Obama’s coalition: what’s the NI alternative?

Democrat donkeyWhat can NI parties learn from Obama’s continued success at the polls?

Last night was a night to sleep. November 2008 was a night to stay up and watch the US Presidential election results. Wakening up this morning at 6am was early enough to catch Governor Romney’s short and sweet concession speech (did he even bother to mention the military?) followed a good while later by Obama’s more upbeat acceptance speech.

Unlike four years ago, Obama wasn’t in an outdoor park speaking to tens of thousands of supporters. Instead he made do with a more intimate indoor arena standing in front of (and behind) thousands of screaming flag wavers.

At the US Consulate’s election breakfast in Belfast MET’s Springvale campus, Gerry Lynch spoke to me about the presidential campaign along with the many other races and polls that were decided last night. As the Huffington Post put it, America Now Gayer, More Female And Slightly Stoned referring to the gay marriage and cannabis legalisation polls in a handful of states.

The quirks of the electoral college provide political anoraks with talking points every four years. However the predictability of the result in the majority of the individual states surely damages any claim the US has to a ‘great’ democracy? Though it has some similarities with certain NI constituencies which unsurprisingly elect the same MPs and perhaps four of the six same MLAs without too much bother.

Obama’s continued coalition of traditional Democratic voters together with groups that feel cut off by the Republican Party (not limited to Hispanics, African Americans, LGBT, people of low income, single Moms, young people) will surely force the Republican Party to reassess how it is perceived by potential voters in a bid to widen its base and widen out the mid-term 2014 elections as well as the 2016 campaign away from the nine swing states?

While NI is still a long way from just being a two party system, there are plenty of opportunity for local parties to work on how they are perceived before the next set of elections. Could some of them widen their appeal and form coalitions of voters? Could they build support that would result in an increase in voter turnout, causing two hour queues at polling stations?

It was heartening to see the UUP splitting away from the DUP in yesterday’s Assembly debate on Voting Age and presenting a different case. Less heartening to see the DUP whipping their members to vote No. In the equal marriage debate, the UUP operated a free vote, while DUP members toed the party-given line to again present a block No vote. So there’s the making of some independent thinking in the UUP which may slowly turn around – and perhaps soften – their image … if they can manage to avoid any more incidents on the scale of McNarry/Maginnis/McCallister. [Ed - if this was an 11 plus question, I’d predict McCrea and McGimpsey would be next in line.]

Yet will the UUP, the SDLP or Alliance reach out wholeheartedly to champion working class communities or those in mortgage distress? Or be widely regarded as the defenders of the disabled. Could they step beyond being cheerleaders for job creation to use their departments and international influence to actually create new employment possibilities and grow the pool of jobs in NI? Which party would dare to put the marginalised right at the centre of their policies? The mentally ill? Newcomer/immigrant communities?

Aside from Orange and Green, surely there are many other communities of interest in NI that could reward strong political advocates with votes?

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

    Some indication of the intent of one of these parties will be available on Friday/Saturday in Armagh.
    Im sure that we will both be there to record it.
    No Portillo Moment…but certainly the Karl Rove Moment on Fox was brilliant……and later fiscal conservatives and tea party people tearing each other apart.
    But really the best comment has to be Charles Thomas…..a radio host from Chicago noting that the crowd at the Obama rally LOOKED like Americans and the crowd at the Romney rally in Boston (almost all white) didnt look like Americans.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    FJH. The Faux News coverage after 4.20 am [our time] when they declared for Obama win was entertaining but they shied away from a fullblown neurotic response. The GOP place in US politics is going to be increasingly forlorn as the old certainties will evaporate as they realise they are out of serious candidates for the Presidency. They should ring Peter Robinson to cheer themselves up as Unionism here will run out of road in the next two decades as well as the GOP. Couldn’t happen to more deserving folk.

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

    A reasonable enough assessment.
    A few might believe that Robinsons outreach is to Catholics is sincere (personally I dont believe it)
    But even fewer would give it any chance of succeeding.
    Sooner or later the Demographics gets everybody. The best way to delay the Demographics is building up the middle ground……..which is why nationalists should avoid helping the “middle”.

  • Reader

    fitzjameshorse1745: The best way to delay the Demographics is building up the middle ground……..which is why nationalists should avoid helping the “middle”.
    Does that mean that the SDLP should oppose mixed housing developments and integrated education?

