Opposition or bust

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A couple of weeks ago a few of us put on a fringe event at the Ulster Unionist Party conference, where the prospect of going into opposition was discussed. On the same day, the coverage of Tom Elliot’s speech mostly focused on the same issue. Since then the matter has gained traction and comment, with Alex Kane producing a set of thoughts not dissimilar to my own contribution at the fringe. While Alasdair McDonnell (apparently) ruled out SDLP involvement in such a venture this morning, Mick’s post earlier does highlight that by his own reasoning, McDonnell has little choice but to seriously examine the idea in the coming months.

What should be becoming increasingly clear to both the UUP and SDLP, is that some of their prevailing attitudes do not fit with their futures. It is welcome that McDonnell is making noises about moving the SDLP away from such a rigid and uptight interpretation of the Belfast Agreement and holding it’s letter up as an immovable rock upon which all else is constructed. For Elliot’s part, he is making all the right noises about opposition, and rowing back somewhat from his previously short sighted rhetoric about the link with the Conservative Party. Both men have to this point however talked a good game, and we still await solid proposals and action.

A quick glance at recent comments reveal comfort blankets that both parties need to spurn for their new narratives. For the SDLP a constant desire to hold the hand of Christmas past perpetuates the image of a party so obsessed with the past that it has no future. The UUP has recently seen an unwelcome return to 1980’s style contradictory rhetoric , giving a nod and a wink to a concept of “unionist unity” at a time when everybody else thought the spectre had been laid to rest.

But the fact remains, there are encouraging noises coming from the right directions. The UUP and SDLP need to urgently work on their professionalism and image, but as Alex Kane rightly points out, having a properly defined role and mission at Stormont will probably help them to have a hook on which to make those changes. To take the leap out of the Executive will take a level of courage that has not been forthcoming since 2001, particularly by the SDLP, but the rewards are potentially massive, not just for the two parties, but for the entire political discourse of Northern Ireland.

  • Mick Fealty

    I wasn’t sure that where Alasdairs reasoning would take him when Iwrote the piece and even more sure it doesn’t after he told Mike Nesbitt on Talkback.

    It sounded to me like Al was saying, let’s build up our capital first and show it is possible to get product out of what we’ve already got.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    In the past “liberal unionists” and I have been watching them since the days of Basil McIvor in Larkfield have always proven to be a complete waste of space. And the risible link to the Tories is as dead as the Dodo.
    There will be no hand holding with a right of centre party.The Parties can if they have the Will and the Talent build themselves. Tpp much fraernising merely turns off their respective core votes and makes it more difficult to build.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Opposition makes sense for the SDLP. As long as they position themselves as shinners with table manners they will always be outflanked. If instead of framing the debate as pale versus dark green, it should be social democracy vs national socialism. Although a partner from the unionist camp makes sense, it’s difficult to see where the UUP fits in with what can only be a centre left project. I appreciate the tory link has been binned but there’s nothing worse than chasing someone who is still hung up on their ex.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I just don’t think the SDLP, or the UUP for that matter, have the skills or the talent to put the DUP/SF axis on the spot. If they did they would have already done it.

    I’d sit up and take notice if the SDLP and UUP formed some kind of pact. But it’s not going to happen. The UUP assembly party can’t agree it’s own line on anything from one minute to the next. I’d expect the SDLP to be more disciplined under McDonnell but I still cannot imagine them voluntarily ceding anything to the UUP under a common umbrella.

    BTW fitz, I’d definitely call the SDLP right of centre. I can’t think of any other social democratic party in Europe which operates a whip on the abortion issue. And a short time ago, the party was advocating the privatization of public assets such as the Belfast docks. The abortive hookup with the Fianna Fellini crime syndicate completes the circle. Anyone who thinks the SDLP are social democrats are smoking some serious stuff.

  • Jimmy Sands

    I thought the speech was clearly trailing a left of centre approach. Whether he follows up on it is of course another matter. And I would consider it a mistake to use abortion as a litmus test.

  • http://joeharron@yahoo.com joeCanuck

    ..The UUP and SDLP need to urgently work on their professionalism and image..

    I was visiting Ireland during an election campaign about 10 years or more ago and I was totally amazed at how professional the DUP’s election material was. Have the others really not learned how to do it yet?

  • Cynic2

    “I wasn’t sure that where Alasdairs reasoning would take him”

    I agree completely. Having played the ‘team’ cards so much I think he may have been hedging his bets on the basis that he couldn’t just pronounce without consulting. I hope that’s it and it isn’t just another insipid ‘least damaging’ policy. This needs drive and leadership to take the DUP/SF junta on and expose their incompetence.

  • Cynic2

    “The UUP assembly party can’t agree it’s own line”

    Even worse than that, as a Unionist, I would have to say that many in the Fermanagh Backwoods wouldn’t have a Fenian about them, much less enter a pact with the SDLP. Sad to say it but that is why they are now an irrelevance within Unionism never mind politics

  • the wrong side of 40

    The entire arguement about an opposition pact is a complete non starter. I am truely amazed that anyone things it has any potential whatsoever.

