Showing posts from September, 2009

Georgia started the South Ossetia conflict

The European Union's Independent Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia has published its report. One of its main tasks was to establish who started the war. So what was its conclusion?

"The shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8
August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia."

Georgia started it. Of course it did.

Absence of a parliament has not yet created a serious move towards nationalism in England

I read, with a great deal of interest, O’Neill’s post on English nationalism, which examines a speech by David Wildgoose, from the Campaign for an English Parliament, delivered to the Liberal Democrat conference. He begins by quoting Arthur Aughey, who has observed that English nationalism is ‘a mood, not yet a movement’. It is a useful distinction. There exists, fairly commonly in England, an amorphous sense that the country has been disadvantaged by its exclusion from the devolution experiment, but it has not yet been harnessed to a popular or coherent campaign.

In his book ‘The New British Constitution’, Vernon Bogdanor contends that the United Kingdom requires a certain degree of English forbearance, in order to function smoothly. By this reading the identity, ‘English’, has to be suppressed in order that ‘Britishness’ can operate unfettered. Certainly the United Kingdom is dependent on the acquiescence of its largest ‘national’ unit, but I would argue that the English ident…

No benefit for UUP in collapsed Assembly, but the party can improve its position by rolling out UCUNF to Stormont.

On the Guardian Politics Blog Henry McDonald raises, and dismisses, the notion that Sinn Féin might bring down the executive in order to provoke an early election. It is a possibility which I put to Fair Deal when he offered his list of communication ‘does and don’ts’ for the DUP on Open Unionism. Had the advice, ‘do hope with all your might that an Assembly election will not precede, or coincide with, the general election’, appeared on that post, it would not have looked out of place. Perhaps it should have been included, right after, ‘don’t commit to end double jobbing and then perform a u turn whenever you get nervous about the Westminster poll’.

The Democratic Unionists famed ardour for campaigning has certainly been diminished by the party’s third place finish in Europe. Peter Robinson’s plan to accumulate record numbers of Harrods’ food hall loyalty card points for a further four years is inspired, at least in part, by electoral nervousness. If the DUP leaks votes, as expect…

Five jobs again for super troughing homophobe couple?

We learn that Peter Robinson's commitment that the DUP wouldn't double (triple?) job was simply nonsense. Apparently the voracious First Minister is hungry for more. Who would have thunk it? Robbo will seek to retain his parliamentary seat as well as his Stormont post. What about his wife? I'm sure the same principle applies.

Civil unionism?

At Open Unionism Turgon appeals for ‘unionist civility’ but stops short of advocating ‘unity’, contending that a monolithic unionist party, in Northern Ireland, could not possibly represent the breadth of opinion which the pro-Union electorate encompasses. It is hard to argue with any call for more ‘civility’, whatever the context, and I believe that Turgon is right to argue that unionism would not draw strength from coalescing into a single Northern Irish party.

The essence of unionism is very simple, maintenance of the United Kingdom as a sovereign state. Its Ulster variant favours the retention and strengthening of Northern Ireland’s Union with Great Britain. Necessarily such a broad political mission statement must admit a wide variety of sub categories. Unionist parties, whether they are organised nationally, or stand only in one of the UK’s constituent parts, will subscribe to different interpretations of what Britain should mean, and will offer different strategies to unde…

65 ways to fix broken Britain

Keith Gilmour has emailed a thought provoking list which should stimulate some debate. It consists of 65 means by which, its author contends, 'broken Britain' can be mended. Some are controversial, some are incontrovertible common sense, some are easier said than done. See what you think.

65 Ways to Fix Broken Britain

By Keith Gilmour

Recruit (and reward) whistleblowers to expose waste and inefficiency in public services

Curtail the out-of-control 'I trip, therefore I sue' compensation culture

Ditto the offence industry

Encourage everyone to spring clean their possessions and give to charity
shops anything they don't want or need

Do more government advertising on the cheap via competitions (as when members of the public submitted to the BBC homemade 'London 2012' Olympics logos far superior to the one that cost us £400,000)

Cut the bureaucratic overkill that puts many people off volunteering

Scrap extraneous new database schemes

Scrap quangos that duplicate – or in…

Conservatives should keep distance from European partners' domestic agendas.

