Showing posts from April, 2009

Liberal governor shows pluralism in Russia can work

The Moscow Times carries the story of a governor in Russia, who has to contend with a 3.7 billion ruble deficit in his region’s public finances, at a time when industrial output has fallen by 17%. It is an ordinary enough problem in Russian regional government in the current economic climate, but Nikita Belykh is by no means an ordinary Russian governor.

Belykh is an economic liberal who formerly led the Union of Right Forces (SPS), a business friendly party, which was wound up last November. He is a rather exotic specimen in Russian politics and forms an antidote to the loyal United Russia bureaucrats more habitually selected by the Kremlin.

President Medvedev appointed Belykh as governor to the Kirov region in January, despite his outspoken opposition to central government and the SPS man has since been dubbed ‘the Russian Obama’ by one magazine.

In a region with poor infrastructure, and in straightened times, Belykh’s programme of business deregulation is not being implemented…

Carlisle in need of a lift

Carlisle United’s fans are renowned throughout English football as the heaviest drinking supporters of any football league club. Is it any wonder?

After Michael Knighton’s ball juggling escapades at Old Trafford came to nought, he purchased the Cumbrian club and subsequently claimed that he’d been abducted by aliens.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Glass may have saved Carlisle from relegation to the Conference in 1999, but it was only a temporary reprieve. The Borderers lost their football league status in 2004 after five seasons in the lower reaches of Division 3.

United have enjoyed relative success since their visit to the non-leagues. Two successive promotions propelled them into League 1. Indeed last term the Blues finished fourth, making the play offs, before succumbing to dirty Leeds.

Now, once again, the trajectory is downwards. Hernandez explains the intricacies on ‘Down and Out’. Carlisle could well return to the football league’s basement on Saturday, and whether in celebration o…

Hague outlines Conservative thinking on the European Union

Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has given a wide ranging interview to ‘The Times’. With the European election imminent, it is worth highlighting what Hague has to say about the EU.

David Cameron’s ‘deputy in all but name’ has particular responsibility for Conservative policy in this area, and he has been entrusted with the task of building a new group in the European Parliament in which his party will play the central role. The policy which Hague outlines is policy which voters in Northern Ireland can endorse, by voting for the 'Conservatives and Unionists' candidate, Jim Nicholson.

Perhaps the biggest issue in EU politics at present is the Lisbon Treaty. The Tories are committed to holding a referendum on the treaty, in the United Kingdom, if it has not been ratified before a new parliament. In these circumstances Hague’s party will recommend a ‘no’ vote. Additionally, the shadow minister has indicated that, even if the treaty were to be ratified, prior to a g…

Cartoon Corner

By Ian Knox. In today's Irish News.

Invoking pluralism only to undermine its precepts. Protestantism does not indicate a more authentic form of Britishness.

It can be frustrating, attempting to interpret a newspaper’s report of a speech, without access to the original text. It is difficult, for instance, to judge whether an address given by Dr David Hume, the Orange Order’s ‘Director of Services’, offers a plausible elucidation of modern Britishness, albeit one that is concerned to defend a particular tradition within that identity (and its right to self-expression); or whether it represents, as the News Letter’s account suggests, a rather contradictory demand for Protestantism to be reinstated unapologetically at the centre of British identity, at the expense of pluralism.

Examining only excerpts of Hume’s speech, and skipping the silly Donaldsonesque stuff insinuating that Catholics cannot possibly be conscientious British citizens, each quotation is fairly defensible if we suppose that it is placed within a reasonable context. Indeed the speaker includes in his remarks a reading of Britishness which unionists of a civic bent will im…

Worst of the worst? The most shambolic public transport company in Europe? Perhaps, but Translink reckons it deserves more of your money!

John McCallister MLA has recorded his opinion that public transport in Northern Ireland should be affordable and efficient. It is scarcely a contentious proposition; although I have reservations about his argument that Translink’s services should be ‘vibrant’. I’ve travelled on Ulsterbuses which have been so vibrant they’ve threatened to leave me without any teeth.

McCallister’s statement is in response to Translink’s plan to raise prices, far above the rate of inflation. He expresses sympathy for the company’s predicament, given the current economic climate.

Setting aside the niceties of nuanced political debate, I beg to differ.

Translink is an awful company, with a disproportionate number of rude and unhelpful staff, which has been making a pig’s ear of Northern Ireland’s public transport and it has a damn cheek to ask its long-suffering passengers for more of their money.

