Over the summer months, while things were/weren’t intense/deadlocked up on Stormont Hill, the News Letter published a series of letters and responses that provided an interesting distraction from an otherwise dull news agenda.
A little patience is required to run through the correspondence the series of letters between UUP and Alliance Party Councillors and MLAs; the subject matter ranging from bonfires to blitz, and of course an Irish language Act. What is interesting is the nature of the Alliance proposition across the points raised.
To begin with it might have been thought that there wasn’t much for Alliance to say in response to the logic of the letter by Belfast City Councillor Jeff Dudgeon in the News Letter on 7 July: “By backing silly SF motion, Alliance has called for ‘north of Ireland’ to secede from UK.”
Alliance seconded a Sinn Fein motion that lacked logic, as Jeff rightly pointed out:
“In the referendum, we voted as the UK, not as countries or regions, although the result was notified in various ways, mostly by council areas and in our case Westminster constituencies.
The unit of self-determination chosen for a vote decides the result (in this referendum it was the entirety of the UK). Alliance is declaring that the unit of self-determination is in fact Northern Ireland.
By the same logic, in the case of a border poll, Northern Ireland would not necessarily be the unit. Instead each county or constituency could choose whether to stay in the UK or join the Republic.”
“The Alliance proposal violates the Belfast Agreement where Northern Ireland’s status is recognised to be part of the UK by the votes in referenda on both sides of the border.
By seconding this silly and undemocratic motion, Alliance has called for the ‘North of Ireland’ to secede from the United Kingdom.”
“That is a far cry from the party’s origins, and indicates that by allying with Sinn Fein in City Hall, it is on the road to a place quite different from the moderate centre ground it was once proud to occupy.”
Jeff has been consistent is calling out the absurd nature of Alliance’s near obsequious support to Sinn Fein, though he wouldn’t be the only Unionist to suggest that Alliance and Sinn Fein are very cosy in Belfast City Hall.
At this point Alliance remained silent. However, in August, Sinn Fein decided it needed to be seen to be pro-active on the local ‘bonfire’ cultural tradition, as it had been caught on the hop earlier in the summer with Council action that turned into a bit of a farce; an injunction intended to stop bonfire building proving to be broadly of no effect.
A special Council meeting was requisitioned by Sinn Fein, and agreed to by the Alliance affiliated Lord Mayor. A motion was duly passed by the Council which some suggested would turn the Council into a “bonfire police”.
In a letter, again to the News Letter, Jeff Dudgeon concluded:
“Naomi Long’s statement in support of the Sinn Fein motion that it was “to restore the long-standing policy of council that staff have permission to remove materials where it is possible and is the agreed course of action, as recent political disputes have unpicked that” is complete nonsense. Council has always had, and always maintained, the power to act on its own property and never had the power over anyone else’s property except in tightly controlled circumstances such as environmental protection.”
It was Jeff’s belief that:
“Belfast City Council’s debate last night on a provocative bonfire motion was needless, only making a difficult situation worse.”
This time Alliance responded. Rather petulantly, the counter was personal from Michael Long, leader of the Alliance Group in Belfast City Council (and Naomi’s husband):
“Rather than carrying out a bizarre personal vendetta against Alliance, I call on Councillor Dudgeon to accept the facts and show some leadership.”
Jeff, however, kept the focus on the issues:
“I don’t have a personal dislike for Alliance… I have political disagreements with a party that preaches consensus yet, in council, rushes to support partisan or plain dangerous Sinn Fein policies.”
Adding: “That is not a vendetta. That is politics.”
Michael Long still thought it a vendetta and decided to lecture Jeff on how things work on Council, as if he had served so much longer than Jeff (both were first elected in the same year). What seemed to most irk Long was his belief that Jeff believed Alliance rushed to support Sinn Fein policies. Long stated:
“Any objective look at city hall, would show that we decide our positions based on our own principles, voting with policies rather than on a sectarian outlook.“
Facts suggested that Mr Long protested too much, with Alliance more than twice as likely to vote with SF alone than with the DUP in Belfast.
Added to which Jeff’s belief in the inappropriateness of the motion was borne out by events, when the Council was left high and dry by the only contractor that had been prepared to remove bonfire materials, and street violence.
“As I put it in my recent interview on the blitz memorial and Michael Long sabotaging it: ‘They want conflict so they can sit above it, so they can resolve it. It’s a peculiar facet of liberal terror’.”
The theme of Alliance being cosy with Sinn Fein was again mentioned when Alan Chambers MLA later commented, on a change of topic if not change of theme, that:
“…I was somewhat surprised to see representatives of both the Green Party and the Alliance Party photographed recently alongside Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein smiling as they held aloft banners featuring a thumbs up to an ILA.”
