Thursday, 8 April 2021

Stocking up on tinder


The politics of Northern Ireland are complex, and it’s generally a mistake to ascribe an outbreak of violence to a single cause in a society where two different identities sit uneasily together in the same space. It’s easy enough for politicians to condemn ‘lawlessness’, but that lawlessness never exists in isolation from political events and debate. It is doubtful, though, that the failure of the police to conduct mass arrests of republicans over attendance at a funeral in apparent breach of Covid regulations would be enough in most contexts to spark off the sort of violence which has erupted in recent days, were it not for underlying tension. And it is clear that at least some of that tension is a direct result of a Brexit deal which leads some to feel that their British identity is under threat – the sort of threat which a carefully negotiated and implemented Good Friday agreement had managed largely to assuage for decades.

It’s too facile simply to blame a Brexit deal negotiated by careless ideologues who ignored all the warnings about the impact on the delicate balance which had been put in place, but it would also be facile to pretend that deliberately introducing an element of instability into that delicate balance has had no effect. Calculated and persistent dishonesty about the impact of the agreement which they negotiated merely rubs salt in the wound. The tone-deaf approach of the current UK government continues to exacerbate rather than improve the situation. The PM said yesterday that “The way to resolve differences is through dialogue…”, and just a few days ago, Lord Frost, Johnson’s Brexit negotiator, said that it is difficult to see how the NI Protocol can be "genuinely durable" without the consent of "all of the people" of NI. Well, yes to both of those – and won’t both men be furious with whoever decided to negotiate a deal which involved neither dialogue with nor the consent of the people and parties of Northern Ireland?

Of course they won’t; it didn’t occur to them in advance that they needed any such dialogue or consent, and what they mean by the words now is that those on whom the deal has been imposed need to listen to what they’re told and then give their consent to what has been imposed upon them. And as a fallback, they can always blame the EU for actually wanting to implement the agreement to which the UK signed up. It’s the sort of cavalier attitude to the opinions of others which one might expect from a world king, and underlies the approach which the PM takes towards the Welsh and Scottish legislatures as well, to say nothing of the House of Commons, where he regularly lies and misleads. Absolute monarchy means that other views can be disregarded and overridden at will.

History tells us that absolute monarchy as a method of government often works rather well, from the point of view of the absolute monarch at least. Until it doesn’t, at which point there is a distinct tendency for the absolute monarch’s head to become physically separated from the rest of his body. One of the few historical certainties about absolute monarchies is that they always end, and they often do so rapidly and unexpectedly. Messy endings aren’t quite such a historical certainty, but they are the norm. To return to where we began; the event which sparks the end may be something relatively inconsequential in itself (such as, in this case, a failure to comply with Covid regulations), but it is the underlying resentment and anger which turns a spark into a conflagration. It’s hard to say what Johnson’s spark will be or when it will come, but his dogmatic, mendacious, and arrogant approach means that he’s certainly building up a good pile of tinder.

No comments: