Does Robinson’s move to the right on #flegs open a viable space on the Unionist ‘left’?

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How long ago was Peter Robinson’s speech of hope?

I want us to use our powers of persuasion here at home, where it matters, to expound the benefits of belonging to the Union.

That means challenging ourselves as well as challenging others and it means building a society where everyone feels equally valued.

In promoting the benefits of the United Kingdom, unionists have a product that none of our political opponents can match.

Saturday, 24 November 2012.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Mike Nesbitt’s shrink to grow message is working, but only amongst border Protestants, who along with the young protesters on the streets of the last two months, express themselves most disaffected with a political system that is tangibly failing to deliver on it own modest targets.

It is the instincts of that (largely anti agreement) end of the party that is driving Mr Nesbitt into the arms of the DUP, and its Belfast Agreement denying ordinances.

What has happened since, perhaps, is evidence that what Mr Robinson has been trying to do within unionism (ie catch all unionist voters from liberal to hardline) is virtually impossible, not least when your opponent/partner in government plays the ultimate tribal challenge and takes down your flag.

As Alex Kane has noted, Nesbitt has driven his boat directly into the DUP harbour. Leaving two sets of people on the outside.

One, the angry young men of inner city Belfast who see a system repeatedly gamed in a sectarian manner against their interests. Proving that you don’t need a top notch Grammar school education to tell you when you’re being shafted.

Two, the pro Agreement unionists who voted for and wanted rapprochment with their Catholic and Nationalist neighbours. For this second group, the Alliance party has been the option.

East Belfast is proof that there are still large reservoirs of liberal unionist sentiment that can make its voice heard when required. Yet there are limits (both geographic and demographic) to the appeal of the Alliance brand.

Is there an opportunity here to open up a new, oppositional space within unionism? Maybe a clean start project that has a clear and unambiguous ambition to ‘hack’ a new cultural identity out of the Northern Irish space, as suggested at the weekend by John McCallister.

That would depend on two things. One, the quality of leadership on offer. And two, the capacity of the wider population to rise above the fatalism generated by our own “sui generis” conflict

There is a further question here though. And that is the nature of social identity itself. Is it possible, for instance, to succeed as a liberal on the constitutional issue when the politics of historic division predominate?

Particularly when the current incumbents are happy to foreground and play up a hardball spectacle with political issues that more properly belong in the distant future? Without serious answers to those questions, I’m not sure there is much point in new players taking to the field.

I’m not sure I know the answer to any of those questions. But one thing does seem clear, there is a space.

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  • ayeYerMa

    It is completely wrong to try and use phrases such as “right” and “left” when really you should be talking about whether one is confident in their convictions that the current stability offered by the Union can deliver for all, or whether one is weak and doesn’t really believe in what they stand for. The interlocked concepts of democracy and sovereignty have nothing to do with social or economic policy.

    A confident, inclusive, diverse and democratic Unionism will stand under the nation’s flag with pride, confident in knowing that it is welcoming for all.

  • alex gray

    It is likely that Basil McCrea, David McClarty and John McCallister will form a Liberal Unionist grouping in the Assembly with attendant party money. It is also likely that John McCallister will move out of South Down to Srangford where he can go head to head with Mike Nesbitt. Pastures are greener for liberal unionists there than in South Down. Also significant transfer of territory from South Down to Strangford in last constituency shake up. David McClarty ws always a liberal. He was Trimble’s Chief Whip. It is also clear that Basil McCrea faces a hanging jury on Friday with Daphne Trimble as one of his judges, given their past bad blood in Lagan Valley. The new Liberal Uniionist Party could do well. Alliance certanly showed immatutity and bad judgement in helping Sinn Fein stir it up over flags in Belfast. Alliance’s problem is that they are sanctimonious and self important. They are always right, holier than thou and everyone else if wrong and inferior – in short a bunch of smart asses that no one likes.

  • FDM

    I think the wider problem for the PUL community is that they are standing, through their political leadership (elected or otherwise), on ground that is probably to the right of where Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mussolini would have been comfortable with.

    [I see I got in with Godwin's law early in the debate, apologies].

    If you have a problem accepting my first sentence then I would point you to the eejits dandering around Belfast with banners saying “DEMOCRACY DOESN’T WORK”. Pre-Putsch Hitler would have been taking notes…

    I have heard Unionists bleat for years that the Unionism was nothing to do with religion. Yet they convene a “Unionist Forum” and not one delegate is of the Catholic religion. Where are all the Rory McIlroys? The flag-totting symbols of successful converts to the Unionist cause? Hrmmm…

    The fact is the “Unionist Forum” is actually a mono-religious, mono-political collective. It is ONLY interested in forwarding an agreed sectarian agenda to serve one single section of the community. It was not established in serving the best interests of Northern Ireland. It was established to preserve as much of the privileged ascendancy position of their collective group within the Northern Ireland state setting. Hopefully the juxtaposition between serving Northern Ireland and self-service is laid naked there. Their agenda is very much “Our place. Our time.”. By “Our” they mean the PUL community with certainly not a bit of compromise or sharing on the radar. “Its Our way or a Blocked-Queens-Highway”. [thats not bad actually, Ed.]

    I don’t agree with Basil or John on their view of “the Union” [whatever that may be given it means different things to different people]. However surely ANYONE with even a passing intelligence and tenuously wet grip on reality can see that this is the only position that Unionists really can occupy and present an argument that holds any kind of water?

    “Whats that you are saying Jamie????

    Jesus wept…”

  • Alone and Easy Target

    All hail Basil McCrea!!

    John McCallister is a capable politican who believes in his convictions and genuinely wants a better way forward. Basil….well……make up your mind.

    The problem, as it has been for a decade, is the UUP have not defined what they stand for in comparison to the DUP. If they had agreed on opposition (under whatever leader) the likes of McCrea, McCallister, McNarry etc would have had an outlet very suited to being in opposition.

    As it stands the question should not be about another unionist party but instead a realisation that the UUP has at each turn taking the wrong path. The UUP should reflect on their position.

