Showing posts from May, 2010

'Daveolution' good for the UK, but it is still a risky moment for the Union.

In Saturday's Belfast Telegraph I examined the prospects of Cameron's government, successfully balancing the interests of Westminster, England and the devolved regions (no link yet available - I'm not sure Saturday's opinion pages actually reach the website).

The prime minister has promised that his new government’s relationship with the devolved regions will be distinguished by ’respect’.  He envisages an era of cooperation and communication between London and the executives in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.’Daveolution’ received a cautious but cordial hearing when Cameron toured the UK capitals.   However, the four First Ministers’ substantive response emerged at a meeting in Stormont last Monday.  There they discussed forming a common front against spending cuts imposed by Westminster and demanded a slice of London’s Olympic regeneration money. Cameron is acutely aware that he will have to govern with sensitivity if he is to be considered a prime minister for the wh…

Order has no positive role to play in unionist politics.

None other than Tom Elliott MLA, senior Orangeman, has urged the Order to stay out of politics.  His heckles had been raised by Robert Saulters, Grand Master of the Orange Order, who last weekend called for a single unionist party.

It says something that Elliott, who has spoken enthusiastically on the theme of ‘unionist unity’, felt moved to slap down Saulters.  The Grand Master is closely linked to the DUP, and indeed he signed Ian Paisley Junior’s nomination papers for the Westminster election.

Clearly Elliott feels that there was a partisan subtext behind Saulters’ comments which ran beyond concern for the Union.  He is quite right that the Orange Order should not intervene in politics, because its interventions are usually disastrous for unionism.

Since its formation, the Orange has tended to undermine constructive unionism and bolster its regressive wing.  Indeed the Order, which might present itself as a stalwart of the Union now, took a while to be convinced of its merits.


'Worthless' friendly as Nigel stacks his squad with local duds

Northern Ireland play Turkey tonight, in an obscure friendly in Connecticut.  As usual a dedicated band of supporters have followed the team to the US.  Unfortunately players have shown rather less dedication and the squad is almost unrecognisable.

Nigel Worthington claims that the tour, which includes another match in Chile on Sunday night, is worthwhile.  Having cast an eye over the starting eleven, I’m not so sure.

Alongside a few fringe players and youngsters are a cadre of Irish league ’stars’ who will never in a million years grace a competitive international side.  It’s not like we’re even talking potential here.  These are not overachieving sixteen year olds.

Alan Blayney is to keep goal.   The goalie is a seasoned twenty eight year old professional.  He started out at Southampton, where he made a handful of appearances, and his career has been, more or less, on a downward trajectory ever since.

Rory Patterson, twenty five years old, joined Rochdale as an eighteen year old.  H…

Maggie shows Reg how it should be done

I was unfortunate enough to witness, first hand, Declan O'Loan's speech following the election count in North Antrim.  In a long-winded ramble, the MLA mused on nationalism's performance in the constituency.  

Quite clearly he regarded it as a 'block vote' spanning both Sinn Féin and the SDLP, rather than a contest between two parties.  

Therefore I wasn't remotely surprised to hear O'Loan advocating a single nationalist grouping, to include the SDLP and Sinn Féin.  The North Antrim representative is as green as they come.  
It is surprising, however, that such a senior member of the SDLP's team has had the party whip withdrawn after he called for 'nationalist unity'.  If only the same approach were taken by the UUP to David McNarry.
Well done Margaret Ritchie.

'Each man kills the thing he loves'. Unionist politicians and the Union.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I ask whether unionist parties might actually hinder, rather than help, the unionist cause.

As the DUP licks its wounds after Peter Robinson’s defeat in East Belfast, and the UUP ponders its future, both parties should make one question central to their post-election soul searching.  What exactly is the purpose of unionist politics?I suppose I’m asking whether Northern Irish unionism, in any of it current guises, actually has a long-term strategy or if it exists only to perpetuate itself.  Do purportedly unionist political parties in Ulster really have the best interests of the United Kingdom at heart?They frequently claim to be defenders of the Union, but the stark truth is, since the Belfast Agreement delegated any change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to periodic border referenda, parties defined solely by ’unionism’ serve only to highlight differences between the province and the rest of the UK.  There is a strong argument that they cou…

Devolution challenges for Cameron's government.

