Dog Whistle Politics – a wonderful YouTube example.

8 May

This is fascinating. Much academic literature in peace and conflict studies concentrates on the escalation and maintenance of conflict and the ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ who stoke up passions. The clip shows just such a moment when a minor loyalist (pro-United Kingdom) politician in Northern Ireland makes a roadside speech. The immediate issue is connected to a decision by Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the Union flag to a limited number of designated of days (rather than the usual practice of it flying for 365 days). The speaker and her audience see this decision as an infringement of their identity and Britishness.

What is fascinating about the clip is the dog-whistle nature of the politics. The speech is almost content free. Instead, it relies on familiar stock phrases that are meaningful to the audience: ‘I love my country and I love my flag’ and ‘no surrender’. It is a single transferable speech that taps into the community memory bank of key words and historical reference points. It relies on familiar tropes and narrative framing devices. It does not challenge nor introduce new material.

The speech is also high on emotion. Terms like ‘pride’, ‘honour’, ‘bravery’ and ‘shame’ are mentioned throughout. There is the usual demonising of the other side (the term ‘Sinn Féin’ – a political party on the national, pro-United Ireland side – is spat out with particular venom) and lots of references to unity without any concrete suggestions of what this might means, especially in terms of party politics.

And for those looking for humour, the speaker begins by mentioning the historical importance of her location: Carrickfergus Castle – the site where King William of Orange landed in Ireland in 1690 on his way to the Battle of the Boyne. This is an important place in loyalist, Pro-United Kingdom politics. But then when the speaker is challenged by a heckler, she dismissed history with the words ‘If you keep looking back, you’ll never ever look forward’. As with all ethnic entrepreneurs, history is there to be used selectively.

So when the academic literature on conflict escalation talks about the ‘security dilemma’, ‘the construction of narratives of grievance’ and ‘ethnic agitators’ this clip provides us with an excellent example on ethnic entrepreneurship in action.

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2 Responses to “Dog Whistle Politics – a wonderful YouTube example.”

  1. gareth 30/06/2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Any chance you have a transcript of this already? It would be great for class. good blog

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