During the First World War the British launched repeated massed attacks on the German trenches: these episodes resulted in repeated mass causalities and the generals have been heavily criticised ever since for their actions. In fairness to them each time they tried slightly different tactics hoping that they would work. One problem which could never be easily overcome was the simple fact that technology in 1914-1918 always favoured a defending army. Trains could bring in reinforcements and munitions, telephones could coordinate defence. Attacking was dreadfully more difficult: internal combustion engines were only just able to power a very limited armoured tank, portable communications equipment was absent. Despite all these excuses the generals tactics were poor and more than anything after an attack began to go badly, they seemed unwilling to call a rapid halt to an offensive.
The news last week that the current British government is to give more time to the loyalists to decommission was as unsurprising as it was erroneous. The British government’s latest failure to deal properly with these groups and individuals effectively gives them a green light to continue to exercise their malign influence over working class Protestant areas for yet another year. In this case the government does not even change its tactics slightly but instead simply soldiers on with appeasement which would make Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin look like warmongers.
Exactly why the government continues with this bizarre policy towards the loyalist paramilitaries seems incomprehensible. This craven attitude to what were, are and will quite clearly continue to be, a group of deeply unpleasant criminals has been an unshakeable aspect of British government policy. Clearly not for Northern Ireland: Tough on crime: tough on the causes of crime. The abandonment of the working class unionist population held in thraldom by these criminals seems particularly sickening from a government supposedly to the left of centre and committed to helping the poorest sections of society. Again helping working class estates seems to be important throughout the UK unless it is on the Shankill Road; combating the tendency for youths to drift towards criminality matters unless the youths in question are from Kilcooley; tackling drug abuse is important unless the drug dealers in question are loyalists.
Part of the reason for this idiotic position may come from the naïve belief (coming down from the naïve idiot in chief) that the loyalist criminals in question were actually decent people with whom one could deal as one did with other stakeholders (to use that meaningless term). The British government are of course not unique in this attitude as Martin McAleese’s choice of golfing partner has demonstrated.
A somewhat more cynical analysis might also be proffered in that working class Ulster Protestants simply do not matter to the British government. In GB lower working class people are necessary voting fodder for New Labour, so despite the fact that some of its leaders may despise such people, some semblance of helping them must be maintained: certainly after the gloss began to wear off Cool Britannia they were needed to keep The Project going. Not so, of course, in Northern Ireland where people to whom Paul Smith is a man’s name rather than the minimum badge on an item of clothing, are of no importance even at election time. Our current secretary of state, of course, is a man so far removed from the realities of working class people’s lives that his analysis of their needs is likely to be as prescient as Marie Antoinette’s understanding of catering.
In this analysis the only working class people who matter are the loyalist criminals. Actually of course the paramilitaries are a special non working class of human vampires who feed off their victims usually destroying their lives except for the small number whom they make into clones of themselves. Loyalists paramilitaries might damage The Process if annoyed: best to let them continue their own activities, no New Labour votes in helping working class unionist communities.
In all this of course the mainstream unionist parties are far from innocent. The UUP seem happy to flirt with the PUP when not palsying up to David Cameron. Oh yes: actually some of them do not seem to mind if Mr. Cameron is in town. Meanwhile on the DUP side, Jeffrey Donaldson, that doyen of political morality; after a bit of political hand wringing agrees.
Of course there are also problems from the government’s own viewpoint in their current strategy: real problems, not the irrelevant ones of the blighting of poor people’s lives. The way they are treating the loyalist paramilitaries: a group with no mandate other than their guns, must surely give some hope to violent dissident republicans that if they keep going, the time will come when they get listened to. After all their level of support is considerably greater than that afforded to loyalist paramilitaries. Quite clearly the government are unwilling to face down the loyalist paramilitaries. Hence, the logic must be that republican paramilitaries need to continue and grow until they too can mutate into reasonable people for whom the train must wait.
A final factor which cannot be easily ignored is that the ongoing pandering to loyalist criminals gives some semblance of credence to the standard republican shibboleth that the loyalists were, all along, in the command and pay of the British government: why else would the government continue to tolerate their current actions? In reality the simpler explanation is more likely to be true: the government has always been utterly cowardly when dealing with people who in any other part of the United Kingdom would simply be regarded as criminals. That and the naïve idiocy that because organised criminals give their own mafia a set of letters as a name they must stand for something other than criminality. Shaun Woodward tells us that the train is leaving. However, in reality Mr. Woodward is, in this instance, actually more like Dr. Beeching and has removed the railway line in front of the train to ensure that the loyalists need never worry about its leaving. The fact that that means that the train will never reach the desired destination of Northern Ireland being a normal civilised society seems of little import to Mr. Woodward: I guess he is less troubled by loyalist paramilitaries than the residents of working class Protestant parts of Belfast.