of the (mythical?) ‘garden centre Prod’ whose latent electoral power is believed to remain untapped. I’ve yet to hear it proposed that this unengaged beast is apathetic because Ulster politics lacks a sufficiently severe dose of fundamentalist Christianity!

The idea that the Conservative and Unionist alliance is unattractive to committed Christians is surely, in any case, erroneous. Its policies are calibrated to appeal across faith barriers. Which is another reason why Coulter’s advocacy of an arrangement whereby Catholic interests are looked after by the SDLP / Fianna Fail and Protestants are represented by UCUNF is little better than the current carve-up at Stormont.

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