Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Lazy, appalling, pointless dross attacking Tory /UUP deal

Roy Garland has a characteristically confused, rambling and contradictory piece in the Irish News, attacking the UUP / Tory deal. I studiously avoid the term ‘fisking’ (it’s too easily mispronounced), but let’s have a detailed look at Garland’s non-argument. Unfortunately he hits his stride early, and I’m compelled to begin with the very first sentence.

“Ulster Unionists have entered a formal electoral pact with the Tories on the heels of an informal pact with Jim Allister’s TUV.”


Ulster Unionists do not have a pact, informal or otherwise, with the TUV. Both parties are very clear on this point. The two groups had a discussion, which is a normal and usual thing to do in politics. Garland’s nationalist colleague Tom Kelly actually congratulates the UUP for shunning the TUV in favour of the Tories in his Irish News column. Garland continues,


“A few months ago I gave a guarded welcome to a vague UUP/Tory link-up but the TUV pact conflicts with the pluralist motives supposedly underlying the Tory link-up.”


A TUV pact WOULD conflict with ‘pluralist motives’ behind the Tory link-up. There was no TUV pact. It is worth noting though, that in this sentence Garland supposes pluralist motives behind alignment between Ulster Unionists and Conservatives. Initially he welcomed these developments. Bear this in mind as he starts making unsubstantiated statements a little later.

“Now I wonder if continuing the descent into oblivion might have been a better option than being in a Tory poker game.”


Garland is for ‘vague’ link-ups, but a concrete link-up makes the UUP part of a ‘Tory poker game’.

“Ulster Unionists had an opportunity to take the lead in Northern Ireland politics but they flunked it.”


An interesting statement, if it were moored to any manner of context whatsoever. Is he talking about pre-1997 Ulster Unionists? Further back? What has it got to do with the present UUP’s travails? Presumably this opportunity was not presented to the party within the time frame of its latest talks with Tories.

Garland then indulges in a short digression on the subject of unionist unity, which he rationalises, but does not commit to, other than indicting the UUP for opposing the DUP’s leadership. Pluralism, sharing and other such concepts are not at this juncture mentioned. It is however implied that the UUP’s Tory link-up is aimed at putting the DUP on the back foot. Now, if Garland is suggesting that Ulster Unionists would like to encourage unionists to vote for them, and not for the DUP, then he might have a point. If he is suggesting that the UUP is trying to outflank the DUP on its own ground, then his argument really does not bear any scrutiny.

“There is deep-seated reticence regarding a UUP/DUP merger even without Ian senior in charge. Elements of the old guard – Iris, Willie, Sammy, wee Ian etc – are seriously inhibiting factors.”


Ok. So we’re back in the realm of reality again. There are profound differences in content and tone between the UUP and DUP which continue to preclude any possibility of merger.

“A Tory link-up may seem a clever alternative strategy but I suspect it to be too clever by half because it has left the Tories playing Orange cards with UUP novices.”


We could hold a competition to establish what this sentence means. Any ideas? Just for fun and no prizes.

“David Cameron’s declining lead over Gordon Brown together with the Conservative retreat to parts of England means the Tories desperately need to pull something out of the hat.”


Ok. That is an analysis (and a contentious one) of the current national political situation. Why does it render the UUP’s vision of offering voters meaningful participation in Westminster politics a bad idea? The Conservatives will not always form the UK’s government. Sometimes the party will be strong and others it will be less so. It still plays a leading role in the politics of the country, whether from opposition or government. In any case, the Tories are holding up well in the polls, they’re still ahead and the party retain Westminster representatives in every part of the UK (other currently, than Northern Ireland). That has not changed since Roy commended the idea of ‘vague’ link-up!

“The dubious claim that they are the party of the union is unconvincing and many unionists still blame them for suspending the old Stormont and supporting the Anglo-Irish Agreement under Thatcher.”


