Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Nuala McKeever: Yes, we’d all love to get beyond bread-and-butter politics, but...

All hail the great new era for Northern Ireland. Sorry, The North!

Sorry, The Occupied Six Counties! Sorry, Up There! Our glorious leader (Peter Robinson, First Minister) has announced that this election will be the first one to be fought on ‘everyday issues’.

Aye, right.

Jobs, education, tougher sentences for attacking old people (why just old people? Did they threaten to descend on DUP headquarters and bombard him with Daniel O'Donnell hits 24/7 if he didn't single them out for support?), health services and, of course, a shared future. Them's the priorities, he says.

Oh, and strengthening unionism. Of course. That's a biggie too. That hasn't gone away y'know.

Well, forgive my scepticism but isn't that like one of those sentences people trot out all the time?

“I'm not a racist, but ” “I'm not sectarian, but ” “I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool, stuck-in-the-past old fuddy duddy, but .”

The ‘but’ is like a megaphone shouting, “Everything I've said before the but is a load of rubbish, just ignore it.”

And so it seems to be.

On the surface, it's all economics and mature debate on corporation tax reduction.

But underneath, it's, “Quick, form an alliance with someone. No, not the Alliance (bunch of lily-livered fence-sitters). Someone who'll help us keep that Fenian McGuinness off the top spot.”

(Even though it's not really the top spot because the First and Deputy First Minister are, strictly speaking, meant to be equal.

But sure, we all know no-one believes that because every time you hear the word ‘first’ you automatically assume it means first, as opposed to ‘equal’.

I mean, who ever heard of anyone coming equal in the Olympics?).

Y'see, that's the thing with people. We don't go by the rules and the ‘what it's meant to sound like’. We're kind of literal.

Ok, we're sophisticated enough to order Indian takeaway food from foreign-sounding men down the telephone when we're half-cut of a Saturday night and not get the pronunciation all that wrong but when it comes to politics — well, somehow, we always revert to the basics. If we were being asked, for example, to choose between a lamb pasanda and a chicken dansak on May 5, most of Northern Ireland would probably make a well-informed choice, based on taste and experience.

But put before us a choice between Prod Reasonable or Prod Moron-But-Very-Patriotic and Taig Reasonable or Taig Moron-But-Very-Patriotic and we'll still go: “I'll vote for whoever m'Ma an' Da voted for.”

Sadly, we've got more finesse with the prawn masala than with the political mandate.

Peter Robinson won't be the only one telling us that this May’s election's going to be fought on the ‘bread and butter’ issues, or ‘ciabatta and olive oil for dipping’ issues, for those in north Down.

But behind the reasonable-sounding rhetoric, the border question and everything associated with it — identity, fear, separatism, lack of trust and black-and-white thinking — lurks like some big unwashed, uncivilised family member.

You just know it's going to rear its ugly head and gatecrash polite proceedings the minute there's any perceived threat to one side's identity.

If ‘everyday’ politics was really at the heart of our parties' manifestos here, then they wouldn't need to run under unionist/republican banners.

While there's still talk of pacts along sectarian lines, all the ‘everyday issues’ stuff is just icing on a mud pie.

Looks good, but you wouldn't wanna eat it.

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