Thursday, 7 December 2017

Sinn Fein's new Brexit campaign

This poster marks the start of a new campaign by Sinn Fein against Brexit.

Of course since Sinn Fein collapsed the Northern Ireland Assembly and since they don't take their seats in the United Kingdom parliament at Westminster there isn't very much they can do except stand in the middle of the road in West Belfast on a cold December night and watch the cars driving past..  

However I must say I was rather disappointed.  I thought Sinn Fein would have concentrated on a modern, state-of-the-art, social media campaign.

Republican women banging binlids
As we prepare to move into 2018 the white line protest seems rather old-fashioned.

Indeed with a white line protest, a rally and a mural, the only thing missing from the Andersonstown protest was that other old fashioned activity, the banging binlids, but then with these new plastic bins it's much harder to get a decent binlid these days.

I suppose too that a binlid protest doesn't fit in with the new suave image being cultivated by Sinn Fein, but then neither does a white  line protest and neither does having an MEP who advises a government leader to 'stick it where the sun don't shine'.

It was also noticeable that the main figures advertised for the rally were two of the newer faces of Sinn Fein, John Finucane and Orlaithi Flynn MLA.  As a result the people attending the rally seem to have been denied the opportunity to savour the oratorical skills of West Belfast MP Paul Maskey.

It also suggests that the ground is being prepared for John Finucane to have another outing for Sinn Fein in North Belfast where he was beaten decisively by Nigel Dodds in June.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

BBC presenter's question was patronising

Nick Robinson
Yesterday I did a number of radio and television interviews about Brexit, starting with an interview by Nick Robinson on the Radio 4 Today programme and then an interview on Five Live.  An hour later I was interviewed on the Victoria Derbyshire on BBC 2, crossed over to RTE for a four-way radio discussion on RTE and an interview on RTE television.  Later in the evening I had two more interviews and there was a Radio Scotland interview as well earlier in the day.

The final question from Nick Robinson was as follows: 'Just a final thought, I wonder if we haven't really got to the point here, which is what unionists couldn't stomach is an Irish Taoiseach claiming victory because it would look like the unionists had been defeated.  So this is not really about principle, it's about face.'

I replied: 'Well I think that's a very patronising view of the people of Northern Ireland.  It says in effect that this is a petty matter.  It's not.  This is an issue of getting the best outcome for not only Northern Ireland but for the whole of the United Kingdom.  We saw last night that already Nicola Sturgeon was in line to say that if there were some special arrangement for Northern Ireland we would have to have the same for Scotland.  There were folk in Wales we would have to have the same for Wales.'

Sometime you just have to tell a BBC presenter that he is being 'patronising'.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Profumo scandal

John Profumo MP
Newspapers are reporting the death of Christine Keeler who hit the headlines in 1963 as the woman at the heart of the Profumo scandal.

John Profumo (1915-2006) was the Secretary of State for War in the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.  It is interesting to recall, in passing, that he was married to Valerie Hobson, an actress who was born in Larne.

Christine Keeler
The scandal erupted in 1963 when it was revealed in newspapers that he had been in a relationship with Christine Keeler, who was just nineteen and a would-be model.  

Interest in the story increased when it emerged that Keeler had also been in a sexual relationship with a Soviet naval attache. 

The story also involved Peter Rachman, a notorious property owner, an osteopath named Stephen Ward, and a Soviet double-agent.  This was the era of the Cold War and there was widespread concern about the intentions of Russia and about Soviet spies. 

In the end the Profumo scandal helped to bring down the Conservative government.

There are three interesting themes running through this story.

(1) Sometimes today when we hear about sexual scandals involving prominent individuals, especially in politics, we might be tempted to think that this did not happen years ago.  However that is not true.  There was plenty of wrongdoing years ago and Profumo was only one of many public figures who lived a hedonistic private life.
Lord Boothby and Ronnie Kray

(2) Although these things happened, they were not so widely reported and even the most extreme cases received little public attention.  Lord Boothby, for example, was a hedonistic bisexual who had an affair with the wife of Harold Macmillan and socialised with the Kray twins, who were violent criminals..  However much of this went unreported because the press and the BBC were generally deferential towards those in authority.  Indeed Boothby was one of the BBC's favourite Conservative politicians.

(3) Throughout the Cold War, which ran from 1947 to 1981, the peoples of Britain, Western Europe and America, were deeply concerned about Russia and the threat from Communism.  It was the involvement of a Soviet naval attache that took the Profumo scandal to a higher level.  When we look back at political events in the 1950s and 1960s we need to remember how much this impacted on public opinion. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Siege of Derry

Memorial stained glass window in the Guildhall in Londonderry
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) is remember as the author of such popular hymns as There was a green hill far away and All things bright and beautiful but she also wrote a wonderful poem about the Siege of Derry.

O MY daughter! lead me forth to the bastion on the north,
  Let me see the water running from the green hills of Tyrone,
Where the woods of Mountjoy quiver above the changeful river,
  And the silver trout lie hidden in the pools that I have known.

There I wooed your mother, dear! in the days that are so near
  To the old man who lies dying in this sore-beleaguered place;
For time’s long years may sever, but love that liveth ever,
  Calls back the early rapture—lights again the angel face.

