Saturday, 31 July 2010

Missing the opportunity

Dawn Purivs has made her contribution to the Union 2021.  While it is by no means the only example within the series, it is symptomatic of too many contributors to this series.  It is a predictable repetition of a position stated many times previously. Granted the questions could have been better framed but considering the number of times people have bemoaned the opportunity, depth or constructiveness of debate within Unionism I'd hoped more would have utilised the opportunity with more openess. 

In this spirit, perhaps they can ask contributors to write again in response to other contributions with an emphasis on something that has made them reassess or intend to approach something differently.  Perhaps through these means it will not be grow to something more than mostly elongated position statements.

Friday, 30 July 2010

In light of new evidence...

His techniques have led him to be seen as a figure of fear and ridicule (in almost equal measure).  Journalistic reputations were made by those who brought him down and are still eulogised today.  However in a Radio Four documentary David Aaronovitch highlights that the release of new evidence which shows:

"...Joseph McCarthy was right after all about the extent of Soviet infiltration into the highest reaches of the U.S government...the Communist spying McCarthy fought against was extensive, reaching to the highest level of the State department and the White House...many of McCarthy's anticommunist investigations were in fact on target. His fears about the effect Soviet infiltration might be having on US foreign policy, particularly in the Far East were also well founded."

Will the new evidence lead to a rehabilitation of McCarthy or will the left fight to maintain his postion as a bogeyman?

(Only two days left on the BBC iplayer to listen to the programme).

"the memory of good men"

Issues connected with our past are a particular topic of conversation today but it is also the 20th anniversary of the murder of Ian Gow.  Bruce Anderson has a fitting tribute to him in today's Daily Telegraph.  In it he describes Gow as "the ultimate loyalist" in all meanings of the world.  Anderson also engages in some fantasy history arguing if Gow had lived he would have thwarted the anti-Thatcher coup.

In my opinion his resignation and murder were the last act and then snuffing of the Unionist tradition within the Conservative Party.  It rightly concludes that:

"...the memory of good men is an antidote against evil. Ian Gow left such a memory, in the hearts of all his friends."

(My thanks to a friend who emailed me the story.)

The Maze buildings and de-listing

The announcement of proposals to develop the former Maze site has raised the issue of de-listing of the remaining buildings of the prison.  The powers of the Environment minister and the legislation under which it was listed has been mangled in the discussion.

A trident to the heart of the armed forces

"The full £20bn cost of renewing the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent must be paid for by the Ministry of Defence"

The previous Conservative government pretty much did for the Navy but if this decision holds it'll will involve the gutting of at least one of the other services.

The Giant of Idleness

Since I read Nicholas Timmins The Five Giants: A Biography of the Welfare State in 1995, the cartoon below has always stuck in my mind, especially the giant of idleness.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Robin's Readings

The BBC is doing some decent coverage of Ulster-Scots (for once) with its production of Robins' readings.  Ian Parsley provides an excellent introduction and summary of the ongoing series here.

PS Bloggin fae the Burn highlights the ongoing work of Dr Frank Ferguson at the University of Ulster that will provide benefits for Ulster-Scots too.

Collective responsibility

Perhaps it's something to do with the education portfolio but even with a single party government it appears hard to keep education ministers on the reservation ;)

The bigger point

Mark Devenport is having some fun at Martina Anderson's comments in response to criticism of the CSI strategy.  The source of her headline figure is dubious.  However, this misses the bigger point.  Among the comments were the following:

" much of that is genuine or how much of it is about protecting their own positions and funding. There are a raft of good relations quangos out there which, quite frankly, are unelected, unnecessary and ineffective...Sinn Féin is committed to reducing this kind of waste and to cutting the number of quangos."

Is this not the real story?  Namely Sinn Fein is moving away from the pro-public sector/more spending response that has been its stock message until now.  Perhaps a few years in government is having an impact or the reality of the budget pressures coming our way has made them reflect.

Ken Maginnis and Tom Elliott - Ulster Nationalists!?!

When Peter Robinson said

"Build the DUP team to 10 MPs to assure a strong voice for Northern Ireland"

This led to accusations of Ulster nationalism. In the recent edition of the Impartial Reporter, Lord Ken Maginnis said the following of Tom Elliott.

"he has the energy to guard Northern Ireland's interests...he is prepared to take a huge risk on the people of Northern Ireland and the unionist community. How often do you find that? How often do you find someone like him, willing to dedicate their time to this country?"

Although Maginnis' powers of insight and prediction are questionable considering his inability to predict correctly what would happen within four days. Are they converts to Ulster nationalism?

Tom Elliott is correct on the issue of party discipline and considering Basil McCrea's loose cannon tendencies it is unsurprising that he smarted at that particular comment.  However, it needs to be remembered how much such discipline is the operation of good sense and culture rather than structures.

Quote of the day

"Among the highest paid in quangoland is Patricia Lewsley, who as Commissioner for Children and Young People, receives £76,875 for her full-time post."

Neither is this the only cost of having such a post.

