No matter who you vote for, you always get the government…

AFTER reading some of your comments here – in my thread based on the UUP and SDLP never going into opposition – I remembered the following quote I read a while back in the Tele’s Insider: “The one basic fact about democracy, surely, is that you can get rid of your government if you don’t like them.” After today’s revelations, it won’t surprise you to find out who said it and why your bullshit-o-meter is in the red, so try and guess who said it before you Google!

  • Pete Baker

    Gonzo

    Regardless of which way the parties designate themselves – and the Green/Alliance/etc will still be regarded as ‘Other’ by the speaker and the Assembly, it being essentially a gimmick – the point remains that we do not have the opportunity to vote “a government” out of office.

    Basic fact – lack of democratic politics.

    I’m assuming that was your point, btw.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    It’s only a gimmick if you think being labelled as ‘other’ isn’t demeaning and deserves to be challenged, but yes, you seem to have grasped the essential point.

    Ironically, while the current Speaker may – for the purpose of the existing rules – have to regard Alliance as ‘other’, she herself is signed in as something else.

  • Pete Baker

    Gonzo

    Challenging it is one thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that unless there is conformity with the definition of what constitutes a ‘political party’ the effect within the Assembly is non-existant.

    And while ‘gimmick’ may seem a derogatory label it’s not intended to be so.. but it does indicate the effect, or lack of it, of such a registration.

    If, however, any resultant group can start to exert pressure for a change in the registration procedure..

  • michael

    the point remains that we do not have the opportunity to vote “a government” out of office.

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by government, but i fail to see why a party in a parliament should gain total control of the executive base soley on its being the biggest.

    perhaps somone will offer some comprehensive arguements…

  • Pete Baker

    In case you missed it michael, that comment was in response to the quote in the original post

    “The one basic fact about democracy, surely, is that you can get rid of your government if you don’t like them.”

  • Rubicon

    In my view this is the core weakness of the GFA. Democracy is founded on 3 plinths – the Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary. Of these 3 the Parliament is prime – it passes the laws the Executive proposes and the judiciary enforces.

    In all democracies this ideal is imperfect – the links and dependences between Parliament and Executive are close and undermine the notion of “separation of powers”. This is made most clear in GB when the government holds a massive majority.

    In NI there is no need to question the independence of parliament falling foul of political fortune. The constitutional coalition required by the GFA fundamentally undermines the central plinth – THE legislature that passes legislation and holds the Executive to account is prohibited from doing so; e.g., committee scrutiny is undermined by party whips.

    There’s a lot of pain and talk about the concessions made to crime. It was painful for many (myself included) to support the GFA when it released paramilitaries. It offended my sense of justice and I didn’t believe undermining justice for political convenience would leave a system of justice in place.

    While concerned about this issue I took my eye off the ball. Many politicos applaud the GFA. It is a greater sacrifice than the release of paramilitaries. It fundamentally undermines the independence of the legislature.

    When Labour or the Tories gain massive majorities the broadsheets complain about the House of Commons being ineffective. Here in NI we’ve signed up to a system that doesn’t de-facto occasionally undermine parliament – it de-jure undermines parliament.

    If the Assembly is restored it will be soft democracy – not the real thing. Perhaps that is all NI is ready for right now.

    It’s not the DUP/SF disagreements that people need worry about. When the electorate cannot put the Executive out – nor can its parliament (Assembly). This fundamentally undermines democratic accountability.

    Politically, this may be the only way of moving forward. The one forgiving nature of this problem is that it can be changed once the electorate want it to be. For that to happen we’ll need political parties prepared to take a role in opposition rather than a ministerial limousine.

  • “The one basic fact about democracy, surely, is that you can get rid of your government if you don’t like them.”

    Haven’t a decade of elections under the current rules actually delivered a more dramatic shift in the composition of Government than fifty years of the old majoritarian system?

  • ben

    Rubicon’s points are well-taken, but I see things a little more optimistically. We cannot expect a conventional political structure to come into being ex nihilo in the extraordinarily unconventional place that is Norn Iron. Equally, I think it’s short-sighted to think the current divisions as having any permanence: DUP/SF as a bickering government, Green/Alliance/Ind as a token opposition of convenience, and UUP/SDLP as not having a ball but wanting to take it and go home anyway. How absurd these fault lines and their representation would have seemed ten years ago, and how absurd they will seem as the inevitability of politics begins to force people to adapt to a spectrum of practicality and policy.

  • Philip

    The D’Hondt method seems ok for allocating seats in committee but should there not a Constitution for Northern Ireland that sets out the constitutional position of the place: e.g. a referendum every 50 years or something. If this is done then the bread and butter issues can be discussed without recourse to tribal politics, in theory and only by this measure can a majority party rule with an official opposition.

  • Nevin

    “No matter who you vote for, you always get the government”

    Well, we voted in 2003 but we didn’t get a government :>)

  • Rubicon

    Philip – the GFA does provide for border poll referenda. Once a referedum is conducted another one cannot occur for 7 years.

  • Wilde Rover

    “Regardless of which way the parties designate themselves – and the Green/Alliance/etc will still be regarded as ‘Other’ by the speaker and the Assembly, it being essentially a gimmick”

    I must admit I’m still trying to get my head around all this.

    Is there anything to stop the United Community group from designating nationalist/unionist on a rotational basis, alternating every year?

    And if they could do this would they be entitled to a ministry then?

  • Rubicon

    WR – re-designating is now restricted. I think you can only do it once in any mandate.

    Community designation is not related to the ministerial nomination process. The former relates to cross-community voting. The latter is based on political party strength. So only if the 9 formed a single party would they gain a ministry – and only then if the grouping got more than half the first preference of the UUP.

  • Nevin

    A lesser aspect of government is the role of the House of Lords. In the reform debate in the Lords on March 12, David Trimble describes the formation of the NI senate.

  • Wilde Rover

    Ah. Thanks Rubicon