Kuk im on, dem tone

I don’t know whether Norman Geras or Eve Garrard speak Yiddish. My guess would have to be not, as neither of them has much of a sense of irony. For proof, simply take a look at this document over on Normblog. Norm and Eve, writing in a cod-philosophical style for reasons that escape me, are replying to the recent (and entirely welcome) formation of Independent Jewish Voices.

The article is entitled “Just because you’re Jewish, it doesn’t mean you’re right”, and opens with the statement that “There are people who seem to think that if a certain kind of view is held by a Jew, this gives it special authority… The fact that someone happens to think something as a Jew, or to hold the same opinion as a Jew, is neither here nor there in establishing its cogency.” Are Norm and Eve criticising the attempts by their Engagenik buddies to suppress criticism of Israel, or their assumption that goyim (except for reliable “friends of Israel”) have no moral authority to speak on the Middle East, because criticism of the Israeli state is a sure sign of anti-Semitism? No, they are not. As is par for the course with the Euston crowd, their strictures do not apply to themselves.

What the article seems to be about – and the tautologies and logical leaps don’t make it easy to follow – is that Norm and Eve are worried that the IJV people, because they are Jewish and vocally so, will be taken seriously when they have a dig at Israeli policy. This involves a lot of meandering around hypothetical questions of whether it is possible for a fierce defender of Israel to have a clearer view than a fierce critic (Norm and Eve do not say so, but they strongly imply the fierce Zionist to have a priori a clearer view); the issue of whether critics of Israel are succumbing to goyishe social pressures (although Norm and Eve disclaim the term “self-hating Jew”, here it is in essence); that critics of Israel are obsessed with striking a high moral tone (concern with Jewish morality takes second place to tribal solidarity); and that nobody can legitimately criticise Israel without giving pre-eminence to Israel’s security concerns.

While Norm and Eve put some effort into psychoanalysing the IJVniks, they skirt around the main point. That is, Israel claims to represent the entire Jewish people, and bodies such as the Board of Deputies – a self-perpetuating oligarchy – are usually assumed by the goyim to represent British Jewry in toto, although at least 90% of British Jews couldn’t tell you how the Board of Deputies is elected. It would make sense, then, for Jews who object to Israeli policies to say, “Not in my name”. This is precisely what annoys Norm and Eve, hence their designation of the IJVniks as “Self-Appointed Jews”, their apparent euphemism for “self-hating”.

For a serious look at what Norm and Eve really mean, it is worth returning to the Open Letter to Jews for Justice for Palestinians co-signed by Norm, Eve and Shalom Lappin last August. This is more revealing in that its language is less diplomatic, JFJFP being a less respectable body. The most striking thing is that Norm, Eve and Shalom rip into their antagonists for claiming that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians violates traditional Jewish values. Of course, it depends which brand of traditional Jewish values you mean. One might expect Norm, for instance, to identify with the universalist humanism of Karl Marx or Rosa Luxemburg.

But no – our scientific materialists, who I am certain rarely darken the doors of a shul, cite as a moral and political authority the fucking Talmud! Specifically, they harp on some dictum of Hillel’s from Pirke Ovos about Jews who “separate themselves from the community”. Vos nokh? Is Norm growing a beard? Is Eve shaving her head and putting on a sheytl? Where do these jokers, who have no serious connection to the religious or cultural life of the Jewish community, get off telling other Jews that they have separated themselves from the community?

The answer of course is the Israeli state, the ersatz religion of many Jews who have abandoned Judaism. According to this standard, by siding with those oppressed by fellow Jews, a Jew does not fulfil a basic moral obligation but, in breaking tribal solidarity, “separates herself from the community”. Thus we have the full implication of Norm and Eve’s “Self-Appointed Jew” – those Jews who deviate a millimetre from what the Engagenik milieu determine to be legitimate criticism of Israel – and that’s a very narrow spectrum indeed – forfeit their right to be called Jews. Meanwhile, atheists of Jewish background can assert their membership of the “community” by obeisance to the Zionist golden calf.