Not every photo is an opportunity

Positive possibilities

University of Ulster academic Pol O'Dochartaigh has made a series of pronouncements of Unionist Unity in yesterday's Irish News (subs reqd).  However, while there may have been selective quoting by the journalist the argument as presented is full of holes.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

From findings to instructions

Why is science failing to convince the public?  The American thinks it has found the answer.  When a PR person was asked they came up with the unsurprising answer that they needed better PR:

"says researchers need a campaign that inundates the public with the message of science: Assemble two groups of spokespeople, one made up of scientists and the other of celebrity ambassadors. Then deploy them to reach the public wherever they are, from online social networks to “The Today Show.” Researchers need to tell personal stories, tug at the heartstrings of people who don’t have PhD’s. And the celebrities can go on “Oprah” to describe how climate change is affecting them—and by extension, Oprah’s legions of viewers."

Quote of the day

Via Guido:

"Pitbulls have their uses, but they don’t win at Crufts.”

Three answers

So what is happening to UCUNF?  According to Ken Reid on last night's UTV news it was dead.  With the deal not extended to the Assembly and the joint office closed (plus the 'minor' detail of electoral failure) there hardly appears to be much life in this hybrid creature. 

A useful saving

According to Newsnight's Michael Crick Sinn Fein parliamentary allowances and expenses are to get cut.  Although it appears that the cuts will not be total rather partial:

"One possible outcome is that Sinn Fein MPs will still be allowed to claim allowances which enable them to look after their constituents. But it looks likely that they will be deprived of travel allowances for trips between Northern Ireland and London. It is also probable that they will now be barred from receiving Short Money, the state funds given to Opposition parties for research and policy work."

A full cut would save between £3-4m in a full parliamentary term but these level of cuts would place it more in the region of £1-2m.  These moves follow a Westminster Hall debate in June which re-focused attention on the issue in the new parliament.  The SoS had given private indications of no action following the election but it now appears that it is seen as a means to assuage the Tory backbenchers.

Repetition and truth

Saying something over and over again does not make it true.

"...we endure a freak show at Stormont that ensures there can be no opposition to the governing executive"

There is no legal bar to an opposition at Stormont.  There is no legal obligation on a party to participate in the executive.  There can be an opposition at Stormont whenever a party elected to it wants such a role.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Wood for the trees

Talkback has decided to fascinate on the ministerial cars as a means of saving money based on the Minister for Finance and Personnel's decision to hold back the tender to replace the existing 3 year lease contracts.  No saving can be ignored in the circumstances we will find ourselves in but it looks like the standard issue 'let's bash the politicians' approach. 

Is it too much to hope the media could raise its gaze to have a decent public discussion on cuts?  The car contracts is woods for trees stuff - reducing the number of departments would a) produce savings in the region of tens of millions and b) reduce the number of cars required.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Tomlinson - charges are possible?

Over on ConservativeHome Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch makes the point that the CPS excuses on no charges over the death of Iain Tomlinson don't add up:

"...a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm is in any case not time barred. Furthermore, prosecution of the officer for acting outwith his professional responsibilities would seem right"

The Cuts - A Guide

NICVA has done something useful! If you can get your mind around that concept then look further.  They have commissioned Oxford Economics and Economic Research Institute of Northern Ireland to produce a report on the likely impact of the bduget cuts on Northern Ireland - 'Cutting carefully - how repairing UK finances will impact NI'. (Full report here - pdf file).

As Unionism is presently debating the Union in 2021 it should take cognisance of the warning that:

"...the implications will be significant and will shape the economic and social conditions in the economy for a least the decade ahead."

The OBR's credibility for projections has a question mark over it and this report believes that it has underestimated the impact of cuts on economic growth:

"Oxford's view is that the tightening will take more out of the economy in the short run..."

From the emergenct budget announcements, it doesn't provide a figure for the impact of Annual Managed Exepnditure cuts but it estimates the impact on the Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL):

"Total spending in nominal terms will fall by 3.5% by 2015/16, and by 14.4% in constant prices...this will translate to a cut of at least £1.2bn by 2015/16 in constant 2010/11 proces."

For those who were so keen to abolish Barnett it highlights how:

"The Barnett formula provides some modest cushioning."

It highlights the issues not only for revenue but equally the capital budget.  Northern Ireland is already trying to deal with a legacy of under-investment of capital and it warns:

"We would also draw attention to the widening gap between what the executive expected to be able to spend on capital projects and the amount that it will have available for this purpose.  By 2015/16 this gap could exceed £1.5bn, which will cause great difficulties for those departments such as HPSSPS that were scheduled to benefit later rather than sooner in the Investment Programme."

As well as outlining the principles that should be followed for a good budget process it makes clear that:

"...totally protecting large spending programmes in the face of deep cuts to the overall block is not feasible.  Both health and education will need to bear some of the burden of cuts if the Executive is to maintain a meaningful presence in other spedning areas."

Friday, 23 July 2010

Credibility Gap?

