Friday, 18 February 2011

Signs that the UUP is serious about opposition.

News that the UUP has asked the Government for funding to form an opposition at Stormont confirms two things: 1) the party is taking seriously the possibility of leaving the Executive in order to hold it to account, 2) money is currently an impediment.

Asking for cash is a sensitive issue in the current climate and rival parties are likely to attack the Ulster Unionists’ plans on that basis.  It must be said, though, that no system of government comes without a price tag.  It is inconceivable in most democratic systems that an opposition could function effectively without money to pay for researchers and other staff.

There are plenty of ways to cut spending in over-governed, over bureaucratised Northern Ireland.  A little cash to breathe accountability into the system would be one of our wiser investments.

If other parties fixate on the cost, it is more than likely because they are not genuinely committed to the principle of an official opposition in the first plance.  With Sinn Féin that goes without saying.  The DUP, Alliance and SDLP are less cut and dried cases.

Certainly the DUP’s official enthusiasm for voluntary coalition is probably more tactical than genuine.  It’s inconceivable that the party would want to operate its alliance with Sinn Féin, without the UUP to provide political cover.

The Alliance party has not endured a desperate scramble for a seat at the Executive table just to give it up now.  If there were a voluntary system, it could not so easily pose as a selfless team player.  It would have to stand over the policies formulated by Sinn Féin and the DUP and fight their corner, if it chose to remain in government.

Alongside Ulster Unionists, the SDLP is probably more open to the potential of opposition politics.  Still, if the UUP were to go out on its own, there would be a strenuous debate within the nationalist party as to its response.

There’s an internal fault-line within the SDLP not unlike a similar divide in the UUP.  The greener wing sees Sinn Féin as a more natural ally than Ulster Unionists.  The notion of a coalition of the middle ground can be problematic.

The road to an official funded opposition is fraught with difficulties, but the UUP’s negotiations are significant, taken in conjunction with Tom Elliott’s speech, earlier this week.

The party is clearly thinking about the repercussions of the election and the likelihood that either its suggestion for the phasing of d’Hondt will be rebuffed or that it can’t agree a programme for government with Sinn Féin and the DUP.

It also sounds like there could be more follow through from the UUP than many of us initially suspected.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tom has managed to raise a few headlines out of nothing - well done!
The UUP will only be entitled to one Executive seat after the election - so the financial hit of staying out of the Executive will be very small

Gonzo said...

Re: your headline - not serious enough to actually go into opposition without cash. Not exactly principled, not exactly a new idea anyway. The UUP are now where the DUP were about 7/8 years ago.

Game changer me hole!

Anonymous said...

Gonzo,

The DUPs never were serious about opposition or voluntary coalition remember 1999 - they took their seat. As for funding, every opposition in the world gets funding and privileges, so its only sensible to ask.

But the new idea and its the one being ignored, is as posted, if their is no agreement on the programme for gov then the UUP won't go in.

This is new and its principled, more than that its sensible and logical.

Anonymous said...

There is no chance of the Co-alition gving the UUP any money, it will have to come from the block grant and who in the current situation would agree to that.

More money for political parties in NI is a no go area at present.

So the UUP will stay where it is with probably only one minister.

ianjamesparsley said...

I would suspect the UUP will still have two Ministers post-election, but it'll be close.

Either way, they've successfully managed to trap themselves. When the money is not forthcoming, they will either have to go into Opposition "on principle" (being castigated as they do so for costing Unionists seats at the Executive table), or remain in the Executive (being castigated for talking about Opposition and then not delivering).

If they are talking to the UK Government, they are talking to the wrong people. Only a joint case with the SDLP will gain them any leverage.

Seymour Major said...

Why should any party be given cash to go into opposition?

The idea of going into opposition, as a matter of principle, should have been put into action two years ago, when it would look less likely to be connected with an election.

It sounds to me as though there is nothing in the bank to fund their election campaign.

Chekov said...

Why is the opposition at Westminster funded? Why do the opposition parties in the Dail get special allowances? What about short money? It's to help do the job properly.

msc said...

There is a lot of mis reporting here.

1. The UUP has never asked for a any money for ITSELF to go into opposition.

2.We have started a dialogue about creating a properly funded and accountable opposition with a formal role (Or the opposition will be like the Alliance Party has been, well meaning but powerless to hold the Executive to account). This will require Westminster legislation which will require 4 party buy in.

3. The UUP are fighting an election to be in Government and to deliver real benefits to Northern Ireland. Not some sleazy deal to line its own pockets as has been inferred in various posts.

4. Crucially. The UUP gets nothing at all in terms of money for having the 2 Executive positions in the first place. There are 2 Advisors appointed by the ministers and paid for directly as civil servants so I was very surprised at the Deputy First Minister and his NIO colleague suggesting that the UUP is seeking monetary compensation for something it does not get.

5. The civil servant in question (we all know who it is) has just consigned the NIO to be excluded from all talks involving the UUP and HMG. The clue is in the title Civil SERVANT. This is what is wrong with Northern Ireland politics is that these people, with no mandate, lurking in the shadows and whispering into anyones ears who will listen, think that it is good to undermine the political process.

msc said...

A lot of nonsense has been written.

1. The UUP has never asked HMG for money for the UUP to give up is Executive seats in some dirty little deal.

2. The UUP do not get a penny for having two Executive Ministries in the first place so there would be nothing to compensate it for. (All Ministers appoint a personal advisor who is paid for directly by the Ministers department as a Civil Servant. All Assembly parties are funded on the basis of their number of MLAS. End of.

3. We have started discussions with HMG about the process of creating a legislative opposition. In my mind that would have to have 4 party support as any of those 4 parties could at any time be in Government or Opposition. So as not to undermine the crucial cross community balance it would have to have a cross community dynamic to it. (It would not get all party support if it didnt).

Crucially it would have to be legislated for. The Opposition would need a formal and meaningful structure to properly hold the Executive of the day to account.

4. The UUP are fighting these elections to increase our representation IN Government because no such mechanisms for being in opposition exist. If you leave the Executive under the current arrangements under DHont your seats just go to who ever else is entitled to them and there is no mechanism what ever to properly amd transparently scrutinize the Executive. That said if our calls to agree a PFG are ignored by both the DUP and SF and those parties proposes to plough on with the current mutual veto mindset in that event, in my opinion, the UUP would have decisions to make. I fully expect the DUP to agree that something needs to change and it then becomes a SF problem (and ultimately an HMG problem) if it chooses to ignore the quite legitimate demands that it would face if it had any ambitions of being in Government in the ROI. It does not effect DHont or any entitlement it is common sense to try to agree what your Government is going to try to do before selecting the ministers to deliver those over arching policies.

5. During the current SOS period as Shadow SOS he was in NI more often than the actual SOS fully and properly funded by the NIO.

That is what a properly funded oppositon looks like. Not the Conservative party deciding if it can afford for the Shadow SOS to come to NI so that it knows the opportunities and challenges it might face and to agree or disagree with the actions of the actual SOS.

6. The UUP is not looking for Conservative money to fight the forthcoming elections. Like it has done for 106 years it will raise its own although any donations from qualified donors will be greatly recieved by its Treasurer.

Anonymous said...

MSC, Are you sure aboutyour last point. The well known Quasi Civil Servant seems to raising some cane.