Sometimes your reputation can mean people assume you’re talking rubbish, and even when you talk good sense it’s still seen as rubbish. It works the other way too: develop a reputation for thoughtfulness and you can get away with superficial tripe.
There was an instance of it on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning. They decided they’d not just report the street protests here, they’d do a little analysis of them. So since I often listen to Radio 4 in the morning, I turned up the volume. Did I hear thoughtfulness? Clear thinking? Getting to the heart of the matter? Nope.
What I got was Newton Emerson and somebody else - Máire Hendron, I think - but certainly no nationalist or republican voice. Newton and Máire going on about the disenfranchised working class of East Belfast and other areas, who feel they’re not being represented, and how the DUP was fearful they’d slip from their sphere of influence. Nothing to quarrel with there, except that it didn’t answer the central question: why are these flag protests happening and are they justified?
They’re happening because the DUP with a little help from the UUP issued leaflets calling people onto the streets. The whole scheme then backfired and instead of the Alliance Party suffering from the protests, the DUP looks like it’s the one getting it in the neck. But we’re still left with the why of the protests.
The why is because unionism in Belfast is having to break a habit that is at least one hundred years old. They have to stop seeing the city as theirs and begin to see the city as everyone’s - including those pesky taigs that are treacherous, nasty and worship statues. The fact is, the DUP’s testy reaction to Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh’s comment on poor unionist leadership goes to the heart of it. The leadership of unionism should have and even at this late stage must begin to prepare its people for change. Take the flag thing. On Wednesday, some royal or other has a birthday. So, the Union flag will fly over City Hall. Will a flag fly on any day to mark someone whom nationalists/republicans respect/revere? Don’t be silly - absolutely no chance. So it’s that vast imbalance that unionist leaders must accept themselves and then educate their electorate in. Because if you block people from their fair share in power-sharing and representation, whether in their human representatives or their representation ithrough icons, you’re simply building up pressure that will one day explode.
I bet dissident republicans have a ring-faced fund for lighting holy candles that these street protests continue, because they are-the gift that keeps on giving. Don’t worry, lads. No sign of abatement yet. The candles are working.
And I expected more of BBC Radio 4. More fool, me.