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Showing posts from October, 2009

Infantilising the Northern Ireland electorate

I try to ignore Brian Walker’s contributions to Slugger, really I do, and broadly, in this endeavour, I am successful. His dense swamps of prose are easy to identify by their lack of paragraphing, and they rarely contain enough content to snag an unwilling reader’s eye. Just occasionally, however, my Walkerdar lets me down and I am unfortunate enough to find myself knee deep in the muddled, muddy mulch which comprises Brian’s political analyses.

Today, regrettably, I’ve been forced to extricate myself, one boot at a time, from such a sucking, fetid morass.

It is a confusing experience, as one finds oneself surrounded by disconnected, swirling sentences, untethered to a coherent argument. In truth there is generally some type of emotional core identifiable, deep within a Walker post, although usually it is better to feel it instinctively, rather than attempt to understand it by following through its so called logic. Around it forms a dizzying and condescending miasma of woolly wo…

If visit improves UK relations with Russia, it will be in spite of Miliband.

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At the height of controversy surrounding the Litvinenko affair, former dissident and adviser to President Putin, Gleb Pavlosky, accused David Miliband of imbibing anti Russian sentiment ‘with his mother’s milk’. He was indulging, undoubtedly, in a degree of hyperbole, and mining Miliband family history to impugn the current generation was an unfortunate mode of debate. However his comments reflected genuine anger at the British foreign secretary’s consistently hostile attitude to Russia and little has occurred, in the intervening two years, to reassure Russians as to Miliband’s good faith.

Nevertheless, this weekend, Miliband will embark upon the first visit to Russia by a UK foreign secretary in five years, when he visits his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow. Notwithstanding his clumsy, carping, unnuanced interventions on behalf of Ukraine and Georgia, there is an appetite for partnership between the UK and Russia. RIA Novosti, the state news agency, reports Russian hopes th…

Medvedev might yet become Russia's next reformer

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The Russian President recently set out a prospectus for modernisation in an article published on the democratic news-site, gazeta.ru. Perennially hostile observers chose to interpret the piece as an extension of a good cop / bad cop routine which they believe Medvedev is engaged in, in conjunction with Vladimir Putin. By their estimation, real power resides squarely with the Prime Minister and suggestions of liberalism, which occasionally emanate from the President’s office, form a convenient distraction, simply permitting Putin to exercise his personal authority with greater freedom and efficiency.

Cynicism amongst commentators, however, is not universal. There are those who believe that Putin’s influence has merely postponed a project of reform for which Medvedev will seek a mandate in 2012. The article does not suggest that the President will willingly stand aside, should his predecessor seek an immediate return to the Kremlin, and there is plenty of evidence to corroborate th…

DUP MP solitary advocate of death penalty at Commons' debate

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We’ve had Ian McCrea’s campaign to prevent the Pope visiting Northern Ireland, Iris Robinson’s hate-filled remarks about homosexuals, Sammy Wilson’s climate change denial, Edwin Poots et al with their five thousand year old Earth and Jim Wells versus wifi.

But if anyone still harbours a suspicion that the DUP might be remotely connected, by even the flimsiest thread, to the mainstream of British politics, they should examine Gregory Campbell’s contribution to a Westminster Hall debate aimed at pressuring some of the more unpleasant regimes throughout the world to abandon the death penalty.

Across party divides agreement was reached that abolition should be sought in countries including Iran, China and Belarus. A rare accord, which did not include the East Londonderry MP, who rejected ‘cosy consensus’, on the basis that a ‘small number of serial killers who treat the prospect of redemption with utter contempt’ could ‘commit another crime against an innocent person’. A scenario whic…

No credible critique of UCUNF has emerged from within the UUP which rejects the Tory link.

When four Ulster Unionists signed a letter of protest, attacking their party leader’s decision to forge an electoral pact with David Cameron’s Conservatives, I welcomed the opportunity to bring dissent out into the open. Roy Garland was one figure whose name appeared on the letter, and its contents reflected closely the preoccupations which colour his weekly column in the Irish News.

In common with two of his fellow dissidents, Garland is no longer a UUP representative. He exercises influence through his articles (with which this blog frequently disagrees). After enduring months of innuendo and sniping through that medium, Sir Reg Empey finally chose to respond to Garland’s criticism in the Irish News’ letter pages, last week. Their differences have now been made explicit.

I believe that this type of internal debate should have been fought, and won, earlier, in order to let UCUNF make its case to voters with unity of purpose. However the maxim ‘better late than never’ is applica…

Salmond is 'irrelevant' to general election result.

