Showing posts from September, 2010

Can Elliott pilot the UUP towards calmer waters?

I'll add a link to the full article if and when it eventually appears on the Belfast Telegraph website, but yesterday I evaluated Tom Elliott's chances of steadying the 'good ship UUP', in the newspaper.

When UUP members elected a new party leader at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall last week, they chose time-honoured Ulster values over the pluralist sensibilities and media savvy of modern politics.  Tom Elliott may be younger than his opponent Basil McCrea, but the delegates, overwhelmingly elderly and male, saw a man in their own image nonetheless. Elliott is a genial Fermanagh farmer of Orange stock, who represents a return to some old fashioned certainties for the UUP.  All the airy talk of normalising politics and building pan-UK unionism, which preceded the last election, is now at an end.  UCUNF, the new leader says, is dead, deceased, an ex electoral pact.  Rather than develop a ‘big idea’ to replace it, Elliott intends first to shore up the UUP’s existing support, and…

Medvedev shows an iron fist in the cause of reform as Luzhkov is dismissed

Further evidence of Dmitry Medvedev’s growing assertiveness in the cause of reform. After a public spat, Yuri Luzhkov, the demotic mayor who ran Moscow like a private fiefdom, has been dismissed by the Russian president.
Luzhkov, a Yeltsin functionary and then a fixture of United Russia who had held his position since 1992, clashed with Medvedev when the Kremlin cancelled a road building project, due to objections by environmental campaigners.

Against a powerful enemy, often portrayed as untouchable, the President showed steely determination. In recent weeks Russian state TV shone a spotlight on the corrupt kleptocracy which Luzhkov operated in Moscow, in order to enrich his own family.

Despite clear signals from the Kremlin that his reign was nearing its end, the mayor clung on to the bitter end and refused to jump. Medvedev held his nerve and applied a much needed shove.

The interesting aspect of this dismissal is that Luzhkov had made some very dismissive comments about the Pr…

Normality still within our grasp in Northern Ireland - guest post.

The following is a guest post by Dr Phil Larkin
Introduction So, over the past days we have seen Tom Elliott, the “traditionalist” UUP leadership candidate achieve a very convincing win over his “moderniser” opponent, Basil McCrea. Initially, this author was a little disappointed at this result, believing that the Party itself, as well as progressive, outward-looking unionism needed someone like McCrea, a science (engineering) graduate who completed his first degree at an English university. However, on reflection, it is possible that, if McCrea and moderate unionists stand their ground within the Party, and do not decide to abandon it, and if Tom Elliott means what he says about the UUP continuing to be a welcoming place for the likes of McCrea and his allies, then the Party will continue to have a future. I do not believe that the “modernising” rump of unionists should even think about forming a new political grouping, but…

Elliott's 'coy definition' of unionist unity leaves the way open for agreed candidates.

In this morning's Irish News I review the UUP leadership campaign and examine the repercussions of Tom Elliott's win.  I conclude by examining his attitude to 'unionist unity':
That leaves the tired old mantra of ’unionist unity’.   Although the Fermanagh MLA rejected it during the campaign, his coy definition covered only the formation of a single unionist party.  That won‘t happen, but there are other options, short of merger with other parties, which are equally unpalatable to liberal Ulster Unionists.  There is ample evidence, for example, that a drive to agree Assembly election candidates with the DUP is already underway, in Belfast at least.  Elliott’s predecessor, Sir Reg Empey, endorsed meetings between the two parties, aimed at maximising unionist representation in the city.That might offer the type of ’cooperation’ the new leader wants to see with fellow unionists, but McCrea and others are likely to regard it as counterproductive and divisive.  If the process…

Dysfunctional body bent on self-destruction stages vital meeting. And this time it isn't the UUP.

Setting aside the Ulster Unionist party‘s leadership election, for the time being, another incorrigible organisation is meeting tonight to make an equally fateful decision.

The Irish Football Association is on the cusp of receiving public money to redevelop Windsor Park, which hosts the international team.  However a set of controversial proposals about the body’s internal structures could derail that process and leave Northern Ireland effectively without a home.

At tonight’s Extraordinary General Meeting delegates from member clubs and associations will vote on the ’Dunloy Proposals’ to reorganise the IFA.  Put forward by a junior team from the Ballymena and District League, this document represents an attempt by amateur clubs to rebalance the Association’s governance in their favour.  