As part of their programme for greater transparency on public finances, the Con Dem coalition created the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) as an 'independent' voice on economic projections.  There have been questions about its independence but of equal or more importance is its credibility.  It predicted that the GDP growth of the UK in 2010 would be 1.3% and this was revised downward to 1.2% after the emergency budget.

However, the estimated GDP growth figures for the second quarter were released today and it was 1.1% in that quarter alone.  If confirmed this would mean that the total GDP growth so far this year is 1.4%.  So in half a year actual growth has been higher than the OBR prediction for the whole year and one quarter almost equalled the prediction. This is not the only case of predictions being overly pessimistic e.g. the scale of this year's deficit has been revised downwards on a number of occasions.  Of particular interest is the finance sector.  It was believed that as much as £30bn of UK tax revenues had been based on unsustainable super profits from this sector but it is appears to be performing well with 1.3% growth (although the proposed EU financial regulations could harm that in future).

Guido argues that this undermines the Labour Party in the longer-term.  An election on the back of a few good years of economic growth is good for any government. However, if the growth is sustained it undermines a central argument of the cuts programme - the need to balance the government books - especially with the Lib Dem poll numbers looking particularly bad.  Also if the growth does not continue Labour will argue that their policies were working until the new government cocked it up. Darling has indeed been trying to claim the credit (see BBC link above) which has some more credibility that Osborne saying it was his measures in the emergency budget announced mere days before the end of the quarter.

For the weekend

In the relationship between the state and the individual should it be:
a) Islands of individual rights surrounded by a sea of government power
b) Islands of government power surrounded by a sea of individual rights


The news that the police officer will not be charged with the death of Iain Tomlinson is not surprising but that does not mean it should be accepted with a shrug.   Dizzy Thinks rightly point out it is the type of case that attracts the wild eyed but that should not be mitigation for the decision.  He defends the CPS decision arguing:

"whilst the CPS pretty much acknowledges that yes, the officer committed assault, the law has a time limit of six month and they've been investigating for 16 months, there is nothing they can do about it.
And let's be fair for a moment, nothing bar a manslaughter or even murder charge would be considered enough anyway, so, had they proceeded at pace with a common assault charge, there would have been screams of, yes, a whitewash and lack of justice."

This sidesteps the obvious question of whether the investigation really need to take 16 months when going over 6 months reduced the chances of a means of justice?  Add in the handling of the first autopsy and it becomes a pattern of official failure that can only feed the wild-eyed with conspiracy theories.  What is clear is the Tomlinson family deserved much better from officialdom from the start to finish of this debacle.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

What went wrong?

The fact that he has ended up in No.10 helps avoid too many media questions about the failure of the Tory campaign but that is exactly what it was.  An open goal was missed with the impact of the debates probably the focus of too much of the blame.  In a recent meeting the Cameron message seemed to be that the strategy was the right one but that the target audiences were proving harder to persuade than expected.

When a party fails to get elected it does call for a degree of introspection.  However, it should avoid wallowing in it.  The role of timing and circumstance can end up being ignored with a party's analysis of the problems and answers not necessarily wrong but that the electorate is unreceptive, disbelieving of the likely consequences of the mistakes or unwilling to change what appears to be ticking over ok.  It is simply hard to remove a government from power when it appears capable, competent and the economy is doing reasonable well.  This is what the Tories faced in 2001 and 2005.  This can lead to more than is necessary being ditched in the search of electability with a pretty hollow shell being offered to the voters.

Furthermore, the need for a makeover for the Tory party on the scale of New Labour was dubious.  The impact of Thatcherism was a genuine shift in British political attitudes, New Labour was much more the compliance with that rather than another shift.  Graham Sharp of Critical Reaction is scathing of his assessment of the campaign.  The Cameron brand was placed before the party brand but if didn't attract people:

"To win big, all Cameron needed to do was connect with the British public. In this task, he failed alarmingly. This was not just about the detail of policy but about the attitude he presented. The public could not be convinced that here was a statesman rather than a salesman. If Cameron opposed Gordon Brown’s profligacy, why had he gone along with it for so long? If he was a man of his word, why had he reneged on promising a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?"

This was predictable as pre-election polls showed a deteriorating problem with Cameron's personal brand after the Lisbon treaty decision - not because of the policy decision but because it stopped him looking like something different from the political crowd.  Sharp also sees the apologetic nature of the campaign as a core weakness:

"The Cameron strategy was self-denying. The tactics were a greater embarrassment. And embarrassment is the right word, for the message conveyed was that though the Tories were the only party capable of ousting a tired and discredited Labour government, the Conservative leadership was nevertheless embarrassed to be Conservative. The ‘I’ve never voted Tory before but …’ advertising slogan effectively conceded that being Tory was not normal behaviour, but it was perhaps acceptable in an emergency."

He highlights the difference in approach of New Labour did in 1997:

"It will be recalled that the Labour Party had an image problem in the early 1990s. It urgently needed to show the public that it was not just about striking miners and Greenham Common women but was a broad, national force that embraced ‘Middle England.’ So it fought the 1997 general election not upon slogans of self-pity or self-effacing apology but with palpable belief and self-confidence. In its advertising campaign, it adopted the British bulldog and inter-mingled the words ‘new Labour’ with the red, white and blue of the Union Jack. The difference between the campaign masterminded in 1997 by Labour’s Peter Mandelson and in 2010 by the Conservatives’ Steve Hilton could not be greater. The results speak for themselves."