Wouldn’t it have been a rare privilege to be the man, or woman, who, along with morning coffee, delivered to Scotland’s ‘Il Duce’ the news that David Cameron considers him ‘irrelevant’ to the result of the next general election?

One can only imagine the look of indignation which must have contorted Alex Salmond’s smug countenance.

Cameron is of course correct to point out that the SNP leader does not even intend to contest the Westminster poll.

Although, if he is not a candidate, such is the personality cult which envelops Salmond, there is little doubt that he will attempt to turn each and every battle for a Scottish seat into a personal plebiscite on his own popularity. However, in previous general elections, Scots have always rejected the SNP in favour of participating in a national contest.

Mr Cameron’s remarks were in response to Salmond’s suggestion that a hung parliament could follow a general election, in which case his party might hold the balance of power, and Westminst…

The Illusion of Freedom - Scotland Under Nationalism. Review.

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Tom Gallagher is not by temperament or inclination a unionist. His book, ‘The Illusion of Freedom’, questions the effectiveness of the SNP’s leadership of Scottish nationalism, but does not reject, explicitly, the legitimacy of the party’s aim of independence. The author is critical of the personality cult surrounding Alex Salmond, his party’s cronyism and clientelism, its confused economic policies, the Anglophobia associated with its chauvinist doctrines, but Gallagher treats as axiomatic the assumption that Scotland, as a nation, must enjoy a high degree of political self-expression in order to flourish. If he eventually rejects Salmond’s separatism, it is because he believes it leads to an inward looking, socially conservative, centralist state, not because he subscribes to integrationist unionism.

‘The Illusion of Freedom’ consists of two parts. The first charts a fairly brief history of Scotland, stretching from the Act of Union in 1707 until the Scottish Parliament’s reest…

Welsh poll result points to Tory gains

From Conservative Home:

“Today's Western Mail carries what Political Betting's Mike Smithson reports as YouGov's first ever Wales-only Westminster voting intention poll. It saw over 1,000 Welsh voters surveyed last week.”

It finds that 34% of Welsh voters intend to vote Labour, just ahead of the Conservatives at 31%, whilst Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats languish at 15% and 12% respectively.

In a traditional Labour heartland, these poll results could translate into twelve Tory seats, which would demolish the thesis that David Cameron presides over an England-only party.

It also reinforces the suspicion that nationalism is not making gains in Wales, similar to those which have been achieved in Scotland.

A 'price to pay' for policing and justice agreement? And moving the argument on from justifying UCUNF.

Before we consign the Ulster Unionist conference to the archives for another year, there are a couple of points worth addressing, which have been rather sidelined by the thorny issue of agreed candidates and the small, ancient cadre of UCUNF dissenters.

The leader’s speech touched on more substantive policy considerations than commentators have generally acknowledged. Long sections were, after all, devoted to the economy, health and education.

Indeed a significant, and strangely ignored, portion of his address was concerned with policing and justice, which has dominated political opinion pages for a number of months. It is surprising that more attention has not been paid to Sir Reg Empey’s remarks on this topic.

The Ulster Unionist party, its leader insisted, is not opposed, in principle, to the devolution of justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is, however, intensely anxious about a process dictated by a deal, “concocted privately between the DUP and Sinn Fein”.…

Rural Russia meets urban Belfast

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On Saturday evening I attended Prime Cuts’ version of Black Milk, a play by Vassily Sigarev, receiving its Irish premiere at the Belfast Festival. Set in a desolate Urals’ backwater, at a crumbling train station, a trashy ‘New Russian’ couple from the city find themselves in a clash of culture and values with the rural poor.

Lyovchick and his heavily pregnant wife are ‘shuttle traders’, hustling the locals to buy ‘super toasters’ for exorbitant prices. Apparently many of their customers believe the devices will enable them to bake bread.

When Shura’s waters break she is taken in by kindly ‘Auntie Pasha’ who helps deliver the baby, and the chain smoking female lead, with a dissolute past, becomes seduced by the notion of living a simple, honest life in the countryside.

Her abusive husband has different ideas and an intense and occasionally brutal final scene is played out, as Shura pleads with Lyovchick to embrace a new life and he attempts to wrench her back to the routine to which…

Soldiers' Stories - Northern Ireland

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Marking the fortieth anniversary of the commencement of Operation Banner, History (formerly the History Channel) is screening a documentary called ‘Soldiers’ Stories’ tonight, at 9pm.

Bobballs has provided a positive review over at his site. I too enjoyed the programme. It doesn’t provide the most intricate analysis of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, which are depicted in fairly broad strokes, but that is rather the point.