Watching Nick

Well, I have held my nose and procured Nick’s little book. From first impressions, it’s even worse than I feared. This is sad in a way, because a lot of Nick’s latter-day comrades are people I would expect no better from. Nick, on the other hand, has quite an illustrious history and used to be downright brilliant on domestic politics – Cruel Britannia was probably the best analysis of Blair’s Britain, and Pretty Straight Guys was a good read too, although the incongruous chapter on Iraq, which gave all the signs of having been added at the last moment, pointed the way to his current position. Foreign policy was always Nick’s weak point, so it was probably inevitable that his downfall would come from that quarter.

So, what are we to make of What’s Left? Well, as I say, there are people from whom nothing better could have been expected. Kamm’s book was utter bilge, but then we all knew what Kamm was like. To find Nick, sometime one of my favourite journalists, writing something like What’s Left? is deeply depressing, and it gives me no pleasure to say that he has been digging ever more frenziedly since publication, probably encouraged by good notices. It seems to me that Nick is completely losing his grip, and one thing we don’t need is a lefty Britney Spears (or, perhaps more accurately, David Icke) on our hands.

The best way to approach this book is in chunks. Nick’s previous books were after all collections of his journalism, and What’s Left? carries this on by being a series of disjointed little essays – and the essays are bad enough singly without Nick’s desperate attempts to make them fit an overarching thesis. So, when Norn Iron commitments allow, I will be blogging a review of Nick in instalments. Since the good folks over at Aaro Watch are finding the book too depressing to cover in much depth, the Sunrise will step into the breach.

Reviewing What’s Left? will also give us an opportunity to look at the phenomenon of the Decent Left as a whole. Since most of the book, those bits not recycled by Nick from his old columns or springing out of his fertile imagination, is lifted from his mates’ books and articles, and sympathetic blogs and websites, some examination of Nick’s sources will be in order. Just look at the rogues’ gallery in the acknowledgments at the back for a veritable Who’s Who of Decentism.

So, readers may expect to be regaled with occasional looks at Nick. Feedback will as always be welcome; and, unlike Nick’s composition of his dire screed, the reviewing process will involve some homework and concern for factuality.

PS. This rather intemperate review by my old friend Ian Birchall in Socialist Worker may be of interest. Not that I am likely to be more temperate, but Ian does have the advantage of concision.

The phoenix rises from the ashes, clutching a piece of bread and butter

The other night I was flicking channels and happened to come across the party election broadcast by the Workers Party. I will say this for the WP, after the almost unbearable paddywhackery of the Sinn Féin Nua broadcast, theirs was pleasingly low-key. Mostly it consisted of the WP’s most prominent Northern honcho, John Lowry of Twinbrook, speaking direct to camera about various issues of the day.

What Lowry actually said was an unexceptionable run through of various worthy positions the WP has taken. There was nothing there to frighten the horses (especially since Lowry isn’t what you would call a riveting speaker in the Eoghan Harris mould) and the message might even have been attractive to some naïve person who doesn’t know much about the kind of organisation the WP is. There was some stuff about non-payment of water charges, opposition to privatisation and building an anti-sectarian socialist alternative. Which would all be fair enough, if one had any faith in capacity of the Workers Party to build such an alternative.

Rather jarringly, Lowry dropped into the middle of his oration a call for the restoration of the Assembly and Executive, and pledged the Sticks to building the anti-sectarian left alternative within Stormont, in the vanishingly unlikely event of them getting elected. How they proposed to use the structures of Stormont to do this was opaque to say the least.

And yet – this may have been pie-in-the-sky stuff, but Lowry the unreconstructed Stickie has a slightly firmer grasp of reality than the main representatives of Trotskyism in the North. The SWP’s standard-bearer in West Belfast, Andytown teenager Seán Mitchell, has two posters up. One says, “Vote for me and stop water charges! Yo!” while the other says “Vote for me and stop the Bush/Blair agenda! Yo!” (Of course I’m paraphrasing here, but I have got the essential gist. As always with the SWP, the exclamation marks and Yo should be taken as implicit.) This I suppose is the minimum/maximum programme in action.