It is the only party to organise in all four corners of the UK. It is the only major national party which explicitly calls itself ‘Unionst’. It is the only national party offering to become involved as an unambiguously unionist force in Northern Ireland. The political situation is incomparable to 1973 or 1985. Ulster Unionists are aligning with a contemporary party, not offering an endorsement of every previous Tory policy in Northern Ireland.

“The new link-up is also supposed to reflect a new dynamic, pluralist ethos but it is more of an Orange card to steal a march on the DUP and of course Irish nationalists.”


Why is it an ‘Orange card’? Is there a shred of evidence to sustain this contention? His previous sentence witnessed Roy opining that the Tories were not the true party of Union, now he lambastes the UUP for playing an ‘Orange card’ by linking up with Conservatives. If ‘stealing a march’ on Irish nationalists, or the DUP, involves strengthening the Union, then the UUP is entirely justified in seeking to do just that. If Garland believes the Union is in any respect intrinsically linked to the Orange Order or Orangeism, he has a very narrow understanding of what it represents.

There follows this paragraph, which frankly does not deserve comment. It stands on its own as a piece of insightless ramble.

“Some think the Trimble duo – David and Daphne – are central to all of this but UUP representatives deny it. The former UUP leader is now a Tory peer while Daphne remains in the UUP but apparently working for her Tory husband and another Tory peer as parliamentary researcher. Others think that for some reason the great and good of the UUP are keen to welcome local Tory “professionals” into their party.”


Then we have,

“The real motivation seems to be to upstage the DUP, consign it to the history books and find a plausible rationale for their own existence. This is considered legitimate politics and in any case the UUP’s support for the Good Friday Agreement was always less than whole-hearted.”


So the UUP wish to offer a better alternative than exists currently in Northern Ireland, win votes and present a coherent set of policies. How cynical and unacceptable! I’d suggest it is not only ‘considered’ legitimate politics, it is actually made from the materials which legitimate politics consists in. And what is the final sentence supposed to imply? How does it fit into Garland’s ‘argument’? Does he have an argument? Are the UUP jettisoning the Belfast Agreement as part of the Tory deal? I missed that document!

“Having led the way to powersharing the UUP cannot now successfully undermine the DUP from the right. If it did they might bring the whole edifice down.”


Leaving aside the assertion that the UUP are moving to the right of the DUP, for which there is precisely no evidence (and Roy does not think of offering any), what does the rest of this nonsense mean? Have either the UUP or the Tories (whose deal encompasses Europe and Westminster for the time being) intimated that they wish to collapse power-sharing? If not, is any unionist dissent from the DUP’s line illegitimate because it might undermine that party and bring down power-sharing? Are we to be deprived, not only of national politics in Northern Ireland, but of any politics at all?

“They want to shed the English Tory image but they look more like lame ducks snapping at Gordon Brown’s widely applauded efforts to steer the economy through recession.”


Bearing in mind that this follows on from the point above, indeed it is housed within the same paragraph, you might wonder how it relates in any way to Garland’s previous sortie. I would suggest that it does not. I would suggest that the entire article is comprised of unsubstantiated contentions, largely untethered to a central thesis, bound only by prevailing negativity toward the UUP and Tories. Garland gets paid for this!

“The UUP will refuse to revert to subservience to English Toryism and the Tories cannot afford to be closely associated with myopic unionism. While claiming to remain on the right on the constitution the DUP might revert to its original aim of being on the left on social issues. But neither party is serious about tackling the sectarian elephant in the room. As for a “shared future”, it doesn’t seem to feature at all in their thinking.”


This is Garland’s conclusion. You will note that it does not draw together the themes of the article, because, in this particular piece, themes were virtually non-existent. It offers another unsubstantiated speculation on how the DUP might react to the realignment. Then it alludes to the Tories requiring inclusivity and denies the UUP is interested in fostering this. It offers no evidence to sustain this view and doesn’t address the glaringly obvious point, that if the UUP is not interested in moving beyond sectarian politics, why is it moving forward on the basis that it is and why is it seeking to link with a UK wide party which will have no truck with sectarianism?

