How David Cameron has shifted the ‘moral economy’…

Two interesting aspects of Malachi O’Doherty’s latest post on his own blog. One is the soundtrack of the crowds in Derry listening to David Cameron’s broadcast speech from the House of Commons. First there are jeers, and then it gives ways to cheers. And then this, which is actually Malachi’s response to his first commenter:

…the moral economy has shifted. No previous prime minister during the peace process has hinted at a willingness to embarrass Martin McGuinness and at the same time had the potential to wound him on his own ground.

I think that even people who vote for Sinn Fein may begin to note that the evasiveness of the Sinn Fein leadership contrasts with Cameron’s frankness, and that there is no space left for whataboutery if the Brits are coming clean. Indeed, Cameron may set up a reverse whataboutery in which old enemies come under an onus to prove their willingness to be candid and apologetic.

And if, as I suspect, we see the army accepting Saville and shitting on the heads of a few of the psychos in the Parachute regiment, joy on the streets of Derry and west Belfast will be unconfined and people may feel more free to drop the old conceits, like the pretence that Gerry was never in the IRA.

And even if it doesn’t work that way, Cameron may feel that the more shame the army takes, the more he is obliged to assuage them by balancing the blame and being frank about the IRA / Sinn Fein relationship in a way that no PM since Thatcher has.

Or, as Anthony Barnett puts it over at Our Kingdom, “the Tories now consciously occupy the terrain of inclusion not polarisation – not by accident but by design.” Cameron has subtly, but powerfully, changed the rules of the game by being seen to become  as Paul Bew noted yesterday “supremely flexible and self-critical”.

And, as Malachi notes above, that shift that will not be to everyone’s liking.

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  • Tom

    He is without doubt a brilliant political tactician. But the approach requires him to keep on board the Tory right who will increasingly hate him for this (and other “liberal”) positions. For the time being there is sufficient desire for power from all quarters for him to hold the co-alition together.

    He will become vulnerable when the going gets tough – probably most from something on Europe or an (islamic) terrorst attack. It will then be interesting to see if his strategy is as good as his tactics – it clearly wasn’t when it came to actually winning a general election.

  • Brian Walker

    Saville of course made it possible. Like all good politicians, Cameron seized the moment. But unlike Blair in 1997, he did not make the weather.

  • I hate to break the news on this – but I reckon many people (many nationalists anyway) view the whole emphasis on MMcG on Bloody Sunday as a deliberate distraction introduced for the very purpose it is currently being put to – to allow some unionists and commentators to discuss the implications of Saville without ever having to engage with 99%+ of the report.
    There is a paradox here over McGuinness being subject to evidence from an anonymous spook (i.e. where no rules of evidence of any kind can be applied) whilst the Paras who definitely had guns, and not only that, shot and killed people without justification, have their identities protected. But there is nothing that is agenda-proof in NI, is there?

  • Johnny Boy

    Our deputy first minister skulking around Derry with a machine gun is certainly something to be pondered.

  • slug

    Actually for me as a unionist I think the Saville Report is to be seen exactly as David Cameron’s words said – that is, it is painful to believe anything bad about our country, but it is right and the best thing to do, to be truthful, to seek the truth, and to say sorry when it is needed.

  • Cynic

    Its not a liberal position. The natural Tory ground is the believe in the rights of the individual, small government and the rule of law. What happened in Derry was wrong – criminally wrong – and should not have happened. Core Tories will support that

  • Alias

    I think it’s quite charming that anyone would think that McGuinness would be ‘damaged’ by images of him carrying a Thomson submachine gun on the day when his tribe were being butchered. Far from damaging him, it will foster the bogus image of him as a loyal and fearless defender of his people.

  • Cynic

    SF wanted an enquiry and got one. And it has concluded that on balance of probabilities Martin had a sub machine-gun and that he’s not telling the truth about it.

    Indeed, the inquiry didn’t actually take the spooks evidence at face value. it carefully weighted it, analysed it and triangulated it with other evidence.

  • Neil

    Spot on Alias, as usual. The idea that an senior IRA man, in the Bogside in 1972 had a gun is unlikely to come as a shock to anyone.

  • Mick Fealty

    I am pretty sure it was deliberately placed in Cameron’s speech for a purpose too John. Here’s Malachi’s take:

    “…even people who vote for Sinn Fein may begin to note that the evasiveness of the Sinn Fein leadership contrasts with Cameron’s frankness, and that there is no space left for whataboutery if the Brits are coming clean. Indeed, Cameron may set up a reverse whataboutery in which old enemies come under an onus to prove their willingness to be candid and apologetic.”

