Those charming Zios are at it again

From Haaretz:

Jewish extremists have urged supermodel Bar Refaeli not to marry her actor boyfriend, Leonardo DiCaprio, because it would dilute the Jewish race, according to media reports.

In a letter to Refaeli, far-rightist Baruch Marzel wrote on behalf of nationalist group Lehava, which aims to fight assimilation among Jews: “It is not by chance that you were born Jewish.

“Your grandmother and her grandmother did not dream that one of their descendants would one day remove the family’s future generations from the Jewish people,” the letter continued. “Assimilation has forever been one of the enemies of the Jewish people.”

Lehava in Hebrew means “flame” but it is also an acronym for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land.” According to the group’s Facebook page, it aims to provde assistance to Jewish girls in relationships with non-Jews, and especially Arabs.

Marzel told Refaeli that he “has nothing against Mr. DiCaprio, who I have no doubt is a talented actor.” Still, he urged Refaeli: “Come to your senses, look forward and back too – and not only the present. Don’t marry Leonardo DiCaprio, don’t harm the future generations.”

Via. Don’t hold your breath waiting for HP Sauce, the AWL et al to pick up on this.

Norn Iron’s great and good worry about hate crime

UNITED-AGAINST-HATE-1

Maybe it’s something in the air, but anti-racism seems to all the vogue here at the moment. Take a walk around Belfast city centre and you’ll see lots of big yellow posters bearing the brand of the Socialist Workers Party, advertising a public meeting this coming Wednesday. We are told that new British SWP supremo Martin Smith is coming here to talk to the broad masses about the urgent danger of fascism. Lucky masses. And you know, I’ve heard Martin speak, and unless he’s doing his talk on John Coltrane, I can think of better things to do on a Wednesday night.

Anyway, there are more people than the left exercised about this issue. The Human Rights Commission, in yet another attempt to justify its existence, was puffing its new fifty-point plan for helping the Roma. But no, there was another event this week that was much more eye-catching, and about ten times as big as Martin Smith’s audience will be.

Yes, it was the big launch party for Unite Against Hate. This is a big scheme whereby divers public bodies and agencies go on record against hate – hate crime, hate speech, whatever, we don’t approve of it. This is presumably aimed at refurbishing our image after that little trouble with the Roma this summer. UAH defines itself as follows:

  1. To inspire and to unite. Change to a more tolerant and peaceful Northern Ireland is both desirable and possible. We need to have the optimism, hope and confidence that we can work together to bring it about.
  2. To sensitise the general public to the problem of hate crime and its real costs. Hate crime destroys the lives of all of us through the damage it does to the quality of life, our reputation and our economy.
  3. To create a climate of zero tolerance for hate crime and discrimination. Hate crime is violent and wrong; it will not be tolerated. There is no room in Northern Ireland for sectarian, racist, homophobic, transphobic, religious or disability related hate crime. This will continue to be vigorously implemented through the promotion of equality and the enforcement of rights.
  4. To promote diversity. Living with diversity is an integral part of modern life and we all need to take responsibility for creating an atmosphere where diversity is accepted as normal. We need to recognise benefits of diversity.

Well, I don’t want to be too cynical. It’s all worthy stuff no one could really disagree with, and Nigel Worthington has been talking once again about getting the Norn Iron football fans to be a bit more valuing of diversity and a bit less like, well, Norn Iron football fans. If Nigel makes much headway there, I’ll take my hat off to him.

Anyway, there was a big get-together at the Harbour Commissioner’s offices to launch the thing, attended by such worthy figures as OFMDFM junior ministers Gerry Kelly and Robin Newton, NIO minister Paul Goggins, Deputy Chief Constable Duncan McCausland and, er, Cool FM DJ Pete Snodden. Not to mention all our local celebrities – hoteliers, restaurateurs, newsreaders and the like. Oh yes, and local singing sensation Peter Corry was there. In a departure from his hallmark Rat Pack repertoire, he’s recorded a cover of Jacko’s “Man In The Mirror” to be our new diversity anthem. At least he’s not duetting with Eoghan Quigg.

Oh aye, and TV’s Zoë Salmon was there too, as the poster girl for our new diverse Norn Iron. I’m not sure about that. It’s not that our Zoë doesn’t make an appealing poster girl, or that she isn’t articulate – the real challenge is getting her to stop talking – but… how do I put this? If we’re going to have a poster girl for multiculturalism, do we have to have one who looks quite so Aryan? They couldn’t have offered Mehrnoosh Dehaghani the job?

There is of course the other qualm that I usually have about these things. That is that, when you’re trying to put together such a broad and worthy coalition, you run the risk of not saying anything that could possibly upset anyone. Most notably, there’s the way that sectarianism, instead of being seen as the single most important defining feature of our society, gets relegated to one form of intolerance amongst many, and not necessarily the most important one. And isn’t it great that we get a big pro-diversity campaign just as the marching season has ended? We had a fairly big display of sectarianism up in Rasharkin a couple of weeks back, but I can’t imagine most of the great and the good having gone up there to make their views plain. That would have been divisive.

Mind you, it’s hard to imagine Martin Smith and his acolytes having made the trip to Rasharkin either. There are a lot scarier people in this society than the BNP. But then, the BNP make for an easy target, and nobody can possibly object to bashing Griffin. Which may be the point.

A note on cognitive bias

monkeys

Last week, Brian Feeney devoted his regular Irish News column to the anniversary of August 1969. In particular, Brian was interested in why it seemed to be only nationalists who were marking the anniversary, while unionists were staying very quiet. Thus Brian:

Very few unionist politicians have come forward to offer an explanation of the events from August 12 to 15 1969, not of course to account for the onslaught on Catholics in north and west Belfast because after all no senior unionist who was in power at the time is still alive. It’s true the occasional unionist commentator has tried to explain that unionists thought there was an IRA-led insurrection or that there was an imminent invasion from the south.

Maybe so, but few unionist politicians then or since have condemned the traditional unionist response to such fears, namely to attack as many fenians as you could get your hands on.

Furthermore, in the context of all these recent articles, features and reminiscences there have been few examples of unionist politicians putting their head above the parapet to say that burning Catholics out of their homes was a bad thing and let’s face it, 1,500 of the 1,800 families who ran for their lives were Catholic.

There is little evidence any of them has said unionists should never and will never do anything of that kind again.

And Brian brings this up to date by looking at recent outbreaks of sectarianism, notably around Coleraine, and wondering loudly why it’s been nationalist politicians who have been by far the most outspoken, while unionist representatives have been, well, perfunctory.

Brian is onto something here, but perhaps not quite in the way he thinks. As far as 1969 goes, unionists often find it extremely difficult to admit that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the old Stormont. The usual narrative is that Stormont was either a basically sound system or one that was flawed, but not in an irreformable way, and that our wee country had its peace shattered by the machinations of republicans and Trotskyists. As for reactions to loyalist violence… there’s something else going on here in terms of group cognition.

Perhaps some illustrations are called for. Currently, Stormont culture minister Nelson McCausland (DUP, North Belfast) is getting his knickers in a twist about a hunger strike commemoration held at the GAA ground in Galbally. Nelson, never a man to miss an opportunity to bash the GAA, believes that this breaches GAA rules against allowing Association property to be used for party political purposes. Tyrone Provos are countering this with the somewhat specious argument that the Republican Movement is not a party, but is open to all, and hence the commemoration is not in breach of the GAA’s ban on party political activity. However, Galbally is a very republican village, and a hunger strike commemoration there is not going to be controversial – as this one wouldn’t be if Nelson hadn’t thrown a wobbly about it.