This article appears in today's News Letter under the title 'Cameron needs to govern with sensitivity'.

David Cameron has frequently emphasised that he wants to be a prime minister for the whole of the United Kingdom and not just England.  The outgoing government‘s devolution experiment has complicated what once would have seemed a self-evident aspiration.  

Labour’s time in office saw haphazard distribution of power to assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales, and to the Parliament in Scotland.  The dynamics of government in the UK have changed utterly since 1997.  Resurgent separatism and rampant regionalism require Cameron to perform a perilous balancing act.

While the Conservatives’ power base lies in England, the Tories failed to recover electoral ground in Scotland.  Their challenge to Labour’s ascendancy in Wales didn’t materialise either and in Northern Ireland, of course, the party’s link-up with the UUP won no seats.

Competing centres of power and the party pol…

Cameron returns as government reiterates its ambitions for Northern Ireland in the UK political mainstream

David Cameron visited Northern Ireland today, for the first time since becoming Prime Minister.  Not quite within the week, as he promised, but pretty close.

Significantly the coalition government also set out its position on Northern Ireland in its 'Programme for Government' today.  It reiterates previous Conservative policy and hardly represents an abandonment of the principles behind UCUNF.
We will continue to promote peace, stability and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland, standing firmly behind the agreements negotiated and institutions they establish.  We will work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics.So the Liberal Democrats too, are now officially signed up to Northern Ireland at the heart of national politics.    Perhaps they should start advocating a similar approach for their sister party, Alliance.

After all, developments in the UUP could reward David Ford if he were to reposition his party as broadly supportive of the Union, rather…

Inauspicious start for Shannon

The new MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon, intends to embellish his maiden Commons' speech with a smattering of 'Ulster Scots'.

But for those of you whose teeth are put on edge by such a cringe-making prospect, there is hope.  Perhaps the DUP man will not even make it to Westminster.

After all, Shannon managed to miss his very first day in the chamber, prioritising instead his MLA duties at Stormont.  Mike Nesbitt, who is 'sic' of the new MP's use of the vernacular, highlights the baffling ramble about the price of second hand cars which detained Shannon in Belfast.
The News Letter attributes Shannon's non-attendance to a 'mix-up'.  As they say in the Ulster Scots, oh dear!

Tymoshenko exploits upsurge in nationalism in Ukraine

There’s bitter irony in Yulia Tymoshenko’s latest claim that the new president, Viktor Yanukovych, is dismantling democracy in Ukraine.  In the aftermath of February’s election, Tymoshenko refused to accept her defeat at Yanukovych’s hands, despite unanimous agreement from international observers that the poll was free and fair.

The former prime minister’s comments are timed to coincide with Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev’s, visit to Kiev.  Both Yanukovych and Medvedev are keen to foster a constructive relationship between their two countries, repairing the turbulent relationship which existed when the nationalist, Viktor Yushchenko, was president of Ukraine.

The new Ukrainian regime has set its sights on a rapprochement with Russia, which doesn’t compromise its relationship with the EU.  Yanukovych has made it abundantly clear that he still has ambitions to steer Ukraine towards European Union membership, while avoiding needlessly antagonising its powerful neighbour.

Contrary t…

Kyrgyz counter revolution may be a damp squib, but Russians aren't waiting to find out.

The media spotlight has shifted from Kyrgyzstan, but trouble has rumbled on.  Last week pro Bakiyev supporters took back government buildings in Osh, in the south of the country.

This was the attempt at counter insurgency which many experts on Central Asia expected.  Tribal allegiances play a defining role in Kyrgyz politics, and Bakiyev’s power base lies to the south.

While the Tulip Revolution was, at the time, trumpeted as a victory for reformers, informed commentators have argued that it should be understood in the context of more traditional rivalries.

The interim government retook control of southern Kyrgyzstan with relative ease.  The Central Asia blog, Registan, interprets this as a sign that Bakiyev’s supporters will not muster a serious challenge.  The counter insurgency, it claims, was due to begin in earnest yesterday.  The suggestion is that it was snuffed out before it could properly begin.

The blog believes that Bakiyev’s strategy was to split the country in two, but …

Budget cuts - opportunities and responsibilities

Already there is a theme emerging in David Cameron’s treatment of the devolved regions.  The government is keen to allow the institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales plenty of leeway, on the understanding that they take responsibility for their own decisions.