    The SDLP would be spit completely and I know many that would turn their back on them once and for all – I count myself amongst that number.

    We don`t forget the history of the UUP over the decades as they mismanaged the North and created the conditions for the “troubles”, we don`t forget the recent Tory link up, the fact that the appalingly bad Tom Elliot has gone unchallenged to date shows how awful they still are.

    The SDLP are not in a great position but they are years ahead of the UUP. I think that the SDLP have bottomed out and under a genuine collective leadership, the only way is up. The decline of the UUP will contine for the forseeable future.

  • Comrade Stalin

    We don`t forget the history of the UUP over the decades as they mismanaged the North and created the conditions for the “troubles”

    What I don’t get about SDLP supporters is how some of them argue that on one hand we are supposed to set aside the 2000 victims created by SF’s military wing, but “don’t forget” the UUP’s terrible governance in the years before that.

    A bit of consistency wouldn’t go amiss. And a bit less bitterness would help a lot too.

  • the wrong side of 40

    I don`t think its bitterness, more annoyance that this concept is even getting any kind of a serious hearing. There is so much that difference between the UUP and the SDLP that it is an entirely stupid debate. I also firmly believe that by fault or design any percieved linkage or common purpose between those parties cost the SDLP votes and seats in May.

    I know of no SDLP supporter that want to set aside ANY victims of the troubles, that party always argued that there was an alternative to conflict – that is what makes them SDLP supporters!

  • FuturePhysicist

    Big load of hoo haa about opposition … do you REALLY want to go back to having a climate change sceptic in charge of Environment, or perhaps the sort of farcical of cronyism back in Regional Development that saw the budget plunered on jobs for the boys oooh and the kicker should Alliance go too, the farcical shenanigans around the Justice Ministry.

    Stop moaning about the lack of opposition simply for more soap and less substance.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I know of no SDLP supporter that want to set aside ANY victims of the troubles, that party always argued that there was an alternative to conflict – that is what makes them SDLP supporters!

    Don’t you think it’s a bit inconsistent in one breath to say on one hand that you’re for an alternative to conflict, and on the other hand that the unionists are all bastards and you wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire ?

  • Cynic2

    But why is there an assumption that there would have to be some formal pact for an opposition to work. They could just refuse to nominate and force SF and the DUP to take the Ministries then harry them to death from the sidelines

    This didnt need any sort of pact. Some co-ordination from time t time perhaps but that’s it. They could even invite Alliance to join in. Wee Davy wont want to give up that nice soft seat but he wont have it much longer anyway

    In opposition both the UUP and SDLP could avoid all blame for the looming shambles

  • Comrade Stalin

    But why is there an assumption that there would have to be some formal pact for an opposition to work.

    People have been floating ideas about funding it so it seems to follow that the suggestion is that it should be a formal arrangement.

    They could just refuse to nominate and force SF and the DUP to take the Ministries then harry them to death from the sidelines

    That sounds like one of Baldrick’s cunning plans.

  • Cynic2

    Well what we have now is a turnip

  • Cynic2

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-15631617

    Forget the fact that this is down to SF Mis-Management. The DUPs are doing just as good a job elsewhere. Anyone who watched the ludicrous response of senior Agriculture officials at the PAC hearing on Crossnacreevy will not be surprised

    And how are they all to be held accountable? Vote them out in 4 years?

    We need reform now. We need an effective opposition that can at least expose and ridicule. And we need a recall power for electors.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Those who want an opposition just because they hate Sinn Fein and the DUP People need to ask three questions …

    Why do the people like them?
    Why do companies and other donors back them?
    Why don’t they back your views through new parties not the much maligned Sunningdale troika who’ve been ineffective? (apparently)

  • Cynic2

    Why do the people like them?

    They vote for the donkey wrapped in the right flag. The aim of voting is to make sure one of oursuns gets in and themuns doesnt. There’s no sense of political quality

    Why do companies and other donors back them?

    Graft and the desire for influence. If Pol Pot got elected there are some who would cosy up to him next day if there was a £ in it

    Why don’t they back your views through new parties not the much maligned Sunningdale troika who’ve been ineffective? (apparently)

    Because they are equally ineffective. They peal the same sectarian garbage and just seem even less effective. There is noone who inspires confidence.

  • FuturePhysicist

    The last one should read why aren’t there other parties who back your views here if they are so important and relevant.

  • FuturePhysicist

    If the electorate are donkeys, companies here crooks and there are no present political alternatives … Opposition isn’t the solution, relocation is.

  • Cynic2

    Future Physicist

    ” Opposition isn’t the solution, relocation is.”

    Short term you are right. But even the Libyans overthrew Qaddafi. We need a political Arab spring

  • OneNI

    ‘Opposition or bust’
    Looks like its bust Shilliers?