Economics and Unionism

Graham Gudgin has provided the second contribution in the Union 2021 series with significant challenge in its content.  His focus is upon economics and Unionism.  His analysis seems somewhat tainted by what appears to be negative experiences of the UUP, like most economists he doesn't grasp that a politician has to marry economic necessity with the politically possible and fails to sufficiently acknowledge the steps towards a greater policy focus that have been made.  However, this doesn't take away from the fundamentals of his argument.

He stresses the scale of the economic difficulties our region faces:

"This was sustainable during the UK's debt-driven boom, with ever increasing amounts of money flowing into Northern Ireland, but in a post-recession world realities must now be faced.  Cuts will reduce public services by 15 percent over five years, economic growth will slow to a trickle and unemployment will rise."

Something I doubt people have yet truly grasped here.  He rightly highlights a problem in Northern Ireland's governance that is often overlooked, the bureaucracy:

"The relevant civil service departments show little desire for radical change and as have allowed their capacity for strategic economic thinking to wither away."

Gudgin also does not dimiss Unionist Unity out of hand but grasps its potential for a new departure in Unionism:

"Should the two main unionist parties unite to prevent such a prospect? Only if they could do so around a radical and reformist economic programme."

He concludes that:

"Unionism faces a choice as it looks towards 2021.  It can either fight an unsuccessful rearguard action on economic change or it can embrace reforms as part of a modern unionist programme."
But expresses doubts that it will happen, that may be less of a problem than he imagines.

An Alternative Media Strategy - A Critique

Sarah Palin may be enjoying success with new media but Toby Harnden isn't impressed.  Beyond the media storms that it creates and hampers free speech he believes it is adding little.  Focusing on the Obama administration he argues:

"New technology has enabled Obama to bypass anyone who will ask him tough questions...The Obama administration, which came into being amid promises of a new transparency, has even used its own staff to conduct an interview with Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court nominee to produce an infomercial for the White House website. So it looks like openness but really it's just advertising."

On Palin he says:

"Republicans are scarcely any better. Sarah Palin, who could yet be the 2012 Grand Old Party presidential nominee, communicates with the public almost entirely via Facebook postings and cosy set pieces on Fox News. And it doesn't seem to be doing her too much harm."

He believes the reality isn't fulfiling the theory:

"In theory, social media and the web allows politicians to communicate directly with the public and circumvent the mainstream press. Alas, it also means they can avoid proper scrutiny and control exactly what they say while creating the illusion of interaction with ordinary people."

This is hardly surprising - message management can just about game whatever medium is invented.

Getting It - a test

A while back I mentioned how neither of the two likely leadership candidates seemed to have 'got it' about the situation the UUP finds itself in.  However, any organisation is more than those at the top so there is a an opportunity for others in the organisation to act realistically and credibly.

Chekov has pointed out the rather odd process the UUP has adopted with regards to its review, leadership and assembly selection:

"So Ulster Unionists intend, first to ink in candidates to stand for Stormont and then decide on a change of direction. In that order.  Now, clearly the UUP has taken the Westminster selection debacle to heart, but might the party’s future direction and new leader not determine who it wants to put up for election?"

However, the assembly selections will be an indication of whether or not the grassroots appreciate what is going on.  In the past UUP Assembly selections have made internal sense (management of factions) rather than electoral sense with the net result being lost seats. For example the decision to run three in Strangford, South Belfast and Upper Bann contributed to losing two seats and almost cost a third. 

So will the grassroots show realism with the number of people they select in constituencies? Will they act sensibly and balance the ticket geographically?  Will they be willing to make the changes to present a different face to the electorate?

There is also the issue that a degree of co-operation with the DUP on numbers being run and on transfers would be of assistance to both.  Will the grassroots approach this with a sense of practicalism or remain trapped in conspiracy theories?

Permanent Revolution

I met up with a few fellow bloggers for a wheen of drinks and a bit of crack last night.  During the conversation one asked how this blog was going.  I hadn't actually given it much thought until then but now that I have I'm probably a bit discontented.

Part of it is the pressure of time. Chunks of days when I haven't posted or when I make an effort to put up a couple of posts a day I feel as if I'm dashing them off to get something up when an extra 10-15 minutes would make them better or they maybe didn't really warrant a post. 

At my time at slugger two or three times a year I would take a big theme and then write one of my monster posts about it but I haven't done that here so far - the garden centre prod one is probably the closest to that.  Is this worth repeating or is it more suited to slugger rather than a personal blog?

