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Monday, 5 March 2007

West Belfast candidates address broad masses

This past wee while has been extraordinarily boring as far as the Norn Iron election is concerned, but as polling day is only two days off I feel it is incumbent on the Sunrise to return to the story. I won’t be making any predictions – that’s a mug’s game. Although many of the results are indeed predictable at this point, there are a few constituencies up in the air – South Belfast for one, and North Down is of course a law unto itself. So it makes more sense to wait for the results of the PR count and do an analysis of the small print.

So we shall take a run through the manifestos. I have in front of me most of the election addresses dropped in West Belfast. I am missing the DUP and the South Down and Londonderry Party, which is no great loss – those interested can find the Big Doc’s detailed manifesto here [pdf] and the Stoops’ printed Mogadon here [pdf]. And for some psychedelic fun, check out Rainbow George’s Make Politicians History site.

But on to the literature at hand. One of the things one notices is that “delivery” is the big word amongst the parties. The SDLP want to “deliver real progress”; the Provos claim “others promise, we deliver”. So the Provos’ leaflet – which, by the way, features no less than four pictures of Grizzly (the other candidates, Fra McCann, Paul Maskey, Jennifer McCann and Shell Dockley, are clustered around him like Santa’s little helpers) – is divid up into three sections. Under “Delivering in the Peace Process”, we have bullet points about a “strategy for Irish Unity and Independence” (by administering Stormont), a “new beginning to policing” (well, we’ll see about that) and northern representation in the Free State Assembly, which Bertie has talked about but can hardly be claimed as an accomplishment just yet. Under “Delivering in the Executive”, we do not have any reference to Provo ministers’ addiction to PFI. What we have is their one genuine achievement – Marty’s abolition of the 11+ – alongside claims to bear the entire credit for the peace dividend and various stances the Provos have taken – anti-racism and opposition to water charges – that hardly relate to anything their ministers did. The third part, “Delivering Locally”, is strictly West Belfast parish pump stuff – again, there are worthy causes there, but the actual Provo strategy of “Gissa Grant” would not be apparent to the casual reader.

We turn now to Dan McGuinness of the Alliance Party. Although I am pleased to see Dan going to the trouble of directing messages in Polish and Chinese to the electorate, this is unlikely to help his chances. Aside from introducing the candidate, the substance of the leaflet is given over to the usual Alliance encomia about “partnership” and “sharing” and other apple-pie virtues that Alliance stands for. Dan promises to offer an alternative to tribal politics, although he’s not the only one.

Also claiming to be that alternative is the eternally optimistic John Lowry of the Workers Party. John also witters on about tribal politics, and argues the working class should really stop living in a fool’s paradise and focus on the really important issues of water charges, PFI and the house price bubble. I fully agree with him that these are important issues, though John seems to forget that the sole point of the election is to restore Stormont. Actually he doesn’t – he does call at the end of his address for the restoration of the Assembly and Executive, but how the Assembly is supposed to do all these wonderful progressive things is left unclear. The WP also make a big deal, somewhat incongruously, of opposing imperialism – in Iraq!

Ah dear, what can we say about young Seán Mitchell of the SWP – sorry, People Before Profit? Don’t pay water charges; No to imperialism (in Iraq); Don’t diss the yoof… as usual with the SWP, a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks and Yos would more accurately capture the tone. Most striking is Seán’s contribution to the policing debate which goes under the rubric of “Poverty is the Issue Not Policing”. The debate around whether or not to endorse the New RUC is hereby reduced to a question of insufficient community development. Bread and youth clubs, one might say. I would love to vote for this, if it wasn’t totally disconnected from what the issues are for the working class, as opposed to what the far left would like the working class to be concerned with.

Next we turn to the address from Geraldine Taylor of Republican Sinn Féin. I am disappointed to see that Geraldine is running on the identikit RSF manifesto adopted by all six of their candidates – as a disciplined party, that is only to be expected, but they could have made some concession to the peculiarities of West Belfast. It appears that RSF are only interested in appealing to people who are already hardline republicans – and even in that constituency, a manifesto based on appeals to the 1916 Proclamation and Éire Nua is only going to have limited purchase. RSF, in many ways the most substantial of the “dissident” formations, seem to have serious trouble behaving as anything other than an introverted sect. I might have expected different from Geraldine, based on the work she has been doing on the issue of anti-social behaviour around Poleglass for many years. To put it bluntly, her appeal would be greatly enhanced if the entirely necessary slogan of “Smash Stormont” was coupled with “Smash the Hoods”.

Finally, for the student of political exotica we have Louis West. Louis is the Official Unionist candidate for West Belfast, in comparison to which Steve McClaren looks like he was born under a lucky star. Strangely, Louis also seems to be rather down on tribal politics, enjoining us to vote for a moderate Assembly on the grounds that “Normal politics will be better than a constant them-and-us battle over ancient squabbles”. If you think this is a rather odd appeal from the representative of Official Unionism, you have hit the target, rung the bell and may collect a cigar or cocoa-nut according to taste. Louis proclaims that the key issues for him are the rates revaluation, water charges and affordable social housing. One is surely entitled to ask, what then divides the OUP from the Stickies and People Before Profit? Or, to put it another way, how are the representatives of the left more radical than those of Trimble Unionism?


Liam Mac Uaid said...

