Politics, what politics?

Eammon McCann has been running his eagle eye over the parties’ submissions to ‘the Economic Sub-Group of the Hain Assembly’s Preparation for Government Committee’. In terms of politics on a left right scale, he can only find a percentage point of a difference on the DUP’s and SF’s proposal to drop Corporation Tax. The differential has everything to do with competiting nationalism’s and nothing to do with deciding how to ‘run the country’. Shades of the Langhammer doctrine.

The overlap in the positions of the two parties seen as crucial to the re-formation of an Executive will have helped achieve unanimity in the drafting of the sub-group’s report. Whether the rank and file of the two parties is content with the report may be a different matter.

Perhaps differences emerged among MLAs on August 29th when the report was considered by the Preparation for Government Committee. Hard to say. The PfG Committee complained loudly a few weeks back about a lack of media interest in its proceedings. Then it conducted its debate on the economic report in secret. Hansard’s account reads: “It was agreed that the committee’s deliberations on the sub-group’s report would not be included in Hansard. The committee then considered the report.”

“Sources” have been quoted suggesting that Sinn Féin MLAs—despite two senior members of the party having signed off on the report—were unhappy at the vagueness of references to a “peace dividend.” One wonders whether this was the only source of unease in party ranks.

The documents aren’t formal statements of party policy, but submissions by pairs of MLAs to a sub-group of a committee of a suspended Assembly. But if they can be taken as indicating the broad thrust of party thinking —if they can not, the exercise has been a pointless charade—then the main ideological divide at Stormont on economic matters lies between the DUP, Sinn Féin and (insofar as it’s possible to tell) the UUP on the Right and the SDLP on the Left.

This is not to say that the SDLP is on the Left, but that, on this evidence, it’s to the Left of the Unionist parties and Sinn Féin.

The SDLP opens by suggesting a programme for Government based on “working with unions, business and the voluntary sector on a new basis of real social partnership.” Alone among the parties, it seems aware that there’s more to economics than tossing public money to plausible entrepreneurs. “The Government, the Public Sector, Trade Unions, Voluntary Sector and Public Representatives should combine in a working relationship.”

No other party envisages a role for trade unions or the voluntary sector in the formation of economic policy. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin mentions the existence of trade unions.