If I were to claim that the Conservative party’s approach to European Union politics causes me no anxiety, I would be lying. The broad aspiration - a cooperative Europe, based on sovereign states sharing a commitment to democracy, a common market and a common travel space, I can support unequivocally. I am certainly not an advocate of federalism.

Some of the Tories’ allies in the European Conservatives and Reformists, however, make me rather uneasy. And I worry that David Cameron will cause himself difficulties by pledging not to let the Lisbon Treaty rest, even if it has been ratified by every state by the time he becomes prime minister.

One of the more lamentable developments in the former eastern bloc, over the past number of years, has been the ascent of populist nationalism. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Tories have formed a group with some of the worst offenders. I’ve delved into the various Conservative arguments – the homophobes and racists in other Eu…

Why is Mandelson derided for his role in Northern Ireland? Because he listened to two sides rather than one.

It is hardly every day that one feels compelled to defend Peter Mandelson. However, when he is accused of ignorance and obnoxiousness by a purveyor of sentimental Irish American drivel its hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for Labour’s ‘dark lord’.

Niall O’Dowd criticises Mandelson’s conduct as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, endorsing Bertie Ahern’s contention that he hampered the peace process.

If acknowledging the existence of a view which contradicted Republicans’ nationalist orthodoxies and recognising that Sinn Féin / IRA did not comprise a trustworthy group, comprised a road block to progress, then Mandelson erected that obstacle.

Actually the former Secretary of State helped build trust between unionists and the Labour administration. But no doubt the Irish American view is that he was guilty of encouraging ‘false consciousness’ by listening to two sides, rather than one.

Water waste of money! What is the Conservatives and Unionists position on water charges?

Some weeks ago O’Neill asked whether the Conservatives and Unionists have a policy on the Irish language. I suppose that the Ulster Unionists, as the wing of the pact involved in Assembly politics, should do some thinking in this regard.

I want to pose an even more fundamental policy question. What is the Conservative and Unionist policy on water charges?

If we examine the UUP’s latest press release on the issue, Fred Cobain suggests that Northern Ireland is ‘teetering on the brink of a punitive water tax’. It is contended that ’an open and honest debate’ might have avoided the executive’s current budget difficulties. The insinuation is that earlier action on water rates would have ensued.

I dare say that had the DUP Finance Minister admitted the extent of the black hole in Northern Ireland’s finances, some preventative forward planning might have been possible. But let’s be honest. It has been perfectly evident for some time that the money for deferred water charges would caus…

Conservatives and Unionists selection issues.

A new post, from yours truly, over at Open Unionism.

The Conservatives and Unionists joint committee, charged with producing a final list of hopefuls, will decide between candidates chosen by a twin track process. Their deliberations, it might be argued, should also fall into two categories.

First, they must identify particular circumstances in every constituency, and deduce how each personality might be expected to perform, given local peculiarities. Second, and I believe that this is particularly crucial for a new force in politics, they should consider the eighteen candidates as a ‘body corporate’. That means developing a harmonious team with a coherent message, and avoiding inconsistencies in delivery across the constituencies. It also means selecting a group which embodies the project and its ethos.

If both parties keep these considerations in mind, from the beginning of the selection process, then the committee will have an easier task, as it submits its decision to the leaders.

It's the DUP vs. Science again. Wells bangs on about Wifi.

Given that my preferred outcome for the DUP is that it should go away, its mindset forever consigned to Northern Ireland’s dark and ignorant past, I’m aware that it is rather presumptuous to add to Fair Deal’s list of communications ‘does and don’ts’. Still, I offer just one amendment, for the good of society, rather than the party political benefit of the Democratic Unionists.

Do gather the best scientific advice available and, as a rule of thumb, use it to develop public policy, unless there are very compelling overriding factors.

Don’t react to the scientific community as if they pedal some manner of dangerous voodoo and treat with innate suspicion every aspect of modernity, whilst backing up your contentions with, at best, the most threadbare evidence.

For the latest instance of a DUP representative, blinking with confusion in the modern world, attempting to crawl back into his cave and drag the rest of us with him, step forward Jim Wells.