Dunloy needs a 75% vote to go its way if the proposals are to be ratified,  but there is a very real danger that that could happen.  Although senior and intermediate clubs are set against the propo…

UUP sets its course as Elliott secures thumping win.

Well it appears that the UUP membership has descended, in all its decrepitude, on the Waterfront Hall and done the fateful deed.  All the excitement of UCUNF, pan-UK unionism, normalising politics seems a long time ago and a long way away now.  The Ulster Unionists are back to the dreary steeples and Tom Elliott is their new party leader.

What now?  Will Elliott stick to his promise to reject 'unionist unity' or does his careful definition mean that we're in for the whole depressing charade of agreed candidates, shady back-room deals and a hand in glove relationship with the DUP?  Will he really try to attract pro-Union voters from across the communities in Northern Ireland, or will it be back to the Orange Order and the 'unionist people'?
It's worth remembering that David Trimble was considered the hardline candidate when he was elected leader in 1995, defeating John Taylor.  But the trajectory of his campaign was very different, as were the talents he brought t…

Is the UUP really set to become the Stumbling and Mumbling Party?

“When I think - I’m a genius, when I write - I’m a distinguished man of letters, when I speak - I’m a fool”, a quote - heavily paraphrased - which is attributed to the Russian émigré writer, Vladimir Nabakov.

I’m sure most of us understand the sentiment.   I certainly do (setting aside the ‘distinguished man of letters’ part).

It’s easy to think of stonking, relevant, insurmountable truisms in private.  It’s a little harder to put them down on paper accurately and concisely.  But it is hardest by far to compose an argument on the hoof and articulate it clearly, under pressure and under the glare of publicity.

That’s why the ability to do so is a rare and sought after talent.  It’s also why, contrary to popular belief, not everyone has it in them to become a front line politician.

The people doing well in politics, the party leaders for instance, are professionals operating at the top of their game.  Like them or loathe them, their communication skills set them apart.  In the moder…

The Lib Dems get used to power and responsibility.

In May Britain’s political sands shifted dramatically and members of the three main parties can be forgiven for appearing a trifle unsteady as they attempt to navigate an unfamiliar landscape.  Conference season provides a platform for their anxieties and gives leaders, who have shaped this new environment, a chance to help their followers find their feet.

Labour is engaged in a high profile contest to crown a leader, of course, and looks set to draw all the wrong lessons from its election defeat.  Next weekend the result will be announced and the party’s membership will be asked to galvanise around its chosen Miliband in a very public coronation.

The Conservatives convene in early October and the atmosphere is likely to be less than celebratory, despite the party's return from a long spell in the political wilderness.  A growing band of Tories resent the dependence of their government on coalition partners and Lord Ashcroft owns the most high profile finger of blame to point at …

Barely anyone cares about the Pope and for that we should be grateful.

With all the blanket coverage of the Pope’s visit to Britain it’s very easy to forget that the real story is how few people actually care.  In fact those who do care can be name-checked relatively quickly and easily.

Some school children were persuaded to care by a morning out of the classroom.  They lined the streets of Edinburgh in order to scream and wave Scottish Saltires as the pontiff’s entourage swept by.

Devoted Catholics care.  Yesterday they mustered in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, having travelled from across these islands and beyond.  Despite congregating in a venue with a much larger capacity, they numbered fewer than 70,000.

Ian Paisley cares.  He gathered with a handful of fellow enthusiasts from the ’reformed church’ to record his opposition to the papal visit.  It’s fair to say that even he cares less these days though. Fellow Presbyterians have been subject to more vituperative protests by Lord Bannside in the past.    

The ‘New Atheists’ care.  Like ‘anti fascist’ d…

Leadership contest good to go?

Over the past few days persistent rumours had surfaced that the UUP leadership election might be subject to a court injunction, possibly instigated by a supporter of Basil McCrea.  
Anxiety had been increasing over the issue of membership lists and in particular votes that were to be granted to new members, admitted to the party during an 'amnesty' in August.  
An emergency executive meeting had been planned to discuss the issue this Saturday, with the very real possibility of a postponement of next Wednesday's leadership election.  The fall-out for the party and its reputation would have been serious.  
It's now emerged that the threat of legal action has been withdrawn and the UUP's executive will no longer meet this Saturday.  So we must assume that the leadership election will proceed next week, as planned. 
That's good news for the party, if the confusion around membership has genuinely been settled to everyone's satisfaction.