Prices on buses and trains here are ALREADY preposterously high. It costs £1.50 to travel a mile and a…

Tories must remain focussed on 'progressive ends' as well as 'conservative means'

"I think people know by now that I want us to stand up for the poorest in Britain and to show that fiscal responsibility can go hand in hand with a social conscience."
David Cameron addressed the Tories’ spring forum yesterday and assured his audience that although Conservatives are ready to usher in an ‘age of austerity’, the commitments which he has made to prioritise social justice will nevertheless be upheld. With a general election imminent, it is his party’s central task to ensure voters remain convinced that efforts to constrain public debt will not entail compromising Cameron’s communitarian vision for Britain.

The Conservative leader has consistently argued that combating society’s dysfunction is an effective means by which to ease the burden on the public purse. Far from hampering the imperative to spend money efficiently, tackling social problems is a prerequisite for renewed prosperity. Cameron must repeatedly insist upon the compatibility of these two agendas…

Northern Ireland to celebrate rugby winners

I’m delighted to learn that members of the Ireland rugby team and its coaching staff are to attend a reception at Hillsborough Castle, recognising their Six Nations’ achievements. The Grand Slam winners were welcomed home in style by jubilant crowds in Dublin. However, Northern fans have not yet had the chance to show their appreciation and hopefully an opportunity to do so can be scheduled into the squad’s visit.

Built for Westminster. Built for Europe.

The Ulster Unionist Party used its Annual General Meeting on Saturday to launch Jim Nicholson MEP’s campaign to be re-elected to the European Parliament. Of course the poll’s importance is heightened, for the Conservatives as well as the UUP, because it is the first occasion on which the two parties’ political marriage will be tested against the electorate. The candidate and his party leader, Sir Reg Empey, addressed delegates from the platform, whilst David Cameron provided his contribution via video link.

Unionist Lite, Bobballs and the Young Unionist blog each have coverage of the various speeches. Cameron‘s concise exposition of principles which animate the new force is perhaps most deserving of further scrutiny.

Distilling the alliance to its essentials, the Conservative leader picks three compelling reasons why his party and Ulster Unionists are working together.

- A common commitment to the Union and belief in the strength which it imparts to its constituent parts.

- A share…

Sidestepping 50p tax trap is the sensible move. New chancellor will have more than enough to be getting on with.

An ‘age of austerity’ is the cliché to which journalists have taken recourse in the aftermath of Wednesday’s budget. The Guardian’s Martin Kettle reminds readers that it will almost certainly be Conservatives who must steward the economy through the difficult years from 2010 (many of Alistair Darling’s proposals are to be implemented during the next parliament). Nick Robinson describes the forthcoming difficulties in similar terms and doggedly presses the Chancellor to admit that, evasive language not withstanding, he will be cutting public expenditure.

Darling’s prognosis of an economy overburdened with debt has scarcely surprised the vast majority of observers. And many commentators believe that the government is being much too optimistic in its appraisal of Britain’s ability to cope with mounting indebtedness whilst also embarking upon a financial recovery. If the IMF comprises a substantial impartial authority on national economies (and the Prime Minister has given every indica…

Night Jack wins Orwell Award for blogs

I’ve just returned from an enjoyable two days in London, where the Orwell Prize for blogs was awarded to the excellent ‘Night Jack’ site. Jack Night is a police detective from the north of England, which provides him with a unique and insightful perspective from which to write about criminal justice. Like the ‘North Antrim Interest List’, that eventually topped a previous shortlist including ‘Three Thousand Versts’, ‘Night Jack’ shows mastery of a particular subject, rather than ranging widely across a great many topics. A lesson which I would endeavour to learn, were I not writing primarily for my own pleasure!

My girlfriend and I were pleased to be seated next to Jack Night’s police colleague and representative at the dinner (the pseudonymous author did not feel able to pick up the prize in person). He was a charming and grounded detective whose insight into the Historical Enquiries Team was particularly fascinating. Indeed our conversation formed a neat counterpoint to the en…

NI MPs should be treated the same as GB counterparts.

A statement from Harriet Harman contains detail of measures through which the Prime Minister intends to give the system of expenses for MPs some running repairs, pending a more thorough renovation. The most striking proposal would scrap the controversial second homes’ allowance and replace it with a simpler overnight allowance linked to attendance at the House of Commons.

Which is a sensible and necessary expedient. But, as Pete Baker on Slugger and Jonathan Isaby on ConHome have already noted, it may not apply to Northern Irish MPs. A passage of the statement reads,

“H. We will ask the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the circumstances applying in Northern Ireland before final application of the flat rate allowance for MPs representing Northern Ireland.”

