Shinners and DUPs: United in Spending (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On Inside Politics on Sunday Fionnuala O’Connor had a pop at me (and Irwin Armstrong of the Conservatives) for suggesting that there was a yawning gap in centre-right politics in Northern Ireland. She seemed to be of the view that the Unionist Parties very much filled that void and there was no need for any new or revised political groupings – to address the political dispossessed.
The assumption that Northern Ireland’s Unionist Parties occupy the right-ground of the (normal) political spectrum is correct only if one thinks about social policy. But even there the Unionists are a rag-bag bunch. Indeed the Ken Maginnis debacle of last week is a good exemplar. Ken comes out with his anti-gay rampage. Then Mike Nesbitt has his hissy-fit, withdraws Ken’s whip, and thereby engages the wrath of his membership (most of whom are a bit iffy on gay rights).
In short, even the UUP is far from homogeneous on homosexuality – never mind the raft of other social issues.
But I wasn’t really thinking about social left-right positioning when I suggested there was a gap in the Northern Ireland political market. And I wasn’t thinking about typical “Unionist” voters. Rather, I suspect that the most politically disengaged are fiscal Conservatives – business owners and professionals who want a smaller state – and certainly a smaller and more fiscally Conservative NI Executive.
The only choice on offer to such people (most of whom are pro-Union, regardless of religion) is the choice between fiscally profligate Nats (SDLP/Sinn Fein) or fiscally profligate Unionists (DUP or UUP or Alliance). Hence my point (and Irwin’s on Hearts & Minds) that there is a Centre-Right void in Northern Ireland politics.
As I’ve stated here in other posts, I’m not sure to what extent the Cameron-led Conservative Party is setting any kind of example for local Centre-Right (potential) voters. The UK deficit is still too great. Per capita, it is gargantuan in Northern Ireland (much bigger than RoI’s). And UK borrowing is still at scandalous levels. And “the cuts” have yet to affect Northern Ireland in any material way (except in terms of capital spend allocation). And the Assembly has increased local business rates – and attempted to introduce other stealth taxes – to make spending here even higher. No real moves have been made to address Northern Ireland private sector under-development. Instead the default position is always to maintain spending.
Perhaps this clarifies things for Fionnuala.
Just a few days after the (re)launch of the NI Conservatives a leading member of the local Party has resigned. John Lund has forwarded me a copy of his resignation letter sent to the local Conservative leadership, copied to Emma Pidding, Chairman of the National Convention of the Conservative Party.
In his letter John makes clear that he fails to understand the new NI Conservatives grouping and questions the constitutional basis of it – in the absence of any membership vote to dissolve the existing Conservatives in NI. He also hints that the NIO may attempt to exert undue influence on the NI Conservatives. Indeed he suggests that the NIO is likely to suppress the development of the local Party.
John Lund was actively involved in the attempts to create a new centre-right grouping – drawing members from both the UUP and Conservatives. Indeed the move was publicised on the Conservative NI site in December. Now it appears that irreconcilable differences have caused John to resign.
This does not augur well for the future of the new, supposedly revamped, local Conservatives.
I’ve just finished Inside Politics on BBC Radio Ulster. I must admit to never having heard of Billy Leonard before – and I wasn’t aware (until he told the potted version of his story to Mark Devenport and Radio Ulster listeners) that he had been born Protestant, waved the Union Flag for royalty, became a lay preacher, then joined the RUC, then became an SDLP Councillor, then a Sinn Fein MLA. Goodness me. And now an author.
Perhaps Billy’s book – much plugged by Devenport – will tell us a little more about the inner workings of Mr Leonard’s mind. He seemed like a nice chap. However, I suspect he has had some periods of confusion.
I think attention deficit may be the explanation for such rapid changes in political perspective – I’m just not sure. But to move so radically on the (admittedly local, single issue) political continuum could only be explained by a need to be the focus of attention – and he certainly received lots today from the BBC. I barely got a word in edgeways.
I’ll be watching with interest to see what Mr Leonard will be up to after his book launch is over and he plots his next political incarnation. Perhaps he’ll join the NI Conservatives.
I’ll be on Inside Politics, Sunday 17th June, from 1.05pm
I’m appearing on Inside Politics on Sunday. 1.05pm. Radio Ulster.
