An Unhealthy Political Diet

There has been a lot of fuss (and a fair amount of humour) at the news that many cheap burgers in various supermarket chains have a large percentage of horse in them. Not only would many Europeans be surprised at the furore concerning this, I was flabbergasted a couple of nights ago, when a vox-pop of some shoppers had them saying that they were really appalled because it made them wonder "what were they really feeding to their children." Given that they were already feeding them the lowest-priced meat products available this is perhaps a question they should have been asking earlier.
A friend of mine is behind the current health campaign in Northern Ireland pushing for weight loss and a healthier diet. I fear he may be on a beaten docket with me and many others in this province.
However, recent weeks and particularly the edifying experience that the Nolan Show on BBCNI was on Wednesday night, made me think that actually there is another dietary problem here in Northern Ireland:

  • Feed people on a diet of fear and it ultimately produces a fight or flight response... In the broad Unionist community fear has been all we have been fed by political (and some religious) leaders for years, and those who could "fly" have done... Some young people to universities abroad, never to return, some to places where you can still work in industry without academic qualifications, but most to leafy suburbs or the gold coast of north Down. Those who remain in "loyalist heartlands" are ready to fight that which they have been conditioned to fear... 
  • Feed people the lie that Sinn Fein are only at the political top-table because of their iniquitous campaign of violence, and there is no reason why anyone opposed to Sinn Fein should chose to prefer the ballot box over   petrol bombs, especially when politicians are often only seen in an area when they are electioneering, and are nowhere to be seen when the trouble they have helped foment bubbles over.
  • Feed people on foundation myths where people pledge to use "all means which may be found necessary" to preserve the Union and die on the Somme for King and country, together with slogans like "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right" and, again it creates the ideal conditions for conflict, rather than collaboration.
  • Feed people on the politics of confrontation, through TV and radio shows that thrive on it, and it will be mirrored in wider society. It has often been said that our political arrangements in the Northern Ireland Assembly are predicated on the fact that the two main communities just don't like each other and are not prepared to work together, yet despite all the formal arrangements, including a joint executive, aimed at defusing that situation, we still have a scenario where it is effectively a case of, if he/she/they are proposing this, then I/we are against it, even where it would actually help our community... For example, the whole transfer test debacle, where, despite the evidence that the transfer test is not helping working class Unionist children (as it perhaps once did) because the Education Department is the fiefdom of Sinn Fein, no right-thinking Unionist would EVER support their abolition of the 11 plus or entertain alternative approaches.
  • Feed people on slogans like "No Surrender" and "Not an Inch", and there is no hope of them seeing compromise of any sort as a positive thing aimed at creating a shared future with benefits for all... it propagates the zero analysis of politics, where if you win, I lose, instead of creating a situation where we can all win, and there is no "them" only "us".
  • Feed people on slogans of any sort and it removes the requirement to actually listen to any nuanced argument, or to provide one... cheap slogans, or leaflets, that tap into prejudice will do nicely.
  • Feed people on the nonsense that the "Britishness" of Northern Ireland is under threat, and it will ultimately be accepted as a fact, despite the truth that the GFA recognised the position of NI within the UK until the majority of people north want to change that... and that the people of the Republic of Ireland formally recognised that in a way they never had previously... It is a good job no-one asked the people in the rest of the UK, because, given our behaviour I fear they would get rid of us in an instant. 
  • Feed people provocative language about the Union flag being "ripped down" because of Alliance Party policy and there should be no surprise that it doesn't produce a measured democratic response by the local loyalist electorate, who are repeatedly told (see above) that their Britishness is under threat... Yet who changed their policy in Belfast Council? Alliance? No, they always argued for designated days (in line with the equality impact assessment and the policy of many other UK cities); the Unionists? No, they always argued for the retention of the flag all year round, at least in the council meeting in Belfast, if not in other councils; the Republicans? Yes... they had argued for complete removal, but ultimately voted FOR the flying of the British flag over City Hall on designated days.
  • Feed people on the politics of domination and it will be no surprise when they perceive the removal of prominent symbols as a loss, and, sadly, there will be no surprise when, if "the others" get the upper hand they use their new found power to do as they have been done to... although perhaps remembering how it felt to be on the receiving end might prompt more generosity of spirit... perhaps... might... 
  • Feed people on the idea that someone else is always to blame removes the responsibility from me and mine... it's always the other side, or the politicians, or the churches, or the paramilitaries, or the police, or the yobs, or the middle classes, or the Brits, or Europe (Delete as applicable). It's never me, or us... Responsibility needs to be modelled and respect earned.
  • Feed people on a diet of "whataboutery" produces a backward looking community, that wants old scores settled before we can possibly move forward. As the Georges Santayana quote on the east Belfast David Ervine mural (and the Auschwitz museum) says "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it", but those who are imprisoned by past hurts and injustices have no hope for the future.
  • Feed people on a diet of hopelessness and they will ultimately get the message and feel that they have nothing to lose by pulling the rest of society down round their ears... Concerns about prison records for young people!? Don't make me laugh. Even if they are ever lifted by the police, never mind prosecuted, given the lack of qualifications and serious employment prospects of many young people in loyalist areas, a prison record won't make things much more hopeless in their eyes, and may gain them the same community kudos as older lags, they think without realising the cost to that previous generation of prisoners... Call them scumbags and they will live up to their name... 

We've all got to take responsibility for our own diets and taking exercise if the current obesity statistics are to  be reversed, but political leaders, health authorities, the food industry and even employers are being asked to play their part in shaping a healthier dietary environment...

What is true of physical food and physical health is also true of the political and social health of our society... We have all as individuals and in different sectors of society got to address the junk food that we are consuming and sharing, because as someone once said "Man doesn't live on bread alone..."



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