The emergency budget has been announced and, naturally, each nation and region is expected to do its bit.  However, the new Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, has emphasised that the two devolved Assemblies and Scotland’s Parliament can defer any cuts.

It is an ingenious and eminently fair solution which neatly sidesteps the argument that budgets for this year have already been set.  Although, as New Right points out, it also allows parties to avoid getting their hands dirty before 2011’s elections.

David Cameron, as he had promised, quickly added trips to each of the UK’s capitals to the hectic schedule of establishing a new government.  He understands that devolution has changed the dynamics of ou…

Something entirely different from a 'quote of the day' ... ho hum.

Taking up the theme I developed in yesterday's post, David Gordon writes about Ulster Unionist prospects for moving forward in today's Belfast Telegraph.

The Ulster Unionists have to take a definitive line and stick with it.  Offering a drop of unionist unity from time to time, alongside a splash of Tory link-up and occasional helpings of middle ground liberalism, won't work.

'Cunning plans' no substitute for arguing your corner.

I am more than a little confused by the signals which emerged from yesterday’s UUP Executive meeting.

Sir Reg Empey is to stay, for the time being, and stand down during the autumn.  In the mean time the party promises a ‘forensic examination’ of what went wrong in its latest campaign and early decisions on a slate of candidates for next year’s Assembly elections.

So Ulster Unionists intend, first to ink in candidates to stand for Stormont and then decide on a change of direction.  In that order.

Now, clearly the UUP has taken the Westminster selection debacle to heart, but might the party’s future direction and new leader not determine who it wants to put up for election?  After all, there are at least three fairly different routes the Ulster Unionists might take.

Reportedly Sir Reg could have claimed the backing of a substantial number of delegates yesterday had he chosen to remain at the helm.  He draws continued support particularly from those who are concerned that a new leaders…

Nothing new on Stalin from outward looking Medvedev

Victory Day in Moscow saw British soldiers from the Welsh Guards take part in a parade on Red Square, alongside Russian, American and French troops.  The lead up to the event witnessed a spat about Stalin’s role in the Great Patriotic War, as attempts to have the dictator’s portrait play a role in the celebrations were quashed.

When President Medvedev made an intervention in the debate it was to shoot down any hint of Stalin-idolatry.  Speaking to Izvestia newspaper, he slammed the totalitarian Soviet regime, stressing that it was people, rather than the tyrant, who had defeated Nazi Germany and calling Stalin’s crimes ’unforgivable’.

Whatever you might read elsewhere, Medvedev has not changed tack with his comments.  He has consistently condemned the rehabilitation of Stalinism.  He has repeatedly expressed sorrow for Stalin’s victims.  And it was Medvedev who ordered that the archives be opened up, in order to reveal the true horror of the crimes at Katyn.

Russia’s relationship with…

The Cameron coalition can't repeat Tories' foreign affairs mistakes

Over at Forth Magazine (subs required and recommended) I argue that the government must remain true to the new approach to foreign affairs the Conservatives charged William Hague to develop. I point out that there will be tensions, including the more belligerent instincts of the defence secretary, Liam Fox.
And I say that the Tories have failed, at least once, when they faced foreign policy challenges under David Cameron. One of the principal foreign policy tests since David Cameron became party leader was the war in Georgia. The Conservatives were as unequivocal in their backing for President Saakashvili as the old Labour government. The wisdom of this stance, and Cameron’s strident demand for Georgian Nato membership, has subsequently been called into question by an EU investigation, which found that Georgia started the war, as well as Saakashvili‘s increasingly erratic and authoritarian behaviour. Rather than re-evaluate this position, however, one year after the conflict Fox put…

A resounding no to 'unionist unity'

The Belfast Telegraph's website doesn't seem to feature the article either, but in the print edition of yesterday's paper I argued against so-called 'unionist unity'. In the process I reviewed what went wrong for the Conservatives and Unionists (dodgy polls, Paxman interviews and the UUP's Assembly party aside).
I will link to the full article if and when it becomes available, but, meanwhile, this extract sums up the argument:
There is certainly a need for the UUP to conduct a post mortem after the Conservatives and Unionists electoral wipe-out, but there is real danger that the party will focus on all the wrong lessons.
The Tory link-up had its first electoral outing in Europe, but it was built for Westminster. Its failure to claim any seats at the general election is a devastating blow, but it cannot be ascribed to a thirst for ‘unionist unity’. In fact the unity talks which leading Ulster Unionists conducted at Hatfield House marked the beginning of the DU…

