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17 October 2016

Eastwood's selective style of tolerance could lead to problems for SDLP in future

Boycotting bigots while hobnobbing with violent nationalists is naive and idiotic, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Colum Eastwood

Consider these quotes from Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP since November 2015. The first, last April, was apropos his readiness to talk to dissident republicans: “I would go anywhere and speak to anyone if I thought it would save one life.”

The second, a few days ago, apropos various remarks of Donald Trump, explained: “As leader of the SDLP and the progressive nationalist tradition on this island, I will not give any support to such an administration, founded on bigotry, by attending the White House under a Trump administration.”

Mr Eastwood has form when it comes to selective tolerance.

He has never apologised for carrying the coffin of his old school friend, the former INLA paramilitary Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle, in 2012.

“I think we have to reach out across divides,” he explained last autumn.

There was no such reaching out a couple of months later to the boxer Tyson Fury, whom Mr Eastwood wished to see struck off the shortlist of BBC Sports Personality of the Year for his extremely old-fashioned social views.

In other words, Mr Eastwood will be tolerant of people who condone political murder, but not those who exhibit what he considers bigotry.

Now before I explain why I think Mr Eastwood’s position vis-a-vis Mr Trump is juvenile, let me clarify how I feel about the American election.

I can’t stand Hillary Clinton for quite a few good reasons, and I have lucid, intelligent friends who think she’s evil, but I’ll be distraught if she loses.

I’ve read carefully the intellectual justifications for preferring Mr Trump, but I can’t buy them.

His key deficiencies as far as I’m concerned are that he appears to have the emotional maturity of an 11-year-old, the concentration span of a gnat and is also extremely thin-skinned.

Therefore even if he were well-informed and intelligent, which he isn’t, I still wouldn’t rest easy with him in charge of a nuclear arsenal.

He is also absolutely ghastly, and while I have plenty of sympathy with people who are grateful that he is articulating their anger with an arrogant political establishment that despises them, he’s dragging America into the gutter.

I thought the political commentator, my friend Douglas Murray, summed it up brilliantly after the second presidential debate.

“After an hour and a half of brutal, bitter exchanges, a man asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump if they could think of ‘one positive thing that you respect in one another’.

I was one of the millions listening to that live who felt, like Mr Murray, that: “In the resulting pause and exhalation it felt as though the country had seen itself in a mirror and realised it looked hideous.”

However, should the American people choose Mr Trump, politicians will have to make the best of it and do business with the new administration.

There are untold numbers of dreadful people in positions of power compared to whom Mr Trump is a poppet.

He will not, for instance, be ordering the beheading of adulteresses or the hanging of gays any day soon.

In a moment of particularly idiotic self-righteousness, Mr Eastwood announced that it was “incumbent on other Irish and Irish American politicians” to follow his lead in boycotting the White House.

I realise that he is hoping to embarrass Sinn Fein, but they are far too wily to endorse this stupidity.

Mr Eastwood’s posturing has shown how risky it was of the SDLP to elect as leader someone so inexperienced and naive.

A few days ago he retweeted a particularly silly SDLP contribution: “We are now living under the influence of a government gripped by a dangerous, chilling and myopic British nativism.”

No, we’re not.

The majority of the British have concluded they would prefer to make their own laws and trade with the whole world rather than be run by the undemocratic, protectionist, imperialist European Commission.

Irish nationalists have every right to oppose Brexit, but hurling abuse at the people who voted for it is just as stupid as threatening to boycott the next American president.

Talk to dissident republicans by all means, Mr Eastwood, but make the effort to try to understand American and British democratic politicians as well.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards