SQUINTER feels the same way about the death of Prince Philip as he does about the death of anyone unknown to him: he’s sorry it happened and recognises that the man’s passing will leave many people in a state of grief.
At the same time, Squinter has strong thoughts about the British Royal Family and about the Duke of Edinburgh’s troubling history of… what shall we call it?... colonial paternalism – that’ll do. But although Squinter has robust objections to the above, and although he pays for the whole monarchy thing, he just decides to keep quiet because he realises that other people feel very differently; and rehearsing familiar republican arguments at this time is likely to come across to many as pretty crass.
That is not to say, however, that he thinks everyone should do the same. You feel so strongly about it that you simply can’t keep quiet? That’s your call. You outraged over the deference being paid to a man not known for treating other races with even basic courtesy? Knock yourself out. You’ve literally paid for the right do do it.
But if you do speak out, be prepared to endure the wrath of the Commiseration Commissariat. Because out there is a large and vocal body of people who are considerably more interested in what you’re doing than in what they’re doing themselves. Their position is that every single one of us should be bowing our heads till our chins touch our chests, and yet they insist on looking up and sideways to check that everybody is doing what they want them to do.
In his list of 14 characteristics of a fascist state, the Italian writer Umberto Eco, a child of the Mussolini generation, has at number four and five respectively ‘Disagreement is treason’ and ‘Fear of difference’. And the insistence that everyone stop what they’re doing and metaphorically don a black tie or mantilla has a foot in both these identifiers.
And so we have the Tory newspapers in England and the unionist newspapers here not only filling their pages with vast acres of increasingly vacuous fawning, but also firing furious broadsides at anyone who doesn’t act as they’re supposed to act. And so we have hysterical reporting on the ‘fury’ of ordinary people at the fact that over 100,000 complaints had been made to the BBC about the wall-to-wall coverage of the royal death without mentioning that it was ordinary people doing the complaining. And we have Glentoran FC put in the stocks and pelted with rotten fruit for failing to have a minute’s silence before a match.
None of which is to say that the UK is a fascist state; rather it is undeniably the case that a worrying number of Umberto Eco’s other fascist red flags are being raised every day in Toryland.
• Contempt for the weak:
Immigrants; welfare claimants; racial minorities; women; LGBTQ.
• Populist demagogues as ‘The Voice of the People’:
Nigel Farage; Tommy Robinson; Katie Hopkins.
• Impoverished vocabulary – meaningless slogans rejecting critical or complex thinking:
Cancel culture; the ‘Woke’ generation; cultural Marxism; virtue-signallers.
• The rejection of modernism and rationalism:
The sidelining of expert voices in favour of loud voices (Brexit and Covid, anyone?); the labelling of further education institutions as socialist hotbeds; the equivalisation of climate denial with available evidence.
• Disagreement is treason:
Parliament; House of Lords; judges; Remainers.
Clearly, with a political establishment and media that demand uniformity of grief as well as belief, the UK is still some way short of Nuremberg rallies, but if the black ties aren’t out for the funeral of British democracy yet, it’s probably wise to start thinking about getting your dark suit dry-cleaned.
Arlene speaks and Ulster dares to hope
ARLENE Foster wasn’t well during the Battle of Lanark Link last Wednesday night. We know this because she appeared via videolink at a special sitting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday morning with a voice like a chainsaw on corrugated iron. (No, you wretched ingrates – it was not an improvement.)
But even though she was struck by illness, her loyal Ulster spirit ensured she wasn’t laid low. And so it was that she was following unrest at the West Belfast interface during which a photographer was assaulted and a petrol bomb bucked through the front door of a bus.
Setting down her Lem-Sip and removing the cold compress from her burning brow, she took to Twitter to express her righteous indignation. “This is not protest,” she thundered. “This is vandalism and attempted murder.”
Now Arlene didn’t say whether the photographer getting blattered was attempted murder and the bus getting torched was vandalism or it was the other way round. But we cheered lustily as she let the Shankill rioters have it with both barrels. “These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism.” And a little nation dared to hope.
Dared to hope that after meeting the UDA and the UVF to get their thoughts on the socio-economic implications of continued regulatory alignment with the EU, she had seen the error of her ways and was reclaiming Ulster for the good people.
“They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland,” she continued, warming to her theme, as across the Pravince trumpets sounded and church bells pealed, “and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Féin.”
Which is where the air went out of her balloon with a protracted squeaky fart, during which silence fell across our cities and towns as people tried to make sense of what the woman had just said.
Not that what she said took long to process – the delay was occasioned by countless thousands asking themselves the question “Did she really say that?”
But say it she did. She said that attempted murder serves to take the focus off the real law breakers, meaning politicians who had attended a funeral allegedly in breach of existing Covid regulations. And in this lucky little corner of the world the maximum sentence for attempting to kill a person is life imprisonment, while the maximum sentence for a first breach of Covid regulations is an eighty-quid fine.
Now Squinter has had some trippy experiences as man and boy in Belfast. And up to now getting burnt out by his own MP was probably shading it in terms of what-the-actual-feckery. But he has to say that being led by a First Minister who thinks that breaching Covid regulations is a more significant act of illegality than petrol-bombing a double-decker is something that takes a lot of adjusting to.
Where do we go after this? What might be worse than placing a burning car on the Belfast-Derry railway line? Driving in the Glider lane? Putting pizza boxes in your recycling bin? What could outstrip the UVF forcing Catholics out of Carrickfergus in terms of flagrant illegality? Having no light on your bike? Smoking outside the Royal A&E?
But perhaps the most important question that the episode begs is this: If the people who petrol-bombed the bus are ever caught, should they be given time to pay the fine?