Friday, 18 March 2011

Budget wrangle brings opposition closer.

Sorry for the slow blogging this week.  Part of the reason was a trip to watch Liverpool succumb to FC Braga in the Europa League.  Anything must be cheerier than that, even Northern Ireland politics, and in that spirit I direct you toward my piece in Wednesday's Belfast Telegraph.  I argue that, with de facto opposition developing at Stormont, sooner or later the institutions will have to change.

The contours of an opposition to the de facto coalition between Sinn Fein and the DUP are already taking shape. Outside Stormont the two larger parties pose as the bitterest of enemies, but in the Assembly chamber and around the Executive table they often act as one.
During the Budget debate MLA after MLA rose to chastise the SDLP or accuse the UUP of complicity in "Tory cuts". The only way to tell Sinn Fein from DUP was the "cúpla focal" of Irish deployed by the Shinners. 
Across the Assembly the smaller parties looked embattled, huddling together against a tongue-lashing from Wilson and his supporters. It was raw, angry politics, but it was democracy in action nonetheless. 
With the UUP and the SDLP still considering their positions in the Executive, there is an intriguing possibility that the system at Stormont may change by default. 
It appears the Assembly is evolving opposition politics, whether there is consensus on tinkering with the institutions or not. Sinn Fein and the DUP represent a majority of voters in Northern Ireland and they're entitled to force through decisions on that basis. It's up to other parties to point out where their policies are flawed and advocate credible alternatives. 
It's become increasingly apparent during the Budget wrangle that the UUP and SDLP are already acting like an opposition. The structures should be put in place to let them do that job properly. 
Two parties are now thoroughly marginalised within an Executive effectively operating as a coalition between Sinn Fein and the DUP, with Alliance a willing junior partner. Whether they pull their ministers out now, or encourage them to hang on until the election, the UUP and SDLP must still present an alternative to DUP/Sinn Fein-led government. The debate about an opposition at Stormont rages on, but things are already moving in that direction. Sooner or later the formalities will be put in place and our politics will be the healthier for it.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

of course things wont change without the consent of Sinn Fein, and if you believe there is any pressure of them to do so you are sadly mistaken.

Chekov said...

Martin McGuinness has acknowledged that he can do nothing to prevent ministers withdrawing from the Executive. Once a genuine opposition is in place the pressure to give it an official status builds.

Anonymous said...

again pressure from who? Sinn fein will play this as a breach of the belfast agreement and the beginning of a return of majority rule.

Without SFs consent it wont happen

Chekov said...

It's quite simple. While SF has a veto over changing the power-sharing institutions, it doesn't have a veto over the formation of 'an opposition'. That can be achieved by unilateral action. Once an opposition is in place and once the world doesn't end the power of the majority rule argument will erode. I'm not necessarily talking about today or tomorrow, I'm talking about a period of time.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed it, but who is exactly committed to forming this opposition?

Unless you've become the official TUV blogger there isn't much sign elsewhere. I might believe it if bogtrotter Tom comes forward and tells us what he's doing (for this week anyway), but up and until there is a clearcut statement from Elliott then we can be all absolutely 100% certain that the UUP will be taking whatever Ministerial cars they're entitled to after the election.

The UUP will try to make "opposition" a bit of a feature during the election, but they certainly won't be acting on it after the election.

Even you yourself admit that without consent from nationalists (which isn't forthcoming, even from the SDLP) then it will take unilateral action from a party pulling out in order to "force" some change. Lets see Tom put his money where his mouth is then and tell us what he's actually gonna do....

If not then its all hot air from yourself.

Chekov said...

There is no commitment to form an opposition, other than from the TUV, but I wonder whether you've read the linked article? Its argument is that elements of a de facto opposition and a de facto two (or 3 if you count Alliance) party government are already operating. I expect that position to be exacerbated in the new Assembly and, in my view, at some point in the future the institutions will have to change to reflect that reality. Hence opposition by evolution. Politics become more and more oppositional and eventually that results in formal arrangements. Anyway that's the principal point, not UUP directionlessness or the merits of Tom Elliott.

Anonymous said...

If this "de facto" opposition is actually coming about then surely at least one part of it would have to indicate that they'll act upon that and actually be in opposition.

If they're not prepared to do that then they're not a "de facto" opposition but just part of the Government which has coalesced together, not because of any actual wish to form an opposition, nor because of any agreement on policy, but simply because they believe it is in their short-term electoral interests to attack the larger section(s) of that Government.

Its cynicism, not opposition which is developing between the UUP & SDLP.

Were it actually to represent the development of an opposition then it would require some form of commitment to actually put their money where their mouth is. Hence the earlier post about why Elliott won't step up and say that he would do so.

Chekov said...

Anon - you're taking a rather reductive approach. There doesn't have to be an official or actual opposition for characteristics of oppositional government to develop. The UUP and SDLP don't have to be perfect and principled for politics to evolve in a certain direction. They feel that their voices are being side-lined. They feel that they are less and less able to stand over the Executive's decisions. Whether the motive is genuine or not, that dynamic will shape politics. My view is that it will shape them in a positive way, because competition, scrutiny and alternatives are signal virtues in a political system.

Anonymous said...

Chekov
That dynamic will only work if the Opposition seeks to define itself in right-left terms rather than opposition for the sake of opposition or criticism of everything unpopular.
It is a mute point as to whether a situation with a DUP/SF Exec and UUP/SDLP in oposition is really progress over the current nonsense
Bob Wilson

ianjamesparsley said...

I agree that the UUP is only doing "Opposition" by opposing purely for the sake of opposing. There is no fundamentally different option, and if it is expecting us to believe it'd be any more competent...

However, there is also a flaw in the argument that NI's politics would necessarily develop in the same way as England's. The division need not be "left-right" (as generally understood in British politics), it may be more "radical-traditional", "socialist-moderate", or even "public-private sector".

Having set up the argument, the UUP is now obliged to act upon it. That means not only forming an opposition, but also finding some coherence in its opposing. What, ultimately, is it's vision for NI and how, precisely, does it differ from the DUP's?

Anonymous said...

It would seem, according to the Belfast Telegraph anyway, that the "leader" of the "de facto" opposition has indicated he'll join the DUP (not as the senior partner of course) to prevent a SF First Minister....

So, how does this square with opposition then? You can't just be in bed for the FM post, but be in opposition for all the others....

That of course ignores the fact that Elliott has just admitted he's lost the election. If he were going to be leading the largest party, or even the largest unionist party after the election then he would be calling on the DUP to do the running, yet he's come running without Robinson even having to ask.

So on the one hand he's telling us how much we need an opposition, and on the other he's effectively giving a cast-iron commitment to be in Government if factors completely outside of his control should demand it.

Interesting.... but not doubt you'll be beavering away loyally defending the indefensible once again...

Good boy....

Chekov said...

I'll certainly not be doing any such thing. I'll condemn the UUP outright if it considers any such deal.

Anonymous said...

Chekov

Chief Whip, Fred Cobain said in the Belfast Telegraph it was already being considered.

Chekov said...

I'm aware of that. And if it were to come about I would be thoroughly disgusted. While that would be a set-back for normal politics it certainly doesn't invalidate the thrust of my article. Whether the UUP forms an opposition or not, opposition style politics can still emerge. In my view there must be some outlet for a different point of view. It's a broader point than the narrowly party political.

Anyhow - I seem to have thoroughly breached my self-imposed ordinance in terms of anonymous contributors.