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Sunday 8 May 2005

Camera doesn't lie as ham actors Adams and Blair given away by body language

TWO of the great ham actors of their generation - Tony Blair and Gerry Adams - shared the same challenge on Friday. What are the appropriate facial responses when - in front of the television cameras - you are being accused of mass murder? 

For Blair, his few minutes of horror came in his Sedgefield constituency, during the speech of Reg Keyes, an independent candidate whose soldier son had been killed in Iraq. As the agonised father asked if Blair could find it in his heart to say sorry and even to visit injured soldiers, Blair managed to keep his face rigid and his eyes expressionless, but he could not control his lips, which - seemingly a separate entity from the rest of him - went into a sequence of spasms. 

I had some sympathy for Blair, for I supported the invasion of Iraq, but he is a congenital distorter of the truth for his own purposes who deceived the British public about the reasons for going to war. So I relished every moment of his acute discomfort. 

I had no sympathy for Adams, who deserved every accusation levelled against him by independent human rights candidate, Liam Kennedy. While Blair had made the mistake of sitting behind Keyes, in full view of the cameras, Adams had been equally foolish in placing himself in front of and below Kennedy. What had been intended as an attention-grabbing folksy gesture - sitting informally and alone on the platform below the lectern from which candidates spoke - turned into a disaster. 

As Kennedy delivered his devastating assault on the miseries caused to their own people by loyalist and republican paramilitaries and the anti-democratic practices and the illegal activities of Sinn Fein/IRA, Adams's look of feigned interest faded and a mask of rigidity descended. The massed ranks of his supporters and sinister Provo minders, who had earlier jostled Omagh victims out of his way, could do nothing to help their trapped leader. 

Finally, it got too much for Adams, and he stood up, but as he was about to walk out, Kennedy finished his clarion call to democrats and congratulated Adams, whom he described as a member of the IRA Army Council, on being re-elected. Adams strode out and reassumed his more familiar role of charismatic world statesman. Predictably, the Keyes attack on Blair was broadcast, while the Kennedy attack on Adams was not. But we have it and your reactions on video, Mr Adams, and it will becirculated. 

Professor Kennedy did not win many votes. But in a constituency where Provo domination is so complete that the taxi-drivers work as unpaid chauffeurs to the polling booths, it was quite a triumph that 147 people voted for the disbandment of all paramilitaries. And he showed Adams that some people are not afraid to stand up to fascism. 

As for the impact of the General Election on Northern Ireland? Well, moderate unionism is in tatters. David Trimble, having been shafted by Sinn Fein, has now been brought down by his own people. The only question that will preoccupy unionists for the foreseeable future is whether the Ulster Unionist Party can survive as a separate entity or whether, when God finally gathers the Reverend Ian Paisley unto his bosom, the unionist parties will then unite. 

The SDLP result looks good at first glance, but as the council results are likely to show, their success is illusory. The excellent Dr Alasdair McDonnell won South Belfast because the two unionist candidates finished each other off. Eddie McGrady - who has been a principled and outspoken opponent of Sinn Fein - saw off the egregious Caitriona Ruane, but his increased vote came from moderate unionists determined to keep the ghastly woman out. (Fianna Fail beware. Ms Ruane has form as a carpetbagger. There's a strong chance she'll be rerouted to her native Mayo to stand for the Dail.) Mark Durkan's fine result in Foyle was more encouraging: thousands of SDLP voters who stayed at home for the assembly elections bestirred themselves to get to the polls. But that didn't stop a senior SDLP figure telling me that in general the party's performance was terrible and that the grim lookout for Northern Ireland was a carve-up between Sinn Fein and the DUP - the Balkanisation that Seamus Mallon predicted the other week. 

Tony Blair is fighting to hang on to his job and will be focusing on trying to fend off Gordon Brown rather than trying to bring about another flawed deal between nationalism and unionism. The downgrading of Northern Ireland was made clear in his Cabinet reshuffle, when the job was handed to the perma-tanned Peter Hain, who will also stay in charge of Wales. 

The new minister for two-thirds of the Celtic fringe is a South African who made his reputation as a young man as an anti-apartheid activist. 

He should feel quite at home in the new Northern Ireland. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards