Monday, 31 January 2011


This began as a facebook exchange which I throught I'd throw out a bit wider.  Someone highlighted Gerry's latest gaffes in a 20 minute RTE interview and I asked the question:

"How come it has taken the RoI media a few weeks to highlight this basic ignorance and ineptitude yet the NI media was incapable of it for decades?"

The Louth soil cannot be blamed for transforming Adams' feet into clay certainly not in the few weeks he's lived there.  News Letter journo, Sam McBride offered this answer:

"one of the reasons is that when SF get into trouble up here, their natural line of defence is to turn it into a sectarian row (eg. Murphy attempting to introduce Irish road signs while facing calls to resign over the water crisis). It's pretty hard to do that in a country where 98% of people are nationalist..."

What do you think?


Suffering/semi-recovering from a nasty bug/possible swine flu.  One of the effects of this was a very sore throat and near loss of my voice, it is slowly but surely starting to return but I am wandering about sounding like the aftershave commercial voiceover guy.

Perhaps I should see if the party wants a husky tone for the Assembly PEB and get it recorded before a full recovery?

Thursday, 27 January 2011


"In other words our politicians are already posh and about to become even posher. The meritocracy? It died around the turn of the century from a mixture of neglect and hypocrisy.  May it rest in peace, I hope it doesn't."

The concluding comments of Andrew Neil's documentary on the Westminster political class.  Well worth a watch.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Question of the Day

Has commenting on the UUP reached the level of ghoulishness?


Apparently a man who can't manage something as simple as the procedures for leaving the House of Commons is promising that he can negotiate the intricacies of the international bond market and scare Merkel and Sarkozy into getting Ireland a better deal - we'll bring down the euro you know.  A Fine Gael spokesperson points out that despite the pain of the EU/IMF package it is actually cheaper than what the bond markets would demand.  Yet no doubt some will continue to fall for the quiet master strategist routine he cultivates.


Oh dear it's all gone a bit Pete Tong. The recovery has slipped with a 0.5% decline in GDP (as well as growth in the previous quarter revised downwards from 0.8% to 0.7%.  To provide historical perspective on where our economy is at the ONS points out that:

"GDP fell 4.6 per cent in the 1980s recession, by 2.5 per cent in the 1990s recession and by 6.4 per cent in the 2000s recession."

Factors at play - weather?  Cuts in government spending? Inflation taking its bite?  As with much of this data you require two sets of figures before you can really know what is going on but the nature of the Coalition means the wobbles may begin before then.

Monday, 24 January 2011


...we have a problem.  The outgoing director of Barnados, Martin Narey, highlights a crisis with adoption levels.  He blames the negative attitudes of social workers to adoption as a child protection tool and over-zealous enforcement of same race adoption:

"Only 70 babies were adopted last year compared with 4,000 in 1976...The law is very clear. A child should not stay in care for an undue length of time while waiting for adoptive parents of the same ethnicity. But the reality is that black, Asian and mixed-race children wait three times longer than white children."

The closure of adoption agencies and the adoption door to those with religious views can't have helped either.  He also launches a pretty vicious attack on the voluntary sector:

"The voluntary sector tends to assume it has the monopoly on compassion and is very sanctimonious.  It can also be hugely and damagingly unrealistic about what can be done in the real world, indulging in perpetual carping and criticism of the government, which ceases to listen to them as a result. While some people in the sector are remarkable, I find the unpragmatic attitudes of most within it, very irritating indeed,"

From working in the voluntary sector for 15 years I can recognise the type but don't buy that it is "most".


The Downing Street Communications Director, Andy Coulson, has chosen to join the dole queues of his own volition.  This has led to much ruminating on who the relpacement should be based on their individual perspectives of what the problems with the Conservative message are (and its close relative, the Government message).

David Davis has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons by playing the class card - arguing Coulson was the only working class voice in the backroom and not something Hilton can provide.  However, the analogy for the respective skills of Hilton and Coulson were probably best characterised by a comparison Nigel Farage once made about himself and Dan Hannan:

“Dan can talk to broadsheets, I can talk to tabloids”.

Steve Hilton can do the broadsheets and Couslon the tabloids.  However, this difference in skill sets/perspectives was reflected in an unresolved tension within the Conservative message.  Creative tension is a good thing provided it is not seen in public.

To often the message seemed to pull in different directions with the result an electorate seeking change were offered a confused message.  This was an unresloved argument.  The one element the team could agree on was that Labour was terrible so this became too predominant in Conservative messages. The Liberal Democrats stepped into this unfilled gap in the market through the leadership debates (further throwing the Tory message off course with it having to spend time and money trying to scare voters about a hung parliament.)

However, it was not Coulson and Hilton's job to resolve the tensions (althought they needed to ensure it never became self-destructive).  It was Cameron's.  It is a risk for anyone with recognisable ability and skills that they spread them too thinly.  They dabble across a broad spectrum rather than prioritise, focus and deliver. Whether this has been Cameron's approach before he became leader I don't know but it has often been his manner since then (locally his attitude to UCUNF looked to me like a dabbling rather than committing).  The broader weakness of the Shadow Cabinet around Cameron would have encouraged this type of behaviour - lead person on range of subjects while now he has to cope with the distraction of governance (something the DUP took time to adapt to in organisational and message terms).  He never resolved the tensions and the narrative suffered.

So the replacement of Coulson is not as central as some seem to think because the weak link in strategic messaging remains, David Cameron.

Friday, 21 January 2011


Stop digging is the advice to someone in a hole but the UUP seems to be have considered shovels inadequate and called in a JCB.  After managing to make their position on the budget even more obscure they tactic today is to go on the attack.  Tom Elliott's has issued another statement on the topic of the economy - the facebook description of it states:

"The people of Northern Ireland will not be sucked in by fantasy and propaganda."

However, the statement itself is a textbook case of fantasy.  To try and negate attacks about the franchise relationship with the Conservatives it seems the response is to create an imagined relationship between the DUP and Labour.  This leads to the claim that the economic crisis was caused by:

"...a combination of a worldwide recession and Labour economic policies which the DUP supported."

DUP support?  Has he checked the voting record of DUP MPs in the last parliament e.g. Nigel Dodds.  There were a number of prominent politicians who both praised and committed to continue Labour's policies that Tom may know, they were called David Cameron and George Osborne.  Their rejection of Labour economic policies coincided with the crash.  However, this is merely the starter for the complete loss of reality:

"We must never forget that the DUP were the Party that kept Labour in power"

Huh? In 2005 the Labour government was elected with a majority of 64 seats.  What kept it in power was itself.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


A while ago IJP highlighted the contradiction in a Tom Elliott statement over the Tory link - with him managing to make it as look as clear as the Alliance Party/Liberal Democrat relationship ;-).  Now the issue of contradictions has risen again (but to be fair its spread over two statements rather than contained in one).  Yesterday the UUP made a move on the budget declaring:

"...the Ulster Unionist Party is unable to endorse the draft Budget proposal"

This prompted Three Thousand Versts and Open Unionism to ask what was planned next and was interpreted as a rejection.  Judging by the statement issued by Tom Elliott there was no plan with the position diluted to:

"At this stage we believe it is prudent to reserve our position. We are not rejecting the budget."

With Ulster Unionist Minister Danny Kennedy seemingly in the dark about the shift, did McNarry go on another of his solo runs as he has appeared to do with a finance paper which rejected policing and justice for  years and then his cuts document?  This would be hard enough for any communications unit to deal with never mind the hollowed out vessel that is trying to deal with it all.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


I must admit I never thought I would see the day that my hometown paper would manage to get a story to which it could add 'gate' on to.  However, the deselection of David McClarty and a former party colleague's failure to lock their mobile keypad has done just that.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Yesterday I asked the question would the UUP continue with multiple positions on budgetary issues.  According to a Mallie tweet (or twitlonger to be accurate) the UUP has indeed opted to do just that with Danny Kennedy saying no decision had been taken to oppose it while a UUP document said a decision to oppose had been.


"If Sammy Wilson can point to a major Western Economy which has not had to implement public spending reductions as a result of the global financial downturn, then by all means let him do so."

United States of America hasn't cut public spending and neither has Canada (still rolling out C$62 billion in stimulus spending).

Monday, 17 January 2011


Over the week-end was talking to a relative who informed me that when one of their children turned 18 they had received a bundle of information about Sinn Fein (not unusual as parties do various things to target new voters coming on to the rolls with a birthday card a common approach).  However, none of this child's friends had received such a pack despite them reaching 18 and being on the register.  Only one thing distinguished the child from their friends - a first name of Gaelic origin.  A case of profiling?


Conservativehome marks the 5th anniversary of Stephen Harper's election as Canadian Prime Minister (a person that probably only I and Burke's Corner seem to take an interest in). It concludes his rule has seen a series of small changes rather than a revolution.  Harper sums it up well himself:

"He's described his government as conservative rather than libertarian and has introduced modest measures to support the traditional family and limit subsidy of anti-religious arts. He has built more prisons, punishing violent offenders more severely. He has been resistant to the global consensus on global warming while supporting action to protect the local environment. He has supported the war in Afghanistan and been a very faithful friend to Israel."