One circumstance, which conspicuously applies in Northern Ireland, is that 5 Members of Parliament, elected by the province’s voters, refuse to take their seats. Sinn Féin’s abstentionism, shamefully, does not preven…

New addition to the Northern Irish blogosphere

And rather an articulate one at that. 'Cicero's Voice'. A link has been added on my bloglist.

What would the Finance Minister advise government to do? Does he even care about its problems?

George Osborne and David Cameron have been arguing for months that the government needs to address ballooning national debt and restrict the deficit. And Despite all of Labour’s arch implications that the current Conservative leadership understands nothing about economics, it transpires Alistair Darling is set to announce a budget which seeks to constrain public spending. The last bastion of serious political resistance to the idea that Britain cannot afford to continue a binge of borrowing and spending, as a means to counter recession, appears to have been overcome.

Although not, it would seem, in Northern Ireland, where Finance Minister Nigel Dodds clearly believes that if there is any pain to be experienced in the UK, we will be exempt from it.

Danny Kennedy, deputy leader of the Ulster Unionists, apparently understands the likely implications of the impending budget. He believes that Northern Ireland will be expected to deliver its share of efficiency savings. He estimates the…

Stability in Post Soviet space will only develop when multi-ethnic states are accepted

In an essay considering the chances of successful reconciliation between Russia and Georgia, Ivan Sukhov keeps his most interesting contention for the final paragraph.

“Georgia, like most post-Soviet nations, is a country where the concept of nationality is crucial. A national agenda for Georgians is barely compatible with the thesis of a Georgia for everyone (i.e. for Georgians, Abkhazians, Ossetians, and for all other citizens regardless of their ethnicity). This is not a problem specific to Georgia. It is characteristic of almost all the post-Soviet nations, including Russia itself in many ways.”

It is useful to read Sukhov’s piece in conjunction with a further Open Democracy article, which examines another post-Soviet state struggling to come to terms with ethnic division, Moldova.

Transdniestria, Moldova’s own breakaway region, shares characteristics with South Ossetia. Although as Andrey Kalikh observes, the chances that serious violence will develop there remain slim.


Don't believe everything your mates tell you!

I was rather enjoying Boris Johnson’s typically spirited defence of academic selection, on egalitarian grounds, until I happened upon this rather puzzling sentence,

“I know a lawyer from Belfast, a man of my age, who believes fervently that he would never have gone to university had it not been for the grammar school system, and who cannot believe that no one – no one from any party – is objecting to their abolition at the hands of, yes, Martin McGuinness.”

No-one, other than Boris’ own Conservative colleagues in Northern Ireland, their Ulster Unionist partners, the DUP and a coalition of parents and schools spanning the maintained and voluntary sectors.

Symptoms of the same disease

Even the most fanciful commentator would struggle to describe Northern Ireland as a well integrated society. Indeed the political dispensation which provides our regional government is based on community carve-up and neither of the two largest parties is prepared to weaken their grip on respective fiefdoms by pursuing an agenda of ‘sharing’. From the top down, there is an assumption that inclusive housing or education entails unpalatable compromises which cannot help but dilute the ‘cultures’ which are being integrated.

Given the fetish for a particular view of community which our politicians indulge, why then should we be surprised when newly arrived additions to Northern Ireland’s society are not integrated seamlessly or welcomed generously?

In South Belfast a particularly abhorrent attack took place last week which seems to have been racist, or at least xenophobic, in motivation. A group of aggressive, and apparently drunk, young men forced their way into a house in which four H…

Minister of the Absurd wants to control what you see

Sammy Wilson has been defending his right to bring ridicule upon Northern Ireland, in a latter to Geoff Hoon. Apparently this region should be exempt from all attempts to reduce CO2 emissions in order that sufficient ‘respect’ be accorded his personal views.

It's devolution see?

So there you have it. Not only should the Belfast Telegraph ignore the DUP/SF coalition’s mismanagement of the economy, media should also be bound to reflect the sensibilities of Democratic Unionist ministers, however ignorant or eccentric.

Gogol debate is an anachronism

The power of great literature to animate debate decades and even centuries after its inception is currently being demonstrated in Russia and Ukraine. A lavish production of Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Taras Bulba’ (which could be considered either a short novel or a rather long short story) has reinvigorated a national ‘tug of war’ over ownership of the work and its author.

