SEEMS everybody’s getting themselves worked up about the issue of trans people. Banners have been put up throughout the city recently by a group called ‘Respect My Sex’, comprised of women who are desperately concerned about trans women in women’s spaces.
The banners are intended to send a message to Assembly election candidates and they read: ‘Respect my sex if you want my X’. Sadly, it’s an STV election this week and there are no Xs, only 1s, 2s, 3s and so on, which kind of makes you wonder about the political nous of the group members, but sure never mind.
Here's the thing about the trans debate: It’s entirely manufactured. Malign right-wing elements both in Ireland and Britain have identified trans people as an extraordinary vulnerable and easy target, and they’ve identified the trans issue as one that resonates strongly with ordinary people because of the deceptively simple way the argument is framed: ‘Men who identify as women don’t belong in women’s toilets.’ And that has suddenly become the main plank in the bogus culture war that’s being waged to get you to stop thinking about the fact that you can’t heat your home, that Matt Hancock dumped your grandparents into a care home to die and that Tory frauds gave their mates millions in illegal PPE contracts.
So they get you to shout instead about people who are trying to live the lives they want to lead.
And if men don’t belong in women’s toilets is a powerfully deceptive argument, the argument that men shouldn’t be competing in the Olympics against women weightlifters and swimmers in weapons-grade messaging. Deny that simple reality and you’re going to end up with your head on a stick over City Hall.
But if you are indeed one of those suddenly convinced that the trans issue is desperately worrying, ask yourself this question: How come you never thought it before?
Is it a coincidence that you suddenly started thinking and fretting about it at exactly the same time as the Tory press started to fixate upon it at a time when the Conservative Party is in dire trouble?
You never cared about trans women in toilets, even though they’ve been there for decades and never did you any harm. You never cared about trans women athletes because they’ve been competing in the Olympics for 20 years. You’re only worried about them now because the right-leaning media is telling you to. Last time it was migrants. Time before that teachers. Time before that junior doctors. Time before that judges. Time before that people on benefits. Time before that gay people and HIV. Time before that...
If you’re a reader of this column it’s highly doubtful that you fell for any of these – but as Squinter goes about his business it’s clear to him that many Irish people who would scoff at the very idea of being told who to pick on the by the Tory media are happy join the trans pile-on. Without giving it a thought.
ELECTION WEEK STRATEGY FALLS APART
HOLD the front page! Just days before an election in which Sinn Féin are ahead in the polls the party has been stupid enough to write to the dissident republican group Saoradh asking them to have a chat about resuming the armed struggle.
Needless to say, this has angered the Kumbaya peaceniks within unionism who have spent long careers opposing violence from whatever source it came and reaching out the hand of reconciliation to their political opponents.
No, wait. Back that up a bit. The letter was written two years ago and it was an offer to Saoradh to join in the conversation about a democratic path to a border poll.
What on earth is to be gained by digging up an old letter offering a discussion on democracy to a republican dissident group just days before an election which could possibly throw up a Sinn Féin First Minister? Asked no-one. Ever.
It's a familiar picture – so familiar that the only response these days is to smile wryly and wonder how many people this time will see it for what it is and how many will lap it up without analysis because it suits their own politics.
The beauty of stories like these, as anyone who has ever worked within journalism or PR knows full well, is that truth and accuracy have no part to play in the equation. In the midst of any heated political environment, embattled parties will resort to the most tried, trusted and entirely cynical strategy in the playbook – and it goes something like this…
Take an event or an incident that happened. In this case the 2020 letter written by Sinn Féin to Saoradh. You’re already up and running because you’ve connected Sinn Féin to dissident republicans. The references now are to the ‘New IRA-linked Saoradh’ or ‘The dissident party linked to the killers of Lyra McKee in Derry’.
The strategy is not aimed at people who read what’s put in front of them with any degree of critical analysis, it is aimed at the very significant number of people – a majority perhaps – who consume only the headline and the first paragraph of nearly all the stories they read. And if among those people are floating voters who are considering giving Sinn Féin a touch in the election but are repelled by talk of the IRA, the job’s a good ‘un.