Only the gullible will accept Georgia's cooked up case at ICJ

In The Hague, exchanges are taking place in a legal battle between Georgia and Russia which threatens to become something of a saga.  Two years ago Tbilisi charged Moscow with a derogation of its duty to eliminate ‘all forms of racial discrimination‘, under the UN’s 1965 International Convention.

The allegation is that Russia’s armed forces engaged in violent discrimination, alongside ’separatist militia and foreign mercenaries’ in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, through at least three separate phases, between 1990 and 2008.

When these proceedings (PDF) were instigated, in August 2008, Tbilisi effectively asked the UN’s judicial organ to endorse its casus belli, at the same time as its invasion of South Ossetia was met with resistance and Russian tanks pushed its forces back into Georgia proper.

A provisional ruling, delivered in the aftermath of the conflict, called on both sides to do all they could to eliminate racial discrimination and urged restraint.  

These latest hearings will…

Six figure Twitter sale points to a new market for speculators.

This morning it's reported that one Israel Malendez has sold his Twitter feed, @Israel, to the Israeli state for a six figure sum.

Could this transaction start a rush of Tweeting squatters I wonder?

Speculators have longed snapped up any unused web domain which they calculate could be hot property, particularly if it corresponds to a successful company name or brand.  There are bound to be plenty of available Twitter feeds in the same category.

Desperate need for substance as leadership debate nears its final week.

Article now online.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I look at the fight to become UUP leader and argue that the party needs a battle based on policies, rather than personalities.

This is .... a critical leadership contest for the UUP, but it had been strangely sedate, until the contenders clashed publicly over the weekend.  Their disagreement arose over attitudes to the GAA and homosexuality, with McCrea accusing Elliott of intolerance.  It was an acrimonious spat which illustrates real differences in approach between the two men.    
Elliott may position himself as a consensus candidate, building a wide coalition of supporters from across the UUP.  Ultimately, however, the Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA best represents the more traditional wing of the party and its values.  
Elliott claims backing from liberal figures, emphasising that he will not countenance a full merger with the DUP, but he is known to be broadly sympathetic to the concept of ‘unionist unity‘ and he has made scuppering …

Maze 'shrine' provocation by Deputy First Minister

From Eamonn Mallie's Twitter feed, 'Martin McGuinness says he wants the Maze site to be "a shrine to peace and a shrine to the future"'.  The prospect of any type of 'shrine' at the former H blocks, endorsed by Martin McGuinness, will make many IRA victims' blood run cold.

It's unlikely that the Deputy First Minister chose the word unthinkingly, which renders it provocative.  It will add incalculably to the anxiety expressed by those who suspect that any development at the Maze is likely to act as a rallying point for republicanism and its rewrites of history.

I always predicted we would win .....

After a busy start to the week, I rather missed the opportunity to mark Northern Ireland’s startling 1-0 victory in Slovenia, in timely fashion.  It’s fair to say I hadn’t expected the team to return from Maribor with all three points.

Although we rode our luck at times, credit where credit’s due, it was a gutsy performance at a notoriously tricky venue.  The Slovenes seldom lose at home and it is even rarer that they should taste defeat in the Ljudski vrt Stadium.

Northern Ireland started brightly enough, but as the first half wore on, we enjoyed much less possession.  Indeed the goalkeeper and the back four, who withstood an onslaught, were largely responsible for the victory.  The midfield and forwards provided their defensive colleagues only brief respite from waves of Slovenian attacks.

On so many occasions similar rearguard actions have resulted in either hard luck stories or another 0-0 draw.  At half-time I’m sure most supporters expected the same.  Yet when Kyle Lafferty and …

We've come to accept fundamentalist hysteria as a fact of life.

The extremist pastor, Terry Jones, may have ’suspended’ his Qur’an burning stunt, but it hasn’t prevented fellow extremists, in Afghanistan, attacking a Nato base in protest. Jones’ plans were deplorable, of course, but isn’t it sad that hysterical overreaction from fundamentalist Islam has become accepted as a fact of life?

The Dove World Outreach Centre, which pedals Jones’ hate-filled take on Christianity, is a tiny organisation.  Most sources agree that it attracts fewer than 50 members to Sunday service.  Its controversial ’Burn a Qur’an Day’, scheduled for the anniversary of the 9/11 World Trade Centre Attacks, which falls tomorrow, could scarcely be less well judged, but, for all the public outcry, the worldwide riots which were expected to ensue were hardly a proportional reaction.

I am no proponent of evangelical Christianity, but, if the boot were on the other foot, it’s unthinkable that the reaction would be so vehement.  That’s not to argue that Christian fundamentalism …

If the UUP doesn't take this opportunity to make itself relevant, it doesn't deserve to survive.

Compare the two leadership elections taking place in the UK at the moment (we‘ll ignore UKIP for the purposes of this discussion).  One includes open hustings, television debates and robust exchanges on policy and philosophy, the other takes place behind closed doors and there are groans of disapproval and panic whenever a public discussion threatens to break out.

I understand that selecting a leader is ultimately an internal party matter, but the UUP should learn some lessons from the Labour leadership battle, taking place across the UK.  In a modern political party it is not sufficient to say, ’it’s our business, we’ll conduct this behind closed doors’.  Even a leadership election is a chance to interact with the public and canvass its views.

There is, of course, a valid argument which holds that dirty laundry shouldn’t be washed in public.  When a party takes part in the democratic process, however, its 'dirty laundry' is unavoidably the public’s business.  A closed proces…

Where in the world is Lady Sylvia Hermon? (3)

O'Neill takes up the hunt at A Pint of Unionist Lite.  The Member for North Down has hardly hit the ground running for the new session, missing two debates well attended by other members from Northern Ireland.  As yet there is no documented evidence that she has made an appearance at Westminster since the General Election.

Are these people not filled with self-loathing and shame?

Some local bloggers make it their business to immerse themselves in ’sectariania’, forever compiling a list of grievances against ’themmuns’.  They seem to think it important to prove which ’side’ in Northern Ireland includes the most hate-filled thugs.  

Generally I avoid covering hate crime and the squalid list of ’dissident’ attacks in Northern Ireland.  They are, after all, terrible topics to commentate upon.  Anyone with any wit knows that it’s inexcusable, it’s loathsome, it’s repugnant - what more is there to say?  The idea that these attacks have political content, which should be taken seriously, is itself beneath contempt.

Sometimes, however, there is an incident which makes you feel so hopeless, which makes the bile rise in your throat to such an extent, that it’s necessary to contextualise it, somehow.

Yesterday saw just such an event, as a group calling itself the Real UFF left two pipe bombs at Catholic Primary Schools in Antrim.  This wasn’t an act of recklessness or …

McCrea upbeat as he challenges Elliott to debate in public.

After this morning’s ‘teething problem’ I will attempt to be more accurate in my account of Basil McCrea’s leadership ‘launch’.  The Merchant Hotel was the venue, chosen because it represents ‘what can be done’ when a local company devotes itself to high standards and ‘excellent training‘.

Unsurprisingly business was indeed a major preoccupation of McCrea’s address.  He talked surprisingly frankly about his own experiences, setting up an ill-fated hi tech company in Northern Ireland.  The Lagan Valley MLA clearly views himself as a candidate for risk takers, dedicated to removing ’the dead hand of the civil service’ from the country’s entrepreneurs.

As yet I have only a hardcopy of the speech, but I will publish it in its entirety, as soon as it reaches my inbox.  Its most striking feature was the five pledges which McCrea unveiled, which will answer charges that there is no concrete policy behind his campaign.

The first, which I misreported earlier, actually promises that, should he…

McCrea unveils pledges

I'm about to head down to the Merchant Hotel to hear what Basil McCrea has to say as he launches his leadership bid.  The News Letter reports that the Lagan Valley MLA will embrace a number of pledges, which he would hold to as leader.

The most eye-catching is a refusal to take a ministry until the UUP is Northern Ireland's biggest party.  Not effectively a pledge to enter opposition, as I initially read it (see below).

That is followed by a pledge to make the education ministry the UUP's first choice.  This would enable the party to run on a platform to get 'rid of Ruane'.

Each position has its merits, taken separately.  I'll be interested to hear Basil explain how they fit together.  Realistically, it's highly unlikely that the UUP will be Northern Ireland's largest party next year.  Can it credibly go to voters promising to oust Ruane as a matter of priority?

Mea culpa.  Don't rush a blogpost out first thing on a Monday morning, when you're …

The futility of hope. Expectations low as Northern Ireland kick off in Euros.

Will it be déja vu all over again for Northern Ireland in Maribor?  Two years ago, in an Autumn World Cup game, Slovenia won 2-0 in the fortress city, condemning Nigel Worthington’s men to an uphill battle for qualification.

Back then, in a gloomy, angry post I condemned the manager for allowing his team to ’regress to the mean’.  It’s a process which I contend is still ongoing.

The belief which Lawrie Sanchez instilled in his group of players, the discipline and the professionalism he inculcated, did not disappear immediately after Worthington took over.  Instead it dissipated gradually, like sand running through the Ballymena man’s fingers.

Now, following seven matches without a goal and ten without a victory, the side is right back where it started when Sammy McIlroy - enthusiastic, likeable, but tactically naïve - resigned and Lawrie Sanchez took over.

Worthington’s team, meanwhile, is back in Maribor, for another away tie against Slovenia.  The task this time, is to qualify f…

Don't let facts stand in the way of a Russophobe rant.

“It’s real basic irony, but still you can get a hoot”.  The quote from the comedian, Bill Hicks, came to mind reading this month’s Standpoint.

Former BBC correspondent William Horsley has decided that the problem with Europe is that it isn’t sufficiently Russophobe (I paraphrase).

Anyway, hark at these gems.
“Russian leaders were emboldened to break new bounds in August 2008 when they sent some 30,000 troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the would-be breakaway parts of Georgia.”Setting aside the obvious omission of any context to this statement for the time being (there’s more), ’would-be breakaway parts of Georgia’?  Two regions which have never, NOT AT ANY TIME, been successfully administered from Tbilisi as part of a post-Soviet, unitary, independent Georgia.  I’d say that puts them squarely in the ’breakaway’ category without any qualification.
“In what independent analysts have shown to have been a premeditated use of overwhelming military force.”By Georgia!  Given that the sub…

Are cracks beginning to show in Elliott's coalition?

What’s going on with the coalition behind Tom Elliott’s leadership bid?

The Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA has poured cold water on rumours of merger with the DUP and kept his options open on the Conservative link.  Yet Ulster Unionist Chief Whip, and Elliott supporter, Fred Cobain, couldn’t resist attacking the Tories, suggesting that the UUP would be forced to make an alternative electoral pact with Peter Robinson and his party.

Meanwhile rumours persist that discussions with the DUP about 'unionist unity', at senior levels, are ongoing.

The contradictions don’t end there.  An intriguing little tussle is tucked away in the comments zone of an otherwise innocuous post on Mike Nesbitt’s blog.

Nesbitt, the leading moderate in Elliott’s team, congratulates the Down GAA team on their success in the All Ireland Gaelic Football championship.  Reasonably enough a reader asks how his generous sentiments sit with support for a leadership candidate who reassured UUP members that he woul…

SDLP's handout addiction

At Unionist LiteO’Neill looks at possible nationalist responses to the government’s deficit plans.  His assessment is that Plaid Cymru and Sinn Féin are beyond help in their analyses, but there is a chance that the SNP and SDLP could, to some degree, embrace opportunities to promote leaner enterprise economies for their respective regions.

The SNP’s ’pork barrel’ tactics are, at least partially, a separatist irritant aimed at London.  So Salmond’s party has a decent opportunity to tacitly accept that Scotland’s economy will benefit from substantial rebalancing.  Although the SDLP has shown signs of original thinking on growth, its dependency culture is more deeply ingrained.

Take Alex Attwood’s  response to proposed coalition welfare reform and its effects on Northern Ireland, where we have the highest level of economic inactivity in the UK.

The government’s view, which will be developed in a report by Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, launched today in Belfast, is that …

Airport expansion should be kept out of town

Last summer my girlfriend and I experienced a hair-raising landing at George Best Belfast City Airport, courtesy, I suspect, of its infamous short runway.  Returning from a holiday in Brittany our Flybe flight, routed via Southampton, touched down on the tarmac, only to rear up and take to the air again, with the captain muttering ‘landing aborted’ over the intercom.

We proceeded to circle for ten more minutes, with some passengers now in a state of understandable distress, before a successful descent was executed.  On that occasion cross winds were given as an explanation, and, no doubt, the hefty gusts which funnel down Belfast Lough didn‘t help.  However, during its aborted landing, the plane did spend quite a few seconds on the tarmac.  It certainly felt like the pilot thought there was not sufficient runway left to brake safely and decided not to risk attempting to bring the aircraft to a halt.

No doubt Michael O’Leary, announcing Ryanair’s decision to pull out of the City Airpo…