Institutional discrimination is dead. Identity politics has become an entertainment

Even the most inventive of columnists run out of material in the dog days of August.  So Alex Kane treats us to a little rant in the Irish News.

The constitutional question remains at the heart of all political debate here; yet that question is louder and more pressing than it has been in my lifetime. This point was always coming, of course.

As long as there were nationalist choices for one community and unionist choices for the other the question was never going away.

That’s why Alliance is stuck. That’s why no real alternative choices have emerged in almost a century.

That’s why, even in the absence of terrorist campaigns and with a requirement for mandatory power-sharing and in-built vetoes for each side, we still don’t have consensus and genuine cooperation.

So much  comment is hung up on identity politics, witness what will inevitably follow this post. Identity politics has in fact changed radically in the past 20 years. It has become an entertainment that in its latest refinement  allows the politically minded to dream about a alternative to deadlock.

But there is another vision which all the parties signed up to. It’s called a shared future. Don’t all scoff.  Although a few experiments were signed off  the parties have never even attempted to agree a definition, never mind a create a major programme.

Whether you believe in the viability of a shared future or not, contemplate the idea honestly for a moment. If you do, you will reveal  to yourself the pessimism,  cynicism and fear that lurk behind  overstressed identity politics.   The strongest adherents of identity politics are often the most ardent cherry pickers over the Agreements, selecting bits to hurl into the wrangles over identity and using them as raw material to fashion a partial narrative as  lovingly as honest toilers build  a dry stone wall.  The result is the avoidance of  complex reality in favour of  imagined states, a preference for insisting on rights over responsibilities and an obsessive blame game for sins that grow progressively pettier.

If you take the GFA all of a piece, it is the ideal compromise. That is its strength. Its weakness is that as a compromise, it is defined by its distance from the extremes. The term, a shared future, devised by someone (who?) as the slogan for power sharing was the token attempt to give cooperative government an independent life.

It seems there is noone in the leading parties willing to uphold the basic Agreement all of a piece as a real settlement for our time, even though it  creates space for all sorts of development in every direction. No one is trapped in an institutional laager any more .That is its great achievement.  The people have hugely benefited  in daily life. Many perhaps most, are aware of the disconnect from politics and yet are helpless about making new connections. There are thousands upon thousands who may have national preferences but want to get on with a normal outward -looking life and do not think of political identity as  nirvana. Fewer of them are voting and the parties’ main tactics of persuasion are to keep up the fear of the other side and yesterday’s hackneyed notion of patriotism and introverted “culture”.

Most politicians  pocketed the results  of the achievement  and reverted to their old game, secure in the knowledge that it can  be indulged with only a trickle of  people getting murdered these days.

The fault dear Brutus lies in ourselves.  Who honestly  believes constitutional change would  change our collective  behaviour?

That’s my little August rant. I’m off to Croatia where they need no lessons in identity politics.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London