I realise that I have wasted way too much time on a desperately poor piece of commentary. There are no doubt legitimate and coherent arguments which will be made against the Conservative / UUP link-up and I should concentrate on addressing those. But it makes me angry that this type of dross gets printed and that its author gets money for such lazy drivel. A series of unevidenced, vaguely sententious contentions with little thread to link them, does not comprise political commentary. What we are often offered in Northern Ireland’s papers, with a few notable exceptions, is way way short of that.

10 comments:

Ignited said...

Wow. Garland has surpassed himself this time.

It is all a bit confusing and the 'Orange card' did not make sense in the slightest. I'm lost for words.

Jeffrey Peel said...

What a wonderful, articulate and well argued critique of a shameless piece of journalistic drivel. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

You were right, you have wasted your time commenting on a piece of very poor journalism - but you have wasted it very well - great commentary.

Some of the local papers should take note - this excellent blogger deserves his own space in place of some of the current hacks.

And no, I am not Checkov nor any of his family!

Anonymous said...

A brave attempt to make sense of a complete load of nonsense!
Bob Wilson

dub said...

The article is rather contradictory, but this does not, in and of itself, make it a bad article. Most people's politics are contradictory at some level. Chekov, it is unfortunatelyy far from clear that the Conservatives will have no truck with sectarianism. If they are so squeaky clean on this, why are they linking up with the UUP at all? Surely tney could have beefed up the local ni conservatives with money and personel so that they could contest every seat in ni? then they really would stand out from the crowd and could offer sane rational politics relating to the uk national set up and the architecture of the gfa. Like the alliance party the ni tories were not unionists in the ni senss of the word, the tribal sense if you will. the mainland british tories by ditching their local allies and hooking up with the uup have clearly shown where their politics lie. they have also effectively breached the gfa requiremnt for any british govt to be rigorously impartial in ni as regards the ethos of the 2 communities. the reference to the orange card in the piece is a clear reference to this type of english politicians who think nothing of taking sides in ireland in order to boost their voting fodder in Westminster. this has often led to violence in the past. let's hops it does not do so this time.

Anonymous said...

Dub
You are wrong on nearly every point.
You say;'the mainland british tories by ditching their local allies' are you implying the Tory Party in London has negotiated a deal over the heads of local Tories? If so you are wrong the local Tories negotiated the deal after they were approached by UUP members. The new Joint Ctte will contain 4 NI Tories and we will continue to have no truck with sectarianism.
Your bigger error relates to the GFA. The GFA requires the Govt to recognise the legitimacy of the two traditions in NI it does NOT require a British Govt to be neutral on the Union as you appear to imply. The Conservative Party and a future Conservative Govt will be supportive of the Union and wants to involve ALL the citizens of NI in the normal politics of the Union. The views of the people of Fermanagh on National Insurance, Fuel duty, income tax, etc are as valid as those of Finchley.
We do not accept that people in NI must be kept on a reservation restricted to voting ‘unionist’ or ‘nationalist’ we continue to strive for the day that citizens who may regard themselves as Catholic and or Irish feel able to vote Conservative and throw out this useless Labour Govt.
Our alliance with the UUP is a pragmatic step to help to bring about that transformation
Bob Wilson

Chekov said...

“The article is rather contradictory, but this does not, in and of itself, make it a bad article. Most people's politics are contradictory at some level.”

Whilst people may have contradictory aspects to their political beliefs, being consistent over the course of one opinion piece is achievable. Leaving contradiction aside, the article is also rambling, it doesn’t attempt to evidence its points, it is not sequential, it is not well argued.

“Chekov, it is unfortunatelyy far from clear that the Conservatives will have no truck with sectarianism. If they are so squeaky clean on this, why are they linking up with the UUP at all?”

Because the UUP is like minded on many issues. Because the UUP has an existing presence in Northern Ireland which largely coincides with centre right politics. Sectarianism is often in the eye of the beholder, but this coalition will not be built around an ethno-religious argument.

