The flag protests in Belfast have been a great opportunity for ‘experts’ to come up with various ’causes’ of the street protests/riots. The media – especially the BBC – has been at the vanguard of causality speculation.
One “cause” that has been elaborated on is the “fact” that “working class Protestants” have been pushed to the margins of the “political process”. These Protestants, according to the argument, have been clinging on to their sense of identity but now that identity is under threat – given Belfast City Council’s decision to de-fly the flag. But there are a myriad of other “causes” – from high levels of unemployment to the UVF stirring things up to disenchantment with the DUP to infiltration of protest groups by the BNP.
I have no idea which, if any, of these things is correct. It’s almost certainly a mixture of them all combined with a great excuse for a bunch of kids or big kids to, in effect, wreck the place. There’s a great tradition in Northern Ireland for people to set fire to things, get pissed, and call it a party/riot. In fact I think it’s safe to predict a riot in Northern Ireland. One is pretty much sure to happen. Especially when flags are flown or de-flown.
But that’s not really my point. My point is a more fundamental one. It’s the tendency on the part of journalists to always seek causes and to package these causes in convenient “packages” with some type of doom-laden punchline towards the end of the package.
Nick Robinson is the master of the package punch-line. He stands outside 10 Downing Street delivering his reports live on air (for no obvious reason – but implying he’s been standing with his ear to the door of #10 just before he came on air). And then he does that thing. He ends with a wonderfully contrived ending punch-line. A veritable tour de force – contrived to be poignant, somewhat rhetorical and displaying senior journo insight. But, of course, we quickly dispense with all his punch-lines and rhetorical contrivances to that file of the mind labelled “of no real purpose – quickly discard.”
And that’s the point. These journo-contrived or expert-contrived summations, causalities and contrivances are all, when boiled-down, utter piffle. We have no idea if the assumptions that are made by the self-appointed experts mean anything or contribute anything. It matters not a jot to the journalists if they are wrong – because by the time that becomes obvious we have forgotten what they’ve said. Plus the journalists themselves (or the self-appointed experts) have moved on to come up with some other causality that no-one can prove.