Thursday 25 August 2005

Petty squabbling as spectator sport.

Jackie thought that this was a parody. I thought the guy was serious, until I started arguing with him in his comments, at which point he started to make such obvious and stupid mistakes that I thought he just had to be taking the piss. Then he started deleting my comments, and I realised that his clicheed world-view was genuinely offended by reality. What an eejit.

Anyway, just for the record, I'll point out Lee Jones's myriad mistakes here, where he can't delete my comments. I doubt any of my readers are particularly interested in this, but hey, it's my blog.

My initial disagreement with Lee was over this:

Terrible sadness today as Mo Mowlam, former Northern Ireland Secretary, died at 8.10am. Tears came to my eyes when I read the news. She was a one-of-a-kind politician, a woman who was sent to Northern Ireland as a blast of fresh air through the stultified corridors of power and really get the peace process moving - and she succeeded. Only she could have done it - fearless, disarmingly honest, laid-back, kicking off her shoes and chewing gum in meetings - and all this whilst undergoing radiotherapy for a brain tumour, which made all her hair fall out. She even removed her wig once during talks to ease the tension. She seemed possessed of an irreducibly robust humour, quick, rude wit, and an unflappable optimism. ... Perhaps one of the reasons I liked her so much is because, like me, she grew up in a family with an alcoholic, abusive father, and threw herself into academic work as an escape from hellish surroundings, which also took her abroad.

The thing about Mo Mowlam is that, like most politicians, she enacted policies. And there's been a lot of mindless rambling since her death about what wonderful work she did in Northern Ireland that has bizarrely ignored both the policies and their results. By all means discuss what a nice woman she was — as far as I can see, she was friendly, affable, and generally good fun — but what matters about her actions as Northern Ireland Secretary is what happened to Northern Ireland as a result of the policies for which she was responsible, not her vivacious debating style. Talk of the Great Wig-Removal Moment effectively ignores the fact that she was a politician, displacing her real achievements with an essentially trivial anecdote. Churchill had a lot of style and charm, but, had he lost the War, no-one would give a damn. And quite right too.

So what did Mo achieve? Devolved Parliament? One week every two years before it collapses. Democratic normalisation of Sinn Fein? No-one believes that. Bertie Ahern didn't exactly get a lot of flak for stating the obvious. An end to violence? Tell that to the McCartneys. An end to criminal activity, perhaps? Largest bank robbery in UK history. How about an end to terrorism? Aye, right. Strategic lull, more like. Perhaps, despite the IRA's intransigence, Mo made some progress at disarming the loyalist "paramilitaries"? Oh, except that they're currently conducting a blood-feud in broad daylight, prompting calls for the troops to be redeployed to Belfast's streets.

No, Northern-Ireland-wise, Mo's main achievement was getting Gerry and Martin into positions of power. She made a murderer Minister of Education. Thanks for that, Mo. She also succeeded in persuading the UUP and the SDLP to go along with the peace process long after it had become apparent to everyone, even Americans, that the IRA were taking the piss. In return for the concessions they made, neither the UUP nor the SDLP ever received any of the progress that Mo had assured them would be forthcoming from the IRA. The electorate tend not to vote for people who repeatedly fall for obvious cons, so the DUP and IRA are now the province's two most powerful parties. The centre parties were destroyed by Mowlam's policies. Whether that's what she set out to achieve isn't the point. It's still her achievement. It's her lasting legacy. Which is a shame; she certainly deserved better. But life doesn't give us what we deserve; it gives us what we get.

Anyway, in his writing, Lee Jones has demonstrated a number of reasons why he should never bother to open his mouth on these subjects. It's not that I disagree with him. It's that he simply knows fuck all.

First of all, he says this:

If [the IRA] were really a "hated minority" then they could never have had the community support that allowed them to operate.

I've asked Lee to clarify whether he's saying that the IRA weren't a minority or weren't hated, but he's deleted my question. However, he did later say

I'm not saying they had the majority support

so it looks like he's saying they weren't hated. That'll be news to everyone on this island. Even the IRA's keenest supporters aren't so deluded as to think the organisation's popular.

I noted that Lee didn't like Ian Paisley, so mentioned to him that one of Mowlam's indirect achievements was the rise to dominance of Paisley's party. Lee's response was just class:

I note you again attribute the rise of a political party, this time the UUP, to Mo Mowlam.

This man is, apparently, studying International Relations at Oxford, yet he doesn't know enough not to comment on Northern Irish politics without first finding out the difference between the UUP and the DUP. This is like writing about Westminster politics without distinguishing between Labour and the Lib Dems. Hey, Charles Kennedy is Prime Minister! Oh, is it Blair? Well, same difference! I'd happily put it down to a typo, except that he repeated the mistake a few times — even saying that the UUP "have made enormous gains out of the process in NI, easily as much as Sinn Fein" — and deleted my comment when I pointed out to him that the UUP are down to just one seat in Parliament, which constitutes an enormous loss.

Hilariously enough, having demonstrated that he doesn't even know who the Northern Irish electorate vote for these days, he says

you recognise that ordinary people putting ballots in boxes come into the equation somewhere -- but presumably only at the juncture that serves your particular world view.

If his blog were a parody, that would be a work of genius.

In my experience, this is what pisses off the Northern Irish: the total and utter comprehension failure of the English. The destiny of this province is, to a significant extent, at the mercy of people as ignorant as Lee. It's kind of exasperating, for all sides.

Anyone still interested in this little bunfight can head on over to Lee's place, read his pontifications, and note how kind I've been in not mentioning his photograph. And no, Lee, that's not an ad hominem argument; it's an insult.

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