  • http://www.wsws.org Mervyn Crawford

    The Union flag and the Tricolour represent the same interests – the capitalist ruling class. Sinn Fein and the DUP run Northern Ireland on behalf of London, Dublin and Washington – maintaining the system, political and economic, and fighting the corner for their own petty bourgeois constituency. You could say SF and the DUP do reperesent catholic and protestant; but it’s the catholic and protestant business people they speak for – while splitting the working class on religious lines to stem the social struggle and class unity.
    The UVF exist as much to intimidate and ‘chill’ protestant workers a s much as catholic. SinnFein’s role now in forcing through the cuts at Stormont essentially means they are on the same side as the DUP, and the UVF.
    Endless circular arguments and navel gazing about catholics and protestants only reinforced the rotten sectarian division in Ireland.
    And can only be broken away from by the turn to socialism, and class unity.
    Cynical comment about being ‘realistic’ about the north (accepting the status quo) expresses the support that a rather well-off layer give to things as they are.

  • BarneyT

    I think it is time for an Irish Unionist Party (IUP), with a Donegal man at the helm. That party is instantly marketable on both sides of the border and perhaps even in a pan NI context. They would reach out to unionists in the north, unionists left behind in the rest of Ulster and by extension, a great chunk of the “free state”.
    The goal must be to secure Irish Unity but ensure the preservation of the British identity within that restored Irish Union.

    The party should shape itself now for the future that would emerge if all Irish issues were resolved and focus on the inevitable close links that a United Ireland must and will forge with Britain in that context. When we are at peace, why would that not happen? The Warrenpoint to Omeath bridge would look like a child’s picnic party.

  • Mick Fealty

    I have an impeccable reference for that (http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/othelem/organ/dorgan.htm) aYM…

    Boal said the party would be “right wing in the sense of being strong on the Constitution, but to the left on social policies”.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Alex gray. I would say that’s true of alliance under Ford who is seemingly incapable of conducting an interview without trying to turn it into a PPB for the party. Sanctimoniousness personified. The rest of them seem ok. Back at the beginning, in the 70s, I would have preferred Bob Cooper as leader rather than Napier. but voted SDLP in the two westminster elections the year after becoming eligible to vote in ’73.

  • GoldenFleece

    My bet would be that McCrea, McCallister and McClarty go to the NI Conservatives rather than form a party. McCrea and McCallister are saying what the NI Conservatives have been saying for years. The NI Conservatives also have a party infrastructure, 500 stong membership and healthy funds, a good starting platform.

    Just my two cents.

  • Mick Fealty

    [irrelevant aside] I used to clean Bob’s windows, back in the day.. Nice guy…

  • Obelisk

    Alone and Easy Target

    “The problem, as it has been for a decade, is the UUP have not defined what they stand for in comparison to the DUP”

    That’s not strictly true, in recent months Mike Nesbitt has successfully defined the UUP as a mirrior in comparison to the DUP.

    The UUP faces a choice after it’s next schism on Friday. Do they full merge with the DUP? Or do they want to take the bold and confident path of being a separate party so that Peter has someone to talk to when he needs a big photo op showcasing Unionist unity. Merger or glorified sock puppets, they will really need to think that one through. Might need an AGM.

    As for Basil, wouldn’t any Liberal Unionist Party he sets up be fighting for the same turf as the Alliance Party rather than the DUP? Loads of Unionists dont vote but a lot did and most of them vote DUP, and they are about to swallow the UUP it seems. Where will the border Unionist vote end up if the UUP disappears? I’d bet the biggest chunk will go to the DUP and not to any new liberal unionist group.

    Consider that the constitutionally neutral Alliance has never really attracted much Catholic support despite saying all the right things (I suspect this is because in many respects the SDLP says the same things but is at least ‘green’. This is of course excluding some of their recent inexplicable acts in Newry and Dungannon..

    We really should evaluate that just because Basil talks a great deal of sense (which he does), will he be able to do what nobody else has done and form a cross-community pro Union party.

    I doubt it. What Basil will create if he puts his mind to it, is the Unionist version of the SDLP. Which will still be a worthwhile achievement mind you.

  • Obelisk

    “My bet would be that McCrea, McCallister and McClarty go to the NI Conservatives rather than form a party.”

    The problem with that is the NI Conservatives never seem to gain traction despite multiple relaunches.

    If Basil and John had to join another party, would Alliance not be the better fit? They’d at least have a prospect there.

  • Alone and Easy Target

    Obelisk

    “Alone and Easy Target

    “The problem, as it has been for a decade, is the UUP have not defined what they stand for in comparison to the DUP”

    That’s not strictly true, in recent months Mike Nesbitt has successfully defined the UUP as a mirrior in comparison to the DUP.”

    Spot on.

  • Ulster Press Centre

    FDM:
    I have heard Unionists bleat for years that the Unionism was nothing to do with religion. Yet they convene a “Unionist Forum” and not one delegate is of the Catholic religion. Where are all the Rory McIlroys?

    Erm, Rory plays golf. I don’t think he’s a politician.

  • FDM

    @ UPC

    “Where are all the Rory McIlroys?

    Erm, Rory plays golf. I don’t think he’s a politician.”
    ____________________________________________

    I think its called a “meta-something-or-other”.

    Oh its you. Never mind.

  • Red Lion

    Sincerely hope NI gets a new liberal union party and movement.

    The main reason hardline unionism continues to take the votes, is because as unionism is concerned, it is the only show in town. An alternative simply currently does not exist in party form, though the liberal union mindset exists in the population.

    The liberal union voices are there, they just need to come together into a coherant and identifiable grouping so that an alternative to the DUP/UUP exist.

    I genuinely believe the union, a completely reformed and alternate union, is the best vehicle for stability and prosperity for the most people in NI, irrespective of religion. The union for too long has been defined by the DUP embarrassing brand, and a liberal union party can seek to alter that defintion. And alter to something beyond the recognition or comprehension of DUP/UUP.