VV Bortko’s film is purportedly infused with Russian patriotism, which he interprets as the spirit behind Gogol’s story. Certainly the accepted text which we read today has a strong slant of romantic nationalism which it tethers to Slavophile notions of the ‘Russian Soul’. There is room for controversy, however, as ‘Bulba’ was rewritten by its author from an original version which emphasised the Ukrainian roots of its Cossack protagonist.

Of course, any attempt to project current political preoccupations unto nineteenth century literature is anachronistic. Gogol moved from rural Ukraine to urban St Petersburg and wrote ab…

Irony at a basic level

Now, how’s this for irony? Brian Feeney has decided to condemn Northern Ireland’s parties for sectarian mudslinging. The poison dwarf has made a career by insisting that all ‘the north’s’ problems are unionism’s fault. His most sneering contempt is reserved for any party aspiring to lift Northern Ireland out of its sectarian morass or attempting to encourage normal politics here. What a contemptible hypocrite!

Another failure to grasp the consequences of the principle of consent

Another desperately silly article about the Conservatives’ alliance with Ulster Unionists has graced the Irish News, courtesy of Fionnula O’Connor (again). The requisite insinuation that offering people in Northern Ireland access to mainstream British politics is an infringement of the Good Friday Agreement is included; likewise, anything which buttresses the principle of consent, and the consequences which flow from it, is presented as a backward step.

A few reminders are due Ms. O’Connor and her ilk.

Firstly the Belfast Agreement does not require that the British government should be neutral on the constitutional question. On the contrary, if the British government believes in the values and institutions of the United Kingdom, it should promote them, within Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Certainly the government is bound to ensure that different cultures and political aspirations are respected equally, and it is legally required to uphold the decision of the people of Northern…

Uncheduled Easter blogging break

I'm afraid that untimely internet problems interrupted blogging over the weekend (although I did forsake the blue skies of freedom for a couple of days too). Hopefully it will be resolved soon, although in the interim posting might not be as regular as usual.

Orwell, political writing and blogs.

Some journalists have asked whether Orwell might have written a blog, had the technology been available to him, after the addition of a weblog category to the prize that bears his name. When a longlist comprising twelve websites was announced, Radio 4 invited Hopi Sen to consider the question on its ‘Today’ programme.

I suspect that while Orwell would have been enthused by the potential of political blogging, he would have been appalled by the content and style of many political blogs.

For any writer who makes politics his subject, reading Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ is a chastening experience. Its contents are yet more disquieting when one has been included on a shortlist of six bloggers, contesting an award dedicated to the great man’s memory. The truth is that it is almost impossible to adhere to the precepts set out in the essay.  The essayist acknowledged that even he occasionally infringed his own rules.

It is possible to adhere to the spirit of the e…

Tory Unionists?

This article first appeared in the March edition of 'Fortnight' magazine. Clearly some of the material about names and so on has been overtaken by events. The title was added by the magazine.

A Conservative and Ulster Unionist joint committee was formed in January, its purpose to “bring forward proposals on manifesto commitments, branding of joint candidates and candidate selection procedures”. After David Cameron imparted an almost euphoric sense of optimism upon the UUP conference, the committee’s first meeting represented a start to the hard, practical work required to forge a political alliance which will engage in national politics, but also reflect in its policies the regional peculiarities of Northern Ireland.

The new force’s first electoral outing will be May’s European poll, when MEP Jim Nicholson seeks re-election. Marion Little, Conservative ‘Senior Battleground Director’, a woman whose expertise helped Boris Johnson to the London mayoralty, was in attendance as…

Conservative government would derail the Sinn Féin gravy train

I was rather preoccupied, last night, with cradling my head in my hands, gritting my teeth and rocking back and forth in despair. Therefore I did not inspect, until this morning, the contents of a press release issued on behalf of Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson.

Although I am coming rather late to the story, and it is being discussed elsewhere, it is nevertheless worth a brief mention. The meat of Paterson’s statement is as follows:

“Should the Conservatives win a majority at the next election, one of their first priorities would be to restore the integrity of Parliament. I think that it is inconceivable that incoming Conservative MPs would vote to continue paying millions of pounds of public money to elected members who do not take their seats.”

I believe this represents reiteration of current policy rather than anything brand new, but it deserves to be restated given the controversy about MPs expenses and in particular revelations that Sinn Féin is claiming half …

Cissokho knows the score

You know how sometimes you just instantly decide that you like someone? This is Aly Cissokho, FC Porto fullback, displaying his knowledge of recent Premier League results at Old Trafford. The twenty one year old French-Senegalese player is said to favour another team in the north west of England.

