Monday, 8 December 2008
A Rub of the Green: What is Cameron Upto ?
For reasons I don't pretend to understand Cameron is pushing through a formal Tory rapprochement with the all but electorally dead Official Unionist Party. Slugger O'Toole is full of it. Along the way Cameron has given several hostages to fortune, including really problematic statements such as," I'm not neutral on the question of the union." Such statements seem problematic to me because they feed the 'auld ghosts' of the ur-Republican view, rather than move politics onto any kind of a new terrain. I genuinely struggle to see what is in all this for the Tories. So it feels a bit irresponsible to put it mildly.
From a distance, Northern Irish politics seem stuck in a kind of shadow boxing mode. Yes, the guns have been put away - or almost all of them anyway. Yes, we have formal power sharing - when the elected representatives can be bothered to decide they'll talk to each other, which, to be frank, isn't that often. But they really don't seem to talk about the 'elephant on the sofa': the demographic shift.
One of the ironic effects of Direct Rule was that the long term existence of a higher birth rate in the Catholic community actually began to have demographic effect, because the Brits gave more jobs to people from the nationalist communities thus stemming the traditional flow of emigration. The balance now stands at something like 43:57, down from the 1/3rd - 2/3rds split of the 1960s. Some time around 2040 there will be an adult nationalist majority. Followed shortly, one presumes, by a referendum in favour of Irish unity. But when the last British soldier and civil servant leaves there will still be a million people living there who, unless something changes, will be extremely resistant to incorporation into a united Ireland.
In this context Cameron's intervention seems...well a bit bonkers.
I also learned on Slugger that the (British) Labour Party has now authorised the setting up of a NI wide CLP, although this is several steps away from formally standing candidates in any elections in Northern Ireland, which would still require the explicit approval of Labour HQ. This too gives rise to a certain foreboding, although, at a push, I could just about grasp the logic of NI Labour candidates standing in European elections if jointly sponsored by both British and Irish Labour parties, as both sides of the argument over the border seem to approve of EU membership and, indeed, EU links are often touted as one way of decreasing the relative importance of the border in the politics of the North. But even this has to be seen in the context of the existence of the SDLP with its firm (if much diminished) base in one community but not the other. So it could still go very wrong.
In any event, Europe may be a bit of an exception: I can't quite see how a Labour candidate affiliated to the British Labour Party could possibly appeal to both communities in elections to Westminster, Stormont or any local council. & surely it is paving the way for some kind of cross community unity, to minimise the possible consequences of that '2040 moment', that is the big longer term contribution British politicians can make to the future of the North of Ireland.