Beyond that suggestions on how it can be improved or topics you think I should write about would be welcome.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Propaganda v Historical fact

As pointed out by the DUP spokesperson at the time, it has been confirmed that the claims of Edward Carson being a hurling player are simply wrong.  In today's News Letter the director of the GAA oral history project confirms it:

"“The difference is there was no game of hurling played in Dublin in the 1870s - there was instead a game in Trinity College called hurley which was most likely brought across by English public schools and organised by Trinity from probably 1869 to the 1880s.  It was the only hurley club in the city, they used to play games amongst themselves like smokers against non-smokers.”
The rules of the two games were different with hurley players using football’s offside rule as well as only being allowed to hit the ball with one side of the stick, similar to in hockey."

Sinn Fein's press office comedic response was to go into denial claiming:

"...some people are choosing to focus on what is a side issue.”

When it was the central claim upon which the entire publicity event was based the side issue dodge is laughable. I wonder if UTV and BBC will take time to correct their inaccurate reporting.  The BBC wouldn't want to breach its editorial guidelines.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Why the caveat?

I saw some of the Politics Show on Sunday having its review debate.  However, what struck me as somewhat odd was Rick Wilford's caveat to criticism of Catriona Ruane (53.10 minutes in):

"I'm not making a sectarian point here..."

Why is such a caveat thought necessary? Especially with someone whose credentials as an independent authority are obvious.

PS I made the point in the blogpost below about media skew.  The panel in this programme was a demonstration of that with no one holding views representative/close to the largest Unionist party.  This led to the brief discussion on Unionist Unity being highly negative and was left unchallenged.

" end to liberal assumptions"

In the most hard hitting contribution so far to the News Letter's Union 2021 series, Christopher Montgomery has come out swinging.  He argues:

"What Northern Ireland needs at some point between now and 2021 is an end to liberal assumptions...The most persistent liberal unionist delusion, whether admitted to or even consciously acknowledged, is that we have made nationalists unionists, or even merely less nationalist. We haven't: they're not...when you consider the full spectrum of unionism, which runs from self-regarding, status quo-entrenching Alliance members, all the way to piously non sectarian, reactionary Tory integrationists, the hope has been the same, and it was of nationalists. That one political act or another of ours, be it amelioration, cooperation or outright appeasement would result in the same thing: it would dim their nationalism. It hasn't."

For those yearning for a progressive unity he points out:

"When it came to any choice between Sinn Fein and unionists, the SDLP, under Hume, Durkan and Ritchie alike has always made the quintessentially sectarian choice of remaining within the nationalist laager."

He is equally harsh about the future and nationalism:

There isn’t going to be a 32 county Irish republic in 2021, and there is still going to be an Ulster in the Union. And it’s still going to have lots of nationalists in it who don’t want to be there...At some point, though, a chill inner voice is going to have to say, ‘fine: you don’t want pluralism, inclusivity, tolerance, compulsory-power sharing and equal rights for all?
‘You do want to continue, at all costs, myopic, communal ill-will politically projected as national revanche?
‘Okay, go ahead. Your problem: wallow away.’

A refreshingly different take from the predictable liberal assumptions that predominate but a predominance that shows little sign of decreasing.

UPDATE: Are the "liberal assumptions" the Unionist equivalent of nationalist/republican "false consciousness"?

Monday, 19 July 2010


Apologies something has gone wrong with the comment moderation. I've checked the problem code and there is no solution on blogger help.  Waiting to see if it just goes away. UPDATE it appears to have gone away and working again.

Participation (Part II)

It appears questions over participation aren't restricted to Westminster.  The Irish News has today published vote participation figures for our local MLAs.  They are:

Average Voting Record by Party (Assembly Term Since 2007)
DUP 81%
SDLP 78%
SF 74%
ALL 66%
UUP 60%

Four of the top five vote attendees are in the DUP and the fifth is Patsy McGlone of the SDLP.  Voting isn't the only measure by any means but it can be part of the package.  Committee participation might be something worth examining as well.

Ulster Polling

There has been some ruminating about the inaccuracy of the national pre-election polls with the internet pollsters coming off worst.  However what about locally?

Polling in Northern Ireland has a somewhat dodgy reputation and when the Belfast Telegraph produced its pre-election Inform Communications poll there was much howling from UCUNF.  This was unsurprising as it correctly predicted that they would flop.  David Cameron even criticised it during his flying visit:

"No, not at all because the poll I saw in the Northern Irish paper this morning, this is a poll not carried out by a proper polling organisation and indeed it is by a lobbying company."

TV outlets declined to cover the poll offering the excuse that the sample was too low.  However, while that may have been arguably true of individual constituencies it was not true of Northern Ireland as a whole.  The total Northern Ireland sample of 3200 was substantial and larger than the sample for many national polls.  Its results did closely reflect the actual result with most well within the standard margin of error:

DUP 26% (P) 25% (A) -1%
SF 25% (P) 25.5 (A) +0.5%
SDLP 17% (P) 16.5% - 0.5%
UCUNF 13% (P) 15.2% +2.2%
Others 19% (P) 17.8% -1.2%
Key (P) Poll (A) Actual

As regards the individual constituencies its predictions were good.  There was greater variation between the predicting in vote % and result, however, it called the winner in 17 of the 18 constituencies correctly (under-reported Alliance in East Belfast).  It correctly predicted the top two in 15 of the 18 constiuencies and the top four in 12 of the 18 constituencies. 