Meanwhile, unionists have been rather unexercised about the trouble surrounding the weekend’s loyalist band parade in Rasharkin. What this entailed was forty loyalist bands, many with paramilitary associations, parading through an 80% Catholic villiage. This is on the back of a summer of sectarian tension in north Antrim. (See the indefatigable Daithí McKay for details.) To put it another way, if forty republican bands, many with paramilitary associations, had applied to hold a parade in, say, Bushmills or Cullybackey, Nelson McCausland would have denounced it as a provocation and rightly so. It does not occur to apply the same standard to Rasharkin.

Now we’re getting closer to the matter, and north Antrim is a good illustration. There has been a lot of talk about how Protestants are being driven out of north Antrim – the term “ethnic cleansing” even being bandied about – which may strike you as being a bit overheated in describing an area where Protestants are still an overwhelming majority. Most of the trouble there – which has been spread across the sectarian divide, but has probably impacted more on vulnerable Catholic minorities in loyalist villages – has been on a low level: criminal damage, the odd drunken fight and so on. As a general rule, whenever there’s been trouble in the area local nationalist politicians have spoken out against yobbery on both sides – Daithí McKay has been particularly active, at some physical risk to himself. But unionists, while they spring into action like Batman if an Orange hall or Presbyterian church is vandalised, are hard to locate when it’s Catholic premises that are being targeted. In fact, the latest urban legend doing the rounds in north Antrim is that attacks on Catholic premises are being carried out by republicans as a false flag operation, for the purpose of blaming the Prods.

This is actually quite an important point. When Brian Feeney accuses respectable unionists of turning a blind eye to loyalist violence, he isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s a lot more subtle than Brian would have it. It’s not that respectable, middle-of-the-road unionists condone loyalist violence – far from it. But many – not all – of them have a set of predictable responses. The first is not to notice it. The second, on having it drawn to their attention, is bemusement, as if to ask “What’s it to do with me?” The final response is to become quite irate if you suggest that it’s a problem that unionism as a whole has to address, in terms of putting its house in order, rather than by producing the condemnatory formulae when required. If you think this is out of step with the loud demands for nationalist politicians and Catholic clergy to denounce every bit of vandalism carried out by drunken Celtic supporters, you’re missing the point. (Or see also Gail Walker’s slightly desperate attempt to blame the GAA leadership in Dublin for what happened at a small club in the back end of Tyrone.)

It has to be remarked, too, that although this can be disingenuous on the part of unionists, it isn’t necessarily so, and I’m not sure that it’s even usually so. You’ll often find that the outraged “What’s it to do with me?” response is entirely sincere. It’s just a matter of being used to looking at things in a particular way, and not noticing what goes against your preconceptions. Psychologists have done a lot of work in mapping cognitive biases, and here in Norn Iron we have enough cognitive biases to keep an entire university psychology department busy for years.

Back to the concrete. During the marching season, Provisional leader and occasional beat poet Gerry Adams has been conducting a bit of megaphone diplomacy with Orange Order Grand Wizard Drew Nelson. If he’s hoping to appeal to Drew’s pragmatic and reasonable side, I’m afraid Gerry is whistling in the dark. The correspondence, so far, has had a predictably circular nature. Gerry wants to talk to the Orangemen to get a resolution to contentious parades. The Orange won’t meet Gerry unless he personally apologises for the death of every Orangeman killed by the Provos. At this point, Gerry does his mote-and-beam thing:

Drew Nelson accused me of glorifying IRA killings and demanded an apology, in particular for those 273 orange members killed by the IRA.

In my open letter I tell him that I have never glorified IRA killings and I again ‘expressed my sincere regrets for the deaths and injuries caused by republicans. This includes members of loyal institutions.’

But I posed a number of questions to him. The 12th resolutions state that 335 members of the order were killed. Who killed the remaining 62? ‘Was it a direct or indirect result of membership of Loyalist paramilitaries? Were some brethren killed by members of the British Crown Forces, the same Crown who you reaffirm your devotion and loyalty to every 12th? How many nationalists were slain by Orangemen in Loyalist paramilitary groups? Or in the British Crown Forces?

I draw his attention to some examples of paramilitarism with the Order, for example, one Belfast lodge, that is renowned for its UVF connections, is the ‘Old Boyne Island Heroes’ LOL 633. Their bannerette listed 6 UVF lodge members who were killed in the recent conflict.

Six years ago this same Lodge took part in the contentious Whiterock parade along the Springfield Road. One of those taking part was Eddie McIlwaine, adorned with Orange sash who was sentenced to 8 years for his part in the Shankill Butcher’s campaign of terror.

And yes, Gerry justifies his argument by waxing biblical, on the apparent assumption that this will cut ice with the Orangemen:

There is a reference in the Bible which seems very appropriate at this point which says: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother’s eye”. Matthew 7:3-5 (King James Version)

The trouble with this is that Gerry’s invocation of the mote and the beam will just not fly with the Orangemen. More than most unionists, they’re conditioned to view themselves as always, or almost always, sinned against rather than sinning. Evidence pointing in the other direction is rarely an occasion for self-criticism – more often it just doesn’t compute. If you mention, for instance, the late Billy Wright’s Orange affiliations, and how that might appear to Catholics in the Portadown area, the average Orangeman will stare at you as if you’re insane and say, “Well, what’s that got to do with me?”

Let’s conclude by taking the issue away from sectarian whataboutery. Patrick Yu of NICEM was in the paper last week complaining, not for the first time, about Sammy Wilson’s grandstanding on immigration, and demanding the Stormont Executive pull its finger out and do something about the increase in racist incidents. Or at least deliver the diversity strategy it’s been promising for ages. Patrick takes exception to Stormont’s complacency in the face of attacks on East Europeans earlier in the year, and he’s certainly got a point.

But, while it’s true that the folks on the hill are not exactly putting an anti-racism strategy at the top of their agenda, there’s a further aspect that Patrick is too tactful to mention, which was the response of local politicians to the attacks on the Roma a while back. It was immediately noticeable that it was nationalist and Alliance reps who were making the running on the issue. Now, I don’t mean to say that unionist representatives failed to condemn the attacks – they, in particular area MLAs Michael McGimpsey and Jimmy Spratt, said the right things in their statements. But an outsider might assume that, since the perpetrators were coming from the community they represent, it might have been worth their while showing some leadership and demonstratively standing in solidarity with the Roma. Why, then, was it left to Martin McGuinness and Naomi Long to do all the touchy-feely stuff?

This is something that Rankin’ Dave Cameron might like to consider, in light of the UCUNF project. And I know I’ve said this before, but I still can’t quite figure out what’s in it for Dave, why he would have thought it a bright idea in the first place, and why the Spectator hasn’t been full of articles from people like Douglas Hurd or Tom King warning him not to go anywhere near the Unionists. But Dave has pressed ahead regardless, and even promised Unionist ministers in the next Tory government, for the benefit of those legions of Home Counties electors who are just dying to have Reg Empey or Basil McCrea in the cabinet.

I was thinking of this, and Dan Hannan’s praise of Enoch is relevant here, after reading the very funny new book True Blue by Chris Horrie and David Matthews, which I may get around to looking at in greater depth. Anyway, towards the end of the book there’s an encounter with Shaun Bailey, and a sharp reflection on what the Bailey phenomenon means. The authors point out that appealing to black voters has never made much strategic sense for the Tories, as black voters are heavily working class, heavily Labour supporting, and mostly live in inner-city constituencies that the Tories don’t have a prayer of winning. In the 1970s and 1980s, it made more sense for the Tories to issue coded appeals, via cricket tests and such, to the racist end of the white working class, who actually could dent Labour majorities in places like Lancashire and Essex. But this hasn’t worked so well lately, with the dog-whistle “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” campaign in 2005 going down like a lead balloon.

Hence Shaun Bailey. Many black Londoners seem to regard Shaun as a chancer on the make, and they may be right. But they aren’t the point of the exercise. The point of the exercise, as so often with Cameron, is to detoxify the Tory brand and shed the image of being the nasty party. Shaun Bailey may not appeal to black voters in any great numbers, but for nice affluent liberal-minded white voters he conveys the message that the Tories are no longer racist. It’s a similar situation to Alan Duncan – you’d have to be a very strange gay person to vote Tory because Alan Duncan is in the shadow cabinet, but for the party of Section 28, Alan’s presence at the top table neutralises gay hostility and presents a diverse image. Ditto Sayeeda Warsi, although she’s turned out to be something of an unguided missile. It’s all about the optics.

So this could pose an interesting question for Dave and his new unionist friends. Let’s assume that there are some more racist incidents next summer – and, given the close proximity of the Village to concentrations of ethnic minorities, that’s a reasonably safe bet. Look at the enormous media coverage the attacks on the Roma generated in the British media. Dave, who’ll be extremely conscious of the need to maintain his anti-racist credentials, will be expecting his compañeros to demonstratively show leadership. If they restrict themselves to pro-forma statements, well, Dave just might look askance. And what price then the Tory-Unionist alignment?

Democratic Unionist party reptile

_44734647_sammywilson

There’s been a story doing the rounds the last week or so that David Cameron invited Jeremy Clarkson to advise him on transport policy. Now, I saw this in the Daily Star, so the relevant health warnings apply, but given Dave the Haircut’s love of celebs and his weakness for dopey populist stunts, it seems all too plausible. If we’re to believe this, Clarkson – who’s no fan of Dave’s green agenda – told the Tories to piss off, which at least reflects well on him.

Over here, of course, we don’t need Clarkson. We have Sammy Wilson, whose career this blog has covered in exhaustive detail. In days of old, Sammy used to be a sort of common-or-garden East Belfast spide, only distinguished from his DUP comrades by the occasional urge to get back to nature. More recently, though, Sammy’s been carving out a populist niche for himself, channelling Clarkson but also mixing in a big dollop of Richard Littlejohn and a tincture of Jim Davidson. And it seems to have worked for him – having gained notoriety as the environment minister who didn’t believe in global warming, he’s lately been promoted to finance. (His replacement at environment is Edwin Poots, who does believe in global warming, but doesn’t believe in evolution.) But now we have Sammy streaking back into the headlines with his thoughts on racism:

Earlier, Mr Wilson had said when there was “any attempt to have an honest debate” on the issue of immigration “the people involved in that were accused of being racist”.

He said racism charges coincided with appeals for money from some groups.

And again:

“What I had said was that first of all when there was any attempt to have an honest debate on the issue of immigration, immediately the people who were involved in that were accused of being racist.

“Secondly these charges of racism then were always coincided with the holding out of the hand for more money for the organisations which were dealing with the issue.

“From that point of view organisations like NICEM needed to keep raising this issue because that was one way of perpetuating their own existence.”

Patrick Yu of NICEM, who Mark Devenport was talking to, was not impressed, and frankly neither am I. As Patrick points out, when the police are saying that racist incidents are rising year on year, Sammy is giving the impression that the whole issue is a self-serving con job designed to raise funds for the “racism industry”, the same way the environmental movement invented global warming.

Sammy, of course, has form on this issue, and his ongoing spat with Patrick Yu dates from his call for “local people” to be given precedence in the jobs market, something that Sammy surely knows is extremely illegal under both British and EU law. But does Sammy, as the Greens’ Steven Agnew suggested with his “I offend therefore I am” quip, simply suffer from a form of political Tourette’s, like the red mist that descends over Iris Robinson whenever homosexuals are mentioned?

I don’t think so. Sammy knows the DUP base as well as anyone, and he knows that you really can’t be too reactionary. What with DUP voters’ disquiet at the New Dispensation at Stormont, and the threat of Jim Allister’s Prodiban insurgency, a bit of tub-thumping rhetoric can’t hurt Sammy’s re-election prospects in East Antrim. To take a small example, last Saturday saw Belfast’s annual Gay Pride parade, bringing a much-needed splash of colour to the city centre. As usual, we have had punters from what would be the DUP’s traditional base – this guy is a good example – wondering loudly why the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (whose minister is DUP member and born-again fundamentalist Nelson McCausland) was funding the sodomites’ street party. Nelson, I suppose, could have burbled on a bit about equality legislation and Section 75, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as Sammy popping up to give us his stream of consciousness.

There is, however, one aspect of what Sammy said that repays inspection. That is this contention:

Mr Wilson said the “anti-racism industry” brought in millions of pounds and employed “scores of people”.

“Of course they have to justify their existence and now and again I think they take an unfair shot at politicians and when they do they can’t expect people to remain silent,” he added.

Let’s leave aside the hint of self-pity at the end? Is there an enormous “racism industry” in the north? Patrick Yu doesn’t think so, arguing that three-quarters of ethnic minority groups are entirely voluntary. And Stormont MLA Anna Lo (Alliance, South Belfast) comments that “Few specifically anti-racism groups receive funding – most ethnic minority organisations are support agencies providing information and assistance to their own communities all year round but of course they need to speak up against racism when racist incidents occur, hurting people in their communities. It is irresponsible of Mr Wilson to say claims of racism coincided with appeals for money from some groups – this can undermine the role of these groups.”

It’s important to unpick this. There are the ethnic minority groups like NICEM or the Chinese Welfare Association, who mostly do work serving ethnic minorities and can’t really be described as campaigning anti-racism groups. They have been getting some money, and the flow has increased in the last couple of years, but it’s really quite small beer in terms of our funded community sector. There is also the Equality Commission, a large, powerful and well-funded quango that isn’t exactly bashful about pressing its divers agendas. But racism is only part of the Commission’s remit, and has to fight for space with sectarianism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, being nasty to people in wheelchairs and whatever else the Commission is pursuing at the moment. And there is also the Anti-Racism Network, a small group of leftwing activists who’ve got a bit of media attention by regularly taking offence on behalf of ethnic minorities, but I hardly think Barbara Muldoon qualifies as an “industry”. I know Sammy draws heavily on the Daily Mail for his polemics, but Belfast is not London and we don’t have any anti-racist entrepreneurs of the Lee Jasper variety.