Such ambition is not for the SWP’s deadly enemies in the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland, who not only eschew Yo politics but keep their maximum programme strictly for internal consumption and polemics with others on the far left. The SPNI’s literature concentrates on the water issue to the exclusion of virtually all else. SPNI proprietor Peter Hadden, the Oblomov of Northern politics, has divined in water charges the magical talisman that will finally slay the sectarian dragon and unite the proletariat behind the SPNI, and Peter’s trusty serfs have been beavering away in accordance with this perspective.

There is something missing here. The Sticks at least mention it, even if they don’t understand it. The Trots ignore it. I refer of course to the restoration of Stormont.

To a superficial thinker, of whom there are many on the far left, this will not appear as a problem. “Oho,” says our superficial thinker, “but the bourgeois sectarian politicians are trying to mislead the workers by making this election a sectarian headcount. We’re trying to bring working-class issues to the fore.” If the superficial thinker is a pretentious wanker, he might even say this is counter-hegemonic.

It’s a seductive argument on the face of it, and the fact that the left lacks the forces to impose its agenda is no reason for not trying. But our superficial thinker misses the point. The point of the election is to restore Stormont, and ideally to cobble together a Paisleyite-Provo coalition government. That is its function. The fact that the election will be a sectarian headcount is not the fault of Machiavellian politicians – it’s built into the process.

Our scientific materialists might do well to take note of empirical reality once in a while. That is, unless their thinking is, as I suspect, not materialist at all but a deviated spawn of mediaeval scholastic thought. And that might explain a thing or two about the economist mindset.

Trawling the net, 21.02.07

Just a brief stopgap post today, flagging up things that should be in my pending tray but are having to wait behind the flurry of local news. I may or may not get back to them later, but here are some useful links in the meantime.

Courtesy of the estimable Louis Proyect, we have a critique of the Euston Manifesto by Paul Flewers of New Interventions. Obviously there is a huge amount that could be said about the Decent Left, but Paul deals with Euston much more calmly and concisely than I could manage.

Like I suspect most of its readers, I read the Weekly Worker for the gossip, not the political analysis. When they try to write for themselves, the Conrad Party of Great Britain can often be a bit ropy – this steaming pile of Matgamnite horseshit is a case in point. But I was impressed by this very good piece by Anne McShane, on Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs and how the SWP have taken it up as an excuse for their retreat into rightist puritanism.

Finally, this argument on the British left blogs about whether socialists should be in the Labour Party. The latest round can be found here, here, here, here, here and here. And probably a few other places that I haven’t happened across.

Béalbochtachas Próvach

Never let it be said that Northern nationalists have lost their knack for street politics. Although they have been fairly quiescent of late, Northern nationalists have a long and not easily forgotten history of voicing their discontents, on occasion inscribing pithy slogans on placards and gathering together in numbers to give off. Thus we see a mass rally being organised for West Belfast next Saturday.

So what is the subject of the rally? Are the proletariat protesting against the restoration of Stormont and the prospect of Big Ian becoming prime minister? No, as far as can be seen most people cling to the vain hope that some deal will be done. Are they, as the left hope, all riled up over water charges? No, although nobody actually wants to pay the charge the non-payment rallies have not been growing – rather the reverse. In fact, the masses are due to rally in support of the promised Irish Language Act.

This is rather revealing of how the peace process works. At the St Andrew’s talks, in exchange for agreeing to whatever Big Ian demanded, the Provos were fobbed off with various small commitments from the Brits, the most visible of which was the promise of legislation to give Irish some sort of official recognition – the details remain vague. There’s nothing wrong with that. It should be a basic democratic position that Irish should get no less official support than Welsh does. And it’s basically a feelgood measure – it gives nationalists the illusion of having their identity recognised without undermining the basis of the Northern statelet. (“Parity of esteem” is the Humespeak term, now widely adopted by all sorts of people.)