    Part of that redefinition will be drawing greater influence from mainland British values, not the DUPUlster Protestant nationalist vision.

    Another part of the definition is to strive, for the first time, to get numbers of Catholic Comm background people to join and vote for a pro-union liberal party. How to turn those opinion polls into something a bit more tangible?? In time this has to be a centrepiece of a liberal union party: non-tribalism.

    And I would think of such a party as ‘centre-centre’, if anything perhaps slightly left of centre.

    Such a party opens up the longer term possibilities of Lib union party-Alliance-SDLP cooperation in the future(so long as sdlp can halt its lurch toward SF territory). Imagine such parties running the executive, then we see much greater chance of functional government, and long term goodwill, generousity and stability.

  • Red Lion

    Obelisk,

    “”As for Basil, wouldn’t any Liberal Unionist Party he sets up be fighting for the same turf as the Alliance Party rather than the DUP? Loads of Unionists dont vote but a lot did and most of them vote DUP, and they are about to swallow the UUP it seems. Where will the border Unionist vote end up if the UUP disappears? I’d bet the biggest chunk will go to the DUP and not to any new liberal unionist group””.

    A liberal union party has real potential to draw on a variety of diverse backgrounds, and that would be a real strength

    I continually slag off the DUP, but it does have(a minority) voters and some members who are liberal minded and could be persuaded

    There is the liberal end of the UUP, hopefully McClarty, McRea and Mccallister can bring their supporters and voters with them.(I’d also be hopeful of Sylvia Herman or her pro-union successor in N.Down being a lib union person.

    Yes they are going for a section Alliance’s turf – hopefully Hamilton and Bradshaw would considering joining a lib union party – especially Hamiliton – he got 10,000 votes in Upper Bann and was not selected next time out!!

    Working class Protestant vote. They have little representation, yes the union forum might engage them but sections of this community have gone to Alliance in the past or voted for fresher voices like John Kyle or Dawn Purvis. I think there is potential here, certainly not everyone in inner east supported the riots, a desire for a better life exists here and a section would be open minded, especially if championed by Purvis.(I’m not suggesting a link up with the PUP, but the David ERvine and Dawn Purvis voice has been fresh in the past, a resource to be tapped.

    And the small but significant Catholic vote. I think a lib union party has to go hell for leather at getting Catholic people to join and stand. Genuine reach out politics not ‘nice talk, no action’.

    I also think the party will appeal to non-voters

    A diverse potential which allows longer term plans for expansion.

    The important thing, in the short term, is to actually provide an alternativecoherent voice which can challenge the DUP and show there is another way. This is educational and may have a moderating impact on the DUP and NI society in general

    PS Please Basil and JOhn, do not join the conservatives.

  • GoldenFleece

    “The problem with that is the NI Conservatives never seem to gain traction despite multiple relaunches.”

    Different times, different circumstances. NI politics is at a very fluid juncture atm. Who knows what will happen in the coming year

    “If Basil and John had to join another party, would Alliance not be the better fit? They’d at least have a prospect there.”

    John has flat out said there is no chance of him joining Alliance. Both of them are also very verbal on their support of the union, something that would not go down well in Alliance.

  • carl marks

    First let me express my sorrow at the passing on of Inez Mc Cormack, a great women and a great socialist.
    A left wing unionist party would as has been mentioned before have to be completely non sectarian (the same rule would apply to a left wing nationalist Party) left/right politics here have been choked by the national question.
    The old NILP tried but got swallowed up by sectarianism within the trade union movement. A new party would have an immediate problem, there is no party on the other island for it to link with, as labour is twinned with the SDLP and is barely left wing.
    Also ayeYerMa’s post presents a problem left/right politics has all but disappeared indeed he and many others believe that such terms are irrelevant this alone shows how difficult organising a leftwing party would be.
    He might be right is their room inside the concept of unionism for a left wing party it being to my mind a political concept designed to maintain a privileged class using the working class as foot soldiers.

  • aquifer

    The PUPNI website does not really major on left responses to the current crisis, despite its labourish constitution.

    They do have a cracking union jack displayed though – it worked for the DUP for years after all.

    Given an NI ministry, what would the PUPNI do?

  • FDM

    aquifer (profile)

    Given an NI ministry, what would the PUPNI do?

    —————————–

    What are we thinking here “Ministry for the Final Solution”?

  • Framer

    There is a gap in the market one which the Alliance Party increasingly obviously can’t fill as it makes it plain it is not a Unionist party just something that stands in the middle between unionism and nationalism.
    But have the stream of departing unionist celebrity candidates, the disaffected and the liberal the wherewithal to stand up a new pro-British, non-political party or are they carping prima donnas who like being popular in the blogosphere and the MSM?

  • David Crookes

    BarneyT, many thanks for that genial posting. The UI might take its first steps as a reconstituted Ulster…..

    “The party should shape itself now for the future that would emerge if all Irish issues were resolved, and focus on the inevitable close links that a United Ireland must and will forge with Britain in that context.”

    I wish I had said that.

  • Comrade Stalin

    ayeYerMa:

    It is completely wrong to try and use phrases such as “right” and “left” when really you should be talking about whether one is confident in their convictions that the current stability offered by the Union can deliver for all, or whether one is weak and doesn’t really believe in what they stand for.

    With one or two tweaks the above paragraph reads almost word for word like a rant out of Mein Kampf.

  • keano10

    There is no Unionist “left”…

  • otto

    Obelisk

    “Consider that the constitutionally neutral Alliance has never really attracted much Catholic support despite saying all the right things (I suspect this is because in many respects the SDLP says the same things but is at least ‘green’. This is of course excluding some of their recent inexplicable acts in Newry and Dungannon..

    We really should evaluate that just because Basil talks a great deal of sense (which he does), will he be able to do what nobody else has done and form a cross-community pro Union party.

    I doubt it. What Basil will create if he puts his mind to it, is the Unionist version of the SDLP. Which will still be a worthwhile achievement mind you.”

