Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Twinned with Nashville
















In what is, one hopes, to be the Blether Region's last comment on the Alliance Party for a time, we present two quotations, the first of which is one of the final posts from the late Horseman.

"Alliance is a party of a particular group – middle-class and suburban, both Protestant and Catholic, in the Greater Belfast area. Its failure to appeal either to working class people in Belfast or elsewhere, or to rural and small-town people, is an indication of its own limitations. As a party of the Belfast middle-class – probably primarily those employed in the public sector – it cannot truly understand the needs or wants of those who are not well-employed, pensionable, educated and urbane. In a large country such a self-limiting party may carve out a niche, but in a small region like Northern Ireland – and restricted to an even smaller part of that region by its own lack of appeal – the party will have to struggle to remain relevant."

The second comes from Belfast Media this week:

"The word inclusion means nothing if it means including only those things that pass the Alliance Party's 'what would North Down say?' test. True inclusion means tolerating, if not embracing, those things that are alien to a person’s own culture and experience."

In addition to recognising others' rights, linguistic and cultural, that means not caving in to the seductive simplicity of benevolent despotism and instead adhering to some basic principles of local democracy, such as the right of local councils to decide on their own welcome signs. One might have thought that, of all parties, one with only sub-regional appeal would have realised that, but apparently not.

To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, one almost wishes that the Alliance Party would dissolve the people and elect another. Unfortunately, the Alliance Party seems to think that too, ignoring the running sore of the blatant double standard vis-à-vis Scotland and Wales in favour of the comforting mantras of "dreary steeples" exceptionalism.

To speak of "fiscal responsibility" when the signs in question will cost at most a few million pounds spread across 26 local authorities is extravagant rhetoric indeed. It is also a peculiarly ironic phrase to use, given that, until the recent decision to implement a modest levy on plastic bags, the only layer of Government raising even a part of its own revenue in Northern Ireland was local government. And those elected to district councils have no d'Hondt system to ensure quasi-permanent access to power when they fail.

It is time to give local authorities the freedom to acknowledge the cultural concerns of their communities. If they waste money on signs, if they wilfully and continually plant them where they end up being destroyed, if they abuse them in a manner that is political rather than cultural, let people vote them out — locally, for their local peccadilloes. There are, after all, two Nationalist and two Unionist parties, and it could be that the end result of the exercise will be that everyone adopts the Alliance Party policy, democratically. One imagines that it would be news, and a quite justified cause for anger, if spending on such signs ever reached a penny in the pound of rates revenue.

Among the sample road signs included in the Department for Regional Development's consultation document was one for Belfast. With the Gaelic etymon suppressed, one is left with a bland injunction to drive carefully, and the bizarre information that the city is twinned with Nashville, Tennessee. So it is that, as citizens, we can be trusted with the information that the wage-slaves of the provincial capital lap up syrupy kitsch made by white folks a few thousand miles away across the Atlantic — but not that their home was founded at the mouth of a tributary of the Lagan, the poor little Farset, which meanders unseen across the city, encased in a tunnel under High Street but still there.

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