Thursday, 4 December 2008

Cameron call to normalise politics. UK status is secure, now let's make it work!

Conservative leader David Cameron has penned an article for the Belfast Telegraph which might suggest a little of the likely flavour of a speech he is to deliver to UUP conference on Saturday. It comprises both a rationale for Conservative involvement in Northern Ireland and an explanation as to why alignment with Ulster Unionists offers the best means by which to begin normalisation of politics here. Meanwhile David Shiels (any relation to Kenny?) suggests that the engagement which Cameron wishes to preside over represents a less cynical, more genuine attempt than previous flirtations between the Conservative party and Ulster Unionists, over the last 30 years or so.

The basis of the Cameron / Empey accord is that Northern Ireland in general, and unionism in particular, will benefit from removing myopic preoccupation with the constitutional position from our politics. By concentrating on normal, bread and butter issues and integrating with the broader British party political system, not only will Northern Ireland’s electorate be better served by its politicians, but the fact that the Union is secure will be rightly recognised. Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain is no longer under any imminent threat. By fully participating in the politics of the United Kingdom, unionists can only serve to further underpin the Union’s security by refocusing on issues which flow from membership of that Union, rather than its existence and Northern Ireland’s status within it. To quote Cameron,

“a new Conservative and Unionist force ..would challenge the convention of Northern Ireland politics. It would challenge the notion that Northern Ireland politics always has to be dominated by the constitutional issue.”


Forging the new Conservative and Unionist force has had its problems. Shiels is right to contend that an element of UUP mistrust had to be overcome, an element which drew, at least to an extent, on unfortunate precedent. Both the United Kingdom itself, and the two parties forging a new relationship, have changed since previous abortive indications of rapprochement. Although Ulster unionists might point to previous occasions where they perceive that they have been let down by Conservative governments, Conservatives could equally observe that the UUP has not always adhered to the inclusive vision of unionism on which this movement will be predicated. This is the right time for both sides to set aside reservations. Shiels argues,

“The UUP's caution about the deal is understandable, but they must recognise that Mr Cameron's actions represent a controversial over-turning of the pragmatic and disinterested attitude that has long characterised Tory thinking towards Northern Ireland.”


It is important that both sides enter this arrangement fully committed to the changes it will bring. It is only by offering a genuine alternative that the new political force will prosper. Cameron speaks of a, “Conservative version of Unionism firmly rooted in a modern, pluralist United Kingdom.”, which he is determined to offer voters. It is important that the UUP shares this conception and that the Conservatives, for their part, retain the vision of communitarian conservatism, based on innate respect for society, which they have promised will deliver ‘progressive ends by conservative means’.

Concluding his article, Cameron appeals to the electorate here, “we’re making great progress. I call on the people of Northern Ireland to support us. It’s time for change”. To borrow a phrase from his new political bedfellow, let’s stop ‘arsing about’ and engage in real politics in Northern Ireland. The change to which Cameron refers will self-evidently be beneficial to unionism. Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain is safe, now we must concentrate on making our status as an integral part of the United Kingdom work and work well.

6 comments:

yourcousin said...

Conservatives could equally observe that the UUP has not always adhered to the inclusive vision of unionism on which this movement will be predicated

Chekov,
Being that I can count the number of UU MP's who were not in the OO on one hand and that it hasn't even been five years since the OO kicked the UU's to the curb maybe we might want to rephrase that statement. I mean lets face it, the most Trimble could admit was that Northern Ireland might have been a "cold house" for Catholics. That is as far as he went. Now compare that statement with his jig down and "there has been no compromise" speech down in Portadown.

I don't bring this up to be petty, but to highlight what the overarching problem will be for the UUP/Tory alliance need to overcome in order to make the partnership fruitful for either of them. Just like the SDLP and FF, how will slapping a new logo on the same old candidate really make that much of a difference at the ballot box? I mean you have Cameron coming in talking about a new era for Northern Ireland politics, but dragging Lazarus (aka Trimble) along in tow.I guess I would take the stance of don't tell me that there's a new era in NI politics show me.

Right now there is an overabundance of local representation in terms of councillors who are dealing with local bread and butter issues. I would also state that in terms of taking care of constituent issues on a day to day level you would be hard pressed to find a better party than SF. Now before going off the deep end just give me a paragraph to explain.

