The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Tutored, Managed and Castrated
Would it not be easier for the government
to dissolve the people and elect another?

- Bertold Brecht

Anthony McIntyreMay 4, 2003

As a habit I do not vote. Persuaded by some anarchists who say ‘why bother, sure the government always get in,’ I see little point. But as someone who values using my vote purposefully on any election day by usually refusing to cast it for anyone in our hopeless political class I find the British Government decision to suspend elections a usurpation of political rights. Besides being a major infringement on democratic freedoms, it denies those of us so inclined our one opportunity to tell those eager to disempower rather than represent us - ‘better our ballot paper down the toilet bowl than in your grubby paws.’ While our aspiring ministers of hyperbole seek to draw comparisons between the suspension of elections here and what occurred under Pinochet in Chile, a more apt comparison with the Chilean experience should be situated in more recent phenomena. Three years ago, Katie Donovan said of the South American state, ‘it's still a tutored democracy.’ Around the same time the Chilean President elect, Ricardo Lagos, termed it a 'castrated democracy'. An equally valid discursive comparison may be drawn with Singapore which was described by Conor O’Clery as a ‘managed democracy’.

Nevertheless, and not withstanding whatever our propagandists and spin doctors tell us, Britain is not a totalitarian state and does not impose an authoritarian regime in the North of Ireland. A strong degree of pluralism remains and elections have not been abolished; we can still elect local councillors and send MPs to Westminster. The people who implement direct British rule in the current hiatus, while British state appointees, have themselves electoral mandates, being elected to an institution which a majority of people in the North of Ireland both accept as being legitimate, and actively legitimise by casting their votes in elections the purpose of which is to send people to the British parliament.

None of this, however, invalidates, the very real (if not albeit firmly held) concerns raised by Sinn Fein and others that the suspension of elections is clear evidence of anti-democratic trends emerging within the British state’s management of the North. Coupled with the postponement of the elections are the arrests or questioning of a number of prominent journalists whose sole crime is to make public the business of the public. What threat is posed to state security by the public finding out that both Jonathan Powell and Martin McGuinness think some unionist politicians are donkeys? Had the public not already arrived at that conclusion long before the transcripts of - again anti-democratic - bugged telephone calls were revealed?

Added to this has been the shroud of secrecy which enveloped the Stevens Report and the determination of the British Government to thwart a full scale international inquiry into its findings. Northern Irish society is becoming less open and more rigid - to varying degrees it is tutored, managed and castrated. And there is no ethical justification for any of these, even the last, despite many elected politicians here being fluent in bollix.

In terms of policy substance the postponement of assembly elections will hardly impact. Most people watching the political class squabble and shout, duck and dive, spin and spoof, on Insight a few nights ago may conclude that a lie detector would have been as welcome at their table as SARS. The presence of ministers with plumy British accents rather than our own home grown stand-ins for the British with their more familiar but less than BBC English inflections is unlikely to make any difference to people over here. The British can take direct responsibility for closing down our hospitals rather than have Irish surrogates do it for them.

But this is not the point. The very purpose of elections is to provide an opportunity to elect people that the government of the day may not be favourably disposed to. Are old firm matches at Park Head or Ibrox the next to be rigged so that the end result is always a draw just in case a victory for either side would inflame sectarian passions over here?

Sinn Fein have complained that the events have taken us back to the days of the civil rights protests. The danger in this line of critique is that it may put ideas into the heads of British ministers which would lead to a resurrection of the old policy of ‘some men six votes’ - all those who favour the Good Friday Agreement would have six times as many votes as those opposed. Would it be any more absurd than suspending elections to achieve the same result?

That the British state would seek to openly and unashamedly subvert the democratic process in order to safeguard its long pursued alternative to republicanism is a measure of just how determined it is to salvage its knackers yard wherein the only thing receiving the coup d’grace is republicanism. Writing in 1999 the British Prime Minister Tony Blair made his intention clear:

A devolved assembly and government for Northern Ireland is now there for the taking … Taken together with the Good Friday agreement, this offers unionists every key demand they have made since partition 80 years ago. The principle of consent, no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of people, is enshrined. The Irish constitution has been changed … When I first came to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister, these demands were pressed on me as what unionists really needed. I have delivered them all.

Intent on ensuring this major act of completion we are to be tutored on how to behave and subsequently produce the proper result - only that which dovetails with Britain’s strategic intentions whereby in the words of a British security source ‘the endgame is one of a normal environment in Northern Ireland. What we end up with is a normal British garrison.’


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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



"The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments."
- George Mason, Virginia Bill of Rights, June 12, 1776

Index: Current Articles

4 May 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Official Secrets and Official Lies
Carrie Twomey


Iran's Weblog Quandry

Pedram Moallemian


For A Free Press


Tutored, Managed and Castrated
Anthony McIntyre


Forgetting Eric Honniker
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain


Lukacs After Communism
Liam O Ruairc


How's It Goin'?
Brian Mór


Swept Clean

Annie Higgins


1 May 2003


Northern Ireland's War of Words
Brendan O'Neill


No Respite

Anthony McIntyre


Foreign Investors
Liam O Ruairc


Crowd Control American Style
Caoimhe Butterly


On Cuba
Douglas Hamilton


Hearts and Flowers

Annie Higgins




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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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