    ———————————

    Maybe it wouldn’t be.

    As Mark Twain kind of said “Never argue with an Idiot, a Shinner or a Dupe. They just drag you down to their level and they’ve had more practice.”

    Newry, Dungannon and Flags prove how right he was as the SDLP and the UUP are fighting on SF and DUP terms and people can’t tell the difference because everyone’s all covered in sectarian shit.

    ——————————

    Framer

    “There is a gap in the market one which the Alliance Party increasingly obviously can’t fill as it makes it plain it is not a Unionist party just something that stands in the middle between unionism and nationalism.”

    “the wherewithal to stand up a new pro-British, non-political party”

    —————————–

    Non-political party? Sounds fun. Did you mean non-sectarian?

    Q. If its musical chairs time again how about trying something else for a change?

    Would it be a really good idea if all the UK parties split into Pro-EU and anti-EU factions and then made that the subject of every debate? Just think. We wouldn’t ever have to talk about boring realities – we could debate constitutional change all day every day, every frigging day while all the sensible people and our kids packed their suitcases and bought their ferry tickets.

    Perhaps not.

    So – how about the SDLP, the Conservatives, the normal people in the UUP and Alliance, conjoin, play musical chairs and then split into the centre-right People’s Party and the centre-left Labour Party in a copy cat of the southern coalition? What if both say its absolutely fine for MLA’s to designate according to their conscience provided they adhere to some shared future principles (language act, shared/integrated schools, weighted majority voting in councils and Stormont, all-Island structures, flags and emblems policy, some other stuff)

    They could even put the designations on the ballot paper so no-one gets confused.

    Is anyone going to refuse to vote for Basil if he’s a designated unionist in the same party as non-designated David Ford? Would anyone notice?

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    In considering if a liberal unionist party would be viable, there are a few things to keep in mind.
    1) In a deeply-divided society like NI, the easiest route for a party is to try to ethnically outflank other parties in its community by taking more extreme positions. Such occurred in 1969-76 and again in 1985-86 and in 1998 after the GFA. It has been occurring in Israel since the start of the Al-Aksa Intifada in October 2000.
    2) in such a situation once it has gained enough of the political market the outflanking party can steal the clothes of its more liberal rivals and move to the center taking over their political space. The DUP did this is 2006-07 as did SF.
    3) Proportional representation franchise systems leave more room for niche-market parties than does the first-past-the-post system in use on the Br mainland.
    4) NI actually has a mixed voting system as parties have to compete in elections using both the PR-STV and first-past-the-post systems. This gives an advantage to larger more mainstream parties. A liberal unionist party would probably have to settle like Alliance for seats in the Assembly and councils.
    5) The transfer feature of the PR-STV franchise theoretically allows a party to appeal to voters from other parties and even communities. But in the 1998-2005 period, there was little cross-community voting between moderate unionists and nationalists. Most pro-Agreement people preferred to give their transfer votes to anti-Agreement candidates in their own community than to give them to cross community lines. At best they would vote for an Alliance candidate if one was available.
    6) This means that geographically a liberal unionist party would probably be restricted to areas where Alliance is viable i.e. Greater Belfast and definitely not west of the Bann.

    @Barney T. As the purpose of a unionist party is to support the union between NI and Britain i.e. the UK, what would be its purpose in forming outside of that union?

  • Progressive Unionist

    What if both say its absolutely fine for MLA’s to designate according to their conscience provided they adhere to some shared future principles (language act, shared/integrated schools, weighted majority voting in councils and Stormont, all-Island structures, flags and emblems policy, some other stuff) … They could even put the designations on the ballot paper so no-one gets confused.

    It’s actually a pretty good and flexible idea to let MLAs designate themselves as to their political conscience. Especially if a Shared Future Forum (as envisaged by John McCallister) takes flight.

    Any new shared future unionist party shouldn’t just be about winning a half-dozen seats in the next Assembly election – it’s mission needs to be much broader, building up Northern Ireland and working together with the other centre-ground parties to build a viable cross-community, centre-ground electoral alternative that could actually win the next election.

  • Obelisk

    Progressive Unionist

    There’s a great deal of debate about this wonderful pro-Union,liberal party and cross-community party that Basil McCrea is about to usher into existence.

    But really, truly, how likely is he to succeed? I mean I’d like to see at least the Liberal Unionist Party, but mostly because I want someone my politicians can engage with and I’d like to see some sort of voice of sanity returned to the Unionist Community.

    One who recognises the fundamental truth that while the Good Friday Agreement guaranteed the North being part of the UK for the foreseeable future it didn’t mean nothing within the North would change. In other words, a Unionist leader who could have levelled with his constituents and told them the harsh truth, that change was inevitable and it was coming.

    But are we adequately considering Basil’s chances? Say Basil is forced out and sometime next week John follows him out. Then they have a big press conference, Basil, John, David McClarty, hell we’ll even include Sylvia Hermon and they announce a new liberal pro-Union party.

    What next?

    How do they resist the scenario Tmitch57 posits, that after the fanfare has died down the DUP will make it it’s mission in life to ensure the new party never has a chance to grow.

    Any time reason is expressed, the DUP will simply call them idealistic lundys. In this part of the world, outflanking the centre and then crushing it as you expand into it has been the tactic of choice for both Sinn Fein and the DUP. The new party will be under assault from day 1 by a party that has experience in these matters and an electorate to ready to retreat to the fringes or to the Garden Centre at the first threat or the first let down.

    The task ahead of Basil if he chooses this route is immense.

  • carl marks

    Obelisk
    , outflanking the centre and then crushing it as you expand into it has been the tactic of choice for both Sinn Fein and the DUP.

    You are of course right,
    But a left wing party is only possible if it cross’s the divide, a unionist or nationalist leftish party will always get stopped by the old taig/prod thing, and left wing politics will only work if it has support across the whole community.
    Something I do not see happening in this place for a long while, i don’t want to seem defeatist but i think the left of whatever hue in this place will be forced to remain focussed on being a pressure group working on local or single issues politics (pensions, fuel poverty etc) any attempt to move into “national” politics will result in attacks of the Lundy or west Brit type depending on who’s doing the attacking.