  • Neil

    There’s plenty of space for whataboutery I’ve heard very little other than whataboutery from some. The only other point I’d make in response is the situation being very, very different between the paramilitaries and the forces of the state.

    One one hand you have paramilitaries who have been pursued for their actions and where the evidence were available and the person not a paid agent of the state those people have been brought to justice. Any that have queries over them, usually because of suspicions as to the RUC’s reasons for not charging people, suspected collusion, are with the HET. So the majority of paramilitaries will have felt the force of the law before now.

    The forces of the state are coming from a different place, due to the fact that they’ve never acknowledged their actions, never been punished, and never been pursued (by themselves). David was confronted by the truth and had little options open to him with regard to his reaction.

    He was candid but I believe you’ll find the shinners have been too. They’ve acknowledged killing people, disappearing people, planting bombs, shooting etc. The only thing they haven’t done is apologise (to non-combatants) and I feel they won’t be doing that anytime.

    Finally if the argument is framed a certain way it seems as though people are talking about every single IRA action when they talk of the shinners being ‘candid and apologetic’ but there are two points. One is, as previously mentioned, many IRA actions were punished, some by death, many by imprisonment.

    If it is a case of pursuing the IRA for each and every unsolved action (over and above whatever the HET is dealing with), believe me the Republican community will want the same in each and every action where a state agent was responsible, where the RUC shot and killed innocent children with plastic bullets, and where the British army exectuted unarmed civilians – Ballymurphy being talked about at the minute but many other instances exist also.

    All that and we haven’t even got round to the actions of Loyalist paramilitaries, aided and abetted by the British state.

  • slug

    Isn’t whatboutery appropriate and justified in this context? Think about it.

  • But, how what do you think he means by the ‘Brits are coming clean’? We are still being asked to take testimony from spooks at face value (at an inquiry which was necessary due to misleading evidence previously given by the military). Hardly making a clean breast of things. Remember the previous history of celebrity informers? Sean O’Callaghan? Not exactly edifying stuff. The Infliction story did changed over time, too. It’s providing meat and drink to those who want some (any) anti-SF story out of Saville, but nothing else. If ‘reverse whataboutery’ (we badly need a new phrase for that Mick) is on the agenda, is Cameron ready to have all the spooks un-masked and named (think of all the trials where they provided evidence or you have testimoney from a ‘Mr X’)? I don’t think so – the potential damage to the state would dwarf even Bloody Sunday.

  • Anon

    I look forward to the brits “coming clean” about the extent of collusion.

    The gushing over Cameroon here has been as spectacular example of a Slugger bubble as I have seen.

    It was a neat speech. I haven’t had a single person in my admittedly limited subset of republican and antionalist circle remark on how good the speech was, how they had warm fuzzy feeling to the Tories, or how they have doubts about SF now. They were pleased that people were cleared, that’s about it. Most are too worried about the Tories will do to the economy.

    The British State has had to own up to injustices it inflicted on Irish Nationalists before. It hasn’t spectacularly changed the game. But hey, you never know. Perhaps next year’s elections will spectacularly prove me wrong. How’d they do at the last ones, again?

  • Neil

    It all comes back, for me at least, to a truth commission, whereby all actors in the past 40 years are examined. I reiterate that the IRA will have already been charged and punished for many of their actions, certainly where the evidential requirements have been met and that IRA man/woman is not an agent of the state.

    I suppose it sort of boils down to the fact that if a truth commission were set up tomorrow with 3 years to investigate and report their findings, Unionists would expect to come out of it looking better than Nationalists, and vice versa.

    So fuck it, let’s do it. Warts and all. It’s the only way we can truly leave this kind of shit behind. Anyone who refuses to give information leaves themselves open to prosecution, anyone who does give information is not prosecuted, unless, as potentially in Saville, for perjuring themselves.

  • Damian O’Loan

    This was indeed a smart move by the government, whose strategy has thus far been determined and executed above party lines. It has forced republicanism into accepting Saville for two good reasons:

    1. It is authoritative and decisive evidence, deleting Widgery.
    2. It proves innocence and British responsibility.

    Sinn Féin need to convert acceptance of these into two consequences:

    1. Because the British Army killed innocents, to suppress civil rights campaigners, within republicanism there was a legitimate call to armed struggle which the PIRA filled.
    2. IRA combatants should not then be considered automatically guilty or as less innocent victims, the same assumption as per British soldiers, and membership of the PIRA should not be grounds for discrimination.

