By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
In 1973 Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize despite policies in Vietnam, Chile and Cambodia which led, in the case of Cambodia, to the collapse of the state and the rise to power of the murderous Pol Pot whose crazy regime killed at least a million Cambodians.
Tom Lehrer, the American comedian, said of Kissinger’s award, “It was at that moment satire died. There was nothing left to say.”
We have our own minuscule, toy-town version here when Tony Blair made John Spellar junior minister responsible for criminal justice, a man who thinks one version of justice applies to Irish people and another to British soldiers who kill Irish people.
The very fact that Spellar was sent here at all shows the true contempt in which Blair holds local politicians expected to deal with this guy who was also allegedly in charge of political development. Of course they have only themselves to blame.
After an initial period of mock outrage both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have been happily dealing with Spellar. You couldn’t make it up.
What it does show, apart from the fact that Spellar himself has no sense of shame or irony, not unusual in a politician, is that our politicians are a spineless lot. Despite their reputations for blunt talking, even rudeness, the truth is they are really provincial pussycats, anxious to be on good terms with Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. It applies to both sides. In his biography of Trimble, Dean Godson shows how Trimble went to extraordinary lengths to stay in Blair’s good books - in his dreams. He just loved being able to prance importantly in and out of Downing Street. Where did it get him?
This week it’s clear that the shine has finally worn off Blair. Opinion polls show his popularity and trustworthiness with the voters is at an all-time low.
The leader of the Scot Nats, Alec Salmond, calls him a liar, and along with a group of MPs Salmond is trying to organise his impeachment for lying to Parliament about Iraq in 2002 and 2003. Compared to what some MPs and members of his own party are calling him, Salmond’s strictures are mild.
Yet our lot remain cravenly obsequious, forever praising Blair for the length of time he spends on the north. Even the DUP has ceased being curmudgeonly about him. In the case of Trimble and the UUP it’s amazing, given that Blair led them up the garden path beginning with the glib ‘pledges’ he wrote on that white-board in Coleraine in May 1998 as if they’d just come into his head. Pledges? Blair? Hah.
As for nationalist leaders, the only promise Blair has kept is that prisoners were released. Naturally loyalists benefited from that too. He failed to deliver any other promise he made since 1998. He has found excuses for reneging, conditions, amendments that allowed him to slither out from under his commitments. Blair doesn’t do it himself: he sends minions over here to nix the long-promised Finucane inquiry. Needless to say none of them would dare squeeze their toothpaste in the morning without checking with Blair first.
Why are our local politicos so supine? First, they all want the British on their side. They want to convince visiting British proconsular staff that they are the good guys and the other guys are the baddies.
The result? Both lots become fawning colonials. Foolishly they no longer see the British as political opponents: only ‘the other side’ here qualifies for that status. It means guys like Spellar can get away with anything. It’s left to trade unions and voluntary bodies to attack him for his right wing plans on water rates and anti-social behaviour orders.
Well, you might say, he saved our lot the bother because they were too cowardly to bring in the measures themselves, and in any case what could they do about it? For a start they could attack transient district commissioners like Spellar as if they were part of the political scene here. Chew them up. Demand to go on TV with them.
When did you last see a debate between local MPs and a carpet-bagging British minister? When did one of these guys last appear outside a 30-second interview to defend the civil servants’ decisions they signed off on one of the two afternoons they spend in Stormont each week?
Getting stuck into these jobbing third-raters Blair fobs us off with might actually get our local lot involved in politics instead of examining their navels to check how many bits of fluff add up to ‘accountability’.