It is not necessary to be a pessimist much less a fatalist to feel we are living through a moment of great change, a moment of great reversal. It is impossible not to think we are witnesses to hard-won ground being lost to forces and ideas long thought consigned to history. It is also difficult, but important, to remain engaged, not to be cowed by stridency or a feeling of powerlessness.
Brexit and the lines of dominoes it tumbles regardless of consequences is one source of dismay, the Trump presidency another. The fractured, deeply divided nature of British politics, still far more relevant to us than we might care to admit, another. So too is the nature and consequences of Britain’s election — just five weeks away.
The vocal, aggressive, xenophobic minority criticised so forcibly, and rightly, by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday because they are happy to stoke fears around immigration to serve their own dark ends is another. Borderlands criminality and the all-too-close ripples of people trafficking cannot be ignored either.
There are, unfortunately, many others but Britain’s December 12 election has assumed a relevance for this Republic few other modern elections have had. The relentless flight, through resignation or retirement, of those who might be described as moderate Conservatives from Boris Johnson’s increasingly chameleon, hardline party is an indication of the forces in play.
Any wriggle room left for moderation disappeared when Nigel Farage launched his election campaign yesterday. He promised his Brexit party will contest every seat unless Johnson agrees to scrap his EU deal and sign up to a “leave alliance”. Farage also praised Trump for suggesting the Conservatives and the Brexit Party should stand as an alliance. Farage said the deal would not “get Brexit done” and “lead to a campaign for us to rejoin”.
This drum beating seems indifferent to compromise which must be a concern. Those concerns may be exacerbated by the prospect arrangements in Northern Ireland designed to defeat Democratic Unionist Party MPs, especially Nigel Dodds in North Belfast.
That situation is so vexed that the Ulster Unionist Party leader-designate Steve Aiken has ruled out any pact with the DUP, accusing the larger party of “besmirching unionism with its corruption and sleaze”. Aiken also pledged to move the UUP to “an unambiguously pro-Remain position”.
Attractive as the idea of a humbled DUP may be this split in unionism may benefit Sinn Féin and that is not without consequences either. Dodds will defend a 2,000-vote majority against SF’s John Finucane, the city’s mayor. Should Finucane prevail then calls for a border poll may become ever-louder.
Should a second vote on Scottish independence transpire those border calls will intensify. That prospect seems alive with jeopardy. Though many moderate remain-voting unionists see the Republic in a new, less disdainful light the idea of unity is still a step too far. So too are the economic consequences south of the border. One estimate predicts a 15% fall in living standards to pay to unification.
Stay calm and carry on indeed.