There is, of course, a strong argument for taking a hatchet to the north’s grantocracy. But, in picking (inaccurately) on ethnic minorities, Sammy is missing the elephant in the room – the north’s biggest employer, the peace industry. Now, the peace industry covers a lot of ground, and there are some good people there doing useful work, but an awful lot of it consists of republicans and loyalists who have been kept quiet by being put on the payroll. If you ever have to go to an economic regeneration meeting in Belfast, you’ll immediately notice that many of the people in the room are UDA men, and despite the fact that you know they’re UDA men, they invariably introduce themselves as representing some community development project that’s in urgent need of funding. It’s like the fucking Muppet Show sometimes.

Indeed, such is the influence of peace money that the splits in the UDA during the peace process have mostly been about money – in Johnny Adair’s case, we’re talking about control of criminal empires, but bribes like the Conflict Transformation Initiative have played their part too. One thinks back to 2006, when the South-East Antrim UDA seceded from the main group. Some observers presented this as being a split between the “good” mainstream UDA and a hardline faction wedded to the old ways, citing as evidence how the Shoukri brothers, on being run out of North Belfast, had been given asylum in Carrickfergus. But it soon became plain that Tommy Millions and his mates were looking to negotiate a conflict transformation subsidy of their own, while dispensing with Hard Bap’s mediation.

I suspect there’s something similar going on with the recent secession of the UDA’s North Antrim and Derry fiefdom. This was the occasion for a show of force by the Derry UDA a couple of weeks back, and it seems likely that the recent irruption of racism in Derry is connected. I am of course not privy to what the Mexican is thinking, but your best bet is that he’s looking to go into business for himself.

Yes, if you wanted to slash the grantocracy, there are plenty of obvious targets. In the grand scheme of things, the relatively small amount going to our ethnic communities does no harm. Since there’s all this money sloshing about the community sector, I don’t begrudge the Chinese and the Poles getting a little cash for translation services. Nor do I begrudge Patrick Yu doing what he does, advocating for vulnerable minorities. It’s the peace industry that is really asking for a bonfire of the grants. But such is our political system that the peace industry is not only untouchable, it’s virtually unmentionable. And attacking the vulnerable while ignoring the abuses of the powerful is, I’m afraid, par for the course for Sammy.

Our elected representatives show leadership

AnnaLo225wL

Having caught a little of Thursday’s NIC-ICTU rally against racism at City Hall – work commitments meant I couldn’t stick around very long – it looked terribly disappointing. It was depressingly small, and there didn’t look to be much there beyond the usual suspects. Some union officials. Some fulltime Nice People from the grantocracy. A sprinkling of far-left activists with papers and collection buckets. The gentlemen of the press, looking desperately for a story. And once again, a no-show from our ethnic communities, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of this sort of thing.

Luckily, the numbers were boosted by the UDA. There would have been even less to see if Jackie McDonald and several of his satraps hadn’t put in an appearance.

But if the rally was a bust, last week’s Assembly debate on racism wasn’t much better. There were of course some examples of the right attitudes being struck. A little prelude was had in ministerial questions, with Martin McGuinness doing his heart-on-my-sleeve bit:

As I held Fernanda, the baby who was born in Belfast, in my arms when she was five days old, I knew that her mother and father were about to take her away from her birthplace because of a despicable hate crime. I also met a young woman called Maria who came here a few months ago without a word of English. She is a lovely person who taught herself and her two children English. Maria was able to act as interpreter between us and the rest of the Roma community. That shows clearly how hard those people were trying to build new lives.

We need to face up to all the problems that are out there. All of us need to do more, and there is a particular responsibility on people to recognise that perhaps not enough was done by the system as a whole. It was very interesting to see that Assistant Chief Constable Finlay effectively threw up his hands in relation to how he thought the police handled the situation. Effectively, they did not know what was happening in the Roma community. That accusation could also be levelled at us. We all have lessons to learn and, as we go forward, the type of document to which the Member referred needs to be very thorough and proactive in relation to facing down racism and sectarianism in our society.

Well, yes. Later we got to the debate, wherein Alex Maskey (PSF, South Belfast) tabled the following motion:

That this Assembly condemns unreservedly all racist and sectarian attacks; calls for the rights and entitlements of ethnic minorities and other vulnerable communities to be protected; commends all those voluntary and statutory agencies which assisted in the recent upheaval inflicted upon members of the Roma community in Belfast; and calls on all Departments to respond appropriately and on all political leaders to display leadership and unity of purpose in tackling all manifestations of hate crime.

There’s not much you can take issue with there. One thing that does come to mind, though, is that, in political discourse in the north, racism is the new sectarianism. It’s become fashionable to view sectarianism as just a manifestation of racism, or of bad attitudes held by bad people. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that sectarianism is the basic feature of our society, and the outbreak of racist incidents over recent years is simply the addition of new targets by people who would have been involved in sectarian incidents in the past. Alex sort of touched on this:

In the aftermath of the killing of Kevin McDaid, people who comment on such matters, including those in the media, speculated on who might have been involved, the purpose of the killing and why it happened. Some of the remarks, commentaries and observations made in the media and through public discourse were shameful and sought, in my view, to either justify or minimise and explain away what happened on the day on which Mr McDaid was brutally killed. That is in contrast to how they responded to the treatment of the Roma families and suggests that an awful lot of people in this society find it much easier and are more comfortable to deal with the issue of racism than the issue of sectarianism. Sectarianism is the elephant in the room. I am struck by the fact that many people in our communities are able to tackle the issue of racism much easier and more comfortably than the issue of sectarianism.

I think that’s true. Nobody will openly defend racism – even the BNP are cagey about doing that these days. Besides, it’s a lot easier to condemn racism when we’re talking about the plight of relatively small numbers of people. In that sense, it doesn’t pose the same questions as sectarianism.

Following that, Naomi Long (Alliance, East Belfast) reflected on the racist attacks, when she had been on the scene in her capacity of Lord Mayor, and talked about the need for the Executive to produce a cohesion strategy, which would make me feel happier if I didn’t think it was just going to be another glossy booklet. Then we had an intervention from friend of this blog Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) in characteristically forthright terms:

We er weel kent as tha wee kintrie wi’ a’ big hairt, an oor guid naem o’ waremth an feelin is bein ruinet bi’ thugs hoo irnie representative o’ tha lerge majority in tha Proavince. We hae haud sum kinserns in oor kumunity an sum metters sic as yin in Kummer laust yeer, but that wus a yin-afff an haesnae bin repeetet. Whut hooiniver is cleer ther er fowk whau er fed up wi’ tha woarl in general an takk it oot oan fowk in pertikuler; unfoartunately, it seems tae be that it’s aieser tae pikk oan tha yins that hae nae supoart netwoarks.

Yes, well, you can’t say fairer than that. What was more interesting was that Jim took the opportunity to talk about the migration of Protestants out of border areas, and of opposition to Orange parades. In his view, these were to be identified with the racist attacks in Belfast. There was to be some more of this.

We then had Danny Kennedy (UCUNF, Newry/Armagh), Carmel Hanna (SDLP, South Belfast) and Jimmy Spratt (DUP, South Belfast) all adding their condemnation of the attacks. Everybody was offering condemnation.

Unfortunately, this love-in was brought to an abrupt close by Martina Anderson (PSF, Foyle), who said:

Those attacks were the outworkings of a warped mindset that has never tolerated anything but itself. It is a mindset that for years has been ignored and even encouraged by some in the Establishment. Some of the most so-called Christian of places have been underpinned by a culture of intolerance. We have all heard the Pope being described from the pulpit as the Antichrist. Whether the targets are Romanian or Roman Catholic, the bigotry that they face is the same.