This is a personal interpretation of events, by individual British soldiers who served here, and it reflects their confusion, as well as frustration, anger, fear and, occasionally, excitement.

These are powerful, and occasionally harrowing tales, rendered all the more visceral by the ordinary men who tell them.

Option of a Conservative and Unionist pullout does not exist.

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On Friday O’Neill offered a fairly imporous case against agreed candidates, on Unionist Lite. When I spoke to Sir Reg Empey yesterday he echoed many of O’Neill’s points. I wonder whether the Ulster Unionist leader, or an adviser, is an avid reader of the blog? It certainly provided a fine template to answer the most incessant question of the day.

Ironically, O’Neill points out below, the Belfast Telegraph reports a more equivocal response to the question of an electoral pact with the DUP, despite Empey’s grasp of the core arguments against contracting such an arrangement.

The paper points out that Ulster Unionists are prepared to have ’formal’ discussions with the Democratic Unionists, albeit that the possible theme for these talks is inferred in the article, rather than stated explicitly.

If the UUP does enter talks with the DUP then the message which they take to their rivals should be the same one which Empey described to me yesterday. If Peter Robinson and his party genuinely…

The DUP should stand down in South Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone - Sir Reg Empey

I've just been chatting to the party leader, in the wake of a successful conference speech.

I took the opportunity to ask him about the 'unionist unity' question. He was fairly adamant that the Conservatives and Unionists would not be standing aside. It is clear that Arlene Foster's involvement in the DUP campaign for an electoral deal is particularly irksome to Ulster Unionists.

Sir Reg was scathing about her hypocrisy and motioned towards the Beaten Docket pub as an emblem of the DUP's chances in any election. When the Conservatives and Unionists select their candidates, Empey insisted, the DUP should simply support them.

Looking ahead to Assembly elections, likely to take place in 2011, the UUP party leader acknowledged that the Conservative and UUP connection would have to be considered. He agreed that it was difficult to envisage candidates from two connected parties fighting against each other, but highlighted legal difficulties in extending the Westmins…

Sir Reg Empey's leader's speech at 2009 conference

Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for coming.

I am delighted that so many of you are here today, demonstrating your commitment to the Party and the Union. As I have said on other occasions the grassroots of the UUP are the backbone of the party.

I’m also very pleased that William Hague agreed to be our guest speaker …

and I am grateful to him for taking time out of a very busy schedule to fly over for this conference.

And can I also welcome Owen Paterson and other members from the Conservative Party locally.

Thank you, too, to our Conference Committee, chaired by Terry Wright.

And especially to Hazel Legge, our staff at HQ, our public relations and research teams who did so much of the background preparation.

I wish to thank also all our public representatives; Lady Hermon MP and her colleagues in the Upper House who keep the Ulster Unionist flag flying in Parliament;

our MLAs and Councillors, who represent this Party so well across the Province.

I cannot let the occasion pass without payin…

William Hague's conference speech

It’s a huge pleasure to be back in this great city of Belfast and to be addressing your party conference as a Conservative and as a committed Unionist.

As a Unionist I believe with conviction that the future of all four parts of country lies together as one United Kingdom.

I believe that in an uncertain world our country remains a great force for good and that together the United Kingdom achieves much more than would ever be the case if we were apart.

And I believe in a United Kingdom that is tolerant, inclusive and diverse, at ease with its past and confident about its future.

Today, I want to talk to you about a Conservative approach to foreign policy and Britain’s role in the world.

I want to set out why the United Kingdom so desperately needs the change that only the election of a Conservative government can bring about.

And I want to explain how Northern Ireland can shape the future destiny of our country by helping to get rid of this discredited Labour government and putting David Cam…

UUP Conference Feed

Anti UCUNF letter penned by yesterday's men.

On the day that Ian Parsley was confirmed as the Conservative nominee for the North Down candidature, and on the eve of the UUP party conference, it is my understanding that several senior Ulster Unionists have signed an open letter to Sir Reg Empey, attacking the party's Tory linkup.

The names which are being mooted are predictable - Roy Garland, Chris McGimpsey and others. They are no longer representatives, but retain a certain residual influence. Though make no mistake about it, these are yesterday's men. Aging dinosaurs who have opposed the deal since its inception.

I would argue that these differences have been allowed, for too long, to simmer beneath the surface. It is better that they are brought out into the open, addressed and the Conservatives and Unionists pact can move on with the backing of those who are committed to it.

