By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
Our beautifully maintained proconsul has been putting himself about a bit recently - big interview on the BBC Politics Show - not just the locally broadcast bit - and big interview in Monday’s edition of the New Statesman.
What’s it all about? What’s he saying?
The local media naturally focussed on his remarks about our own politicians’ obsession, Dublin and London’s attempts to get the assembly up and running again.
Our proconsul warned assembly members that if they didn’t reach agreement, their salaries would stop and the assembly close, blah, blah, blah.
“It’s a crunch time,” he said. That at least had the ring of truth.
Until the stop-go nonsense of the last eight years, the phrase ‘crunch time’ had an air of finality about it.
Remember the last crunch time, March 8? Now, with an ‘a’ in front of it, you can have any number of ‘crunch times’. With this guy it’s a meaningless phrase.
Strangely, no-one seems to pay any attention to the egregious claims our proconsul made elsewhere in his interviews.
Both the BBC’s and the New Statesman’s reporters seemed to have been taken to the same locations and they both got the same impression. One called the proconsul a ‘feudal lord’, the other talked about his ‘fiefdom’.
The New Statesman told us he “loves his castle”.
They got the idea he had waved a magic wand and a series of projects had sprung spontaneously from the earth - earth, it has to be said, within 100 yards of the Shankill Road. Wait till you hear this.
“In nine months in the job, Hain has abolished the 11-plus, introduced Brownite schemes such as the Sure Start programme and dawn-to-dusk schooling.”
Really? There’s more.
The touring reporters saw ‘a series of Hain-inspired projects - a childcare centre on the Shankill Road, a government-funded carpentry training workshop for the unemployed, new-build social housing with solar panels’.
Now, you knew our proconsul plans to abolish the Housing Executive and hand housing over to sectarian councils like Lisburn and Ballymena but you didn’t know he had already done it and, what’s more, could get planning permission, design and build houses in nine months, did you?
You thought Martin McGuinness abolished the 11-plus and that the Sure Start programme was up and running ages ago along with training workshops. Of course, no-one had ever heard of a childcare centre until Hain arrived.
You gotta hand it to this guy for sheer nerve, cheek, chutzpah or just plain effrontery.
He knows you can tell English reporters anything and being able to walk around among ‘the peepul’ makes good film footage. It’s a perfect example of the sort of waffle and spin which has sickened people with this government.
How did the journalists get the idea the sites they were brought to in his ‘fiefdom’ were examples of ‘the Hain experiment’? They didn’t just work that out for themselves. Someone must have sold that line.
Who could it have been?
However naive and ignorant about the north they may be, they aren’t completely gullible of course. They sought a motive for this sudden access to the north’s feudal lord and quickly found one.
“It all feels like a campaign trail,” the New Statesman concluded. What for?
Apparently our proconsul sees himself as a sort of intermediary between the Blairite and Brownite wings of the Labour party.
He’s been smarming and greasing his way up and down England on the Labour grassroots rubber-chicken circuit presenting himself as a non-aligned, honest broker who can bridge the gap between the British government and ordinary party members disgusted with Iraq, Tessa Jowell, peerages for sale and the rest of the sleaze. Certainly better than wasting his time in the north.
To what end? Couldn’t be for altruistic purposes. If ever there was a politician on the make it’s this guy. He’s spotted a gap, you see. When Blair goes and Brown, or someone else takes over, there’ll be need for a deputy prime minister.
Now the position is as much use as a cow’s fifth tit but its infinitely preferable to running the last vestiges of the British empire on the Celtic fringes in Wales and the north.
In his dreams.