Conservatism, Unionism, Protestantism and Orangeism
The Guardian says such ‘blatant sectarianism’ will endanger the peace process, and according to Nick Robinson, the Government accused the Conservatives of ‘at best naivety and at worst cynicism’ for jeopardising the Northern Ireland peace process by taking sides in the dispute.
Just who does he think he is, this David Cameron, that he, a Unionist, should be so presumptuous as to attempt to unify Unionism?
It would not be the first time that a Unionist prime minister had dared to dream the dream of ‘Unionist unity’ – co-operation or (dare one really dream?) merger between the UUP and DUP in order to prevent a Sinn Féin victory at the General Election which would see Martin McGuinness become First Minister.
Cranmer has previously spoken of the realities which would face the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament, and why a parliamentary alliance with the DUP would be of infinitely more worth than one with the UUP.
But the DUP, of course, are deemed to be ‘bigots’.
And Iris Robinson hasn’t helped.
David Cameron has long talked of creating a new ‘non-sectarian’ force in Northern Ireland, hence the alliance with the UUP. And the Conservative Party is now committed to contesting all 18 seats in the Province, potentially splitting the Unionist vote three ways (recalcitrant UUP, Tory/UUP, DUP) which will inevitably result in one or two extra nationalist SDLP/Sinn Féin MPs being returned.
Cameron’s Unionism appears to have irked one or two who are of the opinion that it is the task of the British Prime Minister to remain ‘neutral’ in Northern Ireland; to be a ‘referee’ in the childish squabbles and a grown-up ‘honest broker’ between the warring factions.
Why should one be ‘bipartisan’ with those with whom one shares no political objectives? Why should one seek to placate those with whom one has no philosophical affiliation?
The SDLP and Sinn Féin wish to see an end to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Queen removed as Head of State and a republic established.
Why should David Cameron feel obliged to hold ‘neutral’ or ‘bipartisan’ talks with republican nationalists?
The Daily Telegraph reminds us that David Cameron is, after all, leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party:
‘...it seems a stretch to lambast Mr Cameron for doing his job as a unionist politician, which should be to find political ways to ensure Sinn Féin doesn’t end up the winner as the result of the failure of Unionism in Northern Ireland to get its electoral act together’.
‘...call me retro but isn’t it refreshing to find at least one politician who hasn’t forgotten that republicanism and communism are bad for the United Kingdom?’
The Spectator talks of ‘moving Ulster politics beyond sectarian interests’ which The Guardian (ever with its eye on the political priorities) says will raise ‘tricky questions over the Orange Order’.
And the Orange Order is, to those on the outside, some sort of weird cult on a par with Opus Dei and the Masons.
Although there is no longer a formal link between the UUP and the Order, it is noted that all the party's leading figures are members. Sir Reg Empey, ‘who will carry the Tory and unionist flag in East Belfast’, is a member.
The Guardian notes: ‘The Orange Order bans Catholics from joining. And this is what it says about the qualifications to be an Orangeman:
‘An Orangeman … should strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome, and scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act or ceremony of Popish Worship; he should, by all lawful means, resist the ascendancy of that Church, its encroachments, and the extension of its power, ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments towards his Roman Catholic brethren...’
And then the newspaper helpfully explains:
‘What that means in practice is that members of the Orange Order are banned from attending mass at Catholic funerals. No doubt Cameron will be asked in the general election whether the Orange Order should lift its ban on Catholics and whether members should be allowed to attend the funeral mass of Catholic neighbours.’
What a bizarre perspective it is which highlights ‘tricky questions’ over personal religious adherence to Protestant Christian soteriological doctrine yet ignores the ‘tricky questions’ about the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher and the maiming and murder of members of her Cabinet. Or the murders of Ian Gow, Airey Neave (by the splinter group INLA), Anthony Berry, Robert Bradford and Lord Mountbatten. Or the fact that we are in government with republican terrorists, torturers, traitors and murderers who are now intent on controlling matters of British policing and justice.
Or perhaps these are no longer ‘tricky’ questions, but rather impolite questions which are simply no longer asked.
Should Mr Cameron be asked why he is a member of the Church of England when its (rather sectarian) XXXIX Articles of Religion condemn the ‘Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints’ as being ‘repugnant to the Word of God’; and dismisses the ‘sacrifices of Masses’ as ‘blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits’? Should he be asked why he is a Monarchist when the institution is closed (rather sectarian) against anyone who ‘shall hold communion with the see or Church of Rome, or should profess the popish religion, or marry a papist’? Or why he owns a King James Bible when its preface (rather sectarian) talks of being ‘traduced by Popish Persons at home and abroad’?
For anyone with any awareness of history, the Conservative Party was born out of Tory/Whig religious sectarianism and has steered a via media for three centuries. The Party has a strong tradition of social concern and action which is rooted in Protestant Christianity and fused with the establishment of the Church of England. Edmund Burke, the ‘Father of Conservatism’, advocated a Protestant understanding of man’s ‘moral agency in a civil order’. He talked of obligations which ‘arise from the relation of man to man, and the relation of man to God’, and made appeals to the ‘grand chorus of national harmony’ which derived from the Protestant Settlement and has been sustained through the age of Empire, the creation of the British Commonwealth and the assertion of Britain’s ‘continuing role on the world stage’, all of which have been shadowed by the Worldwide Anglican Communion – the universal theological expression of England’s ‘beautiful order’.
The Conservative Party, as it has existed since the beginning of the nineteenth century, is the Unionist Party. Its raison d’être has been defence of the union, and that union has been Protestant since its inception. The nineteenth-century Conservative social reformer Lord Ashley (7th Earl of Shaftesbury) argued that ‘our great force has been Protestantism... every step of our success has been founded upon it’.
The Party now deliberately and rightly eschews denominational links: one does not need to believe in any particular god to be a conservative. But British Conservative traditions have been Protestant; those elsewhere have been Roman Catholic. There is no shame in this history. In fact, it is so obvious that it is almost embarrassing to have to point it out.