It's interesting, and instructive, to reproduce Sir Reg Empey's answer to ANOTHER derogatory Garland article, which appeared in the I…

UUP Conference - live

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As I intimated in the post below, the UUP is set to hold its 2009 conference, tomorrow, at the Europa Hotel Belfast. Three Thousand Versts, in conjunction with Open Unionism, will be covering the keynote speeches live. The Coveritlive feed will appear above, providing real time updates from the hall, as William Hague, Michael McGimpsey and Sir Reg Empey deliver the key addresses. Follow the action on Twitter @3000Versts and @openunionism. We’ll pick up contributions #uupconf2009.

'No Pope Here'. DUP reps and activists join Facebook hate group.

Have a glance at this charming Facebook group entitled ‘No Pope Here’. It includes such heart-warming (and grammatical) sentiments as, “wats the point him goin ther its basicly a death wish for him its like him sayin KILL ME NOW LOL” and “no pope is welcum here keep him out fgau NO SURRENDER X”. Lovely, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It should hardly be surprising, but a 3000 Versts reader has pointed me in the direction of the membership which includes – DUP MLAs Ian McCrea and Trevor Clarke, Councillors Ian Stevenson and Pam Lewis (who runs Sammy Wilson’s office), Gordon Lyons (Wilson’s researcher) and John Hussey. Less predictable is the adherence of Ivan Djordjevic from Serbia, or a fansite for Eric Bristow, the darts player.

Make no mistake about it, this is a hate site, and DUP representatives and employees have gleefully signed up. This is the nature of the party with which the UUP are urged to contract an electoral deal. If the DUP does wish to strike an electoral pact it shoul…

Positive message on Stormont could form one half of hopeful conference for UUP.

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Last year the Ulster Unionist conference proved a heady affair. Fresh from striking a historic deal with the Conservative party, Sir Reg Empey introduced David Cameron to delegates at the Ramada hotel. The Tory leader delivered an exciting address, steeped in unionism, and received a tumultuous reception. This year Cameron’s deputy, William Hague, will attempt to rekindle enthusiasm, which occasionally, during the intervening ten months, has appeared to diminish as UUP members have become reconciled to repercussions of the Conservatives and Unionists electoral pact. With a Westminster poll imminent, European success secured and senior Tories still committed to a vital deal for Northern Ireland, there is no credible reason why the atmosphere at Belfast’s Europa hotel should not be equally buoyant, tomorrow morning.

The 2010 general election will preoccupy political parties for the next number of months, but, in conjunction with SDLP minister Margaret Ritchie, the Ulster Unionist l…

Foreign Secretary or font of pre election bile?

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I have registered my apprehension, on this blog, that the ECR group, which the Conservatives have helped constitute in the European Parliament, contains unpleasant, populist nationalists from the former Soviet bloc. I believe that the Tories should have considered more closely the character of the various organisations with which they were about to associate in Europe. It is true, however, that the groups within the European Parliament are, by necessity, alliances of convenience, forged between parties on the basis of the most amorphous common principles. Such is the character of EU politics.

MEPs within a group, and the parties from which they are drawn, might share very broad objectives or a common outlook as regards the European Parliament. They certainly do not, by anyone’s understanding, endorse the domestic platforms of each of their groupmates. Which is why I believe that, the ECR having already been formed, Conservatives do not need to defend the Latvian Fatherland and F…

Paisley hatchet job available soon to discerning readers

It’s worth mentioning a new book due to be launched in November. The Belfast Telegraph’s resident politics attack dog, David Gordon, has penned ‘The Fall of the House of Paisley’.

Gordon promises to “pinpoint the structural flaws in the House of Paisley and shine an uncompromising light on the Northern Ireland political class”. The book is available from the Three Thousand Versts Bookstore.

The Beard Ambition World Tour - HELLO SWANSEA!

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From teargas, sorry ‘léargas’, the virtual tree from which the wise old owl of Sinn Féin dispenses pellets of ‘insight’,


“This blog travels to Wales on Tuesday – to Swansea – to speak to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I will tell that forum that while Irish republicans want our rights, we do not seek to deny the rights of anyone else. We want justice for all and privilege for none.”

A paragraph which teaches us, not only that the Provos’ president is scheduled to address BIPA’s latest plenary session this morning, but that Gerry Adams has taken to describing himself, in the third person, as a ‘blog’.

‘The blog’ has, in recent months, been on a veritable world tour promoting ‘Irish unity’. Slugger O’Toole has a preview of what he (it?) will say on the latest leg, other than, presumably, “HELLO SWANSEA!”.

