Tom Kelly in the Irish News today makes a point worth re-iterating in the case of Seamus Mallon:
Mallon is an erudite, eloquent but earthy politician. Listeners immediately get what he is saying. There’s no gobbledegook peace-nik speak, no motherhood and apple pie sweet nothings and certainly no pan European fudge eulogising about Franco-German love ins. Mallon like Seamus Heaney does his digging with language. And he did it in spades on the aptly named programme “For the record- Seamus Mallon.”
Mallon has a story to tell and it’s a pity that he has taken so long to tell only part of it. To seasoned observers some of Mallon’s comments only served to demonstrate how the SDLP was robbed of a chance to have this man lead it. His reference to the SDLP having “mortgaged their credibility” to bring Sinn Fein in from the cold would have been spine-chilling listening for some in the SDLP-particularly amongst those whose unswerving loyalty to Hume-Adams process rather than a SDLP-SF process blinded them to good old fashioned common sense and political nous.
Which suggests there’s been a disconnection between language and purpose: ie the words that people say and what they actually intend to do. In ‘giving up’ the party has already, suggested Mallon, handed on the baton to Sinn Fein.
But the effects are more general than electoral losses to the SDLP. Lack of long term political vision ensures we lean on a cocktail of unaccountable populism, technocracy and opportunism. As Kelly rightly notes, Gobbledegook for the most part.
This in turn has led to disengagement amongst the northern nationalist middle class, the former base territory of the SDLP. The knock on corollary is that political nationalism is leeching both support and coherence.
In order to compensate for a lack of long term vision (beyond, ‘just trust us’) and maintain a fundamentalist appeal to their respective bases both OFMdFM parties focus on making short term appeals to their own exclusive tribalist bases.
The casualty is the undermining of public confidence in even the possibility of meaningful partnership politics. At which point back to Mallon, or rather back to Orwell…
If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty