Sunday, 14 November 2010

Press release ping pong.

Or 'Faux outrage makes for poor politics'.  This column formed part of Friday's 'Political Review' in the News Letter.  I ponder the futility (and puerility) of many of the press releases put out by the main unionist parties here.
For the most part these press releases simply reinforce the public's perception that politicians are easily distracted from proper work by pointless, puerile games.
They sustain the view that politics are a nasty, vicious business, which should be regarded with the utmost cynicism.
As a party set up to confront and confound the DUP, it's no surprise that Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice website is chock full of aggressive, accusatory press releases.
The most lengthy rallies, however, are still conducted between the Democratic Unionists and the UUP. 
Only last week East Belfast MLA, Robin Newton, endorsed a statement accusing former Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Reg Empey, of cynically re-designating the UUP's Victoria branch HQ as an 'Advice Centre'. 
The insinuation was that it had only been opened as a publicity stunt ahead of next year's assembly election. A press release in Empey's name angrily rejected the allegation and dubbed the DUP assemblyman 'Nasty Newton'. 'So much for unionist unity!', it thundered.
Previously the Open Unionism blog highlighted a press statement from the DUP's Upper Bann MLA, Sydney Anderson, which it felt was the "dumbest, most irrelevant and pathetic" ever released by a unionist party.
Anderson claimed that a Union 2021 article by the UUP's Mike Nesbitt had advocated Northern Ireland becoming part of the Republic, subject to a deal on 'financial arrangements'.
It was a fairly transparent attempt to distort Nesbitt's position and it was completely futile, because, beyond the points-scoring, it was just too silly to become a news story. 
Countless similar examples can be found on the two parties' web archives. Tom Elliott uses the word 'integration' and the DUP accuses him of being opposed to devolution.
The UUP responds with sarcastic missives about the likelihood of 'unionist unity'. And so on - ad infinitum. The frequency of these exchanges may intensify as an election approaches, but low level warfare continues all year round. 
Not that incivility in politics is restricted to unionism or to Northern Ireland.
The example of Phil Woolas, a Labour MP whose election victory has been annulled because he played dirty, will give politicians across the UK pause to think more carefully about their tactics. 
When it looked like he might lose his Westminster seat, the former government minister made allegations about a Lib Dem opponent which were later deemed to be 'untrue'.
The Election Court found that Mr Woolas had knowingly stoked racial tensions and made false accusations during the campaign.
Not only has the result been overturned, pending an appeal the respondent is also banned from standing for elected office for three years.
The judgment sets an important precedent, because the judiciary has shown that it is prepared to overturn an election result, if the successful candidate can be shown to have knowingly misled the public about an opponent during the rough and tumble of a campaign.
It's a point which the local parties should absorb as May's local government and Assembly elections approach.
Petty point-scoring might seem irresistible at the time, but childish insults aren't a substitute for winning an argument on policy.  They might even get you suspended from politics.

8 comments:

Seymour Major said...

The Election Court in relation to the result in Fermanagh and South Tyrone concerned irregularities relating to the count.

Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 makes it illegal to publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing that statement to be true

During the election campaign, it was put about, very cynically, that Rodney Connor was a member of the Orange Order. The Statement was actually untrue. That the tactic worked is not in any doubt. I personally know more than 4 people who switched their vote from SDLP to Sinn Fein as a result of that propaganda.

It would have been interesting if Connor had used the same legal ground that was used to overturn the result against Woolas. The big problem for Connor, of course, is that he would have found great difficulty finding and bringing the evidence to the Court!

Anonymous said...

That is what passes for politics here, why bother with policies when you can kick the opposition instead?

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