Thursday, October 13, 2005

Unionists offer no alternative but the past

Brian Feeney:

After last week there seems to be unanimous agreement that the penny has finally dropped for the Conservative party in Britain. They know they need to change. That's why Ken Clarke won't be elected leader. He'll be 70 at the next British general election. That's certainly one important reason, but the main one is that his speech to the party conference showed he was still fighting battles the Conservatives lost years ago.

There was a lot of soul-searching at the conference, some honest speeches from senior party figures and some difficult home truths confronted, all driven by the fear of losing a fourth general election, a prospect too calamitous to contemplate.

No danger of any soul-searching within unionism, a strange inward-looking political cult whose origin is tribal solidarity and whose sole reason for existence is to maintain local supremacy over the largest area it can control. Now that is no longer a possibility wouldn't you think it's long past time unionists began a quest for an alternative purpose or at least another way of expressing their tribalism? Instead, each summer, when their sectarian hormones come on heat unionism returns like a dog to its own vomit.

Each July and August the world's television screens lay bare unionism's turmoil as the cult seeks to recreate the dominance it once enjoyed here.

Each summer since 1998 sweating, red-faced middle-aged men in silly collarettes have disgraced themselves attacking police and army, forces that in days gone by belonged to them.

Why do they still try it? The simple answer is that their leaders offer no alternative but the past. Even worse, leaders of unionism endorse the be-sashed dopes hurling themselves at police lines but then are nowhere to be seen when the reckoning comes. In their place sit stammering nincompoops demanding the right to walk the "Queen's highway" yet ironically unable to speak the Queen's English.

Where was Nigel Dodds MP who marched demanding the same spurious right, or Reg Empey, also an Orangeman, who also supported the right to march in defiance of the law?

When was the last time any unionist leader ever said anything true or brave? It's not just a matter of lying about the extent of poverty in nationalist compared to unionist districts or purveying nonsense that 'them uns' get everything while unionists get nothing, or misleading their voters about IRA decommissioning. It's the fact that these lies are used to cover up the reality, to try to avoid explaining the inexorable decline in unionism's status, the horrible truth that the cult of unionism has failed the people who placed their faith in it.

In 1987 following the Anglo-Irish Agreement and his nocturnal excursion to Clontibret where gardai were assaulted, Peter Robinson, along with some figures in the UUP flirted with the idea of producing a re-definition of unionism similar to the rethinking of nationalism in the 1984 New Ireland Forum.

His political nerve failed him.

It came to nothing. He concluded there was no place for new thinking in unionism, or at least that there was no electoral percentage in it.

As a result of this leadership vacuum, while nationalist leaders have led their people away from the 'united Ireland or nothing' guff, unionist leaders have kept repeating the same old war cries they used to rally the troops 40 years ago. No unionist leader now admits supporting the Good Friday Agreement which they falsely tell their voters has given unionist people nothing.

Yet no unionist leader can tell you where he wants unionism to be in 10 years time, let alone describe an alternative to the Good Friday Agreement.

Why not? Because it would mean saying something true and brave, namely that the game is up, that unionists must accept mere equality with nationalists. No unionist leader has ever said that because it would mean facing up to the failure of the whole cult.

Can you see Paisley coming to terms with that, admitting that his whole life in politics has been a failure and standing at the top of those Stormont steps beside Martin McGuinness for a photo opportunity which would trump any snap of General de Chastelain among a heap of AK's?

Pandering strategy

Can loyalism sink much further?


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