The motion calls for political leadership and unity of purpose in tackling all manifestations of hate crime. The sad fact is that it must be said that unionist Members have been found wanting in that regard. Time and time again, we have failed, and they have failed to confront hate crime, particularly sectarianism that emanates from within their community.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, I am not suggesting for one second that all intolerance emanates from within the unionist community. I will repeat that: I am not suggesting for one second that all intolerance emanates from the unionist community. However, the difference is that my party has always confronted those issues head on in our own community.

We have gone toe to toe with those responsible and we have let them know in no uncertain terms that no such behaviour will be tolerated or accepted. We have had a vigil in the Bogside area of Derry after attacks in the Fountain; we have been involved in forums with residents trying to address that. We have challenged and confronted, head on, attacks that have emanated from within our community, but we do not see the same level of confrontation within the unionist community.

There’s some element of truth to that. It was noticeable during the episode with the Roma that unionist reps were prepared to say the right thing if a microphone or reporters’ notebook was stuck in their face, but it was people like Martin McGuinness and Naomi Long who were doing the touchy-feely stuff. Actually, Jackie McDonald was more proactive than unionist politicians, and that can’t be a good thing.

But this then led to splenetic responses from Robin Newton (DUP, East Belfast) and Tom Elliott (UCUNF, Fermanagh/South Tyrone), who banged on at some length about the oppression of border Protestants, the unaccountable reluctance of Catholics to have Orange parades on their doorsteps, and how Martina Anderson should apologise for everything republicans had ever done before she got to speak about intolerance. Peter Robinson then remarked:

I regret that the Member for Foyle Ms Anderson engaged in the blame game; we learned that when one points the finger, three point back at one. The responses thereafter showed that.

Yes, it’s much easier to not point fingers at all. It is in fact true that DUP representatives in the Coleraine area were remarkably understanding about the McDaid murder, but it just doesn’t do to point fingers.

Now let’s just bring this to a close with Anna Lo (Alliance, South Belfast), who actually knows something about racism:

I am very heartened by the response from all Members and parties today. I particularly welcome the First Minister’s strong words and his sincerity and commitment to deal with the problem of sectarianism and racism. However, I am also saddened by some of the comments, which seemed to me to be defensive and to stereotype our ethnic minority communities. There are good and bad apples in all communities, and we have to take that into account. Where there are large numbers of new populations, there will, of course, be some people who will misbehave, but that is no cause for racist attacks.

We must address racism and hate crimes of all types in our society. I have lived here for 35 years, and I do not believe that Northern Ireland is a racist society, but a small minority can bring us all down in the eyes of the world. We must be very careful about that.

I believe that racism is on the increase. Last year, there were nearly 1,000 incidents, but I have no doubt that the figure for this year will rocket. In the past few months, more than 80 Polish people have been intimidated, and more than 40 of them have moved out of their homes as a result of that intimidation.

Following that, Hungarian women were forced out of their homes. Next, 115 Romanian families were forced to leave their homes. Only three of those families have stayed in Northern Ireland; the remainder left last week.

The Indian community was targeted last week. Over the weekend and today, a large number of people from ethnic minorities, including myself, received serious threats to our safety. I have never seen the ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland so fearful…

We need leadership from the Government, but we also need Government action. Many public services are not geared to meet the needs of ethnic minority communities. Over the past two weeks, the Government’s response to meeting the needs of the Romanian community has been inadequate. Children were moving from place to place clutching their teddy bears, their pillows and blankets, and we could not do a thing. We had to put them in a church for one night and shift them somewhere else the next night. What on earth are we doing? We are a large, wealthy population. Why can we not deal with such a situation?

Quite. It’s all very well to get the Assembly to unanimously agree a motion condemning racism, but maybe more profitable to ask the practical questions. Going by the NICEM statement quoted by the BBC, they were as unimpressed as I was.

That was Monday. On Tuesday, our esteemed representatives were back to the normal knockabout while discussing post-primary education and the 11+. Some highlights:

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Members must allow the Minister to answer. I am hearing everything in quadraphonic sound. Perhaps the Minister would respond to the question.

Later on it got better:

Mr McCallister: In my brief time on the Education Committee, the one thing that has become clear is that we do not have clarity on anything. The Western Education and Library Board, for example, estimates that up to 8,000 pupils who would be entitled to free school meals do not claim them. In addition, there are issues about the capital value of farms. Adding that to the fact that her own equality impact assessment concludes that the criteria discriminate against those in rural and Protestant working-class areas, and given that so much of the policy is based on free school meal entitlement, how does the Minister propose to make any of her plans fit for purpose?

The Minister of Education: I believe that the Member has been on the Education Committee for only two hours. Nevertheless, I welcome him, and I am sure that he will receive copious notes on this subject from my Department.

And it didn’t get any less ill-tempered:

The Chairperson of the Committee for Education (Mr Storey): I am glad that the Assembly does not have a sports day at the end of term, because the Minister of Education could not win even the egg-and-spoon race.

As Chairperson of the Education Committee, I want to inform the House that the Education Minister has bypassed the Committee. Members will remember that when she published the sustainable schools policy, she did it by —

Mr O’Dowd: Speech.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Education: Mr Deputy Speaker, am I to be continually interrupted by a Shinner?

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The words “pot”, “kettle” and “black” come to mind, Mr Storey. However, Mr Storey should be allowed to continue. It is questions to the Minister on her statement, and I await the question.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Education: The Minister published her sustainable schools policy by putting on her education balaclava and doing it at night. When she decided to publish transfer 2010 guidance, she did not come to the Education Committee, despite the important fact that in a letter to the Education Committee dated 5 May —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr Storey, as Chairperson of the Committee, you are given a certain amount of leniency in respect of what you can say, but the time for a question to the Minister on her statement has long passed.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Education: The Education Minister has ignored the Education Committee. Will the Education Minister tell the people and the parents of Northern Ireland today, first, that she has failed in relation to the abolition of academic criteria, and, secondly, when she will heed the numerous calls that have been made to her? We will have to come back to the issue of transfer. We will have to establish an agreed way to transfer our children from primary school to post-primary school rather than go down the ideological cul-de-sac that she, as Education Minister, has created and exist in the confusion over which she is happy to preside.

The Minister of Education: Go raibh maith agat. Mr Storey raised a point about sports days. Last night, I met all the GAA coaches who are part of the sports programme in P1 and P2. Members will know that we have a good sports programme with the GAA and the IFA. It might be useful for the a Cheann Comhairle, the Chairperson, of the Education Committee to have a discussion with the GAA and the IFA, because one of the issues that we discussed was ways in which sports days can be made more participative. It is not about winning or about the two or three children who win all the medals; it is about interaction. I commend the GAA and the IFA for making sports days more interesting in the primary schools in which they are working, and for training the teachers. I thank the Member for giving me the opportunity to pay tribute to the IFA and the GAA.

I urge the Chairperson of the Education Committee not to resort to personal insults. It is better to deal with the educational arguments. It is often the case that people resort to insults when they have nothing or little to say.