  • carl marks

    And of course I should have added,
    We have plenty of Lumpen proletariat on both sides (you really don’t have to go very far into the comments on this thread to see what I mean) to see that such attacks would not fall on deaf ears!

  • Framer

    The new party has to be non-political, simply favouring good things thereby reflecting the largely non-political British voters here who have no time for Unionism and certainly not for any expression of unionism.
    If not, it will remain a group of individuals modelled on a sort of BBC/NIO outlook.
    The problem, as always, is the succession, as you have to join a party and pledge allegiance to it first in order to get elected. Only then can you escape the poison you unwittingly adhered to, to become a politician beloved by bien pensants.

  • Reader

    Obelisk: How do they resist the scenario Tmitch57 posits, that after the fanfare has died down the DUP will make it it’s mission in life to ensure the new party never has a chance to grow.
    Surely the DUP might allow a new party some time to flush out the garden centre unionists and finish the destruction of the UUP before trying to take the voters off them?

  • carl marks

    Framer,
    I doubt many of the garden centre unionists would describe themselves as left wing, perhaps more liberal and less sectarian than either the DUP and UUP but i don’t see the middle class unionist non voter lining up to vote for a socialist party,
    Of course i could be mistaken but i believe that many of the policies of a left wing party would not be looked on favourably by the middle class either green or orange,
    The disaffected working class vote now that is different could the working class be persuaded to vote for left wing policies perhaps but that only happens when you have a politically astute and educated working class something that is missing inside unionism.
    I’m afraid that we are a long way from the point where working class prods are aware enough of the class divide not to let themselves be distracted by tribal politics, again i could be wrong but when you look at the furore over the flag and compare it to unionist working class outrage (none) over such things as the problems with the NHS, unemployment, education, etc you can see that tribal symbols are more important than bread and butter politics.

  • carl marks

    Oops sorry should have been reader I addressed that last post to.

  • carl marks

    Framer (profile)
    24 January 2013 at 12:02 pm

    The new party has to be non-political, simply favouring good things thereby reflecting the largely non-political British voters here who have no time for Unionism and certainly not for any expression of unionism.
    If not, it will remain a group of individuals modelled on a sort of BBC/NIO outlook.
    The problem, as always, is the succession, as you have to join a party and pledge allegiance to it first in order to get elected. Only then can you escape the poison you unwittingly adhered to, to become a politician beloved by bien pensants.

    I’m sorry I don’t understand this, a non political political party seems like an oxymoron to me.
    And simply favouring good things, what is a good thing varies from person to person and from class to class , what you seem to be describing is a group whose policy is opportunism and without a consistent philosophy, A tory in England may regard money being spent on aircraft carriers a good thing because he has oil interests that may require defending and a socialist may regard that money would be better spent on heating old people’s homes or on upgrading the local schoolsuch different outlooks on what is a good thing is why other more normal places have parties with left, center, or right leanings.
    I’m sorry framer that sounds all very woolly and unrealistic to me.

  • BarneyT

    tmitch57 – “@Barney T. As the purpose of a unionist party is to support the union between NI and Britain i.e. the UK, what would be its purpose in forming outside of that union?”

    I suppose to some extent the Irish Unionist Party is wordplay and tongue-in-cheek, but there is a serious element to it too.

    A peaceful and united Ireland would perhaps have a much stronger relationship with Britain than it presently has. Unionism in NI needs to look at how Britain views NI unionism. I would like to see a unionist party that becomes more than a single issue party in NI. Unionism needs to look at the present and historical reach of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches (minus the unsavoury elements) to realise that there is a presence in the republic and they operate and coexists with other beliefs and modes of religious activity. Unionism, needs to ask itself, what sort of influence could they have made to the Irish state had they accepted home rule and are they responsible for the demise of the non-catholic traditions.

    I site the classic case of Orange marches in Donegal. I don’t believe they cause much contention, but across the way in Tyrone they have greater significance. There is a place in a united Ireland for the unionist traditions and a more settled Irish would perhaps accommodate these traditions without the angst that currently exists and as festivals, which they should morph into.

    A unionist party that looks towards Irish unionism will in time serve their current main purpose more effectively, i.e. to not simple maintain a relationship with Britain but to refresh and renew.

    I firmly believe that all of us on this island can find much common ground to work with and Unionism should be searching for that. We all should not forget that the invaders sometimes become more Irish that the incumbents and the new culture that emerges is greatly enriched.

    I’ll get my coat 

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    @Barney T,

    Courting someone aggressively who doesn’t want to be courted is nearly always a waste of time, particularly when the party already considers himself to be married. Garret FitzGerald attempted this in the 1980s and did not get very far. You may consider this short-sighted on the part of unionists but they do not see themselves obligated to oblige the nationalists in fulfilling their mission of geographic political determinism.

    @Reader,

    Before this hypothetical party worries about the DUP, to which it is not really much of a threat, it has to worry about the Alliance Party, to which it might become a serious threat. If liberal unionists were peeling away the left-of-UUP vote several Alliance constituencies, particularly at the Assembly level, would probably become unviable for the Alliance. Alliance has had the Center all to itself except for the Women’s Coalition from 1996 to 2002 and some feeble competition from the Tories. With two parties fighting over the few liberal unionists and liberal nationalists they could destroy each other. This is how the Labor Party got elected in Israel in 1992–too many marginal right-wing parties were competing for the settler vote and they ended up disqualifying enough of it to eliminate these votes and give Labor and Meretz a marginal victory over the Right. With the UUP, the new party, and Alliance all fighting for these voters they could just cancel them out and give the seat to the DUP.