Considering the Liberal dominance of Canadian politics it was always going to be thus, like trying to get an oil tanker to change course.  This was even more likely considering throughout these five years Harper has led a minority administration.  Despite this limitations he has managed to fulfil the significant majority of election pledges (something majority governments can't always claim).

The one question mark over his rule is the goal of a Conservatives majority government seems as far off as when he was first elected.  The political landscape of Canada seems crystallised in a half world - distrustful of giving the Conservatives a majority but equally so of a return to Liberal rule.


It appears that the policy significance of the North Channel cannot be over-estimated.  During Prime Minister's questions last week David Cameron said the ring-fencing of the health budget was enabling the Coalition government to improve health services:

"Today we are announcing a new cancer plan that aims to save another 5,000 lives every year by the end of the current Parliament. This is all about the early diagnosis that we need in the NHS, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we would not be able to do it if we had not, as a coalition Government, made the right decision to protect NHS spending-a decision completely opposed by the Labour party."

The equivalent policy of protecting the health budget lines has been instituted in Northern Ireland yet according to the Health minister here this will cause significant deterioration of the Health Service (and accepted by some of the media even when McGimpsey persists in the clear misrepresentation of the DHSSPS budget being the same as the DoH budget).  How can the same policy have such radically different outcomes?

There is also the broader question of who is setting the policy tune for the UUP on this.  The hundreds of millions more McGimpsey wants has to come from somewhere - more taxes, cuts elsewhere (tuition fees for example) or is it happy to continue with its multiple approaches of the past few months?

Thursday, 13 January 2011


Níl tú ag fáil Acht na Gaeilge. (Courtesy of google translate)


Pint of Unionist Lite's post on Lady Hermon's Euro vote made me wander over to the public whip site to look at Sylvia Hermon's voting record overall.  It is more conservative and less liberal than public perception.


The DUP has chalked up its second council defection since Tom Elliott became leader, Harry Dunlop, of North Down Council.  Coincidentally the second Deputy Mayor to jump ship. The pattern of defections seems to be the unelected head towards Alliance while councillors head DUP with what de-selected MLAs will do still unclear.  As to the reasons why for this flow IJP has it pretty much covered with the systemic/longer-term issues covered here.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


With the pressure continuing on Conor Murphy over NI Water and Lawrence Mackenzie, he has opted for a distraction strategy certainly his invoking of the European Charter does not stand up to scrutiny.  Will it be a Gaelic straw or is he trying to fashion a paddle?

Monday, 10 January 2011


With the Assembly heading towards completing an uninterupted term, this leads to the obvious question of how it was achieved when previous attempts failed?

Factors like events and St Andrews leading to the resolution and tying down of issues reduced the number of potential landmines as the instrumentalism of the process declined towards a more constitutive conclusion.  The two largest parties, that create the core of the Executive, being more disciplined helped too.  However, has their scepticism of mandatory coalition from these two parties assisted in it working?

The DUP made it consistently clear it was not a fan of our system of government.  While Sinn Fein signed up to Stormont and devolution it is often forgotten that they held out on this to the very conclusion of the negotiations of the Belfast Agreement - IIRC their alternative to an Assembly being over 90 powerful local councils (yes you read that right over 90).  Has this scepticism of the system made them better at making it work?

Friday, 7 January 2011


Part of the means of achieving savings in the NI budget is a review of the operation and existence of arms length bodies in Northern Ireland.  A review of how this will be achieved is to be pursued but this has led to criticism from some that cuts should happen at once.  However, the Coalition government's plans provide a relevant lesson for those who demand immediacy:

"Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative chairman of the committee, told the Guardian: "The whole process was rushed and poorly handled and should have been thought through a lot more. This was a fantastic opportunity to help build the big society and save money at the same time, but it has been botched.  I suspect that in the short term the reorganisation will now cost more than it will save. This was put together on the hoof and can be much improved for future reviews."

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


The above clip is famous for the avoidance of a question but it is also an example of  the accountability issues with agencitisation of what used to be direct public functions.  Where does the buck stop, the senior management of the agency/body or with the minister?  This has come into focus in Northern Ireland with the water crisis (and by the way undermines claims that these issues are unique to here).

Since this practice became common the various debacles that have occured have not cleared up the vagueness.  In some cases no one has gone, others the senior management and on occasion a minister has fallen on their sword.

PS As I am on the topic it is an excuse to highlight Powell's famous Hola Camp speech about ministerial accountability.