"how are the representatives of the left more radical than those of Trimble Unionism?" That's a rhetorical question isn't it?

ejh said...

As is that, surely?

AN said...

I'm not sure it is rhetorical Liam, in the sense that it does demand an answer.

From the perspective of an Englishman on the other side of the Irish Sea it looks like this election is about getting a mandate for the reestablishment of Stormont based upon the complete surrender of the chuckies to the Unionists, creating a fiction that the national question will somehow be solved if we all ignore it. Or that a united ireland will come about in the same way that the Labour party will one day bring about socialism.

Not persnally having seen the electoral material, but it sounds like the people before profit literature says nothing about the British occupation of the 6 counties. From where I sit, pretending that the national question doesn't exist is a form of unionism by the back door, becasue bring workers togther only on the basis of not paying water charges is to accept that the class-unity should not be jeopardised by bringing up divisive issues like the British occupation.

So the SWP and SP can be as radical as they like in the privacy of their own bedrooms and back room meetings, but on the key issue over which protestant workers will vote UUP or DUP they are silent.

Isn't that saying that nationalists and Crepublicans should abandon the demand for a 32 county republic in order to achieve class unity over the water charges?

Which may sound a bit more radical than "Croppie Lie down", but amounts to the same thing?

ejh said...

Well, it doesn't actually amount to the same thing, does it?

Liam Mac Uaid said...

There's always been this space on the left in the north of Ireland that used to be filled by the Workers Party and before that the NILP. A lot of people believe that if you ignore imperialism hard enough it stops being a problem. That's always been the approach of the union bureaucracy. It also suited a fair number of workers in mixed workplaces.

But what's convenient for liberals and bureaucrats shouldn't really determine the programmes of socialist organisations. The north remains a colony. The DUP, an organisation which Jean-Marie Le Pen would be happy in is likely to become the party of government and the Irish left is mute on the imperialist triumph that made it possible.
The economic demands of the various left candidates are fine. Any liberal could back those but there needs to be an attempt at political explanation and leadership too. That's what's missing.

AN said...

I don't think Jean Marie would be that happy in the DUP as he is a Catholic, and in fact didn't he thwack paisley once.

AN said...

You see ejh, I think it does amount to the same thing, in the context of the North actually being a colony, and sectarian discrimination being a daily reality.

Then for the left to say that those under the heel of Orange bigotry should not organise against the colonial status - in the interst of class unity with protestnat workers who vote DUP - is actually saying that the oppressed should put up with their lot.

splinteredsunrise said...

Yes, as far as I can see the only people even mentioning imperialism are RSF, and I have some big massive reservations about them.

Actually, it's hard to express just how bad the PBP leaflet is. But there's an aspect I see I missed, which has to do with the SWP's chameleon quality of blending in to their environment. In West Belfast that means adapting to the Shinners - but that doesn't mean, as our irritable chum from the SP might think, that they become mad republicans. What the PBP literature adapts to is another element of Shinner politics, which is "Gissa grant".

So it's not just that there are a lot of bread and butter issues referenced, but the solution to all of them is to demand grants from the Brits. Anti-social behaviour? Women's oppression? Climate change? All these can be sorted with a grant.

A while back there was a small wave of teen suicides in West Belfast. Very sad, but as far as I could see it was just one of those things. But there were some enterprising Shinners who came up with the slogan Make Suicide History, and reckoned they could save depressed teens if only they got a grant. That's what the left is competing with.

ejh said...

Then for the left to say that those under the heel of Orange bigotry should not organise against the colonial status - in the interst of class unity with protestnat workers who vote DUP - is actually saying that the oppressed should put up with their lot.

Well, it's not, and even if it were it's still not the same thing (or even close) as the "Croppies Lie Down" chaps, unless the first set have been observed parading through Catholic areas with drums and bowler hats.

I say so because it's my opinion that too much leftwing commentary, on the ideas of leftists with whom they differ, consists of the manoeuvre "they're saying x which means they might as well be saying y". I don't like it much: it's a recipe for distortion and a subsequent swapping of accusations and recriminations. Which is fun for some the spectators, but those spectators tend to be few in number as a result.

AN said...

Ok ejh

I will put my hands up that you have got me there.

In so far as the left are now indifferent to colonialism and partition it is not the same as actually rejoicing in bigotry,

and I accept that guilt by amagamatioon is a filthy stalinist trick.

However, there is another sense that I am still right, becasue if you argue that class unity over water charges is more importent than the national question and oppression, then you are saying that oppressed people should unite with workinig class DUP voters who might indeed have a sash and a bowler in their closet, and Catholic workers shouldn't object to that, otherwise they are endangering class unity.

Without mentioning the national question then class unity can only be achieved on terms acceptable to the unionists.

AN said...

BTW - I was inspired by this discussion to post about the impact of the Irish war on the Brit left

ejh said...

In so far as the left are now indifferent to colonialism and partition

Well, I don't think they are: I think that they are concentrating on those issues that they think they can actually do something about - something they are often enjoined to do by other commentators on the left.

Now they may be wrong to do so and it may also be true that "don't mention the border" is possibly a little more prevalent an approach on the left than it should be. But I very much doubt that you'll find many leftists who disagree that the practical consequences of Partition, both politically and in everyday life, are profund and damaging.