Two passages in particular jump out from amongst the leaden, Orwellian Shinnerspeak which ‘the blog’ intends to deliver. In deference to the ‘east-west’ sensibility of the As…

SNP's unconvincing Order snub

Efrafandays reports the SNP’s unconvincing reaction to the news that the Orange Order, in Scotland, will encourage its members to vote for anyone other than a nationalist, in the forthcoming general election. Party sources are suggesting that comments from Grand Master, Ian Wilson, represent an embarrassment for Labour (and presumably the other unionist parties), rather than a blow to the SNP.

Alec observes that Salmond’s party is not without its own bedfellows known for an intransigent take on religion. The Scottish-Islamic Foundation is intricately linked to the SNP and has received a full third of all ‘equality’ funding since 2007. Its spokespersons have advocated the introduction of Sharia Law to Scottish jurisprudence and championed state funded Islamic schools, despite evidence that such institutions can exercise a radicalising influence.

Whilst the SIF is entitled to pursue its chosen projects, the SNP’s patronage exemplifies its approach to sectional interests. Rather than c…

FSB chief claims Georgia - al Qaeda cooperation

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The Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, which borders Chechnya, has long provided a transit route for money, weapons and militants into and out of the Russian republic. It has been alleged that al Qaeda operates training camps in the region.

Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s FSB, has gone further and claimed that his security organs have gathered audio evidence that Georgia has been actively involved in training and lending safe passage to terrorists operating in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Naturally the Georgian authorities have denied strenuously any cooperation with al Qaeda. Tbilisi can point to forces which it has contributed to struggles against Islamist terror, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bortinkov’s allegations might simply represent another front in the propaganda war between Russia and Georgia. However President Saakashvili has demonstrated a penchant for rash and underhand tactics, as well as pathological dishonesty.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Georgia has someth…

Banning Griffin now would fuel the BNP's persecution complex.

Popular opinion on Nick Griffin’s scheduled appearance on Question Time divides broadly into two categories. First, the argument runs that extremism is nurtured in dark corners and the way to defeat it is through open, democratic debate. Second, it is recognised that an organisation like the BNP craves publicity, and, given that all reasonable and reasoning people agree that its views are abhorrent, it should be denied it wherever possible.

Unfortunately it has been a bad weekend for those who subscribe to the latter view. The debate on BNP participation has already commanded many inches of newsprint. Whether one agrees with the BBC’s decision to include Griffin in its panel, or not, the path of least resistance must surely now dictate that he appears. If he were replaced at this late juncture it could not fail to nourish the erroneous sense of grievance on which his party thrives.

In Northern Ireland we have seen the way in which extreme political views can be insinuated into th…

Demise of a fine blog

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In the assumption that his site hasn't been hacked, I'm sad to learn that one of my favourite bloggers, Scottish Unionist, is hanging up his keyboard. His site will be sorely missed. I hope that he finds time, some day, to share again his thought provoking vision online, with its emphasis on Scotland within the United Kingdom and a strong European Union.

Let's hear the pro-pact UUP voices, loud and clear.

The Irish News columnist and South Belfast Ulster Unionist member, Roy Garland, does not like his party’s alliance with the Conservatives. He has written another virulent piece defending his constituency association’s call for ‘unionist unity’ in South Belfast and rubbishing the UUP’s decision to run joint candidates with the Tories. Garland also rejects any notion that stepping down to let the DUP have a free run would amount to a return to sectarian headcount politics, citing, as evidence, his own record of cross community engagement.

I have not the slightest problem with Garland’s efforts towards reconciliation. Neither do I question the sincerity of his commitment to working class communities. I do, however, object to the ethno-nationalist bent which colours his understanding of Northern Ireland politics and I have difficulty with a strain of unionism which identifies the little Ulstermen of the DUP as fellow travellers, yet dismisses pan-UK unionism as an illusion created by p…

Westminster remains a pressing priority.

I arrived back from blizzard conditions in the Czech Republic late last night, and I haven’t had a proper opportunity to examine news from the last four days, as yet. Therefore I offer a rather tentative toe to dip back into the scalding pool of political blogging.

Mick Fealty has picked up on a piece carried in the Lisburn Star, which suggests that Basil McCrea will not pursue parliamentary candidature in Lagan Valley, preferring to concentrate on his Assembly duties.

Mick wonders whether Westminster is set to become a ‘second tier chamber’ for unionists, by which I presume he means a less pressing priority than Stormont.

Looking at the quote from McCrea which is included in the article, two aspects of it are interesting. First there are the MLA’s ‘significant objections’ to double jobbing. These are important and the UUP should not be tempted to soften its line on the issue, as the election approaches. If any MPs are returned to Westminster from the UUP’s Assembly team, they …