But that isn’t how unionists have seen things. Any official recognition of the Fenians, no matter how innocuous, is guaranteed to get unionist backs up. The OUP have got stuck into the DUP for letting this dangerous proposal see the light of day. The Orange Order have taken the headstaggers and included the Language Act as part of their long list of grievances. The DUP, whose position in the past has oscillated between “English Only” and the odd semi-serious attempt to demand parity of esteem for Braid Scotch, have belatedly woken up to the fact that this small gesture to the Fenians is going down like a lead balloon with the Prods. And, while the Brits seemed to have made an ironclad commitment to the legislation, suddenly the proposal finds itself back on the table and gradually sliding off the table. Such is the dynamic of the peace process.

This in turn has started to sink into the nationalist psyche, and a march and rally are necessary to demand something that was supposed to have been a done deal. It’s also interesting that there are two overlapping constituencies involved here. There are in West Belfast many serious and devoted Gaeilgeoirí who are genuinely annoyed about the Brits’ vacillations. But there is also the luvvie wing of Sinn Féin Nua, many of whom know no Irish except “Ba mhaith liom deontas”, but whose beady little eyes lit up like Scrooge McDuck’s at the prospect of a well-funded Gaelic subsection of the grantocracy. Parity of esteem is one thing, but the prospect of those juicy grant cheques vanishing concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Am I being unduly cynical? Possibly. After all, the Language Act is a worthy cause no matter the motivation of the march organisers. It wouldn’t make much practical difference, but Gaeilgeoirí with some experience of activism behind them appreciate the value of even a small victory. But it’s worth noting nonetheless that imperialism can give and take away with equal facility. It’s the old old story – the only rights you have are the ones you can win for yourself.

Election fever hits Wild West

Or rather, it doesn’t. One has so far failed to detect a wild upsurge of electoral enthusiasm from the broad masses of West Belfast. Nonetheless, the parties are well into the swing of things, and Grizzly’s mug beams down in Big Brother style from every lamppost.

In fact, if Bob “Cream Bun” McCartney is running in six constituencies, one might say that Grizzly is running in all eighteen. This time more than ever, the Provos are running a determinedly presidential campaign. So, although they are standing a five-person ticket in West Belfast – they should have four safe seats out of six, and last time out weren’t far off a fifth quota – the other four may as well be anonymous. Of course, Sinn Féin Nua do have a slight problem in that their other proven vote-getter, Twinbrook’s Michael Ferguson, is inconveniently deceased. Plus, putting Sue “Shell Dockley” Ramsey on a poster might actually lose them votes.

The main problem the Provos are facing in the West is apathy. Those who bother to vote still vote more or less monolithically for Gerry and his crew, but turnout has been plunging in recent years. Such has been the problem that, when it turned out a few months back that thousands of West Belfast residents had dropped off the electoral register, the Provos flew into a panic and launched a registration campaign that extended to free registration forms being given away with copies of the Andytown News. Now the registered electorate is back up to healthy levels, but the “Who gives a toss?” tendency is growing markedly.

Republican Belfast has been much easier for the Gerryites to control than those restless areas out in the sticks, and mooted republican challenges haven’t gained much momentum. Early moves to draft Brendan Hughes as a candidate ran up against Brendan’s poor health, so the only republican challenger in Belfast is RSF’s Geraldine Taylor, who has a certain profile in her native Poleglass. Geraldine is a tough old lady and necessarily so for somebody who annoys the Provos to the extent she does. But I suspect if Geraldine does manage to pull in some votes – and the odds are against her – it will be less because of her dogmatic republicanism and more because of her hard line against the hoods. Everyone in West Belfast knows that the place is a den of criminality, and this is unlikely to be improved by Gerry’s endorsement of the RUC. In fact, the Provos joining policing structures would just make the West an even closer approximation of Sicily. West Belfast people are fairly pragmatic folk, and there is a substantial body of opinion in favour of beating the shit out of the hoods.

This will not help the South Down and Londonderry Party, who are struggling to hold onto their single seat although, with heroic optimism, they are putting up two candidates and will have to rely on super-efficient transfers. The SDLP’s major pitch is that they were right to endorse the cops in 2001 rather than 2007, and the voters should be thanking them for blazing the trail the Provos are now following. Alex Attwood should ask himself whether that pitch has worked in the recent past. Trouble is, the classic Provo mix of crony capitalism and low-level vigilantism was remarkably popular for a long time, and, while there used to be votes to be had in being the anti-violence party, vying with non-violent Provos on the grounds of being fanatically in favour of the rule of law puts the SDLP on a hiding to nothing.