This cretin has been campaigning, since at…

Broadway Roundabout is a farce

What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a good old fashioned ill informed rant about the frustrations of daily life? Don’t answer that. There are a number. I won’t let them deter me.

Is there anything that makes modern Homo sapiens angrier than driving? Don’t answer that either. There are countless worthier reasons for rage.

Still, I must let off some steam on the subject of one of Belfast’s major intersections, the new Broadway Roundabout.

I live a few minutes walk from this leviathan of tarmacadam, which was only fully opened earlier this year, after many months of traffic chaos.

Am I happy now that it’s operating?

Absolutely not!

The roundabout, purportedly fully functioning, works less efficiently than it did whenever it was festooned with cones and pock-marked with temporary traffic lights.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful piece of road design – at 9am on a Sunday morning. Without any traffic you’ll whiz unto the West Link with barely a delay. However, if yo…

Evidence of the potency of CU argument at Open Unionism

Over at Open Unionism Fair Deal has contributed his ‘does and don’ts’ for the DUP, as it attempts to communicate with the electorate in its position as a party of government.

There are a couple of intriguing points. I wonder if there is a tacit admission here, from a leading DUP commentator, that some of the criticisms of the party made by civic minded unionists have some validity?

“Do offer a vision for the Union as a whole and Ulster’s place within it.”

Is Fair Deal’s opening gambit. Which is rather telling, given that a ‘little Ulster mentality’, as well as indifference to national issues, and larger UK constitutional ramifications, is central to the contention that the DUP is barely a unionist party at all, in the wider sense.

In his final point FD urges ‘do recognise the Tory link has some potential’ and ‘don’t think blank repetition of Labour attacks will be effective’.

The sillier sections of the UUP, who wish to throw the Conservative deal overboard, should take note.

Bloody Sunday Inquiry delay

Nice summation from shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Paterson.

“This inquiry has cost nearly £200million and it last took evidence in 2005. It is quite wrong for the families and soldiers involved that it should be delayed again. March 22nd is an absurd date to publish the report as it will either be in the run-up to a General Election or during the campaign period itself."

Not much to add to that. Owen has struck the metal pointy thing rather squarely on the head.

Keep it moderate. Cameron right to distance himself from Thatcherism.

The Guardian carries a story which is especially salient, given the conversation about Tories and Scottish secession, taking place below. David Cameron has distanced himself from the ideological approach to public service cuts, associated with Thatcherism, and Conservative policy in the 1980s.

Following on from yesterday’s Vince Cable piece, I had intended to write today about the perils, for the Tories, of focussing too myopically on budgetary measures. Which is not to imply, by any means, that I underestimate the centrality of economic issues in the forthcoming election, or the necessity to the UK of spending within its means.

As the Guardian article identifies, the Conservatives have won the finance argument with Labour. Gordon Brown has conceded that his government must also instigate cuts and it is not a choice between continued investment, under the present government, and a Tory regime, zealously hacking back services.

The public doesn’t need to be reassured that a Conservati…

It's 'either or' for UUP in North Down. Hermon into UCUNF won't go.

Is the Irish News’ former SDLP functionary Tom Kelly starting to warm to the Conservatives and Unionists project? Doubtful. Although he appears to recognise some of the pact’s strengths, in his latest column.

He also, however, seems rather confused as to the issue of the North Down candidature and the Ulster Unionists’ dissident MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon.

“It’s difficult to see the how the unsurprising defection of Ian Parsley will positively affect the Ulster Unionist/Tory platform, especially if the plan is to run him as a Tory against Lady Hermon as an Ulster Unionist.”

If Hermon were to stand in North Down, my understanding is that it would, necessarily, be as an independent (if the UCUNF arrangement remains in place). There is no prospect of the sitting MP facing Parsley, or any other Conservative candidate, as an Ulster Unionist, under the present dispensation.

Nor is there any possibility that the Conservatives will endorse Hermon, should she perform an almighty u turn.

Cable's dance around imploding Union is just another pre-election tale of Tory apocalypse

Vince Cable may have attracted acclaim for his musings on the economy, but I would suggest that constitutional issues are not his specialist subject. Addressing a fringe event, at his party’s annual conference, the Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesman delivered doom laden remarks, predicting a ‘constitutional crisis’, should Conservatives win the next election, and speculating that David Cameron could preside over the demise of the Union.