Ah, well! she lieth still on our wall-engirdled hill,
  Our own Cathedral holds her till God shall call His dead;
And the Psalter’s swell and wailing, and the cannon’s loud assailing,
  And the preacher’s voice and blessing, pass unheeded o’er her head.

’Twas the Lord who gave the word when his people drew the sword
  For the freedom of the present, for the future that awaits.
O child! thou must remember that bleak day in December
  When the Prentice-Boys of Derry rose up and shut the gates.

There was tumult in the street, and a rush of many feet—
  There was discord in the Council, and Lundy turned to fly,
For the man had no assurance of Ulstermen’s endurance,
  Nor the strength of him who trusteth in the arm of God Most High.

These limbs that now are weak, were strong then, and thy cheek
  Held roses that were red as any rose in June—
That now are wan, my daughter! as the light on the Foyle water
  When all the sea and all the land are white beneath the moon.

Then the foemen gathered fast—we could see them marching past—
  The Irish from his barren hills, the Frenchman from his wars,
With their banners bravely beaming, and to our eyes their seeming
  Was fearful as a locust band, and countless as the stars.

And they bound us with a cord from the harbour to the ford,
  And they raked us with their cannon, and sallying was hot;
But our trust was still unshaken, though Culmore fort was taken,
  And they wrote our men a letter, and and they sent it in a shot.

They were soft words that they spoke, how we need not fear their yoke,
  And they pleaded by our homesteads, and by our children small,
And our women fair and tender; but we answered: “No surrender!”
  And we called on God Almighty, and we went to man the wall.

There was wrath in the French camp; we could hear their Captain’s stamp,
  And Rosen, with his hand on his crossed hilt, swore
That little town of Derry, not a league from Culmore ferry,
  Should lie a heap of ashes on the Foyle’s green shore.

Like a falcon on her perch, our fair Cathedral Church
  Above the tide-vext river looks eastward from the bay—
Dear namesake of St. Columb, and each morning, sweet and solemn,
  The bells, through all the tumult, have called us in to pray.

Our leader speaks the prayer—the captains are all there—

  His deep voice never falters, though his look be sad and grave
On the women’s pallid faces, and the soldiers in their places,
  And the stones above our brothers that lie buried in the nave.

They are closing round us still by the river; on the hill
  You can see the white pavilions round the standard of their chief;
But the Lord is up in heaven, though the chances are uneven,
  Though the boom is in the river whence we looked for our relief.

And the faint hope dies away at the close of each long day,
  As we see the eyes grow lustreless, the pulses beating low;
As we see our children languish. Was ever martyr’s anguish,
  At the stake or in the dungeon, like this anguish that we know?

With the foemen’s closing line, while the English make no sign,
  And the daily lessening ration, and the fall of staggering feet,
And the wailing low and fearful, and the women, stern and tearful,
  Speaking bravely to their husbands and their lovers in the street.

There was trouble in the air when we met this day for prayer,
  And the joyous July morning was heavy in our eyes;
Our arms were by the altar as we sang aloud the Psalter,
  And listened in the pauses for the enemy’s surprise.

“Praise the Lord God in the height, for the glory of His might!”

  It rang along the arches and it went out to the town:
“In His strength He hath arisen, He hath loosed the souls in prison,
  The wronged one He hath righted, and raised the fallen-down.”

And the preacher’s voice was bold as he rose up then and told
  Of the triumph of the righteous, of the patience of the saints,
And the hope of God’s assistance, and the greatness of resistance,
  Of the trust that never wearies and the heart that never faints.

Where the river joins the brine, canst thou see the ships in line?
  And the plenty of our craving just beyond the cruel boom?
Through the dark mist of the firing canst thou see the masts aspiring,
  Dost thou think of one who loves thee on that ship amidst the gloom?

She was weary, she was wan, but she climbed the rampart on,
  And she looked along the water where the good ships lay afar:
Oh! I see on either border their cannon ranged in order,
  And the boom across the river, and the waiting men-of-war.

There’s death in every hand that holds a lighted brand,
  But the gallant little Mountjoy comes bravely to the front.
Now, God of Battles, hear us! Let that good ship draw near us.
  Ah! the brands are at the touch-holes—will she bear the cannon’s brunt?

She makes a forward dash. Hark! hark! the thunder-crash!

  O father, they have caught her—she is lying on the shore.
Another crash like thunder—will it tear her ribs asunder?
  No, no! the shot has freed her—she is floating on once more.

She pushes her white sail through the bullets leaden hail—
  Now blessings on her captain and on her seamen bold!—
Crash! crash! the boom is broken; I can see my true love’s token—
  A lily in his bonnet, a lily all of gold.

She sails up to the town, like a queen in a white gown
  Red golden are her lilies, true gold are all her men.
Now the Phoenix follows after—I can hear the women’s laughter,
  And the shouting of the soldiers, till the echoes ring again.
*        *        *        *        *

She has glided from the wall, on her lover’s breast to fall,
  As the white bird of the ocean drops down into the wave;
And the bells are madly ringing, and a hundred voices singing,
  And the old man on the bastion has joined the triumph stave.

Sing ye praises through the land; the Lord with His right hand,
  With His mighty arm hath gotten Himself the victory now.
He hath scattered their forces, both the riders and their horses.
  There is none that fighteth for us, O God! but only Thou.