  • Reader

    carl marks: I doubt many of the garden centre unionists would describe themselves as left wing, perhaps more liberal and less sectarian than either the DUP and UUP but i don’t see the middle class unionist non voter lining up to vote for a socialist party,
    I’m socially liberal and tribally moderate but a bit of a capitalist. Maybe we have different ideas about what a Liberal Unionist party will offer?
    In any case, we live in a dependent economy for the meanwhile – an economically leftwing party will be hamstrung by economic realities and competing with populist parties for a generation. A new party can offer moderation, vision and strategy to the electorate, but it can’t offer money.

  • Neil

    An independent Northern Ireland assembly member has said there is an onus on “moderate unionists” to consider forming a new party.

    David McClarty left the Ulster Unionist Party after being de-selected as a candidate at the Assembly election.

    He told The View, on BBC One NI, he believed his former party is now too close to the DUP.

    Seems like another nail in the UUP’s coffin to me. Nesbitt’s mustard.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-21190207

  • Red Lion

    A new liberal union party i feel would be on very centre ground probably slightly left of centre, thats all.

    This opens up the middle ground to as many as possible, and doesn’t pigeonhole the party. Basil’s pro-business sensibilities could sit alongside Purvis’ more left of centre social conscience and action on disadvantage. This in turn opens up wide enough ground to attract a non-tribal vote.

    But in the first instance, the priority in this small province is to provide a strong liberal pluralist secular alternative vision for the union than the DUP Ulster Protestant-Nationalist version, and thus be a vehicle for moderation.

  • Red Lion

    Just read the David McClarty interview, my views mirror virtually exactly what he says.

    It is very pleasing to hear that a further pro-union politician has spoken out. Is this movement starting to gain a little momentum??

    How’s about the press ask Lady Sylvia Herman her views?? And Harry Hamilton , and Paula Bradshaw?

    Can anyone think of other union politicians who might be open to such a coming together??

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    Before all of you get too excited about the future prospects of a liberal unionist party you should consider the state–or fate–of the Conservative Party in NI, which is probably pretty close to what a liberal unionist party would be. The real meaning of liberal unionist party is a pro-union party that is non-sectarian. Alliance also partly had its roots in such a party that was based on the corporate vote of Queen’s University in the 1960s. That is basically what the Tories try to be. The Tories have yet to elect a single MLA, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think they have any councilors either. They are electorally weaker than the Workers’ Party was in the early 1980s even before Sinn Fein entered electoral politics.

  • BluesJazz

    tmitch57

    True, because Northern Ireland is a soviet style public sector dependent state. Most of those who work, less than 50% of the population, do so in the easy peasy public sector.
    That includes all the £50k+ state employees in North Down. Lawyers, Doctors, Prison Officers, PSNI , Civil Service, Bin Collectors etc.
    30%+ of the working age population are on DLA, IB etc.

    And the Stormont gravy train….

    The Tories want to make us do actual real work (horrors!) for their annual £12 billion handout.

    Who’s going to vote for that ?

    Even Alliance support the handout dependency.

    Spongers don’t vote for the turkey equivalent of Xmas.

  • Pia_Lugum

    Does the UUP actually have a voice west of the Bann? This thread is very interesting but the only UUP show in town seems to be based on the south side of Belfast. It strikes me that the rest of this party are on holiday – or perhaps Mike has told them to ‘button-up’!

  • GoldenFleece

    I don’t think people here realise how much it costs to actually start a political party from scratch that can compete.

    99% of political parties that have ever been created are now extinct. There is a reason for this.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Obelisk – there’s no denying the challenges any new party would face. There’d still be a lot of support for it though – more than enough to pick up Assembly and Council seats. With the departure of its progressive wing, the remaining right-wing rump of the UUP would end up merging with the DUPs (as is happening anyways) – and there’d certainly be enough clear blue water between the merged DUP-UUP entity and the new Liberal Unionist Party for the latter to be viable. (although it would take a lot of resourcing and organisation)

    Tmitch – The problem with the Conservatives is their right-wing economic views don’t make any sense in a society like Northern Ireland. If the LUP (or whatever it gets called) sticks to the broad middle ground on the economy it would be in a much more viable position.

  • GoldenFleece

    Continuting on from my “99% tof political parties that ever existed are now extinct remark”, I hope you guys realised we are witnessing history.

    We are watching the oldest political party in Ireland dying a slow, painful death. Fading into irrevelancy. Nothing lasts forever.

  • David Crookes

    “We are watching the oldest political party in Ireland dying a slow, painful death.”

    Thanks, GoldenFleece. It is an emotional moment. I was in that party for years, paid into it, and canvassed for it like a good one. Old-fashioned diehards in the DUP should beware of saying, “Sic transit gloria lundi.” They may be next.

    Time for a new idea. Not a three-member Guardian-Reading Unionist Party. Something exciting.

  • Neil

    Basil as leader. Only hope for a turnaround (and a quick one I’d wager). Though I’d prefer to see their epitaph myself.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    @Progressive Unionist,

    So in which Assembly constituencies do you envisage a LUP being viable?

    As to changing the basis for designation in the Assembly, this would mean changing the Good Friday Agreement. Alliance has been trying for years to change the rules so that the votes of those MLAs designated as “Other” count in votes that require dual majorities and neither of the ruling duopoly parties have shown any interest in this.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Tmitch – I believe the LUP would be viable across Belfast and all its surrounding constituencies, and it’s also helpful that two of its prospective new MLAs are in South Down and East L’derry – both locally popular and with prospective cross-community transfer appeal.

    PS – totally agree with you about the designation rules, MLAs who designate as other need to have their vote counted. they were elected by Northern Ireland voters same as all the other MLAs.

  • Progressive Unionist

    I hope the new party will help be a catalyst to something bigger though – a much broader coming together of the centre ground. Something which could offer a broad swathe of people a cross-community alternative to the DUP/SF government, and which could really put a Shared Future top of Northern Ireland’s agenda.

  • ayeYerMa

    I see McClarty has picked this up and talking nonsense about the need for a “moderate” Unionist Party.