“Surely tney could have beefed up the local ni conservatives with money and personel so that they could contest every seat in ni? then they really would stand out from the crowd and could offer sane rational politics relating to the uk national set up and the architecture of the gfa.”

The local Conservatives have struggled despite occasional enthusiasm from central office. I believe in the early 90s for example, high profile Tories campaigned for local candidates in various seats. One of the main reasons Conservatives have not been successful is the presence of the UUP. This is, as David Cameron pointed out, a ‘no-brainer’.

“Like the alliance party the ni tories were not unionists in the ni senss of the word, the tribal sense if you will.”

I think you’re talking about two different things here. Unionism in any sense of the word consists in political adherence to the Union. Other things have been attached to unionism, people have used the word in all sorts of different ways, but those other things are incidental.

“the mainland british tories by ditching their local allies and hooking up with the uup have clearly shown where their politics lie. they have also effectively breached the gfa requiremnt for any british govt to be rigorously impartial in ni as regards the ethos of the 2 communities.”

That, frankly, is nonsense. The Conservatives are a pro-Union party and allying with the UUP reflects that only. I’ve argued this point fairly thoroughly on the ‘Healing Wounds’ thread below. There is no danger to fairness or equality.

“the reference to the orange card in the piece is a clear reference to this type of english politicians who think nothing of taking sides in ireland in order to boost their voting fodder in Westminster. this has often led to violence in the past. let's hops it does not do so this time.”

The Conservatives are a UK party taking part in the politics of the UK. They are not ‘taking sides’ with a community, they are putting forward their own political vision, as they are quite entitled to do. Expounding the value of the Union is not an inherently sectarian position and no amount of argument to the contrary will make it so.

dub said...

Bob,

The local tories were separate to the unionist parties, that is the point i was trying to make. I am indeed ignorant of who sits on what committee but this reality cannot be ignored, and I did not get that wrong. The relevant section of the GFA reads as follows:

(v) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the
people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with
jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of
all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be
founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil,
political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all
citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the
identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities...

Can't see how a link up with the ethno-religious political party that is the UUP can progress this... it will lead to a severe conflict of interest.

BTW it has been found in numerous opinion polls that whilst approx 15 to 20 percent of ni catholics support for the time being the contimuance of the union, precisely 0 percent of them vote unionist. this is even less than that amount of protestants who vote for nationalist parties and the figure 0 is actually 0. if you want to break the sectarian mould i would suggest that linking up with one of the most unashamedly sectarian parties in ni is hardly a good start. If you had any confidence in the conservative brand you would strike out on your own like everywhere else in the uk. but of course ni is different and so we are back we started.

dub said...

chekov,

Expounding the value of the Union is not an inherently sectarian position...

True. But ni unionists have never sought to sell the union to the catholic community. indeed catholics for most of the history of ni could not even join the unionist party. Again why are the tories hitching up with this crowd who have 0 percent cross community appeal?

Unionism in any sense of the word consists in political adherence to the Union. Other things have been attached to unionism, people have used the word in all sorts of different ways, but those other things are incidental.

True as long as the meaning of the word incidental is changed way beyond its normal dictionary defintion, unless you regard the whole baggage of orangism, tribal protestantism, overt sectarianism, tacit suppport for loyalist terrorism etc as merely "incidental". must be some ivory tower you're in!

Chekov said...

"whilst approx 15 to 20 percent of ni catholics support for the time being the contimuance of the union, precisely 0 percent of them vote unionist"

I'd be interested to know where you get your statistics Dub. By the last NILT survey 1% Catholics voted for UUP and the same for DUP. that is against the same figured for Protestant supporting the SDLP and 0% supporting SF.

When people are asked to select between a community identification the results are obviously different.

There's a lot of work to do reaching out to pro-Union Catholics, but I believe the UUP / Tory alliance will be the right vehicle to do just that.