One bench fits all…

THE two big losers in the election campaign – the UUP and SDLP – have ruled out serving a spell in Opposition. Despite the opportunities it could offer both parties to regroup, it appears the lure of the ministerial limo is too much to pass up – though you could fit both parties’ ministers in a Mini after this election. If the two minor partners in the Executive are to be largely bound by the decisions of the SF-DUP, my guess is they will continue to appear relatively weak beside their political opponents.

  • Crataegus

    Poor call; short term gain over rides strategic long term positioning.

    Is there any hope for these Parties? They need to distance themselves from SF and the DUP and they need to be able to lay into them uninhibited when they(and they will) make mistakes.

  • Diluted Orange

    Why wouldn’t they want a spell in opposition?

    Why wouldn’t they want to articulate some sort of sensible arguments to the inevitable dribble that will come from the morons in a SF/DUP coalition?

    Why wouldn’t they want to express their views for the future of NI, taking the opportunity to air them in the best public opportunity there is. They might influence the electorate and get them to actually listen to their argument so that come the next election they might not be so utterly humiliated as they were this time? i.e. follow the way opposition parties work in other forms of government such as Westminster, etc.

    Answer: because they’re all money-grabbing low-lifes who’ll be happy to sit in a meaningless governmental position because the pay’s better and they can continue to fleece the tax-payer for 3 years after the whole damned experiment inevitably collapses AGAIN!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    There’s little strategic thinking in the UUP, which is unlikely to happen until it sorts out its internal structures. In the election campaign they simultaneously try to be both Alliance and the DUP, and all the while there is no obvious central control over the whole UUP beast.

    The DUP were able to play a kind of internal unionist opposition in the past, giving them the freedom to snipe away at the UUP. Now the UUP is binding itself in to the DUP and won’t be able to do the same, as it will be a weak Executive partner that can be bullied into whatever the DUP wants it to do.

    Hopefully, this marks the end of the UUP. It really needs to implode completely and quickly, rather than drag its slow, agonising death out over another five sorry years of looking pathetic. The only thing that can save the UUP is Paisley’s death and an internal DUP power struggle that splits the party.

    But Paisley might live a while longer (he has everlasting life, you know) and the handover to his successor might go more smoothly than we can guess at.

    One thing is clear; the UUP needs at least a stalking horse candidate to at least chip away at Reg in the next leadership election. Reg simply hasn’t the charisma or leadership qualities to unite his party, re-organise it and get the UUP voters out of the garden centre.

    Simply put; under Sir Reg, the UUP is a busted flush. Do the humane thing and put it out of its misery now.

  • Padraig

    “…sources at both parties…”

    Don’t you just love it? 😉

    BG, do you think that could be said of Mark Durkan as much as it does of Sir Reg?

    I fail to see how would a formal opposition stance be to the benefit of either the UUP or the SDLP? More ministerial seats? I don’t see how. Somebody please explain, as I fear I might be missing something here….

  • GavBelfast

    At the very least, they should be debating the issue seriously, within and with each other.

  • Ignited

    Decline to take your executive seats and let D’Hondt run through leaving the DUP and SF in government together.

    By this you are effectively putting yourself in opposition and can to some extent form a voluntary coalition against the DUP SF forced coalition.

    I believe this to be the only choice for the UUP and SDLP to make them relevant again. It would take some balls so therefore I don’t see Reg or Durkan going for it 😉

  • Smithsonian

    Surely going into opposition would make both parties irrelevant.

    Media focus in the future will undoubtedly go to the ministers – no media coverage, no party.

    Those calling for opposition presuppose that the DUP and SF will make a mess of things. This is by no means certain.

    A far better strategy is to try to make ago of it and if SF/DUP do make a mess, the UUP and SDLP are still in a position to say that they can do better.

    Both can provide oppostion through the committees and in public debate. Isn’t this the accountable government that the DUP have been insisting on.

    Finally, where is the pay back for opposition. The PR system and extensive vote management will ensure that there is little chance of a decisive change in government for many years (if ever). This is not a “first past the post” election.

  • willowfield

    UUP and SDLP should talk to each other and agree to form an unofficial opposition coalition, which – come the next election – would offer the voters a real choice: DUP/Provos or UUP/SDLP. Surely that would win a few more votes for the centre ground?