Myth, half truth and unintended consequences in Kosovo.

The turbulent history of the Balkans is sustained by myth and counter myth. Elision and half truth mark different interpretations of recent events, never mind proto-national narratives, which often delve deep into the medieval past and beyond.

I am currently reading Noel Malcolm’s ‘Short History of Kosovo’. Although the writer is heavily predisposed towards an Albanian understanding of the province’s story, he is prepared, at least, to test nationalist shibboleths on either side of the Serb / Albanian divide.

Malcolm assures us from the outset that he does not believe that prior habitation by antecedents comprises sufficient evidence to sustain current political claims to a territory. Given that he is correct in this contention, he invests surprising energy in bolstering his argument that Albanians are not recent arrivals in the Balkan region.

Although the author deconstructs one side’s myths with greater vigour, and although he requires his deconstructions to bear more weight tha…

SDLP's economy 'discussion document'. Worth doing what it says on the tin?

The SDLP does not agree with Peter Robinson’s assessment that the Programme for Government remains applicable, no matter how economic conditions might change. The party has published a discussion document (PDF) which it claims would deliver an extra £400 million with which to tackle recession in Northern Ireland.

I must confess that I do not have the stomach tonight to delve into detail contained within the report’s 65 pages. And I’m sure there will be latitude for other parties to dispute the SDLP’s sums. Casting an eye over the summary of bullet points, however, it is clear that the party has at least been considering how a PfG, altered to take into account economic difficulties, might look.

There is also some evidence that Mark Durkan’s party recognises that expenditure must be cut, certainly if money is to be found to fund other spending priorities. The document seeks a moratorium on civil service recruitment and proposes freezing recruitment and promotion within the higher g…

Robbo not amongst the chastened. He prefers to let flail.

Even Jacqui Smith had enough decency to appear chastened on this morning’s Today programme, as she attempted to explain away her expense claims. Though clearly she still believes her worst sin is failing to account for a tenner invested in blue movies, rather than spending the nation's taxes on furniture for her family's house. Gordon Brown may be taking a second home allowance, despite being housed in the most famous residence in the country, courtesy of the public purse, but at least he has made some placatory noises about scrapping the payment which he currently pockets. This contrite mood has clearly not yet reached Northern Ireland, where the First Minister reacted to suggestions that his family are receiving extraordinary quantities of taxpayers’ cash, with an aggressive rant which targeted the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties.

Naturally Tory and UUP representatives were quick to deny disseminating a story that was carried, over the weekend, in two of the mos…

Twenty questions

I'm subject of the latest 'twenty questions to a fellow blogger' feature on the 'Mars Hill' blog. You can read my answers here.

Former ambassador fears Georgia isolated by its leaders

‘Three Thousand Versts’ has previously touched upon a new willingness within Georgia to question its government’s military adventurism in South Ossetia. The Caucasian state’s last ambassador to Moscow has been one high profile critic of President Saakashvili’s regime and its belligerent attitude towards Russia. In an article on Open Democracy, Ambassador Kitsmarishvili argues that Tbilisi should follow Barack Obama’s example and seek to ‘reset’ its relations with the Kremlin.

The pertinent question for Georgians is whether their government will eventually replicate the new trend toward diplomacy emanating from the White House. If it does not, the popular clamour against Saakashvili will surely continue to grow. Otherwise Georgia risks becoming increasingly isolated, as the international community draws the conclusion that its authorities ‘prefer the language of force, pressure and confrontation between the superpowers’.

With bilateralism and diplomacy becoming the preferred means by…

Double helpings for the Robinsons

Much attention in Northern Ireland has focused on the degree to which Sinn Féin representatives have had their snouts stuck in the Westminster trough, despite their ‘principled’ abstention from Parliament. Justifiably so. Though Shinner expense claims hardly reveal anything we could not otherwise reasonably have deduced. Republicans’ objection to British sovereignty in Ireland has rarely impeded a sense of entitlement to squeeze every Great British pound from the hated Exchequer.

Not that DUP attitudes are strikingly dissimilar, albeit that their starting point is somewhat different. The overweening sense of entitlement is still a defining characteristic.

Hence the Daily Mail’s report that Robinsons Iris and Peter are costing the taxpayer almost £600,000 per year.

