Whatever became of a left-wing analysis of the Orange Order?

The John Lloyd/Ruth Dudley Edwards/David Trimble love-fest is becoming embarrassing. Revisionism is at the heart of their attempts to portray the Orange Order (and Trimble) as victims.

Ruth "we in England" Dudley Edwards has her own right-wing, anti-Irish nationalist motive. Her self-mortification, purging herself of all things Irish and Catholic, would be best done behind closed doors or in the columns of the Daily Mail. Trimble's agenda is obvious. He is fighting for his political life. This great leader took his party to third place in the recent European elections, more than 70,000 votes behind the SDLP and less than 2,000 votes in front of Sinn Fein.

Lloyd, however, is meant to be a serious left-wing political commentator. His defence of the Orange Order ("Don't trust the IRA: it's a cod", 12 July) is toe-curling. He is either unable or unwilling to present a left-wing analysis of the situation. The Orange Order has always been instrumental in preventing any effective labour or trade union movement developing in Northern Ireland. As early as 1912, Ramsay MacDonald - no fan of the Irish or Catholicism, as recently released government papers indicate - was telling the House of Commons: "Whenever there is any attempt to root out sweated labour in Belfast, the Orange drum is beaten."

Lloyd's claim that the Orange Order has diluted its anti- Catholicism beggars belief. Has he been to an Orange parade recently in Belfast or Glasgow? It is telling that the only unionists honest and far-sighted enough to face up to the changing circumstances in the north of Ireland are former loyalist paramilitaries, all of them from working-class backgrounds. Then again, they have lived with the consequences of Orange rhetoric and see little point in following middle-class businessmen in sashes and bowler hats down the road to nowhere. If Lloyd is struggling to analyse the situation, he should have a word with David Ervine or Billy Hutchinson. Ask them what they think of the Orange Order's antics.

Lloyd's patronising tone echoes that cloying paean to bigotry, The Faithful Tribe. Positively Ruth-less, in fact. Please, no more.

Brian Glancey

This article first appeared in the 19 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The transport row: who is to blame?