Paterson need apologise to no-one for campaigning in Northern Ireland

If the new Westminster coalition can do only one thing for Northern Ireland it should drag our infantilised politicians kicking and screaming into the harsh glare of reality. We are not the centre of the universe, we cannot expect to be handled with kid-gloves forever and the British government’s role here is not to referee an unruly band of squabbling children, it is to administer national government.

The parties can ‘sqweam’ as much as they like about special circumstances, republican terrorism or the Tories lack of mandate. The new government draws its mandate from the whole of the UK and its remit covers Northern Ireland just as it covers Wales and Scotland. If you don’t like it, by all means argue for our departure from the United Kingdom.

Owen Paterson’s appointment as Northern Ireland secretary has drawn the predictable chorus of ’not fairs’. The Belfast Telegraph has dutifully compiled them to splash on its front page. Head of the queue is Margaret Ritchie, demanding Pater…

Cameron in Number 10 as Clegg does the right thing.

So good sense has prevailed and David Cameron, finally, becomes Prime Minister. It has been a long wait to get Gordon Brown out of Downing Street. Yesterday Fraser Nelson caustically observed that special forces would be required to dislodge Brown from Number 10. That hasn't quite been necessary, Nick Clegg put the outgoing PM out of his misery.
O'Neill has outlined the reasons that the putative 'traffic light' coalition, or 'coalition of losers', would have spelled disaster for the United Kingdom. The Conservatives certainly realised this, a growing chorus of voices in the Labour party, to be fair to them, pointed out the same thing and the Liberal Democrats have apparently come to the same opinion.
Nick Clegg's party is in an extraordinary position. It has acquired political responsibility and leverage far beyond its mandate. But the Lib Dems moment in the sun could yet prove their undoing.
Had the party gone into power with Labour and a coterie of na…

Reasons to be Cheerful

This is a guest post from Phil Larkin.  Thanks Phil!  It really is an impressive analysis.

Having now had the weekend to digest the election results from Northern Ireland, I feel better able to make a number of comments and conclusions. Chekov and others may very well disagree with these, but, in summary, I believe that there are more reasons to be cheerful in the aftermath of the election than to be despondent, if, and only if, courage is shown by moderate unionists in these coming months.

As someone from a ‘nationalist’ background, who currently lives and works in the south of England, and as someone who is a Labour voter, I approach the subject of unionism and unionist politics with a measure of caution. I have no wish to sound patronizing or lay claim to knowledge in an area where my understanding is limited. Nevertheless, as someone who is not unsympathetic to their position, and who cares about the shared future and prosperity of my own people of Northern Ireland, I …

The 'unity' debate unfolds at Open Unionism

Over at Open Unionism a debate on a single unionist party is taking place.  Burke's Corner makes the case that unionism should realign.  Bobballs sets out the case against, aided and abetted by St Etienne (nice kit).  I am very sceptical about the argument for a united unionist party.  I don't think that healthy unionism can be a monolith, I don't believe that moderate unionists can support a party featuring some of the current crop of DUP representatives and I don't believe that a single party can offer Northern Ireland voters equal citizenship.  I will make a further sortie on this subject later in the week.  Do pop over to Open Unionism though and read both sides of the debate.  They are particularly articulate expositions.

A triple decapitation

In today's Irish News (subs required) I pick through the wreckage of the general election. All three parties describing themselves as unionist are in varying degrees of crisis, following the poll. I argue that Peter Robinson's position is not sustainable, after he suffered a "personal rejection" in East Belfast. And I ask whether Jim Allister can hold his party organisation together, solely in order to give him a pop at an Assembly seat in North Antrim.
Then to UCUNF's chances of survival. Sadly, I'm sceptical.
The Conservatives and Unionists intermittently emphasised their cross community pitch to voters, but Sir Reg Empey’s failure to unseat a divisive figure like Willie McCrea, in South Antrim, indicates that the approach failed spectacularly.
UCUNF’s tardiness in assembling a slate of candidates, a lack of Catholic hopefuls in the final list and the mixed signals it sent, by contracting a sectarian pact with the DUP in Fermanagh South Tyrone, all co…

Unionism? Us? "England's difficulty" and the DUP.