On the other side, the DUP’s Diane Dodds will monopolise the Shankill vote and be in strong contention to retain her seat. The OUP are running some anonymous numpty and the PUP, despite Hughie Smyth’s years of service at City Hall, aren’t running at all.

Which leaves the odds and sods. I’ve written about the SWP – sorry, People Before Profit’s Seán Mitchell already, and I’ll return to the far left presently. But there is some morbid interest to be had in the Workers Party’s masochistic participation. Every election, you think the WP’s once substantial vote can’t sink any lower, and every time you’re proved wrong. Is it physically possible for the long-suffering John Lowry to get fewer votes than last time? Will we actually see him dip into negative figures?

The swami of unionism

Amidst all the excitement of the Stormont elections, one barely noticed footnote has been the appointment of Professor Paul Bew of Queens to the House of Lords. Lord Bew of Trenchcoat can thus swank about in an ermine robe and sit next to his latter-day patron, Lord Trimble of Garvaghy. He can enjoy the company of great thinkers of our time like, well, I suppose Jeffrey Archer and Conrad Black. And this is a fitting way for Bew to end his political trajectory.

These days Bew is best known as one of Ulster unionism’s small and hardy band of intellectual boosters. He was of course a long-time member of Trimble’s kitchen cabinet. Today he is a bigwig at the neoconservative Henry “Scoop” Jackson Society, a body whose patrons are a motley assortment of Cold War loons and whose journalistic farmhands include towering intellects like the oleaginous Kissingerite Oliver Kamm and the howling Croat nationalist Marko Attila Hoare. This marks him out as an honorary member of Nick Cohen’s Decent Left. But ‘twas not always thus. For most of his career, Bew was an early Althusserian Stalinist, and had some claims to be one of Ireland’s leading Marxist intellectuals.

It has to be said, though, that this was Marxism of a very peculiar kind. Bew was a member of the Workers Party, a group that managed to marry Irish Republicanism with Stalinism and replicate the least attractive features of both. Indeed, Bew adorned the WP’s ard chomhairle for many a year. His Marxism was therefore geared towards the practical needs of his sect. In doing so, it reached a level of sophistry wondrous to behold.

The best example can be found by simply turning to the seminal book The State in Northern Ireland, 1921-72: Political Forces and Social Classes (1979), by Swami Bew and his disciples Gibbon and Patterson. Don’t bother with the book as a whole – what you need to know is in the introduction. Therein Bew, Gibbon and Patterson declare that they have produced the first Marxist analysis of Norn Iron – all that has gone before is not Marxism but “Connollyism”. The three stooges dispense with this unscientific doctrine and restore Marxist orthodoxy by stripping out all that bollocks about imperialism (Leninist or otherwise). Instead, the Orange Bantustan was declared to be a normal bourgeois state, where sectarianism was a mere excrescence. In fact, there was a class struggle between “reactionary” and “progressive” wings of unionism, and the job of socialists was to support the progressive wing in its project of reform. Totally absent was any reference to the nationalist working class, except insofar as this imaginary progressive unionism had to be defended against the “Provo fascists”. Bew simply followed the logic of his ideology by becoming an advisor to David Trimble, the leader of unionism’s progressive wing.

But even before Bew made the break to unionism, this gobbledegook became part of the official theory of the Workers Party, and served to mislead the many thousands of workers influenced by that group down the years. It also influenced whole generations of politics students at Queens, where Bew acted as mentor to leading intellectuals like Austen Morgan (hagiographer of Connolly’s opponent Walker), professional red-baiter Anthony McIntyre and, er, Ian Óg Paisley. And goodness knows how many young socialists had their radicalism knocked out of them by exposure to this provincial variant of Stalinism.

