Wednesday, 31 March 2010

UDR 40th anniversary gif

The DUP has released a gif for websites and bloggers to download to place on their sites to mark the 40th anniversary of the Ulster Defence Regiment becoming operational on the first day of April 1970. It can be downloaded here.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

What if Cameron fails?

Iain Martin believes there will be a civil war within the Tories if Cameron fails to win them victory in the election. He argues there has been a trade off for the message discipline and silence of the various factions of the Conservative Party was based on the expected reward of power. Without the reward he believes it wil be a free for all.

However, the North Channel will not be any protection from the ramifications. Where will defeat leave the UCUNF partnership? As regards factions within the UUP perhaps today's challenge for the chairmanship gives an insight into internal divisions. A grassroots revolt occurred after the Hatfield talks were revealed and the outworking of that was Tim Lemon challenged incumbent David Campbell but was defeated by 183 votes to 130 votes.

Is this result an indication of pro or anti Unionist Unity sentiment? Or is it simply grassroots versus the establishment? UPDATE Mallie thinks its is an indicator of unionist unity sentiments. He argues Campbell is pro-Unity. Campbell has been the front-man but there is the question of his relationship with Trimble.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Who's frit?

Alasdair McDonnell seems to be running scared. He's got up his election posters despite the election not being called. Alasdair better not have said anything against fly-posting in the past ;)

The Insult and Injury Tour

David McNarry has continued on his insult and injury tour. In today's Belfast Telegraph he attacks his party's electoral partners the local Conservatives:

"The local Northern Ireland Tories are a very weak group, very small in numbers. What’s happened in the selection process — you can see the talent that they have..."

Thursday, 25 March 2010

DUP clearing the decks for a hung parliament?

The DUP has launched its election slogan today. It has opted for a more upbeat tone of "Let's Keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward".
It was also announced at the event that:
"Any DUP assembly members who are elected to Westminster will give up their Stormont seats, with the exception of the party leader."
The UUPCon alliance was gearing up to use this as a key point of attack on the DUP so this announcement will have blunted that somewhat. Beyond the ducking and diving of the campaign it shows a seriousness about a hung parliament. A recent Hansard Society report highlighted the need for MPs to be in a position to commit more time to Westminster if this occurs:

"A hung parliament will require MPs to spend more time at Westminster than in recent parliaments. This may have implications for the balance struck by MPs between their local constituency and national parliamentary responsibilities."

If the DUP are to be credible partners then it needs to demonstrate it can deliver the votes when they are needed. It will also require the average Ulster voter's preference for the MP being more in the constituency than Westminster to more muted than normal.

For anyone interested in learning more about hung or coalition parliaments I'd recommend this excellent publication, No Overall Control.

Fact of the day

A little history was made today, for the first time since the foundation of Northern Ireland the Ulster Unionist Party has no elected representatives in Westminster.

Is David feeling the heat?

YouGov has the Tory lead down to an incredible 2% meanwhile Cameron's outreach to the pink vote has resulted in a car crash of an interview with the Gay Times.

This is the second recent interview were Cameron's superficial approach to issues has been exposed. Jeff Randall on Sky News exposed his ignorance on public expenditure a few weeks ago.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Principle, hypocrisy or plain selfishness?

Lord Trimble has re-emerged to rule out Unionist Unity candidates. Which begs the question, who exactly is setting the UUP's policy present leader Sir Reg Empey or past leader Lord Trimble?

He repeats the dubious claim of such pacts having a "sectarian nature". Perhaps it has escaped his memory that he endorsed such an approach while he was leader. In 1997 he was for Unionist Unity to ensure West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Tyrone and North Belfast were held by Unionists working together. So his condemnation now is either hypocritical or false. Perhaps it is more motivated by selfishness - any new pact would see the benefits shared equally between the parties or neither with agreed unity candidates as opposed to the lion share the UUP got under the past arrangement?

"Most Incredible Courage"

Lance Bombardier Gary Proust from Libsurn has been awarded the Conspicious Gallantry Cross for "the most incredible courage" in Afghanistan.

Under heavy machine gun fire he helped retrieve a wounded colleague (his best friend, Lance Corporal Christopher Hackett who later died of his wounds), called fire down on the Taleban from an exposed position, volunteered to stay behind when resuce vehicles were too small to take all the patrol, returned to his exposed position to call down further fire to ensure Taleban didn't know how few were left behind and in the final evacuation retrieved weapons left behind under rocket and machine gun fire.

This fourth generation soldier had told his mum he was in an office.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Deirdre's had enough

It is reported in today's Belfast Telegraph that Cllr Deirdre Nelson has resigned from the Conservatives. The article says:

"Mrs Nelson made no comment but it is understood she believes it was a mistake to quit the DUP last June."

When she quit the DUP 9 months ago to join the Tories, Owen Patterson said:

"This news shows that the mood for change is strong right across the United Kingdom."

The Northern Ireland Chairman, Tim Lewis said:

“The news of Deirdre’s defection so close to Thursday’s elections will come as a body blow to the DUP."

So what does her resignation from the Conservatives say?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Is a Sinn Fein MP as good as a Tory for Cameron?

The debate within Unionism is still raging about whether there should be a pact or not. The idea of a straight trade - one UCUNF, one DUP - seems to have been abandoned. Now the idea of unity candidates with no party political baggage that can be endorsed by both parties seems to be Plan B but the UUP continues its game of not saying No but not saying Yes either.