“At a meeting I attended with Sinn Fein a few days ago they referenced a paper they produced some years ago to the executive as being more or less their current template. This document was, I understand, rejected by the Alliance members of the executive at that time.”
In this instance, Paula Bradshaw MLA responded for Alliance:
“The only thing clear is Mr Chambers and others have no interest in the greater good. Others have made it clear agreement on this issue is necessary. My colleagues and I have been working hard to push the two biggest parties towards that, so we can get on with health reform, improving education and creating jobs.”
Most noticeable elsewhere in Bradshaw’s response are the phrases used with reference to the UUP and Mr Chambers; such as ‘prejudicial rantings’, ‘pure nonsense’, ‘snipe from the sidelines’, and finally ‘condemning themselves to further irrelevance’. That was him told.
“If, as Paula Bradshaw says in her letter, “any legislation based on cost and compulsion … will be bound to fail” then why was she so keen to stand smiling beside Gerry Adams, a man for whom compulsion and cost are clearly not a consideration?”
“If her party, and more importantly herself, are serious about getting the assembly back it is rather contradictory to stand shoulder to shoulder in a trophy photograph with Sinn Fein in clear support of their red line vision of an ILA.”
This long series of letters and comments in the summer’s press can sometimes just seem more of the same old parochial disagreement. However, to accept and simply dismiss this as same old political arguments would be to miss the bigger point on the underpinning of the Alliance proposition within this discourse and the defensive nature of the Alliance position with its rhetorical tautology.
In an article on the American-Spanish philosopher George Santayana, social commentator Roger Kimball refers to an interesting passage from Santayana’s The Irony of Liberalism.
For this sort of liberal, argued Santayana:
“No-[one]… can really or ultimately desire anything but what the best people desire. This is the principle of the higher snobbery; and in fact, all earnest liberals are higher snobs. If you refuse to move in the prescribed direction, you are not simply different, you are arrested and perverse.”
We see this playing out in the current Weinstein saga. As Ruth Dudley Edwards notes:
“Nor did the liberal media have any problem in going easy on the Clintons while savaging Trump over what was called ‘Pussygate’, his gross 2005 comments on grabbing any woman he fancied.”
“Last week, joining the chorus of condemnation of Mr Weinstein, Mrs Clinton had the brass neck to say on the BBC that “we have someone admitting to be a sexual assaulter in the Oval Office”. When the interviewer raised the issue of her husband’s sexual misconduct as President, she said: “That had all been litigated” – whatever that meant.”
For Santayana, judgement in politics becomes a curious mixture of morality and ‘a species of pleasurable sensation’ – the feel-good factor. As Kimball notes, this would be persuasive if everyone was decent and cultured, and of the same mind (a liberalism which, in the name of diversity, demands uniformity).
This correctly identifies the great liberal error which neither evidence nor experience seems capable of disturbing. When brought to our local circumstances; it suggests that when a single culturally communal and non-negotiable demand is conceded (e.g. an Irish Language Act), that this in turn will have Sinn Fein become instantly amenable to addressing ‘bread and butter’ issues, and that everyone will join together and Northern Ireland politics will be focused on socio-economic policy for the ‘common good”.
So the measure of what is correct in the Alliance Party’s political worldview (which does sometimes stretch marginally beyond the Belfast City Limits) is feeling good about themselves as decent and cultured persons. The snobbishness in this naturally dismisses all who disagree as mentally arrested and morally perverse. Flag-waving unionists attract particular distain. The consequence of this type of ‘progressive’ liberalism tends to an inverse morality.
In the above correspondence from the pages of the News Letter it is clear that those who encounter the Alliance Party day and daily will readily recognise the association of self-righteousness and moral superiority.
There are those who may believe that an Irish Language Act is necessary. However, if talked about in terms of ‘respect’, that cannot be supported by the evidence of funding within the education budget, cultural funding and within broadcast programming. Talked about in terms of ‘parity’ with English as a matter of ‘equality’ is plainly absurd.
Take away any rational reason for the introduction of an Irish Language Act and all that remains is an idea that it should be self-evident that ‘all decent people’ must support an Irish Language Act. That idea rests on the self-delusion that in some way far from feeding the crocodile it will unlock the decency and virtue of Republicanism and – irrespective of minor issues like practicality, cost, sectarian animosity and litigation – this will allows everyone to move out of our bigoted trenches.
Jeff Dudgeon is correct. The local Greens and Alliance are “all earnest liberals” which as Santayana describes “are higher snobs”. Everyone must conform to their idea of what is best, which is an idea based on a self-righteous and moral superiority of being above ‘conflict’.
This position is one that requires two protagonists, in conflict, above which the liberal will laud. So while on the one hand Alliance wishes to distance itself from the ‘conflict’ it is the conflict that provides its raison d’être. As Jeff says:
“They want conflict so they can sit above it, so they can resolve it. It’s a peculiar facet of liberal terror.”