Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Playing the Blue Card

Long before the term "playing the China card" was coined there was "playing the Orange card." The term was invented in 1886 when Secretary of the Exchequer (treasury secretary) Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston, went to Ulster Hall in Belfast and made an anti-Home Rule speech. Home Rule was the proposal to grant political autonomy to all of Ireland proposed in a bill by Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister Gladstone with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The pro-British Protestant unionists in Ulster were entirely opposed to what they dubbed Rome Rule i.e. the Catholics would take orders from Rome. Churchill ended his speech to tremendous applause with the line "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right!" It was called the Orange card as orange was the Protestant color in honor of King William of Orange the victor of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 over King James II. "King Billy's" victory kept Ireland Protestant and British.

This ended up as the start of a relationship between the Ulster Unionists and the Conservatives that lasted for over a century. It stymied attempts by Liberal politicians to reach a political solution to the Irish question. After the Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1886, it was reintroduced by Gladstone in his final government in the 1890s and defeated in the House of Lords. In 1911 the Liberal Party finally passed a bill that allowed the Lords to only hold up legislation for three years rather than vetoing it permanently. Home Rule was set to be introduced in Ireland in 1914, sparking a mutiny by Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish officers at Curragh Barracks in the summer of 1914. The officers refused to be used to put down armed resistance by Protestants to the imposition of home rule in Ireland. The Conservatives supported the mutineers.

The Irish question was then put on hold for four years by the outbreak of World War I. The attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland resulted in a massive alienation of the Irish population and the question was eventually solved in December 1921 by Britain granting commonwealth status to Ireland after a low-casualty guerrilla war that lasted for two-and-a-half years. The government granting this was a coalition government made up of both Liberals and Conservatives.

The last Conservative politician to attempt to play the Orange card was Enoch Powell, the politician opposed to immigration to Britain from the British Commonwealth. He was forced to leave the Conservatives and join the Ulster Unionist Party as an MP for South Down in order to back the unionists.

When it came to Middle East diplomacy it used to be the Republican Party that was the grown-up party that supported compromise and negotiation while the Democrats pandered to Israel. This began to change under Reagan and really changed under Bush Jr. Now Sarah Palin has played the Blue card by calling Obama's anti-settlement efforts "interference in an internal Israeli zoning dispute." As if an international border were merely a zone boundary!  The Tea Party has imitated the Conservatives in adopting the Blue card (or blue and white card) as the way to both oppose the national interest and win elections.  Palin the patriot. Palin the Kremlinologist and foreign policy expert.


  1. It seems like the Ulsters are a much more violent and oppressive culture to me. They plaster violent graffiti all over Belfast, and I can't forget those images of people throwing things at catholic girls going to school in a protestant neighborhood. The catholics mainly decorate the city with murals to fallen political prisoners. Thanks for giving some perspective to N. Ireland

  2. I assume you mean the unionists when you speak of the Ulsters (would this make the nationalists the Ulaids?). The republicans are just much more adept at public relations than the loyalists, but every bit as violent. Actually the youths of both cultures or sub-cultures are nearly interchangeable and like rioting for the craic.