The tightening of the national polls means there is much number crunching going on with a hung parliament a possibility. John Rentoul of the Independent and James Forsyth of the Coffee House blog point out that Sinn Fein's policy of abstention reduces the number of seats a party needs to form a majority government. This means that for every Sinn Fein MP elected the Conservatives need one less Tory elected.

A split Unionist vote in Fermanagh and South Tyrone will ensure a Sinn Fein victory but because of the parliamentary maths, is a Sinn Fein MP as good as a Tory for Cameron?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Lords and the Regions

The Sunday Telegraph claims Jack Straw is planning to announce draft legislation for the abolition of the House of Lords. The proposals seem in line with previous Labour announcements of reform with the chamber to become a 300 member wholly elected body.

The focus of discussion will be increasing the accountability of the second house to the electorate but is there an opportunity to restore some balance to the British constitution? Blair's reforms deliberately ignored the West Lothian question but it needs an answer. It is a question that Ulster's Unionists should be particularly concerned about as equal citizenship was a founding principle of modern Unionism in the 1912 Covenant.

Fully fledged federalism does offer an answer but the public is unenthused despite its reasonable success in comparable countries such as Australia and Canada. Partly connected to federalism is the idea of an English parliament but it's potential to bully the national parliament means it would threaten the principle of equal citizenship as much as present arrangements.

However, could reform of the second chamber be a means of empowering England without undermining equal citizenship? Could it also inject the need to balance regional interests with national interests more directly than at present (as the American system does with the House of Representatives and Senate? Namely should this seats in the new chamber be distributed equally between the 9 regions of England and the other three constituent parts of the United Kingdom?

This would mean approximately 25 representatives each. Would this enable stronger regional voices to emerge or would the strength of the party system be able to maintain its dominance?

A Drunken Las Vegas Wedding

David Cameron had much to ponder last week-end and then he got a phone call from George W Bush urging him to intervene with the Ulster Unionists. The arguments about Ulster regaining policing and justice powers would have only added to his problems.

He was chosen as leader of the Conservative party to deliver a return to power. Electorally Cameron had to deliver two targets to gain a parliamentary majority – a swing of 9% on the 2005 result with the Tories gaining at least 40% of the national vote.

Neither was necessarily an easy task but the political backdrop should have made the electoral work simpler. The Labour party has been in government for nearly 13 years. It is lead by a Prime Minister whose personal ratings are so bad even his own family must be giving negative answers to pollsters. Our economy is coming out of its worst recession in decades. Despite this, poll after poll has been telling Cameron he is not hitting his electoral targets and that a hung parliament is likely. Less and less people are convinced by Cameron.

Why is this? The recession has probably made people more cautious of change and the fact that so far the consequences have not been as severe as first predicted has made some take a second look at Labour. However a significant part of it is Cameron himself. Who is he? What does he think? Where would he take our country? He has singularly failed to provide a coherent and consistent picture of his beliefs or his direction.

He wanted to be the heir to Blair then the British Obama. He was Mr UK until European leaders made threatening noises and he caved on his cast-iron guarantee of a Lisbon Treaty referendum. He was Mr Public Spending then Mr Austerity finally Mr Not-so-Austere with each shift defined by opinion polls. On a Monday he is the defender of marriage and family but on a Tuesday he’s trying to woo the gay rights vote.

He has never made his own public persona but always sought to copy others. His instincts are not to lead or defy the public mood but to follow it. His response to the drop in public support was to hire a second polling company, YouGov. Whether he is or not he has displayed all the characteristics of an empty suit. This lack of definition means that the more real a Cameron government becomes the more reluctant voters become about the idea.

If any of the mainland voters watched events in Northern Ireland this week a negative impression of Cameron was reinforced. A prospective Prime Minister has to project strength and an ability to shape events. Cameron demonstrated neither and was reduced to offering excuses. Excuses that further undermined the ‘partnership’ between the UUP and Tories.

The former UUP Director of Communications Alex Kane revealed how the UUP could not influence something as basic as a newspaper article or speech of Cameron’s. Now the Tories have shown themselves incapable of any influence on the UUP. The UCUNF partnership appears to have all the understanding, commitment and mutual respect of a drunken Las Vegas wedding.

How to develop Unionism’s relationship on the national stage is a key strategic challenge as the British Constitution and Ulster moves forward. The UUP opted for the limiting choice of an alliance with a single national party. Such an alliance only works if that national party gains power and the ability to influence them can be shown. Power is by no means assured and the Conservatives don’t listen to the UUP or vice versa. The DUP decision to maintain good relationships with the range of parties now appears to have been the wiser strategic choice.

If the election result is a hung parliament or small majority then there will be a real opportunity for Unionism to shape national events and protect Ulster’s interests. It is not the time for Tory lobby fodder. Unionism needs to be clear in its mind what it will seek to achieve from such a scenario and reinforces the need for Unionist Unity to secure 12 Westminster seats and not 10.

Appeared in Belfast News Letter 12/03/10

Ultonia calling

I will be getting the opportunity to produce a regular article for the News Letter's new political review section so I decided to place these columns on the web to get the chance to debate them. Also I'll use it to bounce about ideas on political issues of the day, news stories or ideas that interest me.