Yes indeed. The Tory apocalypse is imminent. Britain will first become a hermit state at the edge of the European Union, and then dissolve, because one centrist government takes the reins from another.

We’ll return to Dr Cable’s conference remarks, as reported by the Press and Journal, a little later. But it’s worth noting that the source of the former Glasgow councillor’s anxiety was a recent trip to the Scottish Highlands. The ‘gathering storm’ of Scots’ independence is a notion, then, that Vincent conceived in tranquillity, relatively recent…

Cooperation with Russia is possible. Terror is a great place to start.

I was introduced to Charles Crawford’s ‘Blogoir’ site through the Bloggers’ Circle initiative. Charles, a retired FCO ambassador, purports to publish the world’s first hybrid diplomatic blog / memoir.

Clearly Crawford has a deep knowledge of Russia and the post Soviet space. Although I don’t agree with all his conclusions, I read, with a great deal of enjoyment, commentary which is well informed and clearly articulated.

Today Blogoir carries a post following up on some points made during a debate about the scrapped missile shield. It is inspired, partly, by an argument I made in the comments’ zone of a previous post, in which I had challenged the perception that Putinism is merely a crude form of nationalism.

A mark of the quality of his analysis is that Charles is prepared to accept that I have a point, as has another commenter, who believes that western decision making has played a considerable part in Russia’s ‘uncooperative’ attitude to Europe and America. Charles admits…

My Assembly Week

Another quick plug for Open Unionism. The new home for unionist debate carries its first piece from a representative. DUP South Antrim MLA, Trevor Clarke, recounts his experiences at the Northern Ireland Assembly. Trevor articulates his support for relatives of IRA terror victims who are seeking compensation from Libya. No comment on Ian Paisley Junior's instrumental support for the Libyan authorities. Encouraging to note that Clarke is highlighting 'unionist cultural issues'. Given that unionists are a diverse bunch, supporting a political aim, that's a broad range of cultural issues to concern oneself with.

DUP seek university recruitment based on religion

Alex Easton and Jonathan Craig, DUP MLAs for North Down and Lagan Valley, respectively, have tabled an Assembly motion which might have sprung directly from the 1950s. They call on the Minister for Employment and Learning (Sir Reg Empey) “to bring forward measures to attract and ensure that students from a Protestant background are encouraged to opt for universities in Northern Ireland as their first choice rather than universities in the rest of the United Kingdom”.

Setting aside the feasibility of such ‘measures’ in the light of equality legislation (one imagines the message ‘go ye not out among them English’ thundering down, Amish style, from Free Presbyterian pulpits), what type of message does the DUP wish to send out to youngsters? From the unionist perspective, are we advising eighteen year olds not to consider the rest of the UK their home? Do we not believe that integrating with the rest of the Kingdom is an important part of our membership of it?

And why on earth should w…

Obama's aim is true on missile defence

Regular readers will scarcely be flabbergasted to learn that I welcome Barack Obama’s decision to scrap a controversial missile shield in central and eastern Europe. A great deal of hysterical nonsense has been written to accompany the decision, which has been presented as capitulation to Vladimir Putin, or abandonment of plucky allies, only recently freed from Russia’s yoke.

All of which rather undermines the contention that the shield, which was to include bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, was designed to prevent aggression from Iran and should not concern the Kremlin.

The original scheme was endorsed by three discredited governments, in Washington, Warsaw and Prague respectively. Despite the ‘abandoned friends’ narrative, the intention to park missile silos and radar installations on Polish and Czech territory was unpopular amongst the wider population. Now the realist approach to foreign policy is more accurately reflected in government.

It is no accident that commenta…

Conservatives seek national mandate, as polls continue to show lead in Wales.

It is commonly asserted that, should the Conservative party win the next election, it will have no mandate, or a negligible mandate, outside England. The moral authority of the Westminster government will therefore be undermined, it is argued, and nationalism will draw strength from a Tory victory. Of course, conversely, the Conservatives might well be the only party to return MPs from all four corners of the United Kingdom.