    McClarty: the negotiations are over and the constitutional issue is settled. The Unionist population long passed the point whereby they can accept any further in the long line of appeasement to Republicans. This is the last thing we need. We are either part of the UK (and with solid support from at least 80% of the population) or we aren’t – a “moderate” Unionism is meaningless and dishonest – there is no such thing as a “middle ground” constitution.

    What might be useful (if only for the sake of keeping the DUP on their toes), is a Unionist party with differing social and economic policies to the DUP. I would see that developing naturally should the DUP as they make decisions into the future, but as it stands I don’t think many have too much of a problem with DUP policies at present.

    PS: Carl Marks I hope it is clearer what I said this time. I merely didn’t like the use of the *terminology* of “left” and “right” as, apart from the use in the title being completely odd, I think they are overly simplistic descriptors.
    Comrade Stalin: I’m sure you savoured your supervisor shift at the Gulag very much yesterday.

  • Obelisk

    “McClarty: the negotiations are over and the constitutional issue is settled. The Unionist population long passed the point whereby they can accept any further in the long line of appeasement to Republicans”

    Why say Republican and why use the word Appeasement?

    You say Republican, rather than Nationalist, because by saying Republican you try and confine what is happening to the smallest section of Nationalism you can, and probably the section of Nationalism you dislike the most given it’s history, as if its all to keep a fringe element happy.

    The use of the word appeasement really needs no discussion, it’s been bandied about enough since the second world war.

    Appeasement to Republicans is really compromise with Nationalists. Once again, while the Constitutional Issue is undoubtedly settled for the forseeable future at no point did Nationalists promise to leave everything else in the North untouched.

    This is the price Unionism has to pay, the price your leaders didn’t prepare you for. That you get your cherished constitutional link, but that while it exists we get to fundamentally reshape the North to accomodate us.

    ‘We are either part of the UK or we aren’t”

    So to be a part of this wonderful, pluralistic UK accepting of all cultures and values unlike that nasty mono-cultural state to the south we have to ensure that the emblems and symbolism accordant with the more loyal and therefore more deserving community are given pride of place at every opportunity and the anything fromt he disloyal community needs to be fought and opposed at every turn.

    And I truly doubt your figure of 80% solid support. I would define solid support as someone willing to put the link with the UK above all other considerations, including economic.

    Virtually every single discussion of demographics indicate that a big chunk of the current support for the Union is based on people who simply don’t want to upset the status quo. If these people were offered a credible and better deal they’d handily switch to supporting the other constitutional option. Does a majority exist for the Union? Yes.

    Is it a solid super majority of 80%? Very much no.

  • carl marks

    Reader,
    Yes, while I’m talking about a leftwing socialist party you if I’m right are talking about a liberal party.
    Certainly a liberal party would be to the left of both the UUP and the Dup, but is that ground not held by alliance?

    Maybe we have different ideas about what a Liberal Unionist party will offer?

  • carl marks

    Obelisk
    “Appeasement to Republicans is really compromise with Nationalists. Once again, while the Constitutional Issue is undoubtedly settled for the forseeable future at no point did Nationalists promise to leave everything else in the North untouched.

    This is the price Unionism has to pay, the price your leaders didn’t prepare you for. That you get your cherished constitutional link, but that while it exists we get to fundamentally reshape the North to accomodate us.”

    I think that this is the problem; somehow Unionists were led to believe that by accepting the GFA nationalists had somehow agreed to become unionists.
    The reality is that both nationalists and unionists had agreed to park the issue of a UI until a future date, but Nationalists have never agreed to become unionists, we agreed to shared space and parity of esteem.
    Many unionists seem to be under the mistaken belief that this means doing everything there way, the leaders of unionism have done nothing to educate their people in this fact.
    Indeed every time nationalists act like nationalists, unionists shout “they trapped us” and go all mope.
    Now as the demographics are changing they are pinning their hope on the people in the census who stated they are northern Irish, we can expect more “they trapped us” when this group does not behave in the way they believe they should.

  • carl marks

    ayeYerMa
    “Carl Marks I hope it is clearer what I said this time. I merely didn’t like the use of the *terminology* of “left” and “right” as, apart from the use in the title being completely odd, I think they are overly simplistic descriptors.”

    It certainly is and I think CS description of your post was both accurate and concise.
    For something who describes the use of the phrase Left and right as simplistic but states that the constitutional issue as settled (have you read the GFA) suggest a certain confusion about what is actually happening in the north of this Island.
    I am interested in your use of the word appeasement, do nationalists not have the same rights as unionists, this includes symbols among other things.
    And could you explain “(and with solid support from at least 80% of the population)” where do you get this figure from? By the way the gulag crack , cheap shot!

  • BarneyT

    tmitch57 – ” do not see themselves obligated to oblige the nationalists in fulfilling their mission of geographic political determinism”

    And this is my point. They will be acting for their own needs if they sieze the initiative.

    The reality is that northern nationalist and republican parties will struggle (no pun intended) to deliver a united Ireland. One reason being that unionism will see it as handing victory to their enemy. It is perhaps shortsighted of unionism to take this stance.

    Unionism has a chance to reflect on the optimum solution for this island and they will surely reflect that partition does not help and the existing republic is not so threatening after all.

    If the Northern Irish (as opposed to the Norther Irish British) manage to secure a United Ireland, it will be as unsuitable as the NI state was in the first place. Not everyone may be served in the new entity that is born….and I emphasise “may”.

    I am advocating that a forward thinking unionist party should take charge of delivering a united ireland whilst they hold the majority. They have in their power the ability to achieve this under terms that will work for them, through negotiating with Britain and the other main devision maker, the ROI government and the people they represent.

    I am of course assuming that the lights will come on within unionism and they realise that this island will work better as a single entity.

    If I was faced with the prospect of a forced unity (over time),I would secure a march on nationalism now and jump in first. A Dirty Great Green Ireland secured by a majority nationalist
    epublican electorate in the north may not reflect unionist needs.