    These are old battles that SF has little involvement in nowadays, having showed some weakness in the past. S75 is unlikely to be extended soon, the victims’ services are in chaos and the Bill of Rights as uncertain as ever. They are unlikely to try to convert this into a gain to match their losses;

    1. The British government remains innocent/The IRA remains illegal in most eyes.
    2. The British Army can parade without controversy in any city in the UK and beyond/even commemorative IRA marches continue to be fugitive and under surveillance.
    3. The British government has acquired a reputation for transparency/SF has only added to its lies and tangled position on IRA activity.
    4. Legitimacy has been equated with innocence.

    Cameron lost nothing, except a superficial slight that will change nothing in military operations. The victims’ families gained most of all. SF are in a much trickier situation than on Monday morning.

  • Damian O’Loan

    This is the question though. Is it a moral decision by Cameron and, if so, did it represent old conservatism?

    My guess would be that it was moral in the sense of serving self-interest, exactly what the post-Industrialisation Tories have adopted. It is not, I guess, what Burke would have done but there is a nice appeal to the One-Nation Toryism line Cameron favoured during the election.

    Maybe it’s a case of noblesse oblige, maybe it’s shrewd, self-serving strategy.

    I think it’s the ambiguity that will allow him to sell it to his own party. And that it’ll require a few mistruths.

  • jim

    you have it the wrong way round senior ira man hands gun over to some young lad 16/17 yrs of age while he takes cover in the local shebeen

  • mark

    “Cameron lost nothing, except a superficial slight that will change nothing in military operations. The victims’ families gained most of all. SF are in a much trickier situation than on Monday morning.”

    Absolutely. But there may also be an opportunity in this for SF.

    How much would they lose in mirroring Cameron’s statement of apology over ‘non-combatant’/’civilian’ killings whilst maintaining their stance re: attacks on security forces and loyalist paramilitaries as justifiable?

  • Tom

    “The rights of the individual, small Government and the rule of law” is a fairly good working definition of liberalism. Conservatism has (in part) historically claimed some of this ground but has also had a strong basis in traditionalism, the nation (and previously the Empire) and loyalty to its “institutions” particularly the army and the Crown. After all Widgery took place under a Tory Government.

    Cameron is pitching his tent on the liberal ground (in a co-alition with the liberals) and his threat is to his right (eg. UKIP, and the Tory right). I agree with your conclusion about what happenened in Derry and so I guess would a majority of conservatives. But there will be a surprislingly large number who don’t.

    The threat to Cameron won’t come from Northern Irish politics – its really had no influence on th fortunes of British party leaders for decades – but this type of positioning could contribute a little bit more to the discontent of some which could come back and bite him later..

  • The Raven

    Of course, it would be utterly naive to think that perhaps having sat down with Saville and his people, been given a briefing which said “David, we were in the wrong, this should have been sorted 30 years ago, the right thing to do is say sorry” that indeed, he did just that?

  • The Raven

    For some from the P/U/L community, even if the sacred cows of Sinn Fein made full admission of involvement in whatever murder or mayhem they were part of, it would still never be enough.

    Interesting comment, I thought I heard on the radio, of Adams saying he would participate fully in a “truth recovery” process. Was it in connection with the Ballymurphy killings?

    While I would welcome full and frank admissions from all, I do believe from a personal point of view that Gerry and Marty would remain – I don’t like using this phrase – “hate figures” in my own mind. I can’t work it out, as I actually have no “hatred” for the goals they pursue.

    However, I find myself (as someone who was never really touched by the Troubles, unless you count very extended family and being caught up in a few riots – by accident, mind you) unable to leap the barrier of my own prejudices when it comes to these individuals.

    There was a lot of talk around election time – and I think Sir Reg also commented on this – that it was time for former “big guns” of politics to move aside completely; for the dynasties to be swept aside, and for all the connected Troubles “names” in politics to think about exit strategies. I truly think this is the only way forward in terms of how we start to think about reconciliation.

    That being said, “new” names like Poots and Gildernew have emerged over the past few years. But my only annoyance with people like them is that they cannot run their departments properly. I suppose it’s a step forward. Somehow.

    Just a thought.

  • Mick Fealty


    Nelson quoted an 8% clear up rate on Hearts and Minds tonight, although I am not sure where he got his figures from.

  • redhugh78

    too right.

  • redhugh78

    and to think the images that are real photographs taken on the march not figments of one’s imagination actually show Mc Guinness and guess what, he is unarmed but don’t let the facts get in the way and all that.