  • Crataegus


    If you are part of the Executive you are bound by its decisions. You cannot go around slagging off what everyone else is doing. With collective responsibility if someone makes a mistake in one department it is difficult for you to complain or raise merry hell. It would be unseemly for the minister in charge of Health to lay into the Minister for Education!

    Also because you are part of the Executive you are merged with the DUP and SF and that makes forming a clear separate identity more difficult and you add credibility to them both.

    Better to stay out and in that way force SF and the DUP into bed together and alone and wait for the inevitable.

    Revenge is a dish best served cold.

  • Crataegus


    You would have better opportunity at media coverage if outside, as you could attack all Ministries. So whilst the Minister will get coverage in the interests of impartiality on the BBC the opponent also does. In the Executive you only have one or two ministries.

    The second problem is your successes would be seen very much as collective successes and others failures would tar your reputation.

    Thirdly both these parties need a spell to reflect and regroup.

    The fundamental problem with your approach is you are putting yourself between two bodies that can barely bear to grunt at each other. The DUP don’t want to have anything to do with SF. It is a forced marriage. It is the sort of situation where the wise tend to get off side.

  • Inside or outside it dosnt matter, they will still be shouting from the sidelines.

    Cant see the situation getting any better for the SDLP with Sinn Féin in government both north and south.

    Come the next election the SDLP may find there is nowhere for them but the dugout.

  • Mick Fealty


    …would offer the voters a real choice: DUP/Provos or UUP/SDLP.

    Would it though? The rules won’t change if the two minor parties decline their seats. So the choice won’t be enforceable in any meaningful way, because the big boys cannot be excluded.

    Surely it’s a case of “taking either the horse nearest the stable door or none”, as Mr Hobson might have put it?

  • Perhaps there is a useful oppositional (profile building) role for Alliance+Green+Independent, with perhaps a division of labour and a de facto ‘shadow cabinet’ arrangement to be worked out if David Ford and Stephen Farry are up for it !

    Unlike the lazy opposition proposed by Bob McCartney, we’d offer a rigorous critique of the parties in power, exposing how they use the Executive to take up conflicting positions, in power and out of power.

  • Opposition

    Interesting to see how the whips undermined the theoretical opposition role that was supposed to have been played by the committee system in the last Assembly (with the odd honourable exception)

  • John East Belfast

    Adopting this Opposition stance is akin to not contesting seats at elections – it will only lead to further decline.

    As for Opposition there are multiple Oppositions because there are multiple ‘governments’

    ie the UUP take their two ministerial positions and show what a bloody good job they can do and their 16 back bench colleagues hold the other Ministers accountable.

    What is wrong with that ?

  • Elvis Parker

    The public will better understand the idea of Opposition parties and Govt parties

  • Spinster

    Going into opposition effectively neutralises the DUPSF violence/ civil disorder bluff, by offering a ‘centre’ government in waiting. UUPSDLP are too used to playing second fiddle to go for it.

    I like politics, it punishes stupidity.

  • Belfast Gonzo,

    You are quite right that UUP/SDLP opposition to the DUP/SF circus would be strategically the best thing to do, therefore it is unlikely to happen – particularly with a large trough at Stormont from which the Empey’s and Durkan’s can benefit.

    It is unfortunate that these minor parties recoil from the concept of relentless opposition, since that may be the only way they have of regaining any influence. But it would mean choosing to turn away the patronage and privilege of Ministerial Office, and that’s just not going to happen.

    Crataegus is quite correct in his comments, but again I feel this will fall on stony ground. Our politicians are too vain, too short-term and too well-paid to work the system to ever consider working in opposition to it.

  • Yokel

    Cowardly feckers.

    Having said that don’t rule out the UUP yet. What Reg & the Regites says now may well not hold.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    There is no doubt that an Alliance/UUP/SDLP opposition would scare the two big parties.

    For the DUP they would be isolated in Government with SF and would be seen as being their partners.

    For SF they would be seen as doing the DUP’s bidding as the junior partner.

    The other parties could show they can work together on almost everything except the border.

