Hillary Rodham Clinton: First Lady, State Senator for New York, Secretary of State, and now, an Honorary Graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast.
Even without the honorary degree, it’s an impressive CV, far outshining most, if not all, in public office, both in Northern Ireland and the USA. There is, however, one glaring omission from this seemingly stellar CV.
‘Runner-up in 2016 Presidential Election, against Donald J. Trump.’
This seems to somewhat downgrade Clinton’s resume. An inability to reach out to those disaffected voters. States such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, vital to victory, were lost – all states that had, until now, been loyally blue since the 1980s.
Yet still, Clinton’s recognition by Queen’s University as one of the “world’s most influential political leader, public servant and diplomat” is still very much a credible one. In her address to the packed audience, she offered a message, looking and hoping for a positive outlook for Northern Ireland.
Her speech, most notably, and not exactly unexpectedly, called out for the resumption of talks, during the “substantial” and “acute” problem of Brexit. Her solution: an interim executive to speak up and offer a much needed voice for Northern Ireland.
However idealised Clinton’s position may be, it lacks a little realism, a lack of appreciation for the instability and nuances here in Northern Ireland. She may have made regular visits here over the years, but a highly scheduled minute by minute itinerary doesn’t make you the expert.
Her warm words feel somewhat like a British Prime Minister or Northern Irish Secretary of State making a quick day trip to Northern Ireland. A meeting here with one community, a meeting there with another. An address to a young vibrant audience. A short media appearance.
It certainly generates the headlines. It triggers the publicity. But what does it really offer?
In recent years of relative peace, we are in an era where what is said is not always taken as gospel, no matter the years spent in lofty public service. Electorates want something a little new. In the United Kingdom, voters didn’t appreciate President Obama weighing in upon the domestic issue of Brexit. Neither did they trust the ‘Project Fear’ circulated by the likes of David Cameron and George Osborne.
Neither did millions of American voters trust the “Crooked Hillary” who looked so much to give a message of hope to Americans. This vital lack of trust that was exemplified so clearly in November 2016 certainly taints Clinton’s credibility as an expert, especially one to speak out to the disaffected of Northern Ireland.
Her message may have been openly received and praised by a university audience of young liberal students. However, what about those outside of a university privilege? How would this message permeate with those in Northern Ireland who share the same discontents as those in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin?
These voters do exist. They are on both sides of the community. They see the Good Friday Agreement as a decaying piece of legislation. Since the historic referendum of 1998, we see a drop in Northern Irish turnout from 81% to 63% in the EU referendum of 2016. Of those who voted, 44% voted ‘leave’ in Northern Ireland. This represents a sizeable faction of Northern Ireland who are voting against the system. They look for something new, an alternative, something different.
Many people in Northern Ireland have become lost along the way, whether it's on issues of equal marriage, language or legacy. How does Clinton’s speech reach out these wandering voters? These voters matter. Tapping into these towns and villages is essential.
Anyone can talk all they like about politicians needing to get out there and get things sorted out. There is, however, someone behind these politicians, holding a vital switch. They are the electorate.
There is little point in preaching to the converted – they have your vote already. No matter how you, or I, may feel about Brexit and Trump, there must be more appreciation for the success of these two campaigns. These two movements show how it is possible to find new avenues and reach out into those homes where politics last played a part in 1998.
Hillary Rodham Clinton may have had, and still has, a lot going for her yet. However, her message, like so many others, is stale. It offers a hope, but a hope to the wrong people.
Peter is a 21 year-old English student at Queen's University. Hailing from Yorkshire originally, Peter has an interest in British, Northern Irish and American politics. He has aspirations of becoming a full time journalist upon graduation in 2019.