And yet more from the education debate:

Mr Deputy Speaker: I must say that Members are providing a fine example to the very children about whom they are talking.

Mr Poots: Does the Minister agree that there is a number of very important and key elements missing from her statement, such as: “Ruane makes amazing comeback to win Wimbledon ladies’ singles”; “Newry City win Champions League”; “Elvis spotted sunbathing in Warrenpoint”; and “They all lived happily ever after”?

I recommend that the Minister take a long holiday, because, when she returns, examinations will still be taking place. Furthermore, the privatised transfers that she has initiated, for which there will actually be more testing, and which will make it more difficult for children from socially challenged backgrounds to get into grammar schools, will still be in place. Is that the system that the Minister set out to create, for that is what she has created?

The Minister of Education: It is interesting to hear sporting analogies as Wimbledon takes place, and I am glad that Mr Poots has provided the House with some very good ones. I look forward to seeing Newry City win the Champions League, and all the rest.

You realise, of course, that a lot of these characters are school governors? I think, to conclude by raising the tone, we should hear what Jim Shannon had to say on the Budget Bill:

Aa’ hae tae sae Mr Speeker that Aa’ hae a feelin that this haes aw happent’ afoar aboot muckle debates in this Hoos regerdin metters aboot mony. We heer iver an iver again, aboot tha need fer a new Budget proasess , an fer soon reasins o’ giein oot mony tae this area an that. But theim that iver an iver agin caw fer this hae iver an iver agin fawed far shoart o’ spellin oot whor they wud takk tha mony fae. It is aw quare an weel tae oarder an deman mare fundin, but we canny awaes roab Peter tae pay Paul. Tha quarterly takkin in tae acoont roons, whuch er aften tauked aboot bi’ sum Memers, oaffer a reel guid soartin oot wae o’ brinnin aboot muckle changes tae tha Budget as it noo stauns. Aa’ unnerstaun that weel iver yin billyin poon o’ allocated an reduced needs hae bin maed throo tha takkin intae acoont roons iver these paust twau yeer.

And if that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, I don’t know what does.

Area woman perturbed at Slavic invasion of SW19

ivanovic-jankovic

So then, let’s get onto the tennis. I was disappointed to see Hackney girl Anne Keothavong go out early, after she’s had such a good run-in, but at least Elena Baltacha is still there, a gutsy player who’s had some terrible luck with injuries and who you can’t help warming to.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. What caught my eye was this appalling column from Liz Hunt in the Torygraph, which sadly is typical of what we can expect from a certain breed of female columnist. You see, Liz is settling down to watch Wimbledon:

I am not a year-round tennis fan. Like most Brits, my interest begins and ends with the Wimbledon fortnight.

So, we needn’t expect you to know much about the game, then?

But even a decade ago, I would have at least known the names of the seeded players, and their stories.

Come on Liz, that’s just age. It would be like me turning on Radio 1 for two weeks a year and saying, “But I’ve never heard of any of these bands. Whatever happened to Tenpole Tudor?”

But that’s not Liz’s point. Liz is intent on refighting the Cold War in SW19:

“I just know the standard,” Serena announced with an endearing disregard for political correctness. “Everyone is from Russia. Sometimes I think I’m from Russia, too. With all these new ‘-ovas’, I don’t know anyone.”

And this from a woman who is actually on the circuit! What hope do the rest of us have as, combing through the endless “-ovas” and “-evas” and “-inas” and “-enkos”, we try to find a player worthy of our allegiance.

We’ve got it, Liz. You have some trouble with the names. Seeing as how you don’t follow the game closely, you can’t be expected to be familiar with all the up-and-coming players. But no, it gets worse:

These aren’t real women, these are fembots – blonde (ish), blank-faced and Amazonian, shipped in off a production line somewhere in Eastern Europe…

The “-ovas” and “-evas”, are different. On court, they’re all power and pout; off it, they lack any personality. They’re good for rallies and photoshoots – especially the photoshoots – but not much more…

The “-ovas” and “-evas” – of whom there are 30 in this year’s draw alone – are interchangeable tennis totty.

There you have it. The East Europeans who dominate the women’s game aren’t actual people, with individual personalities, they’re interchangeable, undifferentiated and robotic. Thank God the Chinese aren’t dominating the game, because who knows what Liz would have to say about that.

It’s untrue, of course. Liz has a good old moan about Anna Kournikova – who, it is true, made much more money from modelling than she ever did from the tennis circuit, but was nonetheless a half-decent player with a few doubles titles to her name. But what of the East European women who make up half the draw at this year’s Wimbledon, including 17 of the 32 seeds? Some are blonde, some are not. Some have model looks, some do not. As for their personalities, many of the players are very young and, more importantly, don’t have English as a first language – it’s not surprising that Jelena Janković is a much more entertaining interviewee in the Serbian media.

But they dominate the rankings because they’re good players. Playing and winning is what they’re there for. It’s true that much of the marketing of female tennis players concentrates on their sex appeal rather than their athletic abilities, not least in the same papers whose wimmin’s section columnists moan about all these pretty Slavic women who they find oddly unsympathetic.

But this question of success on the court is the real issue at stake. If you look down the WTA rankings, you’ll notice immediately that the Williams sisters are the only Americans in the top fifty. As for Britain, Anne Keothavong is just about nudging into the top fifty, while her nearest rivals are bidding to get into the top hundred. When you think of all the money sloshing around the British and American games, how come less resource-rich countries like Slovakia, Romania, Serbia or Belarus are so much better at producing top-level players?

Partly, I think, it’s success breeding success. There was once a very successful East European player called Martina Navrátilová, who even Liz may have heard of. (Those were the days when columnists were less worried about the number of Slavs on the tour than the number of lesbians.) Martina dominated the game for years, won everything in sight, and inspired young girls in that part of the world. Then we had the likes of Monica Seles and Martina Hingis. Now we have this extraordinary crop of young women, who have grown up in an intensely competitive sporting culture and who have a hunger that isn’t really evident in the British game.

That’s the real point worth debating. But no, for the insta-pundit it’s much easier to reach for lazy ethnic cliches about robotic, blank-faced East Europeans, the sort of Slav-bashing I though had gone out of style when Wogan retired from Eurovision. I’ll never complain about Gail Walker again. No, that’s a lie…

Paramilitary boss doesn’t want to be confused with racist spides

jackiemcdonald_8093t

I nearly fell off my chair whilst reading the Irish News this morning. The front page splashed on these comments from UDA emperor Jackie McDonald:

A leading loyalist last night blamed far right BNP and Combat 18 supporters for a spate of attacks on Romanian families who have been forced to flee their homes in Belfast.

UDA leader Jackie McDonald, who denied that loyalist paramilitaries were connected to violence against Romanians living in the south of the city, said he believed the attackers came from outside the area.

Well, the question there is which area. They came from outside the university area, yeah. But it’s accepted by most people that they came from the Village, an area where Jackie has some influence.

And he warned the BNP against trying to recruit young men in loyalist areas of south Belfast amid reports that the right-wing group was planning to stage a rally in the Sandy Row area this weekend.

McDonald, who has offered to support the Romanians, said the attacks had to be “condemned outright”.

“There can be no justification for it but there is no way the UDA was involved and it is dangerous to attach these attacks to loyalist paramilitary groups,” he said.