The Guardian’s Martin Kettle reminds us that, following the next election, polls indicate that David Cameron’s party will have become the biggest party in Wales, dislodging Labour, for the first time in a century. Kettle concludes that although it is premature to describe Wales as a ‘Conservative nation’, it is no longer tenable to term it a ‘Labour nation’ either.

In Scotland Tory revival has been less marked, but although the party can claim only one in forty Westminster seats, it gained a sixth of the Scottish vote in 2005. In the Scottish parliament, whe…

Uniquely, in Northern Ireland, it can be argued that devolution settlement strengthened unionism and the 'Fifth Nation'.

The tendency to assume that devolution has begun a process which will inevitably result in the break up of the United Kingdom, Arthur Aughey characterises as ‘endism’. If its tenets have not become all pervading, they have certainly come to form a common thread in the nation’s constitutional discourse. Arthur, like Vernon Bogdanor, in his book ‘The New British Constitution’, identifies a swathe of journalists, academics and even politicians, who have succumbed to endist logic, in print. They range from nationalists, for whom the ‘inevitable’ end of Britain is an aspiration (Tom Nairn), to gloomy unionists, prescribing irreversible wrongs which have been visited on a noble constitution (John Redwood).

To the body of endist literature identified by Aughey and Bogdanor, we might add ‘A Useful Fiction’, Welsh journalist Patrick Hannan’s superficial skate across the surface of modern Britain. I note too, that Ian Jack, the columnist whose elegant prose enlivens Saturday editions of th…

Educated discourse unlikely with the minister in charge

On Open Unionism O’Neill offers an excellent post on education in Northern Ireland. He argues that debate has become fixated upon the selection question to the exclusion of broader issues.

It is hard to disagree with his thesis that an education system’s primary objective must be to help every child reach his or her potential. O’Neill believes we must be more open-minded as to the means by which this can be achieved.

I cannot approach the level of specialist knowledge which O’Neill brings to this topic, although I wonder if the system in Finland (to cite his own example), where there is a small gap between the top achievers and those at the bottom, fosters excellence amongst the most academic children, or exhausts its resources targeting the mean?

Doubtless, as O’Neill contends, there is a balance to be struck. Clearly, striving to raise levels of attainment at the lower end of the ability range is a noble aim. Whether it is worth some sacrifice at a higher echelon, or whether t…

Can Mandy save Labour? Early reaction to public spending 'relaunch'.

Common wisdom holds that Lord Mandelson is the most powerful figure in the current government, since he returned from political wilderness in an attempt to save Gordon Brown. He has been charged with re-formulating Labour’s public spending message, and to that effect he appeared on the Today programme this morning and delivered a keynote speech this afternoon.

Andrew Sparrow has done a good job of assessing Mandelson’s success, or lack of it, in tackling both tasks. First the business minister failed to outmanoeuvre the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, who has consistently highlighted the incongruity of the Prime Minister’s ‘Tory cuts vs. Labour investment’ mantra, over a number of months. Point out a clear instance where Brown used this formulation, Mandelson challenged, ten minutes later Robinson did.

Second, the public spending speech was a proficient piece of politicking, notable for the resurgent New Labour language which it employed. Iain Dale believes the government…

Assembly to debate human rights car crash

Although the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s recommendations are effectively dead in the water, the resultant outflow of public monies is far from being stemmed just yet. Indeed the NIO launches a public consultation on the proposals this autumn, despite the absence of any cross party, or cross community consensus by which they might proceed.

Therefore the intervention made by two Ulster Unionist MLAs, Danny Kennedy and Tom Elliott, who have put down a motion (scroll down) which should ensure that the pertinent issues are debated at Stormont, is particularly welcome. The wording they choose is instructive. It reflects the view, supported by the Secretary of State, that the NIHRC’s report falls outside the remit prescribed for it by the Good Friday Agreement.

“This Assembly considers the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s advice to the Secretary of State “A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland” as incompatible with the provisions of the Belfast Agreement; notes wi…

Open Unionism - exciting weblog launches

I’m delighted to have contributed the first blogpost to an exciting new addition to the political blogosphere.

