How implausible is stable agreement?

Brian Feeney in the Sunday Business Post picks up on the figures in the election and wonders since the so-called ‘moderates’ made heims of working together, why should we believe Sinn Fein and the DUP can do what Trimble and Mallon could not?

When David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were First and Deputy First Ministers it was difficult enough to get them to agree on anything, even down to the design of number plates for Northern registered cars. They operated from opposite ends of the huge Stormont building and communicated as little as possible.

How much more improbable will communication, let alone agreement be between the putative First and Deputy First Ministers, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness? The assembly operates on cross-community consensus. However, the election results mean that the DUP and Sinn Fein control their respective community assent.

Either of them can veto any important matter affecting society in the North. In the first assembly in 1998 the SDLP needed the cooperation of Sinn Fein to exercise that power. Back then the UUP also fell short of complete control of unionist assent. It’s all different now with the DUP and SF ruling the roost. How will an assembly work with two parties, whose leaders do not speak to each other, controlling its business?

The answer is, there is no answer: until they actually do something. However circumstances have changed since we last had a real legislative Assembly in October 2002.

There is no one to the right of these two parties, so there is, perhaps, less need to indulge in regressive symbolic gestures. One suspects that if the Iterative Prisoners Dilemma rules hold between what increasingly Northern Ireland’s two monoliths, the battlegrounds will be over real and substantive issues, rather than fake signals to the base that they are not really going soft on the other. Which should leave them emotionally available to one another to strike deals, where deals are mutually desirable.

For all that it sounds negative, the best chance of this working lies in the fact that both of these parties are alert to the perils of the Sucker’s Payoff.

  • Nevin

    Heims? Perhaps we could have ‘making a hains of it’ to update the earlier hames.

  • Baudrillard

    Interesting brain-melting BBC2 documentary by Adam Curtis this week (The Trap) – that seems to be suggesting the theory behind the Prisoner’s Dilemma game has distorted how we view political relationships.

    Surely Northern Ireland politics demonstrates that cynical political relationships were around long before the eggheads at the Rand Corporation started messing with us.

    (Still – well worth checking out part two on Sunday.)

  • The Dubliner

    You know you’re screwed when you have to apply game theory to predict whether the assembly executive will produce mutually optimum outcomes. Iterated prisoner’s dilemma, by the way, only applies to two players where the dynamics are linear (all inputs and outputs are consistent and predictable). If you apply game theory, then zero-sum games remain a closer fit in that the actual game is the constitutional issue and the actual outcome is win/lose, despite the attempts of ‘players’ in the zero-sum game wishing to gain strategic advantage by fooling the other players into thinking that they are playing a non-zero sum game.

    Why not abandon the assembly and decide local political issues by the device of painting numbers to represent policy options on the surface of a rat cage, and civil servants to observe which number the rat rests upon, thereby selecting the applicable policy? Folks could even elect the rats if they feel that they simply must have an input into such matters – and it would certainly be better than the expensive padded playpen the British taxpayer has constructed for the north’s kindergarten politicians and the deranged vista of Europe’s biggest bigot and Europe’s biggest terrorist working in perfect harmony to secure a society better than the one they spent their respective worthless lives’ destroying.

  • knoxie

    The leming like rush to the extremes in this election would be disheartening except for one thing AmI beginning to witness the start of a process of partisan re-alignment across the sectarian divide?
    The SDLP disenchanted have taken a leap in the dark and transferred to the Alliance Party and the disenchanted Ulster Unionists have bitten the bullet and voted tactically for the SDLP
    What remains to be seen is if the leadership of these two parties acknowledge this shift and begin to transform themselves into consensual political parties that can attract allegiance across the divide or as I suspect, will they continue to lament that SF and the Dup have “stolen their robes”? The case for a strong centrist party grows stronger week by week

  • Yokel

    Since when has this been about stable government?