PS spotted Mark McGregor had done something similar on slugger while I was writing this but decided to post it anyway.

Bonfire Strategies - From 200 calls to 2 calls

The programme of statutory agencies working with bonfire organisers appears to be paying off according to a report in today's News Letter.  The NI Fire and Rescue Service has revealed only 2 of its call-outs on  the Eleventh night were related to bonfires (neither of which required action by the fire service).  This is down from 200 in 2007 with an estimated saving of £500,000 for the fire service.  This would appear greater than the amounts spent on the programmes and on repairs so it may now be producing a net saving to the public purse. The issues with bonfires are by no means solved but they seem to be moving in a positive direction.

It's all been done before (Part II)

It's not only the Australian Labour Party that has lifted its election slogan from elsewhere but the Liberal Party too.  In its first broadcast it has revealed its Action Contract with the slogan "Stand up for Australia".  This was the same slogan that the Conservative Party of Canada used in the 2006 federal election (pdf file).

Not a happy camper

While doing my online perusal of the blogs and newspapers I happened upon this story.  The retirement age is due to rise to 66 in a few years making my official retirement age 2039.  Therefore the news that it could be raised to 68 in 2038 the year before has done little to lighten my general morning mood and lack of caffeine.  Anyway seeing me wandering around Stormont today be warned I will not be my usual witty self with much mumblings about bloody Tories.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Parliamentary participation

In the recent election UCUNF argued participation in parliament was a crucial test and the means of contributing to our national demorcatic life.  It now appears that the new intake of Conservative MPs have been failing the test and took participation so seriously that they have now had to be ordered to the chamber by David Cameron after the Speaker complained:

"...that only a few dozen of the 650 MPs were prepared to attend regularly. Most simply turned up for Prime Ministers' Questions once a week and made "zoo noises""

Saturday, 17 July 2010

It's all been done before

The national election in Australia has been called and the incumbent Labor Party has revealed it's party slogan, "Together, let's move Australia forward":

Now that has a familiar ring to it,oh yes:
And ahem.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Honest dear it's an Ulster-Scots concert

Bloggin fae the Burn has provided me with an excuse to go to the Guns and Roses concert.  I too was a teenage metaller (although never even attempted the hair as I find hair any length an annoyance) and Guns and Roses fan. Axl Rose is an Ulster-Scot (Hope no one tells the Ulster-Scots Agency or they'll find another way to waste money and make an hains of something).  Aa thegither tha nou Fair fa ye tae tha jungle:

Evangelicals get tango'd

The link between Orange and Protestantism looks about to go more mainstream with this new advertising campaign giving a particular form of evangelical/charismatic church worship the Tango treatment.

PS One of my nicknames used to be Tango (but not for the reasons you might assume)

Perverse logic

I must admit I am not a fan of the Nolan Show.  However, my job means that on occassion I have to listen to it.  As I drove into work this morning it was examining the issue of children who participated or were watching/in close proximity to the recent riots.  It was attempting to ask the reasonable question of where were their parents?

They invited on the Children's Commissioner to discuss the issue.  First it is interesting to note that it has taken 4 days for the CC to say something on this issue.  The statement does rightly focus on parents.  However, her performance on Nolan did not.  The comments of the Commissioner became mono-directional in trying to shift responsibility onto government agencies with platitudes about non-defined processes and with it left to Nolan to raise parents and adults directing the children.  This attitude of non-responsibility does nothing to resolve the situation.

Perhaps instead of paying for perverse logic with times becoming tighter someone may get around to asking not only why we have such a Commissioner but does she really need 23 staff or was their real value in her distributing a free full colour calendar in every Belfast Telegraph late last year.

PS In her statement she made mention of the North Belfast Taskforce spending.  Its spending in Ardoyne has had a consistent youth focus with such a large youth population it has always been a key community issue.  Ardoyne also enjoys greater statutory youth provision than the surrounding communities (IIRC about 6 times more per capita is spent on the youth of Ardoyne with two full-time youth clubs supported and supplemented (commendably) by a strong team of volunteers).  However, it does not provide a solution when many involved didn't come from the area.  It is hard for the North Belfast Taskforce to deal with youth who travelled from Armagh to participate in a riot.

UPDATE Chekov has a couple more examples of this dodgy line of thinking.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

It's not 1912 anymore

I am weak and succumbed to temptation and made my first attempt at a fisk with the Allister article in today's News Letter as my subject.

"AS the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Northern Ireland approaches, unionists should reflect on why our forefathers fought so hard for the creation of the state."

The creation of the Northern Ireland state was not the original aim of Unionism during the Third Home Rule Crisis.  It was the compromise that was accepted after the Great War.

"Northern Ireland was established because the unionist people of Ulster refused to accept the imposition of a Dublin parliament"

This is negative reductionism.  The Unionist desire to be part of the Union (and at that time the Empire) was a positive but here it is presented as solely based on a negative motivation.