It seems that what is exercising Hard Bap is the possibility that the UDA’s good name might be besmirched by commentators linking it with the BNP. Which sort of says something about Nick Griffin’s push for respectability.

Inside the paper is Newton Emerson’s column, much of which is a dig at the Socialist Party, although it’s a relatively good-natured dig. But what I wanted to quote was Newt’s opening:

It is difficult to know how anyone can be a British patriot and a Nazi, given how British patriotism is defined by the defeat of the Nazis. It is particularly difficult to know how anyone can be a south Belfast loyalist and a Nazi, given the loyalist propensity for decking south Belfast in Israeli flags. But however grotesque, stupid and violent the cause or effect, you can guarantee that some people will try to exploit it.

UPRG spokesman Frankie Gallagher, for example, reckons neo-Nazis would not be attacking Roma families if he was properly funded to take youth groups to Poland. Yes, Frankie wants to take the Nazis into Poland. Will they be packing their Israeli flags for that?

Ah yes, the wonders of the UDA’s political thought. I’m sure some conflict resolution money could be found for this valuable work…

Again on the racist attacks in South Belfast

_45937523_attacks

I basically agree with Garibaldy on the attacks on the Roma in South Belfast, but there are a few aspects that I think might be worth fleshing out.

The first thing is the spatial element. There is that patch of South Belfast that’s roughly bounded by the Ormeau Road and the Lisburn Road, where there is an awful lot of rented housing stock. Lots of students live up around Queens, much to the distress of the non-student population in the area. There’s also a very large ethnic population in the area, ranging between Filipinos working in the City Hospital, to the largest element of the long-established Chinese community, to more recent Polish and Lithuanian arrivals. Bordering this part of town are the run-down loyalist areas of Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and the Village, all of them with extensive social problems and all of them in long-term demographic decline.

These latest attacks took place in the university area, not the Village, but it isn’t seriously disputed that the perpetrators came from the Village. You then have to ask who it was. The area has a very strong paramilitary presence, but I don’t think this is exactly the same as the anti-Chinese pogrom of 2003-04. That was very clearly orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries, although for political reasons that side of it was downplayed, and it did spiral beyond that, with random hoods joining in and other visible minorities, such as African refugees, being targeted. The better comparison is probably with the murder of Kevin McDaid in Coleraine. The mob who beat Mr McDaid to death may have been chanting UDA slogans, but it doesn’t follow that that was a UDA action – it was essentially just lumpen Rangers supporters, tanked up on alcohol and giving vent to the sectarianism that still runs very close to the surface here.

And that’s what I think we have in this case. Notwithstanding the BNP call centre in Dundonald, specifically fascist organisations have virtually no presence. And that’s not surprising, because if you want to be bigoted here there are plenty of other outlets. Whatever about the headlines today proclaiming Belfast the most racist city in Europe, thankfully we don’t have the situation that exists in Hungary – and Italy seems to be going the same way – where uniformed vigilantes go around openly attacking minorities. (We were a bit like that in the 1970s, of course.) There, too, the Roma are the main targets – they seem to get the rough end wherever they go. There’s certainly been a lot of hostility to them here, often related to their tradition of begging, something that’s a familiar sight in Sofia or Bucharest but not in Belfast. In any case, they’re a small and vulnerable community without representation, and it’s been heartening to see the spontaneous response from lots of local people.

You also have to set this in the context of a long-term, usually low-level element of racist harassment. I heard Patrick Yu talking about ethnic cleansing, and I know what he means, but this isn’t Bosnia. Rather, it’s the constant drip-drip-drip. For example, the current Newtownards Chronicle carries a court report about a middle-aged Chinese woman and her son being up on assault charges, arising from an altercation with a crowd of young hoods who had apparently been congregating outside their takeaway for weeks. There was no sign of the hoods being in court, and Judge Hamill had some remarks to make about how he doubted this was an unprovoked assault on innocent kids going about their business. This sort of thing happens with some regularity, but it’s not often that it escalates into anything more serious.

So what I think we’re dealing with is essentially a bunch of lumpen hoods, of the sort that you do find in the Village and similar areas. I don’t think the loyalist groups are behind it, although it’s likely that some of the hoods will have some connections, and it’s possible that because of that connection the cops may have been wary about taking action. Nor do I detect any serious upsurge in the fascist right – this isn’t the 1980s, when the NF had several hundred youth in East Belfast. It is possible, though, that the BNP’s breakthrough has emboldened a few people who were already that way inclined.

What’s also unclear at this stage is what exactly is going to be done with the Roma. Margaret Ritchie says they’ll be rehoused, but I don’t know where, as the Housing Executive hasn’t built any houses in years. I imagine there will be a hope in officialdom that if you give them some money they might just go away. An equitable outcome might be to give them some Peace III money, since that’s the sort of thing it’s supposed to be there for. Although that might have to come out of South Belfast’s allocation.

Finally, just on the news coverage, I was a little taken aback at how big a story this has got to be across the water, even knocking Iran off the top of the TV bulletins for much of the day. When something similar happens to Catholics in Stoneyford, it barely even makes the local news. I suppose it’s a bit like when Iris Robinson decided to get up in the House of Commons and share her thoughts on homosexuality – what she said about gays wouldn’t even make the top twenty of outrageous things that Iris Robinson has said, but on this occasion all hell broke loose. It might just be that, when dealing with the north of Ireland, the British media tend to discount sectarianism, but racism is a story they can get their heads around.

And again on Lindsey

_45439306_lindsey_3feb3pa

Portavogie is not what you’d call a very progressive place. Even in the early stages of the peace process, the villagers were inordinately proud of not having a single Catholic living there. Today, on the other hand, the majority of workers on the Portavogie fishing fleet are migrant workers, mostly East Europeans but including some thirty Filipinos. Due to some visa restriction, the Filipino trawlermen may not lodge on land but have to sleep on their boats. The locals are campaigning to get this changed. In a time when economic crisis is likely to stoke racism, it’s a little heartwarming story.

In a related note, the Lindsey strike has ended in a small victory for the workers, with the employment of some one hundred local workers on the construction contract in question, without this being at the expense of the Italian and Portuguese workers already in situ. I think this is probably the best outcome available. And, after all, it’s not like we see victories very often. Never underestimate the value of even a small one.

There have been a couple of aspects thrown up by this that I want to take a bit of a look at. The first is the question of protectionism, which Brown and Mandelson have had such a bee in their bonnet about. (By contrast with Alan Johnson, who didn’t endear himself to me as a union bureaucrat but who does actually realise that sometimes workers have legitimate grievances.) Actually, I don’t have a problem in principle with a little protectionism. One of the left’s big beefs with the European Single Market was opposition to open tendering for public services, and the enshrinement thereof in European law. And, if we were going to be consistent advocates of the global village, on what basis would we oppose the European Commission’s regular attempts to destroy Irish agriculture?