When I was travelling to NI back in '07 I remember settling down and watching the news and this was during the "will he, won't he" Paisley escapade in the run up to the STA. And the most news time SF got was not in relation to that but to in regards to some suspicious dumping around the Coleraine area. It turned out that after SF raised a stink an explanation for the dumping was forthcoming and it seemed to be legitimate. They were interviewing a female SF councillor and they asked her if she was satisfied with the explanation and her response stuck with me when she said, "I'm satisfied when my constituents are satisfied". I would also note that SF has been there for the communities in times of crisis (although this one if off track). During the Holy Cross dispute there were tensions within the nationalist community,

"The SDLP locally were hopeless. All they did was moam about taking advice from Sinn Fein. One of them complained that only Gerry Kelly was invited to meetings, which was pathetic because they were public meetings, anybody could go. Gerry Kelly was the only one turning up"

I also remember a comment on Slugger (I can't locate it right now but I'll try and I hope you'll take me on my word for now) right after the last local election in which SF swept five seats in West Belfast. It was from a protestant on the Shankill who looked after an elderly client. The client needed a wheel chair and couldn't afford one. They called the UUP and the DUP with no answer from either. In desperation (their words) they called SF. Within an hour they had their call returned and within four hours had the wheel chair they needed. That to me, is looking after constituents. That does not excuse the behavior of republicanism over the last thirty odd years but it does muddy the waters a bit in the sense that a party can't do both bread and butter issues while being preoccupied with the constitutional issue as well.

In the end I still don't see how the same old candidates spewing the same old message (or at best a regurgitation of an Alliance message) with a little more face time from the mainland constitutes political change.

Chekov said...

Firstly Trimble did not 'jig' down the road in Portadown. That is a myth. Look at any report from the rime. Secondly the UUP may have had a connection with the OO relatively recently. SF had a connection with the IRA. Thirdly SF are very good at aggravating and protesting at a local level, they offer no representation at Westminster and are appalling in government (with the possible exception of the DFM). Fourthly the UUP only have 1 MP and one MEP so there is a fairly blank sheet in terms of putting up candidates.

yourcousin said...

Chekov,
Actually if you type in "victory jig" in wikipedia you can see a BBC video of the "jig" or whatever you want to call it. You also have Trimble emphatically denying there was any compromise (accompanied by shouts of "no surrender"). Which when you think about the fact that he was the head of the largest party in NI at that point and was supposed to be heading up a government to represent all of the people, falls short of expectation of what a leader ought to be. And that was my point, it was more of the same old thing when you're now touting his return as a herald of something new.

As for SF's connection to the IRA. I'm well aware of their connections and support of republican violence over the last thirty odd years. But seeing as how they are not trying to merge with a major political party from Britain I don't see the relevance of the comment. Again, it is the UUP who are trying to say that "we want to change the way politics is done in NI" without ever admitting that they ran the place for the majority of its existence. It's like the Republicans here in the last election trying to campaign for the incumbent party as agents of change.

None of my examples was about SF protesting, as much as being responsive to their constituent's needs. Which is exactly what they are supposed to do as a party. But again my point was simply to point out that the issues of bread and butter are not quite so easily removed from constitutional/identity issues in that it is possible to take care of one while still focussing on the other.

I would agree that SF's base as community activists has ensureed that excellent city councillors have become rather shoddy parliamentarians. I would state that Gildernew has not been too bad as she's been able to handle foot and mouth and stayed clear of the Ritchie/UDA debacle.

On candidates then I would ask if the UUP intend to recruit from people who were previously uninvolved in politics or grooming the current (or former) ranks of the UUP. The latter seems more likely in my opinion which is why all the previous points I brought up matter.

Chekov said...

“Actually if you type in "victory jig" in wikipedia you can see a BBC video of the "jig" or whatever you want to call it.”

There was no jig and the relief which he displayed alongside Ian Paisley was not on the road at Drumcree.

“Which when you think about the fact that he was the head of the largest party in NI at that point and was supposed to be heading up a government to represent all of the people, falls short of expectation of what a leader ought to be.”

At that point not only was David Trimble not supposed to be heading up a government, there was no government and David Trimble was not the leader of the UUP!

“And that was my point, it was more of the same old thing when you're now touting his return as a herald of something new.”

Where did I tout Trimble’s ‘return’ as something new? What information do you have that Trimble will ‘return’? He is a Conservative peer in the House of Lords and that will remain his position. The Conservative deal is not about David Trimble ‘returning’.

“As for SF's connection to the IRA. I'm well aware of their connections and support of republican violence over the last thirty odd years. But seeing as how they are not trying to merge with a major political party from Britain I don't see the relevance of the comment.”

In was trying to extract some relevance for your long exegesis of wonderful SF local councillors. You brought SF into it.

“Again, it is the UUP who are trying to say that "we want to change the way politics is done in NI" without ever admitting that they ran the place for the majority of its existence. It's like the Republicans here in the last election trying to campaign for the incumbent party as agents of change.”

The current crop of UUP representatives did not run NI for the majority of its existence. The UUP, as it is presently constituted, has every right to attempt to change things for the better.

“None of my examples was about SF protesting, as much as being responsive to their constituent's needs. Which is exactly what they are supposed to do as a party. But again my point was simply to point out that the issues of bread and butter are not quite so easily removed from constitutional/identity issues in that it is possible to take care of one while still focussing on the other.”

The constitutional issue has been resolved to unionists’ satisfaction. Therefore remaining preoccupied with it is counterproductive. And SF may deliver effective local councillors, but in government, either local or national they are a disaster and constant focus on constitutional issues plays a part in this.