Open Unionism is a space for the discussion of ‘new perspectives on unionism’ and it will host some of the best writing from unionist bloggers, commentators and representatives. In addition ‘open’ submissions will be welcomed from unionist contributors and others, across the political spectrum. It is a collaborative project and the brainchild of the excellent blogger, bobballs.

The clue is in the website’s title, but Open Unionism intends to offer the widest possible survey of pro-Union debate and opinion. In the first post, with an eye to the new Assembly session, I envisage an Executive based on voluntary coalition, and an Assembly focussed on integration.

Expect some dissenting voices.

On your bike. Salmond plots to tax cyclists.

Scotland on Sunday reports that the Scottish Executive is considering extending road tax to cyclists. Bizarrely an 'Action Plan' commissioned by the SNP led administration, which aspires to ensure 10% of journeys in Scotland are made by bike, suggests that their owners should make an annual contribution to road maintenance.

The Green Party, which operates a 'confidence and supply' alliance with nationalists in Scotland, and supports Salmond's separatist ambitions, has already expressed its dismay. Road tax is increasingly viewed as a means by which to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of travel.

Scotland might be an exception, but in the rest of the UK agricultural vehicles are exempt from road tax, yet form a regular presence on public roads. I would suggest that they exact more wear and tear and exasperate other road users more frequently than cyclists.

Parsley joins Conservatives - confirmed.

The Conservatives have issued a press release welcoming his arrival:

The Conservatives are delighted to announce that Councillor Ian Parsley has resigned from the Alliance Party and joined our Party.

Tim Lewis, Chairman of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Ian to our Party. Ian is determined to continue his hard work on North Down Council where he will sit as a Conservative. This move once again shows the growing appeal of the Conservatives throughout Northern Ireland.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson said:

“The mood for change in Northern Ireland is very strong. I am delighted that Ian Parsley, who is a rising star of the new generation of Northern Ireland politicians, has decided to join David Cameron’s Conservative Party in order to help bring Northern Ireland into mainstream UK politics.”

Commenting on his move, Ian Parsley said:

“Having given significant thought to the future of Northern Ireland I came to the conclu…

Parsley to join Conservatives and Unionists

Slugger picks up on a newspaper story that Ian Parsley is set to defect to the Ulster Unionists. The Alliance European election candidate promises a comment later in the day, but observes that the report contains 'substantial inaccuracies', on his blog.

There are inaccuracies and inaccuracies however. If Parsley joins the Conservatives and Unionists, and I believe it will be the Conservative party which he is likely to favour, after taking a job with Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, then he becomes the most significant defection yet. He's young, articulate, moderate and would make a great parliamentary candidate for North Down.

In addition, because he is named after a foodstuff, he is very much my two and a half year old niece's favourite politician.

Update: Parsley has claimed that he has 'no plans to switch' (according to a BBC report). However he also said he would consider over the weekend whether his new job made membership of Alli…

Conservatives must not treat defence as untouchable

The Times reports that the Conservative leadership is planning to review its commitments to defence spending, a prospect which ConHome believes will ‘unnerve’ many of its readers. Although suggestions that shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, has differences with the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, are a legitimate source of concern for Tory supporters, it would be neither unreasonable, nor unwise, for a Conservative treasury to consider cuts to the defence budget. Despite Britain’s entanglement in Afghanistan, perhaps even because of it, substantial savings are possible.

The former shadow home secretary, David Davis, has, for some time, maintained that the UK’s nuclear deterrent should be up for discussion. A Conservative government had been expected to remain committed to replacing Trident, the nuclear submarine system, at a cost of £20 billion. It now appears that other options will be investigated, as part of a Strategic Defence Review, should the Tories form the next gover…

Liam Fox won't be beaten by the police for his conservative politics, activists in Georgia are less fortunate

Liam Fox should spare a thought for his fellow conservatives in Georgia.

The shadow defence secretary wrote an article marking the anniversary of war in South Ossetia which sent a strong message of support to President Saakashvili.

However if Fox belonged to the Conservative party in the Caucasian state, he might have a different perspective, because the regime in Tbilisi has a rather heavy handed approach to opposition politics.

During a presidential visit to the town of Telavi police are alleged to have broken into the party offices and beaten up three activists. Thankfully, for Fox, similar incidents are rather rarer at Millbank.