One wonders, sometimes, what due diligence is undertaken before the decision is taken to offer an honour – a peerage even – to an individual. But perhaps the ‘powers that be’ should have asked Ken Maginnis a few attitudinal response questions before bestowing his peerage. Then we could have avoided the embarrassment of having, as a representive in our upper legislature, someone with so many demons. His comments – suggesting that homosexuality is a sexual deviancy like bestiality – have been well documented. But the rest of the interview reveals a man uneasy in a world that has moved well beyond his understanding. But perhaps he has never understood a world where people love each other.
I’ve had to suffer Lord Maginnis’ nastiness at first hand on a few occasions. He can, quite simply, come out with some of the most ill-considered and loathsome comments. But his latest outburst on the Nolan Show reveals the true extent of intolerance and indecency than can exist in the perturbed mind of a peer of the realm. And a Christian. May his God forgive him.
Published June 14, 2012
News , Opinion
Green Union Flags: The Future for Right of Centre Politics in Northern Ireland/North of Ireland?
I attended the re-launch of the local Conservatives today. No sign of the Conservative leader – he’s giving evidence to the Leveson Enquiry about his LOL text messages to Rebecca Brooks (apparently she advised him that it didn’t mean ‘lots of love’ so much as ‘laugh out loud’. Here, of course, it means Loyal Orange Lodge).
Anyway…I digress. The purpose of today’s re-launch was to replace the words Northern Ireland with NI – and tweak the logo so that the local variant of the Conservative tree logo looks like a map of Northern Ireland. Oh and the launch brochure featured a green Union flag. Hmm.
Apparently the new Party is more autonomous – defining devolved policy positions etc. But that was the case before as well. So the organisational distinction was lost on me – and most of the journalists present. Sam McBride of the Newsletter asked Irwin Armstrong and Owen Paterson why this “new” Party would do any better than UCUNF and the answer from Paterson was that UCUNF didn’t do so bad – it was merely because of the vagaries of the electoral system that no UCUNF MPs were returned to Westminster. Sorry, Owen, wrong answer. UCUNF did badly – very badly. It did nothing to get the right-of-centre vote out. It discredited the Conservative Party. It showed the Conservative Party to be lacking in vision and ethics. It made the Conservative Party sectarian.
But Owen’s wrong answer clearly identified the problem with this “new” Party. The same faces and personalities were in the room – apart from a few defectors and potential defectors from the UUP. In the corner lurked Paterson’s adviser Jonathan Caine – the chief architect and communications genius behind the UCUNF debacle. The journos looked weary and bored with the lacklustre and uninspiring speeches – and the whole event started nearly 40 minutes late and no-one saw fit to tell the assembled audience why. The video technology failed when a recorded interview with a young person with an Irish sounding name espoused why the NI Conservatives represented the future – but her voice got out of synch with the pictures.
Frankly I think it’s all too little, too late. I think centre-right politics will emerge out of the sectarian swamp of Northern Ireland politics but I’m just not sure the NI Conservatives will be the voice of it. The talent, the passion, the personality just isn’t there – and I’m just a tad concerned that the last thing a ‘new political Party of the centre-right’ needs is to be shackled to the baggage of an increasingly sleazy-looking and discredited Conservative Party.
I’d agree whole-heartedly with many of the points made by Trevor Ringland and Irwin Armstrong and many others there today – many of whom were involved in the earliest moves to normalise and secularise Northern Ireland’s politics back in the 1980s. Northern Ireland does need normality and real politics. I’ll watch with interest if a new logo, banishing the name of the place to a mere acronym that could mean North of Ireland, and green union flags, will do the trick.
Published June 6, 2012
Tags: belfast, Northern Ireland
Conservatives in NI relaunching on June 14.
I gather from the bongo drums that the Conservatives in NI are to be “reborn” on June 14.
Irwin Armstrong, the Chairman of the local Conservative organisation here, made the announcement on the various social networks earlier today:
The Northern Ireland Conservatives are launching their fresh reconstituted party on the 14th June at 11am at the MAC centre in Cathederal Quarter. All are welcome to attend whether they are members or just interested. Northern Ireland needs people from all walks of life to contribute to the rebuilding of our country and its economy for all. If you are interested please email Owen.Polley@conservatives.com to reserve a place.