Posted By: April 02, 2015


An interesting an different perspective by the Belfast columnist.

Newton Emerson. Irish News. Wednesday, April 2, 3014
IT WAS greeted as another classic Dr Alasdair McDonnell gaffe. As soon as the SDLP
leader equivocated in a BBC interview over whether to support a Labour or
Conservative government, he was attacked as though he had considered shaking hands
with the devil. 

This critique went beyond Labour's socalled 'sister party' backing the Tories to
angry incomprehension that any Irish nationalist would back the Tories. 

It took former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, speaking on Radio Ulster, to
explain that the SDLP is acting perfectly rationally in its approach to a hung
parliament. Campbell recalled this was just the sort of self-interest that all
parties wisely showed during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. 

What lies behind the nationalist neuralgia against 'Tories'? The role that the
Conservative Party played in the partition of Ireland is usually cited but that is
an Orange Order level of living in the past. In more recent and relevant history,
the record is clear. Labour is the party that nationalists should have a problem
with. From the beginning of the Troubles until the end, Conservative governments
sought political accommodation with nationalists and republicans, while the period
of Labour power in the 1970s was a time of aggressive security solutions and
surrender to unionist thuggery. Conservative prime minister Ted Heath met Martin
McGuinness and non-IRA member Gerry Adams for ceasefire talks in Downing Street in
1972. It was Heath who suspended the old Stormont and introduced the Sunningdale
Agreement, with its significant all-Ireland dimension, despite this costing him
critical UUP support at Westminster. 

When Heath fell in 1974, the Labour prime ministers who replaced him - Harold Wilson
and James Callaghan - took a completely different approach. Wilson pulled the plug
on Sunningdale over the loyalist/unionist Ulster Workers strike. Callaghan and his
secretary of state Roy Mason introduced covert SAS operations and the policies of
criminalisation, normalisation and Ulsterisation that republicans still regard as
the unholy trinity of British Troubles policy. Nationalist MP Gerry Fitt brought
Callaghan's government down in a no-confidence vote because of Mason's policies, yet
thanks to the hunger strikes those policies are now erroneously associated with
Margaret Thatcher. 

In fact, from the moment she came to power, Thatcher sought to roll them back. Her
plan was for an evolutionary path back to Sunningdale via a new assembly, known
rather wonderfully as the Prior Assembly after her secretary of state Jim Prior.
This became a key vehicle for Sinn Féin's move into electoral politics. 

The hunger strikes interrupted Thatcher's plan and clouded all nationalist and
republican perception, yet behind her public stridency on the hunger strikes she was
trying to negotiate compromises on criminalisation. Her "Out! Out! Out!" dismissal
of Garret FitzGerald's 1984 New Ireland Forum, which also went down in nationalist
legend, was frankly no more than that daft sabotage exercise deserved. Meanwhile,
Thatcher persevered with the Prior Assembly right up to 1986, not even being
derailed by the Brighton bombing, before giving up in the face of unionist
intransigence - Ian Paisley notoriously had to be carried out while 'warning' RUC
officers that their homes would be attacked. Thatcher then imposed the Anglo-Irish
Agreement over unionism's head, and stuck to it despite Unionist and loyalist

Thatcher's Conservative successor John Major became the Downing Street instigator of
the peace process, talking to Sinn Féin while misleading the Commons that it would
"turn his stomach over", then continuing to do so publicly despite needing UUP
support even more than Heath had 20 years before. 

On the financial front, for those who insist that Tories eat the poor, public
spending has gone up every year in Northern Ireland under the Conservatives,
including Thatcher, while only Labour's Wilson ever openly called us "spongers". 

On the left-right 'culture war', which the Tories are most definitely losing in
Britain, it is bizarre that socially conservative Irish nationalists slavishly echo
this British culture. 

So why do nationalists really hate Tories, with a visceral intolerance that they
would call a crime if directed against any other political group? Remarkably similar
bigotry among Scottish nationalists suggests that Tory-hating is a proxy for
English-hating, where the assumed Tory faults of snobbery, arrogance and
heartlessness stand in for prejudices against the English that it is no longer
acceptable to mention. 

By the terms of those who hold them these prejudices are racist, given the racist
insistence of some nationalists that the Irish are a separate race. 

We may only hope no Northern Ireland Conservative needs to order a cake on the Falls