(H/T Carl Thomson)

Rights body a dismal, dishonest failure

Opponents of the NIHRC’s project to implement its recommendations for a Bill of Rights can be assured that its efforts are going nowhere. Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, has already observed that the commission exceeded its remit and that it produced an untenable report. The Conservative party has put on record its scepticism about the need for legislation exclusive to Northern Ireland. If it forms the next government, it favours including any rights which might be specifically relevant in a UK wide Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

On the issue of a Northern Ireland bill, reason is winning. Which is perhaps why Monica McWilliams, whose £70,000 per annum salary is dependent on the tax payer, is growing increasingly shrill. David Cameron might be intent on subjecting members of parliament to a pay cut, but public money is better spent paying representatives, mandated by the electorate and required to work on behalf of their constituents, rather than funding a quango which …

Robinson attempts to go widescreen, but betrays narrow vision of unionism.

Yesterday Peter Robinson delivered an address at an event organised to ask ‘how can devolved government work for citizens?’. The DUP leader’s speech was called ‘Making Devolution Work’. Jack McConnell also made a contribution, which I have not read, and, therefore, cannot comment upon. The former Scottish First Minister spoke on the benefits of devolution at Holyrood and his remarks have remained largely unreported.

However, from a unionist perspective, there is certainly a significant omission from Robinson’s analysis. Although he takes a relatively wide look at devolution in Northern Ireland, and its workings, he does not attempt to place it in a wider UK context. How have the new devolved institutions effected the integrity of the nation and the internal arrangements by which it is governed?

We have references to the ‘real benefits of devolution and the dangers of Direct Rule’, and ‘unionists’ controlling their ‘own destiny’, but there is no allusion to unionism as a Kingdom …

Save Election Night Campaign

In Northern Ireland we've always had to wait until the day after a General Election before the results are counted. But fortunately, like the rest of the nation, we've been able to watch results come in from the rest of the UK throughout the course of Thursday night / Friday morning. The first declaration is always an exciting moment, although a safe Labour seat in Sunderland usually seems to take the honours.

Election night is an occasion of high drama and popular engagement with the political process. Watching the coverage is a national ritual, even for those whose interest in politics is only piqued once every four or five years.

The Sunday Times has suggested that almost a quarter of local authorities may, at the next election, end up holding their count on the Friday morning. This would be a retrograde step, out of kilter with the information age in which we live. It would also serve to increase public detachment from politics.

Jonathan Isaby has started a campaign in o…

If you can't beat em join em?

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, has delivered a speech entitled ‘Making Devolution Work’ at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. ‘Hand of History’ has the full transcript.

At first inspection it appears that Robinson has elected to counter his opponents’ arguments on the dysfunctional nature of the current Executive by conceding some of their core points.

Thus we have a section which the DUP clearly intends to be interpreted as its commitment to bring the SDLP and UUP ‘in from the cold’.

The Democratic Unionists’ leader also states his preference for weighted majority voting, whereby a requirement for 65% support in the Assembly would replace the cross community voting mechanism.

This would effectively end the mutual veto exercised by the DUP and Sinn Féin, which was negotiated at St Andrews. It would also supersede requirements for community designation which presently entrench formally the communal basis of power sharing.

Is Robinson floating such ideas merely becau…

Wine sippers, vodka sluggers, beer quaffers and some comparative culture

The Humble Economist has made my day by posting on the topic of the Polish Beer Lovers’ Party (PPPP). The group was formed in the early nineties, by the satirist Janusz Rewinski, with the declared aim of encouraging Poles to drink beer rather than vodka. It won 16 seats in the 1991 election and although it has since dissolved, its former members can take heart from the buoyant state of the Polish beer industry.

Ironically, given the perception that many of Britain’s health problems are fuelled by a fondness for beer, in much of northern and eastern Europe its consumption is viewed as a healthy life choice. Three Thousand Versts’ medical team confirms that vodka drinking is statistically more likely to result in alcoholism and it is more probable that the spirit will contribute to digestive problems, due to its acidity.

In Russia, Ukraine, and indeed Poland, beer is popular amongst young people and ‘beerhalls’ have become trendy venues. Admittedly, it is also drunk throughout the d…