  • BarneyT

    It’s a precarious pastime trying to map and compare the US to NI or anywhere else, but politically there are some wonderful ironies.
    The main Unionist parties politically map nicely on to the Republican Party, which is a broad enough church attracting fiscal Republicans (Social democrats) and the extreme religious god fearing and hate filled racist right. So, Unionism rebadged as The Republican Party would be amusing to say the least.
    Your point about a possible lack of democracy in certain states due to the voting predisposition is valid , particularly if you look at it from a minority perspective, but in other ways it is purely democratic as it allows the majority to elect the candidate that genuinely reflects their views. This is perhaps more relevant in the US. The “redneck” states vote republican because they are republican surely and despise the “pinko liberal homo-lovin’ heathen democrats”.
    There is more disenfranchisement in NI for the simple reason that we are tribal and we tend to vote on single issues i.e. Pro Union and Pro Irish Unity. SF and the SDLP offer a broader real political spectrum to Nationalists and Republican community than that offered to Unionism. Left leaning unionists have little to choose from, without going down the PUP route which may be uncomfortable for them.
    We have a Conservative party, but their Conservative and Unionist label renders then UUP by another name and therefore just as tribal. A “Labour Party” would be a great move in many ways, as it is an acceptable brand to both nationalist
    epublicans and unionists. More importantly it provides a political outlet for the most disenfranchised in our society i.e. The Socialist Unionist. A Labour party that drew candidates from all sections of the community could be very successful.

  • DoppiaVu

    FJH – “A reasonable enough assessment” – was that in response to danielsmoran’s 20 years fantasy? Are you serious??

    And following on from Reader, I’d also be interested in clarification of what exactly avoiding “helping the middle” is supposed to mean. Helping the extremes instead? Don’t you think NI has had enough of that?

  • FuturePhysicist

    A reasonable enough assessment.
    A few might believe that Robinsons outreach is to Catholics is sincere (personally I dont believe it)
    But even fewer would give it any chance of succeeding.
    Sooner or later the Demographics gets everybody. The best way to delay the Demographics is building up the middle ground……..which is why nationalists should avoid helping the “middle”.

    Does that mean that the SDLP should oppose mixed housing developments and integrated education?

    I don’t believe that is what he meant, it’s not a compromise to live beside a Protestant or go to school with a Protestant.

    It’s a compromise, perhaps a sacrifice for a Catholic (even a “cultural”/”cafeteria” one) to give up a Catholic education for one in limbo, and a risk to move away from a more “comfortable neighbourhood” to one where you are in the minority.

    As long as there is nothing to give any incentive to integration it won’t happen, I know Alliance say there is a massive cost to division but they rarely focus on where money may be saved for families, workers and friends through outreach. Division is natural, unity is artifice and requires work, you have to look at human behavior here, and its behavior that none of our politicians really have or can have any control over. That may seem defeatist, but it’s realism over idealism.

    Saying that, the grassroots of the SDLP does bring a civil devolution of this peace process into the party fold.

    SDLP voters/supporters were amongst the highest if not the highest in support of increasing integrated education as there is increased demand for integrated education, and indeed their sister party in the Republic (as perhaps opposed to their cousins in the F parties) have worked to ensure this provision is made, that’s not to say that accommodating the Protestant minority in education in the ROI is a done deal, all sides acknowledge from politicians to educators more work has to be done. Unionist politics seek to break parity with the UK on Catholic Schools and some are looking to re-introduce tithes, as a ‘perk’ of integration.

    As for mixed housing, for historic reasons is admirable but practically difficult … there is a difference between a suburban area where two groups are indiscriminate and being able to sandwich together interface zones which have had divisions. The problem isn’t the division alone but socioeconomics, sometimes between the haves and have nots here.

    Instead of looking simply at mixed areas we have to look at why there isn’t many working class integrated areas due to the history of segregation, but also other socioeconomics and of course that has had an impact on the educational issue as well. Class division goes hand in hand with the religious divide here, as where there isn’t religious divide (say Derry, East Belfast) divides so called constitutional Nationalists from so called Republicans and so called constitutional Unionists from so called Loyalists. That’s not to deny there is an upwardly group of middle class republicans and loyalists nor working class who would associate more with the middle three SDLP/UUP/APNI. Class division is just as important a topic to look at as the proximity of the nearest place of worship.

    With regards to FJP, I’m guessing he may be talking about pragmatism in the Irish nationalist cause, things that were the scorn of Redmond, Collins, Dé Valera, Hume, even the McGuinness/Adams leadership etc. and the idea that you need to win over unionism by in some sense sacrificing your nationalism.

    In general politics you do have to be centrist though the center is actually a very big ball park, very few would take the path of small man straw man extremist.

    I could get a lefty like Eamon McCann and a righty (for want of a better word) like David Vance or Jim Allister in a room and the very least they would agree on is that the media should be private and the police should be public. They’d be divided on where to draw the line on other things, but there is common ground at the boundary. But if say the administration were to be headed up by a McCann – Vance leadership the public would expect more from them than agreeing not to take over the press or give away the police.