"They valued, as the foundational document of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Covenant, puts it, "our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom". 

It was the foundational document but the house built upon it was not  what was intended.  The reality of our history and not something that Unionists are keen to admit, is that the Ulster Covenant is a compromised document.  It was a 9 county document not 6. 

Furthermore, it was a rejection of any form of Home Rule yet Ulster Unionism compromised the principle of equal citizenship when it agreed to establish the Northern Ireland parliament.  (Note there is an argument that this was in the expectation that a federal UK was on the horizon.  However, there is not much to substantiate that this was a serious possibility.)  In the Unionist debates of the time the justification for this was to claim that the Ulster Covenant was a time bound document that no longer applied.  IIRC it was the Larne Gunrunner, Sir Fred Crawford, who was the man used to make this particular argument.  So they didn't value it in 1921 rather they were working out how to get around it.

"Equal citizenship is the cornerstone of the Union. When this is diluted, so is the Union.This has already begun."
This ignores that asymmetry has been a more common feature of the Union than symmetry.  If asymmetry creates an inequality of citizenship then Unionists diluted it in 1921.  So technically the 'dilution' began in 1921 not 1998.  BTW I happen to think that equal citizenship is a good guiding principle for the Union but it is a mistake to present it as if it has been successfully implemented, it hasn't and isn't.
"Unlike Scotland and Wales, the devolved setup in Northern Ireland denies us two fundamentals of British democracy – the right to vote a party out of government and the right to have an Opposition."
The second right is not denied by law.  There can be an opposition at Stormont.  There is no legal requirement on a party to take its seats in the executive.  Any of the Executive parties can leave any time they wish. 
"As part of the UK, any form of devolution here should be compatible with British practice instead of the undemocratic and fundamentally unworkable system we have at present."
Which British practice?  English with no devolution, Welsh with administrative or Scottish with the highest degree of devolution.  This is a further example of the asymmetry of the Union mentioned above.
"In Northern Ireland we have compulsory coalition with those whose overriding purpose is the destruction of the Union."
The over-riding purpose of mandatory coalition is to make sure Northern Ireland has a government.  It has no legal or constitutional imperative or power to destroy the Union.
"Today, it is clear that government by joint authority with terrorists at Stormont and cross-border executive bodies with Dublin is semi-detaching us from the UK and building a momentum towards ending the Union...If unionists do not waken up to that reality, we will drift inexorably out of the Union and into an all-Ireland, built by increasing north-south fusion and cutting the ties which bind us to London."
This is a fear (a fear at a time I'd have shared) but after 12 years is it still a rational one?  The Cross-border bodies have been operating for 10 years with no impact on our position in the Union.  Also in that 10 years not one more has been created.  Furthermore, the nationalist vote has stalled and in the last election shared Unionism's turnout issues.  The Republic of Ireland more than enough woes of its own as well. So what momentum is there?  To be fair to David Trimble it was one area of identifiable success - it was in the internal arrangements and deparamilitarisation that the mess was made.  Jim Allister also chooses to forget that he argued after the Anglo-Irish agreement in a book, Alienated but Unbowed, that the best thing for Unionists here was to get as much power away from London as it could not be trusted but we could.  Now it is the reverse. 
"Fiscal powers for Stormont is just the latest staging post demand by republicanism."

There is no serious attempt to increase Stormont fiscal powers.  The one proposal that was floating around was corporation taxes and it looks dead in the water because of the budgetary hammering it would involve.  Anyway the Scottish parliament has greater fiscal powers (and due to get more) and the earlier demand was "any form of devolution here should be compatible with British practice".  Fiscal powers can fit that definition.

"Here is the unifying challenge for all unionist parties.  If we all dislike compulsory coalition and recognise it as undemocratic then let’s do something about it.  Let’s all pledge now that after the 2011 Assembly elections none of us will operate it and, thereby, compel the change to voluntary coalition.  This is not an anti-devolution strategy; this is a pro-democracy strategy."

Unionist Unity through agreeing to TUV tactics is not credible nor is it a sincere approach to the topic.

"I fear some unionist politicians are too comfortable in the present destructive arrangements to force change but instead salve their consciences with empty talk about there being ‘no alternative’.  Had our forefathers taken that attitude Northern Ireland would never have come into existence because there was ‘no alternative’ to the 1912 Home Rule Bill!"

There are alternatives to what we have at present.  That does not mean they are pleasant ones nor morally pure either.  Unionism did ultimately get a pretty good deal in 1921 but it was a compromise not the target that had been set.  Finally the situation of Unionism and its levels of support in 1912 and 2010 bear no comparison.  The sister document of the Ulster Covenant, the British Covenant, attracted 2 million signatories in GB.  Unionism had the support of the Conservative Party, a broad swathe of the British establishment (an establishment that still had its self-confidence (arguably over-confidence)) and significant parts of the British media.  It had a mass membership and wealthy benefactors.  If we had all those then by all means the 1912 strategy could be a credible runner and I'd happily sign up.  It isn't.  An attempt at a grand stand now would owe more to General Custer than Edward Carson or James Craig.

