Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The chances of 'bread and butter politics' developing in Northern Ireland

I make my contribution to the Belfast Telegraph's series on 'middle ground politics' today.  The topic is unionism's role.  My conclusion:

Northern Ireland edges towards political maturity, but |it is a slow process which could easily be derailed.
The devolved institutions are designed to perpetuate community difference and lock parties into a false consensus, rather than encourage a new, healthy, contest of ideas.
A voluntary coalition government, with cross-community safeguards, is an alternative model which attracts unionists, and even Mark Durkan, the former SDLP leader, has spoken in its favour. But it is also undeliverable in the short-term.
And the likelihood of parties withdrawing from the Executive to form an informal opposition has retreated following Alliance's acceptance of the Justice Ministry.
With the present set-up at Stormont, and UCUNF's failure to gain momentum, Northern Ireland's constitutional status is likely to remain the focus of Stormont elections for the time being.
That's bad for unionism, whose interests are best served by normalising Northern Ireland's status within the UK.
Of course, I am within the 'deadhead' tradition of commentators, who believes that it is unlikely that you can cross a horse and a donkey in order to produce a sheep.  


thedissenter said...

Currently writing on this issue and sorting out the many thoughts and comments of recent weeks. Trying to make sense of the inherent contraditions of many positions. Different unionist parties are presently not divided on fundamental purpose in defending the Union, though thedissenter believes more time should be spent on promoting the Union together. That would not mean that on the day to day issues there would be common approaches. Indeed (referring the proposition within your linked article) policy division would widen differences between elements of unionism on the day to day on a collective or individualist emphasis on choice, freedom and scale and role of government in people's lives. While everyone is right, because they are defending their own PARTY political interest, this is not moving the conversation along to any great extent.

Anonymous said...

Owen you need to break away from your attachment to "unionism" and accept that it can never focus on the UK when it is defined upon a single issue. It's a bit like expecting a wing mirror to pretend to be a car.

Chekov said...

Only by your essentialist definition Jeff.

K D Tennent said...

As a relative outsider I could be getting this very wrong. But isn't the best strategy for unionists to take the bull by the horns, and argue that normalising NI's relationship with the rest of the UK is the best way forward economically, because it will reduce rent seeking etc. presently made possible by NI's 'special status'?

Seymour Major said...

I am very disappointed by your post, which, quite frankly, need not have been part of this theme at all.

I know you are a civic unionist who believes in the maintenance of the United Kingdom. You want a Northern Ireland Society which is secular, pluralist and tolerant. That’s fine. I aspire to those values as well but that will never make me vote for a political party that is on the road to nowhere.

If you were a member of the Ulster Unionist Party 40 years ago, you would have looked quite radical, as indeed did Captain Terence O’Neil and other reforming unionist politicians. But the law changes needed to protect civil rights were made a long time ago.

You are quite happy to tell unionists to stop defending the union and participate in it but what then? Where does politics go to next?

The trouble is, there is no political policy which can be drawn from your Civic Ulster Unionist ideology. You have not directly admitted that the Ulster Unionism is redundant. I think you know very well that it is.

It is that situation which cries out for your party to define itself ideologically on the left – right political spectrum. If the airheads who lead your political party had understood this and thought it through, they might have entered into a merger with the Conservative Party two years ago when the proposal was being discussed. That moment has gone and there appears to be no prospect of that happening now.

You said in one of your posts that you were not really a Conservative. What are you then? Are you anything at all?

You advocate voluntary coalition with cross-community safeguards. Why didn’t you expand on that idea? Was it because the idea is impossible, like a triangle which adds up to more than 108 degrees?

You are a great writer Chekov. Your analysis is also very good but when it comes to new ideas, you are found wanting.

Chekov said...

That's a bit of a rant. There was actually a remit to this piece of writing. I was asked to consider whether middle ground politics is likely to come to the fore in Northern Ireland or whether we're in for more tribal entrenchment.

At the moment my assessment is that things are moving toward the latter. I'm not in the least reluctant to say that part of the reason is because the UUP might halt a journey toward centre right politics before it has even begun preferring some spurious form of 'unionist unity'. Indeed I have a much longer article coming up emphasising the need to play out a proper battle of ideas in a genuine leadership debate. Time and time again I've urged Northern Ireland unionists to locate themselves within a larger UK political framework.

I'm certainly not a Conservative in the Thatcherite mould but Cameron Conservatism is something I can subscribe to. I'm actually suspicious of people who can too readily buy into an ideology wholesale, which actually, when you think about it, is a deeply conservative (small c) instinct.

As for the jibes about 'your party', I've been strongly critical of the UUP's conduct in the election campaign. I've been strongly critical of any move toward unity. I've been strongly critical of anything other than wholesale commitment to the Conservative pact.

If, by having no new ideas, you mean that I'm not prepared to jettison the word 'unionism' because I'm not prepared to define it in a very particular way, then mea culpa. Coming up with new ideas is all very well, but they have to be practical, grounded in reality and able to appeal to more than a tiny splinter group of an already very small party.

By the way - you try expanding upon every facet of a large subject in a 350 word limit. If you honestly think that the current set-up at Stormont is built for durability or functional politics, you're living in cloud cuckoo land. One party stands in the way of a better system.

Chekov said...
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Chekov said...
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Anonymous said...

What are Tories up to? I heard a whisper they are expanding with new associations, members and lots of applicants to be candidates.

If so, where are they expecting to get votes and what does David Gordon know about it? It seems to fit his theme,7 is he leading or following?

Cllr Andy Wilson said...

to coin a phrase, I agree with Chekov

IJP said...

An excellent piece, Chekov.

You sum up the very reason that those of a like mind should work together to ensure bread-and-butter politics come to the fore. People like you will need to keep arguing your case within the UUP, because I have no doubt you have the balance of opinion in your favour among the party grassroots (and, in fact, the electorate).

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