Well, eight of them were returned to Parliament, but is there a scrap of genuine unionism in any of them?
BBC correspondent Mark Simpson describes a senior DUP member telling him that "England's difficulty could be Ulster's opportunity" in the aftermath of the election results. There's not really any need to go further is there?
That's what 'unionism' appears to have become in Northern Ireland.
The DUP likes to evoke World War 1 in its literature. In fact Jimmy Spratt produced a tasteless leaflet in advance of the election likening a vote for him to "going over the top". Let's remember the words of Edward Carson, when war broke out in Europe.

"England's difficulty is not Ulster's opportunity. However we are treated, and however others act, let us act rightly. We do not seek to purchase terms by selling our patriotism."

High stakes in South Antrim.

The following piece was commissioned by a newspaper, but, as yet, it hasn't been published. Clearly, it will be out of date tomorrow, so I can safely post it here.
The tone is rather downbeat. At the time it was written the cry of 'unionist unity' was at fever pitch. But the thrust of my piece is similar to the blog I wrote yesterday. This is a defining election for unionism. The stakes couldn't be higher.
And with that I will post the article and go to vote - for Paula Bradshaw - the only candidate standing on a unionist prospectus in South Belfast.
They say that success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. It is likely that UCUNF will be abandoned, unwanted, by its political parents, if it does not flourish in the general election. The child of a whirlwind romance between the UUP and the Conservative party, its birth created a sense of optimism among unionists, but it has hardly been a case of ‘happy families’ since.
Sir Reg Empey, the matchmaker who n…

The Choice

Tomorrow, when the polls open in Northern Ireland, voters will be presented with some very distinct choices. Will a substantial proportion again place their X beside candidates whose movement has, until relatively recently, engaged in a brutal campaign to murder their neighbours?
It seems almost certain. We should never forget that that is the clearest articulation of tribalism and hatred we see at the polls, in any part of the UK, never mind Northern Ireland. It is, by some distance, the most damning electoral indictment of the society in which we live.
Nevertheless there is also a battle for the heart of unionism in progress and it has its own weighty connotations.
In this election in particular, it is not just a party political battle, it cuts to the philosophical core of pro-Union politics in Ulster. The choice for unionist electors has rarely been crystallised so clearly.
They can opt to bolster unionism which is outward looking, orientated towards the rest of Britain and bas…

Planes, helicopters and swimming trunks - Cameron defies the ash cloud to campaign in Ulster.

He claimed that at one point swimming trunks were called for, and Sir Reg Empey joked that it proves he can walk on water, but by hook or by crook David Cameron made it to Northern Ireland.
The Icelandic volcano did all in its power to prevent the Conservative leader campaigning in Northern Ireland. Then Cameron’s helicopter broke down. Finally he managed to get here by jet-plane, flying under the ash cloud, in order to address a gathering at La Mon hotel.
Cameron showed some tenacity when his travel plans went awry and, to be fair, the people who attended showed some determination too. His speech was delayed for some two hours.
When it eventually arrived it was typically upbeat and centred on the national themes which UCUNF want to bring to local politics. There were special mentions for PMS investors, whom Cameron pledged to help, and a backhanded reference to Peter Robinson.
Successful Conservative and Unionists candidates, he stressed, would never make a ’swish’ family of MPs.

David Cameron's visit to NI

At the La Mon hotel waiting for David Cameron to arrive - rather late! Here are some extracts from his speech to keep you amused.
Our two great parties have created a dynamic new electoral force for Northern Ireland. And it’s because we made that step that today we are not just saying that we are the party of the union... ...we are showing that we are the party of the union... ...the party of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England – with candidates standing in every part of the United Kingdom. Nobody else can say that. Not Labour. Not the Liberal Democrats. And none of the local parties here in Northern Ireland. So why is this so important? It’s important because of our deep commitment to the union. So let me repeat the pledge I made to you in Belfast a year and a half ago. I will never be neutral on the Union. We passionately believe that England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are stronger together, weaker apart – and the union of our two parties strengthens those bonds. But our n…