Febrile. That’s the word they like to use about politics these days. Probably because they know most of us have to guess what it means or look it up, which makes commentators sound smart. Or so they think. My dictionary tells me it means feverish, a high state of excitement. Which a lot of politics isn’t. In fact I seem to remember Gerry Adams using the word ‘drudgery’ at one point about the work that needed doing.
But last week, it was all on our screens and feverish, excited didn’t begin to cover it. Boris Johnson came back from the US and, far from being crest-fallen at having been founded breaching the law by the UK’s Supreme Court, he was his usual oofish self and in no time had his opponents going purple in the face and yelling blue murder. Some of them left the chamber of the House of Commons in tears, although they didn’t show us that. And the British Prime Minister? Totally in control. Just winding up his opponents and the populace until you really did feel there’d be violence done to someone. As one commentator said – maybe Mark Carruthers on THE VIEW (BBC ONE), it was like our politics – sneering, lying, shouting, teetering on the edge of violence – had been transported to the mother of parliaments.
The British secretary of state was interviewed in that big busy hall-place at the House of Commons and asked about the chances of the PM getting a deal. Julian Smith didn’t so much sound like a man on automatic pilot as a man on drugs which slowed down your speech and your ability to think.
To a question about violence, which Sylvia Hermon had said threatened with a hard border, he said that’s why he was urging for there to be a deal. Woooooaaa. So that’s why they made him SoS. He realizes tha a no-deal will up-end some very nasty stones, from under which a lot of very nasty things could come scuttling. When Sammy Wilson was asked the same question, he said “She’s like a broken record, she goes on and on about this. First of all, she says there’s going to be border posts which dissidents are going to attack. There aren’t going to be any border posts! The British government have said they’ll not be putting any up on the British side, the Irish government have said they’ll not be putting any up on the Irish side.”
Well hey, Sammy. First of all, as you like to say, both sides of the border are in Ireland, and therefore both sides are Irish. Second of all, would you care to make a small wager on that? Whatever about the British, you may be sure the EU will see to it that a clear line exists between the EU and the non-EU, in this case the south of Ireland and the north of Ireland. If you think the EU is going to allow its side to be flooded with all sorts of wonky standards which the UK will be prepared to adopt, you’re a bit heavier into the drugs than I thought. In fact, the EU and the south of Ireland have conceded that there will have to be ‘checks’, and there’s really only one place those ‘checks’ can happen, and that’s at a border. Ever consider, Sammy, the question of immigrants, who could stroll up north and flood the Precious Union if there’s no border?
Tom Kelly, a former aid to Tony Blair (I had this funny notion Tom Kelly wrote for that Venerable Organ the Irish News. Maybe I’m taking the wrong drugs.) Anyway, Kelly said he’d never seen anything like it. “I couldn’t help but remember Terence O’Neills ‘Ulster is at the crosssroads’ speech. Britain is at the cross-roads…It was totally calculated and straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. ..It’s what in our trade we call the dead cat strategy. You want me to talk about something I don’t want to talk about? Here’s a dead cat – let’s talk about that instead.”
Kelly is an astute man. Never underestimate the importance of distraction – Thatcher exemplified it beautifully when she sent troops to the Malvinas, so no one in Britain would see the ghastly things she was doing at home. It worked. So don’t bet on Boris not finding a way to distract while he charges for the end line, clutching the no-deal ball.
Kelly said he’d never rated Boris Johnson too highly on the self-awareness scale, but that he should have advisers telling him not to alienate people he’s going to need, and need badly. “If they’re not telling him that, they’re not doing their job.”
I know it’s all deadly serious but I tell you, political TV with this kind of high drama doesn’t come along too often. To watch a British prime minister, egged on by the DUP, doing all he can to damage himself and his country, is a sight to behold. The sooner the Irish government starts building that citizens’ assembly for a united Ireland, the better for all of us, nationalist and unionist.
I don’t believe it. I’m out of space already. And I haven’t mentioned those two supremely contrasting figures in the US, Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. As Trump is finally being called to account as he heads for the impeachment cliff, Johnson is finally being cornered, and it’s not a pretty sight either.