    But ego will not allow it, the UUP’s 2 seats and the SDLP’s 1 are seen as being essential to bolster the party leaders images. They are therefore putting their personal egos before their parties.

    I have no doubt Empey will have to go before another election he has been in office for 18 moths or more and is still talking about the changes he wants to make – what exactly has he been doing in that time. In the real world no one gets 18 months to talk about the changes without achieving anything except lose 6/9 seats.

    The UUP needs to start with a clean sheet with everyone resigning and start afresh nothing less than ‘New Unionism’ with a non sectarian base (no more orange hall meetings etc) to give them any chance of success in the future.

    I suspect the only viable option at present is Burnside, he egocentric and autocratic enough to make it work, as long as he stops looking for deals with the DUP and Conservatives etc. Would he do it? I suspect we may find out in the not too distant future as the knives are pulled from the sheaths.

  • Julian Robertson

    There are an awful lot of contentious decisions to be made and many will be unpopular – it’s part of what being a government is about. There is an opportunity here for the UUP and SDLP to tell the other two to get on with it and then act as a responsible opposition, holding them to account. If they go in and take their exec seats, who is going to provide any opposition or scrutiny, ask any hard questions?

    NI would be better served if the UUP and SDLP could forego sticking their noses in the trough for a while plus they have the chance to put clear water between themselves and their opponents for the next election.

    Does noone else think it all a bit strange that winners and losers all go into government together, implement the (in theory) agreed plan and then all have to defend the same actions come the next election?

    Who can we chuck out of government when we decide we don’t like what they have done? Hang on, I’m being silly, the next election will be “Vote DUP / SF to keep Martin / Ian out of the pole position” – now where have i heard that before?

    Can the UUP and SDLP not see the rerun coming?

  • The logic is in favour of the UUP (and SDLP) stepping back and letting the DUP and SF take responsibility for the gridlock that appears inevitable if the institutions go live again. However, when has logic or good sense played any role in politics. Form an orderly queue at the trough, lads (and, if you’re SDLP, lassies as well).

  • IJP


    Purely speaking for myself, but I can’t help noticing that the AP+GP+Ind opposition has a seat on all but one Committee.

    So your spokespeople (or “shadow cabinet”) are already essentially in place.

    It strikes me that that spread of “Centre Opposition” people on Committees is the real point of today’s deal.

  • jeep55

    Check out

    9 “United Community” Assembly members announce cooperation agreement

    Looks like the Alliance party backed by Kieran Deeny and Brian Wilson will be the opposition – or maybe we should call then the scrutineers.

    Dawn Purvis for speaker?

  • Inspector Clouseau

    A UUP/SDLP coalition may be strategically helpful for the minor parties to regroup.

    However the UUP would be open to the accusation that they went into goverment with SF before they deommissioned and supported the police and justice system but wouldn’t after they had, just because they did piss poor in the elections.

    Also it will take a helluva lot of spinning to make it look like the DUP actually consider SF as “partners in goverment”. The DUP were able to efficently run important departments when they were half in and half out of the last executive.

    Thirdly, if there is going to be restoration there is going to be a cash injection making the devolved goverment look good for considerable time to come.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Inspector C

    The UUP and the SDLP ‘lost’ the election it seems reasonable they should be in opposition, nothing to do with what they did before. It would be an honourable position, rare in NI of course.

    Doesn’t take any spininng as all ministerial decisions would now have to be agreed by a joint DUP/SF vote in cabinet therefore they would be in actual partnership. The DUP wanted cabinet government and that is what they have to live with. No fig leaves there I’m afraid.

  • Ian

    If the SDLP and UUP joined the Alliance in opposition then wouldn’t that scupper the plans to devolve justice by May 2008, since the DUP and SF wouldn’t command sufficient ‘cross-community confidence’ to take the post?

    Unless the Green MLA takes the post?

  • IJP

    Just re-reading…


    The UUP/SDLP going into opposition may or may not help them gain ground, but how would it help the Centre Ground?


    Can’t agree objectively that the UUs should get rid of Sir Reg. Where would AP be if we’d gotten rid of David F? Nowhere, that’s where.

    It is common for parties after a bad election to blame the Leader, as if a change of Leader will solve everything.

    Common, but wrong.