Let’s talk anyway
The central argument – in this case Sinn Féin consorting with the killers of Lyra McKee just before an election – can be demolished in seconds. That’s not the point. The point is that an alternative talking point has been created in order to divert from a story that others don’t want to talk about as the election looms – in this case the eat-or-heat crisis.
And when that new talking point is debated those promoting it have a big advantage over those pointing out the rather dull truth. It’s buzz words that do the damage. “Two years ago we asked Saoradh to talk to us about the democratic route to a border poll” is not going to get the emotional response of “Sinn Féin reached out to Lyra McKee’s killers”. The first one is true, the second one is not. But they are both being given equal validity.
It's no coincidence that the SF/Saoradh story was not punted by a local media outlet, but by the Tory Sunday Times. Interestingly, it’s the Tory press which in the run-up to Thursday’s local elections in England has been running hard with a story which is another museum-quality example of the strategy deployed in the above narrative.
The Tories look as though they may be heading for a significant electoral reversal on Thursday. And if that comes to pass it will almost certainly be the torrent of damaging news stories about Boris Johnson and his chums partying like it was 1999 while the rest of us were waving at our grannies through a window. In a last-ditch attempt to deflect blame, the Tory press has resurrected a story from over a year ago about Labour leader Keir Starmer having been cleared by police of any wrongdoing in relation to footage of him drinking beer at a Durham constituency office days before the Hartlepool by-election. And the hook on which this story has been hung? A Tory MP has asked Durham police to reconsider their conclusion that no laws had been broken. Sound familiar?
A Tory MP did indeed ask Durham police to reconsider their decision in the Starmer case, so the story’s already up and running. Now a journalist asks the police if they’ve received the request to reconsider. They reply that they have and that reply is reported as ‘Durham police to reconsider Starmer Beergate decision’. This is not true. Durham police have simply confirmed that they received a request to reopen the case.
Again, the large number of people who read only headlines and first paragraphs are confronted with seemingly concrete facts which in truth have zero basis in reality. And again, voters who have been disgusted by Johnson’s serial flouting of the law at a time of national crisis are being bombarded with a plague-on-all-their-houses narrative. Which is the best that can be hoped for as Johnson’s Covid actions are utterly indefensible.
Let’s talk anyway
And so the debate graduates from the echo chamber of the Tory press to other media outlets and to television and radio talk shows, with equal validity and time being given to the bogus claim that Starmer’s a hypocrite and the stone-cold fact that Johnson is a serial liar.
Again, there is only side on this debate whose claims are going to grab the attention of the masses.
1. ‘Keir Starmer was hundreds of miles from home working in a Labour constituency office days before an election with a small number of party staff and briefly took a break for food and drink. And police agreed with that.’
2. ‘Shameless Keir Starmer swigged beer and scoffed pizza/curry (delete as appropriate) with friends the day after he called on the Prime Minister to resign for doing the same.’
Only one of these lines is going to get the phone lines lighting up.
As Squinter put pen to paper it appears that the SF/Saoradh story flared briefly and then fizzled out without dominating the last five days of the election campaign the way it was designed to. And that happened not because it wasn’t a good strategy – in fact it's strategy that’s a proven winner. It fizzled out because one of the columns supporting it unexpectedly collapsed. The Saoradh connection had particularly potency because, as already touched upon, it was the group they’re linked to – the New IRA – who murdered Lyra McKee in Derry in 2019. But when Lyra’s sister Nichola was asked by the media for her response to the story, she didn’t give the answer that was expected.
“I have been aware since 2019 of Sinn Féin’s efforts to encourage dissident groups, including Saoradh, to move away from violence and engage with the political process. I am also aware that this encouragement has been unsuccessful to date.
“I would question the timing and publication of this letter (given that it is over two years old) and the links made to my murdered sister. I view this as exploitation of our Lyra for political purposes in the run-up to the election and find this entirely reprehensible.
“The people who chose to do this should hang their heads in shame.”
They should, of course, but they won’t.