In fact, everybody is pretty realpolitik on this issue, but most people just don’t like to admit it. The free traders in government are all in favour of the free movement of capital, but, largely for electoral reasons, oppose the free movement of labour. One of the endearing things about the Economist is that, being in favour of genuinely open borders, it likes to twit the political class about this. On the other hand, the socialists also have an inbuilt contradiction in favouring the free movement of labour in the form of abolishing immigration controls, while wanting to restrict the movement of capital. Since movements of labour generally follow movements of capital, you’ve got some tensions either way.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the left again. There’s a basic issue in Marxism over the respective roles of conscious programme and spontaneous struggle. To put it another way, there is a particular elitist type of Marxism, usually rooted in a one-sided reading of What Is To Be Done?, that lays its main stress on the role of intellectuals in bringing socialist consciousness to the workers from the outside. You get a lot of this in Lukács, and you used to in Norman Geras, which might explain something about Normski’s latter-day Decency. On the other hand, there’s that side of the Marxist tradition, often associated with people like Luxemburg, or less consistently with Lenin’s stance after 1905, or with Draper or James amongst others, that stresses the spontaneous tendencies towards socialism of a working class in struggle. This is a gross simplification of course, and you have to talk at greater length of what you mean by spontaneity – the pseudo-spontaneism of James in particular is long overdue a deconstruction – but it’s a real tension.

One thing I found fascinating about the left’s responses to the Lindsey strike was that a clear dividing line arose, but with some people in juxtapositions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from their formal politics. Basically, I would moot that you had a more ideological or propagandist corner (the SWP, Socialist Resistance, the AWL) for whom the BJ4BW slogan and the implications thereof were the key thing, as against a more workerist corner (the Socialist Party, George Galloway, the Morning Star) who weren’t thrilled about the slogan, but who laid more stress on the class dynamic behind the strike. Of course, you did have extreme positions, with Workers Power condemning the action outright as a reactionary nationalist strike, and on the other hand Arthur Scargill finding nothing wrong with the slogan whatsoever. But these absurdities are easily explained. Arthur is working from a paradigm of the British manual working class in the 1950s, while Workers Power are working from… well, some sort of total idealist disconnect from empirical reality, though I’m glad to see their capacity for sub-Maoist gobbledegook remains undiminished.

But between these extremes, there is quite a lot of ambiguity and overlap. The view I arrived at was one that critical support for the strike was necessary, and it was vital to muck in there and try to turn things around politically, steering the politics of the thing away from the potentially ugly aspects of the nationalist slogan. In this respect, I think the Socialist Party played a blinder. And actually, since they were lucky enough to have a couple of people on the ground, there was nothing else they could do – had their members taken an abstentionist line or even opposed the strike, they would have found it far more difficult to get a hearing. And it’s not least thanks to them that, as the demands were concretised, they took on a form that made the strike much more supportable by socialists.

Which is not to say that the flip side, the nationalist undercurrent, was not there. There were, I think, three aspects to this. There were some workers who, with a microphone or a reporter’s notepad thrust in front of them, expressed themselves in a not very intelligent way. There was the media’s determination to make this a race issue. And there was the right wing, notably the BNP, also trying to make this a race issue. It was heartening that this diminished as time went on, with the shop stewards changing the tone of their statements and the fash being chased off the picket line. The modulated line of the AWL at least shows they caught onto this dynamic even though, like most far left groups, they aren’t very good at admitting their position changed.

So I do think that it was necessary, particularly at the beginning of the strike, to point out the dangers. I don’t criticise the left groups who did so. Nor do I criticise the individuals who did so – I place particular weight on Madam Miaow, who has a track record of flagging up things that the white blokes on the left don’t pay enough attention to. These were things that needed to be said.

I have been scratching my head a little at the position of the SWP. I know that the original, quite abstract, statement was not universally popular with the party’s trade union cadre, and I expected that to be softened, although probably without acknowledgement. But this week’s coverage in SW marks, if anything, a hardening. Well, it’s not perhaps what we might have seen if John (“It’s British workers that count”) Rees was still at the helm, and for that we should be grateful. But all the same, it’s a bit puzzling when you remember that Cliff used to be the great promoter of spontaneity (just not within the ranks of the party) and was frankly contemptuous of formal programmatic statements. Whether he would have put quite so much weight on the slogan is doubtful.

I think there are a couple of elements to this. One is that for the last dozen years or so, the SWP had been operating a super-optimistic perspective. This has stubbed its toe on events, and is further discredited by its close association with the Rees-German camarilla. The culture of stick-bending being as entrenched as it is in the SWP, some people will take this to mean a return to the downturn and propagandism. There’s also the economic crisis, which, although the party has quietly dumped Cliff’s “30s in slow motion” perspective, will inevitably lead to a revival in catastrophology. This (along with the Respect and SSP splits) has led to a stress on the rivers of blood dividing reformists from revolutionaries, and a return to the “expose and denounce” school of dealing with official labour movement figures, except for Mark Serwotka who has the advantage of being a close personal friend of Martin Smith. (By contrast, the SP, which has a much more sectarian formal position, is a good bit more pragmatic in its practice.) There’s also the assumption that, if the BNP leaflet a picket line, workers will find the playing of the race card irresistible. One would hope Lindsey had put that one to bed. This will take a while to work out. There is of course an inbuilt tension between propagandism and catastrophology, and while Gerry Healy successfully combined the two for years, I think this will be resolved a bit quicker.

By the way, this is quite important, and I really hope the different sections of the left can draw up some honest balance sheets. We can expect some much uglier stuff round the corner, and this could be a very important learning experience.

Wir ain fowk

One of the advantages of us having recently acquired a fairly big immigrant population is that it doesn’t fit neatly into the received bipolar division of society in the north. Some of you may remember, for instance, how a year or so ago Martina Anderson called for Catholic migrant workers – and the bulk of our migrant workers are from Poland, Portugal and Lithuania and thus at least nominally Catholic – to be counted as “other” rather than “Catholic” for the purposes of fair employment monitoring, lest immigration work to the disadvantage of local Catholics who were already playing catch-up in the labour market.

Thing is, I can sort of see what Martina was getting at, especially as this was first raised in the context of police reform. The theory was, as I understand it, that some sleekit employers might hire a bunch of Poles and count them towards their “Catholic” quota. But it isn’t as if our whole battery of employment monitoring statistics are too blunt to pick up what’s going on in the workforce. Anyway, to come out and say this, and to say it in the manner that Martina did, just made her look like the xenophobe she isn’t. Not least because the north has a high and rising level of racially aggravated crime, which places an onus on our leaders to be sensitive in what they say.

That was in the boom period. Nowadays, with unemployment rising rapidly, there’s obviously even more potential for resentment to express itself in ugly way. This would, you think, push our leaders to be even more sensitive in their utterances. Then again, look at who you’re talking about. Step forward, Sammy the Streaker:

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has said firms should give jobs to locals ahead of foreign nationals in the current economic downturn.

He said it made sense to give preference to people “with roots here”.

“A lot of people moved in because of opportunities that there were,” said Mr Wilson, who is also a DUP MP.

Sammy’s position was also backed by OFMDFM junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP, Lagan Valley), whose ministerial brief includes equality issues. Now, we all know the DUP have never quite reconciled themselves to the Fair Employment Act. But you would expect government ministers to have some rudimentary knowledge of the law. As was pointed out on Slugger, it is extremely illegal to discriminate against a job applicant on grounds of their ethnic background. Moreover, European law states that any citizen of an EU country – such as Poland, Lithuania or Portugal – can live and work in any other EU country. It’s a cornerstone of the Single Market.

And would Sammy care to explain to the farming wing of the DUP exactly how our poultry industry is supposed to stay afloat if all the Portuguese suddenly go home?

« Older entries