Showing posts from August, 2016

Russia 2018 will be great and Northern Ireland supporters will want to be there.

Northern Ireland kicks off the World Cup qualifiers in the Czech Republic on Sunday.  The prize is a trip to the finals tournament in Russia in 2018.  The supporters' website, Our Wee country, asked me to explain why that'll be a great occasion and why Northern Ireland fans will be desperate to attend.  This post was originally on OWC's Facebook page. 
Last June, most of the country went Green and White Army crazy, as Northern Ireland experienced major championship football for the first time in 30 years.  It was a strange experience for long term fans who followed the team through thick and thin, regardless of success.  If you thought the hype around the Euros was something special, though, it will be ten times greater if we qualify for the World Cup.  That’s a big incentive for supporters and, more importantly, for the players.  Don’t listen to the doubters.  Russia will stage a brilliant competition and no expense will be spared making sure visitors have a great time du…

Where are the buds of May's Conservatism?

Theresa May was Home Secretary for six years and she spent over a decade in the Conservative shadow cabinet. It might seem curious then, that, despite so much time in the public eye, the media had to print hurried profiles summarising her political beliefs, when she succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minister.
Often these articles centred on aspects of Mrs May’s personal history and observations about her style of management, more than questions of philosophy, economics or ideology. Journalists and commentators struggled to summarise the ideas that inspired her to get involved in politics. The new Prime Minister was described as a pragmatist, who prefers “doing” rather than “talking”.
That’s not particularly satisfactory for newspapers, but it’s actually a rather conservative approach.
Based on little more than party and gender, May found herself compared to Margaret Thatcher, who reputedly once told a Tory policy meeting “this is what we believe”, as she brandished a copy of The Constitut…

Time for unionists in NI to answer difficult questions?

In his latest News Letter column Alex Kane describes ‘unionist unity’ as the ‘idée fixe’ of unionism in Northern Ireland.  He says that unionism lacks ‘coherence and narrative drive’ and he points out that attempts to agree a ‘common set of democratic principles’ among unionists have delivered ‘diddly squat’.  It’s hard to disagree with any of that.
When this blog started out, in 2007, I wrote three posts which tried to ‘define unionism’.  They were a bit rough and ready, and far too wordy, but I stick by many of my ideas.  In essence, I argued that it was a sorry type of unionism that showed little or no interest in the rest of the UK and was focused, mainly, on protecting certain aspects of Ulster Protestant culture.
I’ve not changed that view, but, nine years later, I acknowledge it was arrogant to suggest that ‘civic unionists’, as they were described, were the real thing, while ‘cultural unionists’ were merely ‘Ulster nationalists’.  In 2016, with the SNP dominating politics in…

The power of information: The Invention of Russia and Nothing is True and Everything is Possible reviewed

Russia’s apparent mastery of misinformation has become an obsession of media in the UK and the US. I referred previously to The Times’ recent front-page lead, which reported a “secret propaganda assault” masterminded by Vladimir Putin, based on a new Sputnik news agency bureau opening in Edinburgh and some Kremlin-sponsored Russian language programmes starting in British universities. The Russian government is supposed to be waging “hybrid war” on the West through an army of pro-Moscow TV commentators, state-backed football hooligans and internet trolls. The word ‘weaponised’ is bandied about with illiberal abandon in countless long-form magazine articles, promoted by brooding, sinister cover images of Putin or Soviet tanks. You don’t have to be a raging Russophile to appreciate the irony. Two of the more recent English language books about Russia have harnessed this mood by looking at the country and its recent history through the lens of its media. Arkady Ostrovsky’s The Invention o…

Pro-EU arguments tapped into long tradition of British Russophobia

The campaign against Brexit was criticised for trying to frighten people into voting ‘remain’, as economic meltdown and the breakup of the United Kingdom were threatened, in order to support the idea that Britain could not leave the European Union without devastating consequences.  These tactics backfired, as the public became weary of the movement’s negative tone and cynical about the motives of an ‘establishment’ it perceived was arguing in its own interests, rather than the interests of wider society. 
As referendum day approached, David Cameron tried to put an even older British fear at the heart of debate, when he claimed that the UK would be ill-equipped outside the EU to deal with threats from “a newly belligerent Russia”.  The ‘leave’ campaign’s figurehead, Boris Johnson, was subsequently lambasted as a ‘Putin apologist’, when he suggested that Brussels’ foreign policy helped create conflict in the Ukraine.
The ‘remain’ camp’s Russian strategy was never likely to win prizes …