    In most purple coalitions between the red and blue, the left and the right, you maximize your efforts “against compromise” to make the most change, when that compromise eventually comes. That’s what is done in Switzerland, digging shoes in. Of course if you dig in too much you’d reach a point where there is no compromise at all. Not to mention that any government is already limited in what decisions it can make by fiscal constraints such as their budget, their resources and their manpower.

    Just as in mathematics, integration does occur in the middle it focuses on the boundaries.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Sorry that should be
    * Integration does not explicitly occur in the middle ground.

  • aquifer

    Could the single issues groups co-operate long enough to set up a one stop ‘who stands where on big issues’ website.

    Simply put up a recent party statement on each issue and a link to each party or MLA website to let MLAs clarify or change if they wish?

    And who will tell us how our MLAs vote?

    On the doorstep Parties will only tell you what they want you to hear.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Could the single issues groups co-operate long enough to set up a one stop ‘who stands where on big issues’ website.

    You could have found where they stood here:-
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/election_2010/8515961.stm

    Or you could read their manifestos for fine details.

    Simply put up a recent party statement on each issue and a link to each party or MLA website to let MLAs clarify or change if they wish?

    Again most parties here operate RSS feeds if you don’t want to bother going direct to their website.

    And who will tell us how our MLAs vote?
    They work for you is quite handy to find out what they’re dooing… say I want to look at Barry McElduff for instance…

    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mla/barry_mcelduff

    You probably will have to look at this though to find out which legislation he backed though.

    http://archive.niassembly.gov.uk/legislation/primary/legislation99_11.htm

    On the doorstep Parties will only tell you what they want you to hear.

    I agree with the “promise utopia deliver dystopia” premise, there is a grain of truth in it but politicians are constrained and particularly in austere times have to prioritize spending between competing but deserving groups. Politicians can’t deliver everything, so don’t expect everything from them.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    The antics of unionists in 1912 showed their real motives in opposition to Home Rule, that it was tantamount to Rome Rule was pure fiction since it was still British rule and unionists were the real seperatists. They didn’t fear rule from rome in the HR scenario, they just feared the demographics, that they would be in a catholic population dominated Ireland and would wield little power. but naturally didn’t want to admit their motives were rooted in bigotry so fought British devolved ruleand brought the gun into irish politics All the revisionism in the world doesn’t alter that. The same mindset was at work in refusing a nine county N Ireland since at 43% that was just too many of themmuns to stomach.

  • Reader

    danielsmoran: The same mindset was at work in refusing a nine county N Ireland since at 43% that was just too many of themmuns to stomach.
    With lots of nationalists saying unionists took too many counties, and the rest saying unionists took too few, it looks like 6 was a good compromise.
    As for the uses of power – the three logical options are to hold power oneself, to be under the power of others, or to be held in a structure where power is carefully rationed. With Home Rule set to remove option 3, unionists would have been fools to accept option 2.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Reader. The whole covenant spiel was that unionists alone had the right to take up arms against their cash cow and should be allowed to threaten the British with civil war, while claiming their political opponents were terrorists for doing the same? So they claimed loyalty to their cashiers while being anything but loyal to them. Nice work if you can get it

  • DoppiaVu

    “The antics of unionists in 1912 etc”

    Jebus wept…

  • Reader

    danielsmoran: So they claimed loyalty to their cashiers while being anything but loyal to them.
    Lots of people would claim allegiance to the nation without being loyal to particular government. An Irish republican should know that.

  • Reader

    FuturePhysicist: With regards to FJP, I’m guessing he may be talking about pragmatism in the Irish nationalist cause, things that were the scorn of Redmond, Collins, Dé Valera, Hume, even the McGuinness/Adams leadership etc. and the idea that you need to win over unionism by in some sense sacrificing your nationalism.
    FJH wasn’t as vague as that!
    When the SDLP was formed, some people, including some of the membership, assumed it was a re-badging of the old Nationalist Party to fit the mood of the times. The SDLP spent 20 years processing the peace, and has been rewarded by history and punished by the electorate.
    It’s also dawned on them that peace and reconciliation isn’t going to bring about a New Ireland, it’s going to solidify the status quo. Some of its membership – and some deep-green carpetbaggers – think that the way forward is to be the party of untainted non-violent tribalism. I’m not sure that *can* work. But then I’m no longer sure there is an honourable & practical way to progress the nationalist agenda until the Celtic Tiger recovers enough to offer some bribes.
    So, what does this mean for the mixing initiatives that are so important to Alliance? Will the SDLP be a partner? If not, then it’s bad news for Alliance policies, but good news for Alliance support, which needs to be re-balanced following an influx of liberal unionists in the last couple of years.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Reader Unionists weren’ t loyal to any British King Queen or government. No less than three British Prime Ministers called them loyal only to themselves at different points. Churchill, Wilson and Heath and others thought the same.

  • aquifer

    Good links FuturePhysicist, but not quite a one stop shop for local accountability.