This is the opening paragraph from a post by a contributor to the Loyalists Against Democracy blog:
“December 3rd 2013 signals the first anniversary of the restrictions placed on the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall, a decision so incredibly benign that the overblown reaction to it could only spring from a place as barking mad as Northern Ireland.”
You can read the rest of the post here and it’s worth a read but, I generally think it’s misguided and ignorant. I could go through it line by line but I think I’ll concentrate on this first paragraph because it is, like much of the content LAD produce (though they didn’t produce this), a good example of the attitude that pervades their work.
They refer to the decision to restrict the flying of the Union Flag to designated days as ‘so incredibly benign.’ To whom is it benign? All the evidence suggests that it was far from benign.
It wasn’t benign to the Loyalist community. Not in the least. As much as people like to apportion blame to the DUP and the UUP for stirring up trouble (and they certainly must take some of the blame), it’s incredibly arrogant to suggest that Loyalists were a) ignorant of the planned vote and b) needed the DUP & the UUP to tell them how much to be upset about it.
It wasn’t benign to the Nationalist/Republican community. Sinn Fein – who LAD quite sincerely claim were defeated on the night – were rumoured to have had a celebration party after the vote. An Phoblacht recorded the flag coming down – keen to capture the significant moment. SF Council Leader at the time, Jim McVeigh said:
“Perhaps more than any other, this symbolises the process of change taking place across the city of Belfast and within the City Hall. Sinn Fein has become the biggest party across Belfast and we have used that strength to push ahead with the equality agenda. This decision is a milestone. This is part of our strategy to make City Hall a City Hall for everyone and every tradition, not least the republican and nationalist tradition.”
Republicans and Nationalists speaking after the flag was taken down talked of how important it was that the city was a shared space for all and that an inequality had been addressed.
That’s not the markings of a benign decision, is it? In fact, is it really even benign to LAD when it seems to be their key reason for marking out the pro-choice, pro-equal marriage PUP as a regressive party? Yes, they are right to point out the change in tune from the PUP over their position on the flag and hold them to account for it. They may well decide that it casts doubts on the PUP claim as a progressive party. But if that’s the case, it’s not really a benign issue is it?
Regardless of whether it was actually benign or not, the attitude that others should see it as benign is what is unsettling. This and other such attitudes – telling Jamie Bryson to get a job – are what I refer to as a ‘middle class attitude.’ An attitude of ‘those beneath me are the problem and the way they stop being a problem is to be like me.’
Why call it a middle class attitude? Because it is most often presented by people who are sitting in a position of relative privilege. The phrase ‘Get a Job’ is almost only ever said by those who are lucky enough to actually have a job. Those desperate for work would never suggest getting a job as an easy solution to a problem. In this climate, it’s not the class you were born into that is relevant, but your circumstances. Having a job and qualifications are pretty much all you need to be in that position of privilege.
That’s not to say LAD are middle class – I have no idea who they are so couldn’t possibly label them as such – but their attitudes certainly are.
I understand that it’s not easy these days to assign class to people and in many ways that’s a good thing, but we’re kidding ourselves if we pretend class groups don’t exist and there’s undeniably a class group that thinks itself superior to Loyalism and the majority of Loyalists. It’s plain to see in the mocking of poor grammar and spelling. In the mocking of the clothes people wear. In the mocking of the accents people talk with. That class group doesn’t need to be made up of people in similar socio-economic circumstances; they just need to display the same attitudes.
To be absolutely clear: there is nothing wrong with being middle class, working class or even upper class, it’s the attitudes I take exception to.
My issue is that I think those attitudes are detrimental to society. We won’t get anywhere by alienating people. We need to make people feel equal within society, people need to know that what’s important to them is for them to decide and for us to respect, with the obvious caveat that it shouldn’t be detrimental for others. There’s no doubt that the approach by some factors in Loyalism aren’t meeting that criteria and it’s right that they’re criticised, but that criticism needs to be measured and it needs to offer solutions beyond telling them to ‘wise up’.
LAD will say, and have said, that that is not their responsibility and so be it. But they shouldn’t condemn others for trying. They have said on occasions that some of the behaviour and actions of some who claim to represent Loyalism would have David Irvine spinning in his grave. They might well do, but I’d wager he’d have a bigger problem with the way LAD conduct themselves.
I didn’t want this to be an attack piece on LAD – I’m not immune to their humour, and it’s right that the likes of Jamie Bryson and Willie Frazer are held up as the backward and dangerous idiots that they are, but for all the good LAD can do on that particular score, it is undone by the way they apply that same approach to anyone who disagrees with their view on things.
We like to try and pretend our problems are unique in Northern Ireland but that’s self-indulgent nonsense. Our problems are rooted in class warfare, as are most countries, and they’re best addressed by attacking the systems that perpetuate them – the fallacy of Grammar school social mobility, being one – not the people who suffer under it.
For the record, I pretty much agree with LAD on the fact that the flag not being flown every day doesn’t represent an attack on the civil rights of Loyalists. I don’t support the reasons for the ‘civil rights’ camp at Twaddell, though I do support their right to protest. The flag protests are not the cause of our problems, they are a symptom and we will never get anywhere by attacking the symptoms, while ignoring the underlying causes.
I’m glad LAD exists. Satire and parody are important, provided the right targets are engaged. Too often though, I feel that LAD have the wrong targets in their sights (though they’re bang on the money with Poots) and while the PUP may be an easy target, I don’t see anyone else trying to bring Loyalists along the right path.