So now Bew, alleged “expert on the Troubles”, scourge of any socialist who claimed imperialism had any relation to modern Ireland, has joined the appointed house of British imperialism’s legislature. In his rightward gallop, he now figures as an analogue to the late Gerry Fitt, only without the working-class background and instincts. And his former disciples must be green with envy that they haven’t been elevated alongside him. Having done just as much damage as Bew, surely they deserve a pleasant little sinecure on the red benches.

The double-headed monster of opportunism

Still on the theme of the candidate lists for Stormont, there is a tale almost as odd as that of Bob McCartney’s ability to be in six places at once. (Eat your heart out, Padre Pio!) That is the intervention of the Socialist Workers Party. Readers with even a fleeting experience of the SWP will be aware of their addiction to setting up front groups, so much so that it’s a bit of a surprise these days when they do anything under their own name. But this time around, in deploying two fronts simultaneously, they are really spoiling us.

Since Eamonn McCann has been polling respectable if not earth-shattering results in the city-state of Derry, it was inevitable that he would run this time in Foyle. Eamonn’s candidacy is in the name of his established vehicle, the Socialist Environmental Alliance. One might, then, have expected that any other candidates would run as SEA, as with the SWP’s unsuccessful foray into the Belfast Corporation elections a few years back.

But no! Let me introduce you to 19-year-old Seán Mitchell, who is standing for election in West Belfast. Seán, a most articulate and likeable young fellow, is an active member of the SWP. He is not however a candidate of the Socialist Environmental Alliance. He is the candidate of the People Before Profit Alliance.

Huh?

The PBPA (or PB4P for the Indymedia trendies) is of course the electoral front being mobilised by the 26-county majority of the SWP for the upcoming elections to the Free State Assembly. Why then is it being extended to the North, when the SWP already has a perfectly serviceable 6-county electoral front? I spent quite a long time in the old SWM, and consider myself reasonably well-versed in the Zen of Kieranism, but this has even me scratching my head. Maybe there was a plan to extend People Before Profit across the North, but Derry parochialism vetoed the move. Or maybe it’s simply another example of the unthinking left. Just when you think these bozos can’t get any dafter, they prove you wrong.

It takes me back to the early 90s, when the Socialist Party bore mid snow and ice the banner with the strange device Militant Labour. There was quite a grand launch in Belfast for Militant Labour, which had been formed, so we were told, from the fusion of Militant, the Labour & Trade Union Group, the Young Socialists and Youth Against Sectarianism. In other words, a group that had spent 20 years pretending not to exist and three of its fronts. The proletariat, who I assume were supposed to be impressed by this blatant sock puppetry, greeted the historic fusion with an enormous yawn.

Such, I fear, is likely to be the fate of People Before Profit on its first electoral outing. Eamonn will probably do all right, but young Seán is almost certain to make no impact at all. The most he can hope for is to get more votes than John Lowry, but that isn’t exactly the same as striking a chord with the masses.

The mystery of the multilocating cream bun

The Electoral Office has announced the line-up of candidates for the Stormont poll, and the most immediately striking fact is that Bob “Cream Bun” McCartney, leader of the UK Unionist Party, is running in six of the eighteen constituencies. Not the UKUP in six constituencies – the party is running in thirteen, in six of which the Cream Bun will be the standard-bearer. Under the Good Friday Agreement, it is not quite clear what will happen if Bob gets elected more than once – would he have to give one of his seats to a substitute, or would he have more than one vote in the Assembly? Nobody seems to know. This may seem par-for-the-course egomania from the man whose political vehicle used to appear on ballot papers as the “United Kingdom Unionist Robert McCartney Party”. Or possibly one may speculate that Chairman Bob has invented human cloning. But it’s the latest unpredictable move in Bob’s long and colourful political career.I remember, back in the late 80s and early 90s, when Bob broke with the Official Unionists and began proclaiming a “new unionism”. This “new unionism” (it sometimes went by the name of “civic unionism”) would be stripped of the old conservatism of the OUP – this was when Smiler Molyneaux was running the show – and have no truck with the DUP’s religious fundamentalism. Rather, it would look to the dynamic, multicultural society across the water. Bob hammered the message home in endless articles in the Telegraph, the News Letter and Fortnight, and lots of bien pensants took him seriously. So much so that a certain type of cerebral unionist viewed Bob as the prince over the water.

It may seem strange now, but when Bob first got into Westminster, then set up the UKUP, he drew much of his kitchen cabinet – notably his aide-de-camp Jeff Dudgeon – from the far left, and specifically from the milieu influenced by the British and Irish Communist Organisation, who Bob had worked with in the Campaign for Equal Citizenship (although he later fell out with Brendan Clifford, and the BICO has since returned to a republican position). The BICO connection would also explain Bob’s close links with the small neo-unionist coterie in the British Labour Party which at the time was going under the banner of Democracy Now. This included Kate Hoey (still an MP on the extreme right of the party), Leo McKinstry (who has since left the party, ate all the pies, and become a why-oh-why pundit for the Daily Express) and Gary Kent (a key point-man in the Labour Friends of Iraq/Unite Against Terror/Euston Manifesto nexus). And these links would explain why Bob chose to declare himself a soulmate of Mr Tony Blair, and told the startled proletariat of Cultra that he would take the Labour whip in the Commons.

Nothing came of that, and, although Bob made lots of “modern” and “civic” noises – and, mind-bogglingly, managed to recruit the Cruiser – the essential logic of unionism still came through. Even when the UKUP was in its first flush of success, a careful examination of its candidate lists would have revealed a surfeit of headbangers who at various points had been slung out of the OUP, the DUP or both. Eccentrics like Dudgeon and the Cruiser, while they lasted, played an ornamental role rather than setting the tone. And so it worked out that, while the PUP/UVF provided Trimble with muscle, Chairman Bob provided the DUP with a brain. Punters in North Down who thought they were getting a moderate realised that what they in fact had was a Paisleyite minus the Bible.

Apart from that, Bob’s tactlessness and poor man-management skills have told against him. He lost himself a wheen of votes on publicly describing the nice people of Holywood as “rent-a-mob”. Holywood people, who will still gripe about having a Belfast telephone code, did not take kindly to being insulted by this buachaill cúinne and turned out en masse to put Lady Sylvia Hermon into Westminster. Dudgeon lost the faith and defected to Trimble; the Cruiser retired back to the warm bosom of the South Dublin neo-democratic chattering class. Most famously, five of the six UKUP Assembly members – that is, everyone bar Bob – walked out to set up the Norn Iron Unionist Party. It must have given Bob some satisfaction that his treacherous comrades all lost their seats at the last Stormont election – scant consolation, since he was out of Westminster, only scraping back to Stormont, and his main political achievement has been to gift the DUP a base they never had in North Down.

This then poses a problem for Bob, as in the upcoming election he seeks to challenge the DUP from the right. The trouble is, most of the people he might seek to recruit to his dissident unionist slate have long experience of working with him, and are none too keen to work with him again. Bob has obviously hit on the brilliant scheme of circumventing his lack of allies by simply running himself multiple times. Why be a general without an army when you can be your own army?

Hot air from the Eustie Boys

If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to read this article by Stuart over at Indecent Left. This is, by far, the best review I’ve yet seen of Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? – it really obviates the need for me to write one, although I probably will by and by. Nick is too tempting a target to miss, and from the look of it his book has enough howlers, tendentious assertions and jarring logical jumps to keep a critical reader busy for months.

While on the subject of the Euston Manifesto crowd, I note this precious little piece from Norman Geras favourably quoting his pal Oliver Kamm on the question of whether blogging is good for democracy. Norm and Ollie conclude that it is indeed a good thing to let a thousand flowers bloom, but unfortunately “blogging debate… includes a lot that isn’t conducive to deliberation, in a good meaning of that word, or to open-minded consideration of the views of others”. Norm argues that what is needed is “to improve the culture of Internet discussion”.

I need hardly point out that Norm and Ollie promote open discussion by running blogs that don’t allow comments. Physician, heal thyself, I think is the phrase.

Update 21.02.07: For another cracking review of Cohen, check this out.

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