  • Down South

    The idea of a truth commission is important to consider. I think it is the only way to stop scandal causing leaks to happen every few months or every year for years to come. A lot of people in Northern Ireland / ROI/ GB need to have their stories told and to find out a bit more about what was visited on their families and community. This is more important than prosecutions. The only problem is the involvement of the State. For a truth commission to work you would need actors in the state to be open and honest. That is unlikely – as witnessed in Saville where there were thousands of witnesses to the events. Imaging dirty war tactics being exposed by MI5 or Special Branch. Not a hope. It’s an awful shame though as you can see the unbelieveable impact antiseptic has had in Derry. It would take an act of bravery that I suppose event the IRA and the Loyalists could start off and political pressure internationally bring the state on board as it progresses.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    When any enquiry like this happens – take Hutton for example – the result changes the nature of the discourse thereafter. With Hutton, despite the controversy over his conclusions, there were things it was no longer possible to believe afterwards (particularly about the possibility of a possible government conspiracy), which had been a big part of the discourse beforehand.

    Republicans were always going to face a few problems after Saville, because any report (and certainly one of of this level of detail and authority), being nuanced and detailed and complex, could only ever undermine the simplicity and purity of previously assumed truth. Anyone – on whatever side – pushing a simplified story is bound to be undermined. It was the same with Hutton (though Hutton was of course much more contested).

    Saville has worked out about as well as Republicans could have hoped. But there was always going to be a descent from the plateau of what might have happened, to the bumpier low ground of the full truth. This is part of any process of fact-finding and clarification. In fact, Saville is about as black and white as any Republican could have hoped.

    I think they can probably live with a minor re-arousal of feelings of bitterness from unionists about Republican violence, as the comments about McGuinness as previous posts have noted. They are quite used to shutting down their empathy – a soldierly instinct they share with the Bloody Sunday Paras – so they don’t have to face the horror of what they did to people. They will continue to do that I’m sure.

    More of a loss for them is the undermining of the ‘conspiracy theory’ version of events – though even here, it’s not such a difficult thing for them to handle politically. The conspiracy theory idea (that the shootings were ordered by someone senior in the British political establishment) was never really essential to the Republican view of events – and in any case, conspiracy theories can survive perfectly well in the face of contrary factual evidence.

    On Cameron: I’m not convinced Cameron will be able to shame or manoeuvre Republicans into reciprocating British openness and honesty. He is undermined by being a Conservative, which allows people in Ireland, rightly or wrongly, to fairly easily write him off as a voice of entrenched British establishment interests. Had it come from a Labour politician – particularly an ‘old Labour’ one – it would have been much more challenging and powerful.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Down South,
    Yes, I think the Truth Commission thing is a non-starter. I took part in a group discussion about this issue 7 or 8 years ago and an interesting point was made about how the cultural differences between the two communities in Northern Ireland affect how receptive they might be to this approach. The point was – and I’d be interested to hear people’s take on this – that Catholics might find it easier than Protestants to contribute to and relate to, being brought up with the culture of the “confessional”, the wiping away of sins after voicing them. Protestant belief systems may involve an inherent scepticism towards getting a cleansing effect from the voicing of sins. The focus there is more on an internalised process of seeking forgiveness from God; other humans not being empowered to grant forgiveness on God’s behalf.

    Personally, I’d be in favour of as much openness from all sides, as that gives us the best protection against the re-writing of history. Holocaust denial is a minority sport precisely because the Holocaust was so well documented and evidenced and people have been determined no to let it get buried or massaged away.

    Those of us who are more comfortable talking about our thoughts and experiences have a duty to those who are less comfortable doing so, to make sure they count as much as attention-seekers like us do. In Northern Ireland, it is important the history that gets passed down is the history of those who are silent as well as those who talk.

  • kevin moran

    A ‘truth commission’ proposal is a joke. There is no way republicans would honestly go along with it. For example look at the situation with HET; despite the republican murder gang being responsible for the majority of the deaths ALL HET investigations so far are focused on ‘loyalist’ and security force activity.

    Why? Because the state has files, records etc that are accessible and historically per incident the courts convicted more people from the broadly unionist tradition involved in terrorism. Support for terrorism was much much less in the unionist community than in republican areas and therefore more evidence was forthcoming.

    Republican omerta still holds sway and HET is going nowhere, slowly. Any other system would produces the same skewed result.

    Also let’s bin this nonsense that the republican murder gang members have done their trime in jail. The majority of murders committed by republicans remain unsolved and there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of Marty, Gerry or their ilk stepping up to the plate in any way that comes close to the Prime Minister.