    Unionism does however have a habit of letting their own side down i.e. the forgotten brothers and sisters of Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan. Failure to act here will acheive more of the same.

  • carl marks

    tmitch57
    I think that what is being said is that unionism would be wise to remember the political motto,
    When in a position of strength compromise, then you get the compromise you want.
    Not a inch and No Surrender has been a disastrous set of policies for unionism, resulting in ground being lost at every turn.

  • Red Lion

    Carl

    “”When in a position of strength compromise, then you get the compromise you want.
    Not a inch and No Surrender has been a disastrous set of policies for unionism, resulting in ground being lost at every turn.””

    Agreed, and a liberal union party will seek to moderate such messages, thus adding weight to the maintenance of (a reforming and soft) union.

    Barney

    “”Unionism has a chance to reflect on the optimum solution for this island and they will surely reflect that partition does not help and the existing republic is not so threatening after all””

    Some pro-union people can think for themselves. My opiniion, which i’m heartened to say others with substance seem to be slowly articulating slightly more, is a liberal union mindset reflects that the union with GB, if liberalised to implicitly reflect mainland GB liberal values, is the best way forward for a cross community NI, cherishing Irish, British and Northern Irish and everyone else within its border. This will also include good and practical relationships with the South, as well as the same with mainland GB.. Although lib union people want to change things, we still believe in the union as the cornerstone vehicle for liberialism and diversity, and this doesn’t change.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    @Carl Marks,

    There is a lot of room and options between “no surrender” and unconditional surrender. This is illustrated by the accommodations made by the UUP under Trimble in the GFA. Unionists can also adopt a number of Alliance policies (aping the Shinners by shamelessly plagiarizing another party’s policies) such as the flag compromise. I would expect that this is what a LUP would do if it ever got started.

    @Barney T,

    Having a unionist policy of giving up the union is like having a nationalist policy of abandoning the nation. You are arguing that the unionists in the North should behave like Protestants in the Republic. Why? They are in a different situation. The nationalists in the North haven’t even acted like the Protestants in the Republic. Isn’t it rather hypocritical to advocate for someone else to do what you are unwilling to do? If border polls register that there is likely to be a vote to change the constitutional status of the Six Counties, then unionists will have plenty of time to begin to adapt and change.

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    “Unionism has a chance to reflect on the optimum solution for this island and they will surely reflect that partition does not help and the existing republic is not so threatening after all.”

    Unionism has traditionally believed that the optimum solution for ‘them’ is a partitioned Ireland with ‘them’ in control of the northern part. Those who finally graduated from the Sunningdale School of Slow Learners finally came to realise that this was not the optimum solution but rather one that palced Northern Ireland within the UK and governed under the terms of the GFA. Of course there are those who have not yet graduated (I saw some of them last night whilst driving home – they were standing in the cold and dark in the middle of a small roundabout with the rain pouring down while decked out in anoraks and Union Flags looking a sad, sorry and miserable sight – what’s it all about?) who still believe that a return to the Orange state is still the optimum solution for ‘them’.

    For me the optimum solution for all is a Northern Ireland firmly within the Union but where the border is nothing more than a political/administrative line on a map and where North / South relations and opportunities are maximised. More North South bodies with executive powers, more cross border co-operation, provision for the use of both currencies in both jurisdictions, the Assembly sitting in Leinster House one week in the year, shared services in border areas, investment in better North/South transport links, single entity markets where appropriate e.g. tourism, energy etc.

    Of course this is not a solution which unionism has even been comfortable with and given the events of the last two months will likely ever be. This is why we need a pro-union party (not a moderate union party) which promotes the union with GB as the solution. Pro-union, not unionist (please God, not another unionist party). A pro-union party that doesn’t engage in foolish talk of border polls but which is determined to create the circumstances where no one (other than Gerry and other dreaming old men) talks of border polls or calls for them. Red Lion uses the word ‘union party’ carefully I think. Where others say unionist, Red Lion wisely says union. I would suggest pro-union but the aim is the same.

  • Comrade Stalin

    In the early days of the GFA the designation system mostly suited Sinn Féin. Now, ironically, it suits the DUP just as much and indeed the DUP have deployed the petition of concern mechanism in an abusive fashion on several occasions lately, most recently over the marriage equality debate.

  • otto

    “Although lib union people want to change things, we still believe in the union as the cornerstone vehicle for liberialism and diversity, and this doesn’t change.”

    Why not?

    The GFA already secures the place of NI within the union. No party can do more so why make a point of it?

    The Tories, Liberals and Labour don’t make support for leaving or staying in the EU a condition of membership. Why do you need to?

    What if a centre-right nationalist from Cookstown wants to join your make-the-best-of-now party? Will you politely direct her to the SDLP?

  • Red Lion

    I just re-read my post above and I could certainly make more use of the occasional full stop.

    Otto, in the first instance lib union people will be making a point of their vision for the union so as to draw the disticntion between that, and the DUP/UUP insular mentality. I’d imagine that in time, as support grows, a lib union version will speak for itself and become more implicit and won’t need to be referred to reguarly, it will just be.

    Our constitutional non-tribal stance will only be a small part of the movement, but it will be a guiding principle that informs bread and butter and shared future policies.

    In my opinion a lib union party can encompass shades of opinion from centre left to centre right. Not sure why the reference to Cookstown, being from Cookstown won’t bar you from joining the party. But if you can’t see a place for the union long term then its highly unlikely you belong in a pro-union party. As with all parties, there will be a parameter of principles prospective members should be able to reconcile themselves to, and being pro-union, though again a reformed non-tribal union, has to be one of them . Such a union is to be championed and to be proud of. Not like the way the DUP/UUP define it which is at best embarrasing.

    I refer to ‘the union’. Such a term if you wish, could be interchangeable with ‘Northern Ireland’.

    Not Now John – yes the term ‘unionist’ has become somewhat toxic and offputting, especially in terms of a non-tribal membership and vote. Pro-union has wider appeal i feel, certainly to the nontribal middle ground.