The double, triple, quadruple jobbery of Democratic Unionist politicians is well worn territory. Clearly the people of Northern Ireland are getting short-changed by their representatives, particularly at Westminster,…

Brown won't go the country until he's forced to

Inevitably on any occasion that our creaking, aging government narrows the Conservatives’ lead in the opinion polls, speculation about an early election follows. Gordon Brown has moved quickly to scotch suggestions that 2009 might see him go to the country. The Prime Minister is probably realistic enough to appreciate that any ‘bounce’ offered by his preening G20 performance will be short lived when the summit’s purportedly world changing effects are less than discernible.

When the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his budget statement later this month he will be forced to admit that he failed to anticipate how sharply the economic downturn would effect Britain. Yet his predecessor fails to acknowledge his role in precipitating the crisis and has not admitted that his policies have exacerbated its effects in the United Kingdom. Indeed he continues to present himself as the only man qualified to guide this country through recession.

Gordon Brown has shown pathological reluctan…

Less defensible to divide by religion than by academic ability

Historians have often speculated that Northern Ireland’s history might have been less troubled had Stormont’s first Education Minister been able to realise his vision of an integrated education system. Under enormous pressure from Catholic and Protestant clerics, Lord Londonderry’s 1923 Education Act was amended beyond recognition. The Minister retired from politics here in disillusionment and an early opportunity to draw some of the sectarianism from society was lost.

Eamon McCann revisits those events in his Belfast Telegraph column and laments the lack of any current impetus towards integrated schooling in Northern Ireland. Whilst current Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, deplores separating children using academic criteria, she is supportive of the religious division and indeed she actively encourages further partition of pupils along community lines by championing separate Irish language schools.

In truth the situation in education is merely one of the baleful consequence…

No Damned film for Northern Ireland cinema goers

I enjoyed David Peace’s novel ‘The Damned United’ tremendously. Indeed I was so enthusiastic that I indulged in wild hyperbole on this weblog, likening it to Hamlet, with Brian Clough cast as the prince and Elland Road substituted for Elsinore.

Naturally I’ve been looking forward to the release of a film, based on the novel. But today, after searching local cinema websites for a showing this evening, I learned that in Northern Ireland the movie is not yet available. The rest of the UK can watch the film, but its distributors have decided to deny us the pleasure.

Now, I understand fully that demand to watch Michael Sheen play Clough has exceeded expectation. However with 200 prints available you might expect that one could have found its way to Belfast, given that it is a regional capital.

Perhaps Monica McWilliams could graft something for poor deprived cinema goers on to the recommendations for a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights.

Local Conservatives still enthused by UU joint force

‘The Conservative and Unionist baby is healthy and growing’, reports Seymour Major, after Northern Ireland Conservatives met to discuss recent UCUNF developments. It is good to hear that enthusiasm amongst local Tories remains high, even if the choice of metaphor conjures a rather surreal image.

Seymour alludes to agreement being struck as regards logos and branding. When these details have been officially established then joint campaigning can begin in earnest. It is my understanding that a tagline for the election campaign is also close to being unveiled.

Medvedev - Obama meeting likely to be more significant than anything agreed by G20

Overwhelming attention, this week, has been focused on the G20 summit and the argument for international fiscal stimulus. Although Gordon Brown might like us to believe that the resultant communiqué will offer a blueprint capable of saving the world, ‘sherpas’ and officials are even now expending enormous intellectual resources seeking a form of words ambiguous enough to satisfy widely diverging views of the financial crisis. These meetings may represent impressive showcases of draftsmanship by world political elites, but contending domestic agendas dictate that their planet changing potential is grossly exaggerated. Remember Gleneagles, when Tony Blair oversaw an end to African poverty?

That is not to say that important developments are not possible when international political power is suddenly concentrated in one venue. It is just that real progress is unlikely to be reflected in the nuances of an agreed text and it is not necessarily framed by the official agenda of the summi…

Warren and peace - good night at Windsor as Feeney keeps us in the hunt

Warren Feeney’s glancing header helped Northern Ireland to a fourth consecutive World Cup victory at Windsor Park last night. We remain top of the group and although, realistically, an unlikely sequence of results would be required, there is still an outside chance that Nigel Worthington and his team could be competing in South Africa come summer 2010.

After Saturday’s high tempo display, this was a rather low key performance from Northern Ireland. In the first half the Slovenes formed marginally the better side. They are a physically imposing outfit and with sloppy Irish passing in midfield, Slovenia found it relatively straightforward to outmuscle Healy and Feeney, who were in receipt of a constant supply of speculative balls along the channels.

The second half saw substantial improvement. Although McCann remained a little wasteful in possession and Davis was out of sorts on the left flank, Northern Ireland’s distribution became sharper. Sammy Clingan in particular deserves cr…