"There is an alternative to terrorist-inclusive compulsory coalition, but only if we want it.  If we don’t then prepare to live in a different Union, the union of an all-Ireland."

Co-opting the historical determinism of Irish republicans really needs to stop in Unionism. It is perfectly within the abilities of Unionists in Northern Ireland to out-work, out-think and out-manoeuvre republicanism.  Allister has a point whe he says "Some may lull themselves into pretending the Union has never been stronger." but prophecies of imminent doom as a response to rose-tinted analysis is not the answer either.

Lead me not into temptation

I made the mistake of reading Jim Allister's contribution to the Union 2021 debate and now having to fight the temptation to fisk it rather than do something more useful and read the new Policy Exchange report (pdf file) on Scottish devolution.

"...the sweet breeze of Euro realism..." how one Labour MP described the Conservatives rolling over and supporting the motion in Parliament yesterday to establish the European External Action Service.  Dan Hannan helps explain the significance of the EEAS here.

In the 2009 Conservative European Election manifesto (pdf file), David Cameron pledged:

"....if the Constitution is already in force by then, we have made clear that in our view political integration in the EU would have gone too far, the Treaty would lack democratic legitimacy, and we would not let matters rest there...Brussels believes that the default answer to every new issue – from foreign policy challenges to fighting terrorism, from globalisation to regulating financial markets – is to demand more powers from Member States. Labour – first under Tony Blair, now under Gordon Brown – has willingly agreed to such demands.  We fundamentally disagree with this approach.  The answer to the challenges Europe faces is not greater centralisation of power in Brussels...Conservatives are committed to bringing change to Europe."

Apparently not letting matters rest didn't mean trying to stop it or reverse it rather it means implementing it, fundamental disagreement means acquiescence and the change to be brought was more Euro-centralism.  Laughingly, it appears some new jargon has been created for Tories with their retreat described as a policy of Euro-Constructionism.

According to ConservativeHome the role of Tory MEPs was key in the decision being pushed through.  These are the people who claimed to be:

"...unstinting in their pursuit of our national interest..."

Returning them to Brussels was vital:

" make sure the other political parties are not able to sell Britain short."

So that they could fulfil the aim of:

"Maintain the UK’s independence on foreign affairs"

According to the Daily Telegraph the MEPs somersault came following orders from William Hague who had backed down in the face of EU demands.  This left Charles Tannock MEP, the ECR's Foreign Affairs spokesman, having to issue an explanation with an internal contradiction: 

"We were opposed to the creation of the EEAS but we are now reconciled to engaging constructively within the new architecture in the best interests of our countries."

Locally, the UUP leader Reg Empey signed the same pledge as Cameron in the UCUNF manifesto for the 2009 Euro election and Jim Nicholson made the same promises on British interests and policy aims.  However, Jim Nicholson's name does not appear among the Tory MEP's who voted against or abstained on the motion in the ECR group.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

An Alternative Media Strategy

Sarah Palin may be the person liberal America loves to hate but the New Republic has an interesting piece of how she has developed a highly successful media strategy to maintain public prominence following the failed McCain campaign and her resignation as Alaska Governor.  At its heart is new media:

"Her byline pops up now and again in the opinion pages (supporting McCain, bashing enviros). She periodically hits the campaign trail with favored candidates. She is a prolific and passionate tweeter. Her Facebook page overflows with thoughts on global events both past (DDay, Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech) and present (Israel, border security, the need to drill, baby, drill); news of upcoming appearances (a rally at the Lincoln Memorial with Glenn Beck, a possible U.K. jaunt to meet Margaret Thatcher); the latest media atrocities committed against her; and her rolling endorsements of “commonsense conservative” candidates who tickle her fancy. And, any day now, filming is scheduled to start on the docu-travelogue series in which Palin will “bring the wonder and majesty of Alaska” to TLC viewers."

It argues that it suits her own personality:

"It suits her core strengths—passion, pithiness, and a mind-boggling magnetism—and, let’s face it, it’s so much easier than the conventional model."

Also that despite the dismissal of her abilities, it is a strategy that she may well be the creator of:

"Any political strategist who orchestrated such brilliant success via such unconventional means would instantly be dubbed the p.r. genius of our time. But, as far as we know, there is no crack communications team charting Palin’s course. At some point, even Palin haters may have to face the possibility that the p.r. genius is Sarah herself."

UPDATE Spectator Blogger Alex Massie has a blog on the topic of Sarah Palin and a run in 2012.  He says:

"...she's not been playing the game according to the Beltway Playbook but that's exactly the point"

He points to a recent Time article which makes the point that unorthodox approaches is the way Palin does things:

"In many ways, Palin's moves mirror her run for governor. She came from the outside, taking down the GOP establishment, including the formidable Governor Frank Murkowski. She stayed on the outside for months, not bothering to build a campaign but delivering key speeches across the state attacking “the old boys club” that raised speculation she'd potentially run. And, finally, when she did announce her campaign burst into life fully formed."