“On candidates then I would ask if the UUP intend to recruit from people who were previously uninvolved in politics or grooming the current (or former) ranks of the UUP. The latter seems more likely in my opinion which is why all the previous points I brought up matter.”

Obviously I can’t answer such things in detail. Perhaps I’ll know more on Monday. But obviously it will be a process. There are personnel from two parties coming together. There are talented people behind the scenes and Cameron has shown in Britain that it is possible to bring people in from outside politics. There will be some old faces I’m sure (not all of them are bad), but there is also a chance for dynamic new people.

yourcousin said...

Chekov,
I know you're at the party conference but I still wanted to flush this out a little more.

There was no jig and the relief which he displayed alongside Ian Paisley was not on the road at Drumcree

Okay well how about this, Trimble took Ian Paisley by the hand by only the little finger and they held their other arms up strutted down Garvaghy road. Look you don't have to believe me, watch the video and tell me how Trimble "displayed his relief" with "no compromise" and "with flags flying".

I will confess that I was off on Trimble's leadership by about three months. Not something I would want to get wrong again but still not the end of the world or as bad as thinking Ardoyne is in West Belfast (like some people). And while I freely acknowledge that there was no government at that point in time, devolution was on the horizon as well as the fact that the UUP has historically been the governing party and probably closest to mainlain politics as any NI party. So yes there is a higher bar for them in my eyes.

And if I had known that you would readily admit that SF provide effective councillors then I would have simply stated as much and been done with it, but given your views I thought it would be prudent to have a few textual examples to back me up, now I know better.

The current crop of UUP representatives did not run NI for the majority of its existence. The UUP, as it is presently constituted, has every right to attempt to change things for the better

I would fully agree with you and go one further to state that regardless of its make up, current or historical the UUP has the right to make NI a better place. The question is whether they have the courage to admit or even think about the effect their past actions in government had to bring NI to where it is today. And that is something all parties must do but I would think that for the UUP, DUP and SF that would be critical. And since you're an UU I'm picking on your party right now. Give me enough time and I'll probably go pick on Gaskin (though I doubt I would enjoy his blog as much). After reading Empeys speech I can see that he does not have the foresight to look critically at the past or even to see how the how the two parties dealings in the past have not always been above board so to speak.

The constitutional issue has been resolved to unionists’ satisfaction. Therefore remaining preoccupied with it is counterproductive

That is until something happens to change the status quo and then not so much then.

Where did I tout Trimble’s ‘return’ as something new? What information do you have that Trimble will ‘return’?

I don't think you touted it but I queried it back in May of 2007 when the Tories accepted Trimble as a Peer in the first place. I read it at the time as the Tories were interested in fishing in NI waters with a little more proficiency than the current NI Conservatives could muster. And quite rightly I might add with a degree of smug satisfaction. But the Tory/UUP partnership has been touted as change but I must confess that while I'm curious to see what will happen I'm not holding my breath for substanitive change.

Enjoy the conference.

Chekov said...

“Okay well how about this, Trimble took Ian Paisley by the hand by only the little finger and they held their other arms up strutted down Garvaghy road. Look you don't have to believe me, watch the video and tell me how Trimble "displayed his relief" with "no compromise" and "with flags flying".”

The two men were well clear of the Garvaghy Road. This took place at Carleton Street. It was regrettable.

“I will confess that I was off on Trimble's leadership by about three months. Not something I would want to get wrong again but still not the end of the world or as bad as thinking Ardoyne is in West Belfast (like some people). And while I freely acknowledge that there was no government at that point in time, devolution was on the horizon as well as the fact that the UUP has historically been the governing party and probably closest to mainlain politics as any NI party. So yes there is a higher bar for them in my eyes.”

And Trimble would subsequently lead Ulster Unionists into government with republicans. I think his actions entitle him to be judged by something other than a raised hand at Drumcree. Trimble himself recently defended the Tory IRA gunrunner by observing that in NI many people have a past, but that does not preclude them from being involved in the future. Not that Trimble’s past is commensurate in any way. He put that theory into action.

“I would fully agree with you and go one further to state that regardless of its make up, current or historical the UUP has the right to make NI a better place. The question is whether they have the courage to admit or even think about the effect their past actions in government had to bring NI to where it is today.”

The UUP has gone further toward addressing its past than many other parties. ‘Cold house’ was quite an accurate description.

“I don't think you touted it but I queried it back in May of 2007 when the Tories accepted Trimble as a Peer in the first place. I read it at the time as the Tories were interested in fishing in NI waters with a little more proficiency than the current NI Conservatives could muster. And quite rightly I might add with a degree of smug satisfaction. But the Tory/UUP partnership has been touted as change but I must confess that while I'm curious to see what will happen I'm not holding my breath for substanitive change.”

I think it would take someone with a peculiarly myopic dislike of Trimble to argue that he has not already changed things in the UUP (and in NI generally) for the better. If Trimble’s involvement connotes stasis for you, you must take a curious view on the man’s career. .