Two men facing similar fates…

In the Newsletter today, Liam Clarke makes an analogy between the language of two men apparently in peril of their political lives: Peter Hain and Ian Paisley Junior. Each, it would appear, have had a tendency to cut administrative corners. In Northern Ireland, that counted for little or nothing in Hain’s case, although now the chickens are coming home to roost. Both men are thick skinned enough to tough it out. But the sound in the background is the slow and stealthy withdrawal of party political cover. However more twists there are in this road for either man, each is increasingly on their own. By Liam Clarke

Peter Hain and Ian Paisley Junior were never soul mates, but they have sounded remarkably similar over the past few days.

After embarrassing disclosures of documents both politicians have been falling over themselves to apologise for the embarrassment to their parties. Both admit they haven’t handled things well but any actual wrong doing.

The curious thing is that when Hain was judicially reviewed and criticised for pulling political strings in Northern Ireland it never became a political issue in Britain. Seen from the Westminster village, a bit of jiggery pokery over issues like the Victims Commissioner doesn’t really count in this backwater of a place where the natives expect baksheesh and you give them what they want to get results. Even in Wales, where he was also Secretary of State, he got away with quite a lot.

In London different standards apply. The failure to declare campaign donations has had Gordon Brown distancing himself from Hain at a rate of knots.

“It was a mistake that was made. It was an incompetence that he has readily admitted to,” intoned the Prime Minister, hoping that the Electoral Commission would accept “that there was no corruption involved” and “be able to accept his apology.”

It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. But then neither was the DUP statement on Paisley’s lobbying Hain and other ministers on behalf of constituents, including the businessman Seymour Sweeney, when we all thought he was focused on larger constitutional and macroeconomic issues.

Northern Ireland didn’t get the £1 billion aid package the DUP and Sinn Fein had set their sights at St Andrews. Could the political favour bank that might have achieved it have been frittered away on pet projects like the future of the A26 road north of Ballymena, a grant for the North West 200, the fate of a spa resort and the Heritage Centre at the Giant’s Causeway?

Short of reading Tony Blair’s mind we will never know, but what is undeniable is that these constituency issues would normally have been the subject of bids under the block grant allocation, not privileged issues which are slipped up the queue.

It may never have been Paisley’s intention to use up political leverage to boost his standing in his own constituency. However, knowing the pragmatic way in which Hain and Blair handle negotiations with Northern Ireland parties, British ministers may well have regarded satisfying Paisly on these issues as the equivalent of slipping in a few private favours to the ruling family of some third world despotism in order to grease the wheels for a contract which is important to British interests.

Certainly the DUP weren’t praising Paisley’s ingenuity in introducing Seymour Sweeney’s plans for the Giant’s Causeway at the right psychological moment to get a result. “This issue was not part of the DUP’s negotiations … If it was raised on the margins it was done without the party’s knowledge or approval” it said in a statement.

Like Hain Paisley is being left on his own and doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

“Perhaps it wasn’t handled well” Paisley conceded to Stephen Nolan yesterday morning but added “I honestly think the vast majority, and probably your listeners, are switched off from this. This is not a hot topic as some people would like us to believe.”

Unfortuntely for Ian Junior his relationship with businessmen and his outspoken views on homosexuality are the first things that spring to mind when his name is mentioned. These should be private matters but the problem is that he keeps letting them slip into the public arena where they divert attention from his party’s successes.

He certainly has the ability to go far but if he is to fulfill his potential he will have to learn the art of diplomacy and tact.

This should have been the week to trumpet Peter Robinson’s coup at Stormont when he found enough funds to meet Margaret Ritchie’s housing budget. The cracks in the UUP /SDLP alliance against the DUP are already apparent. You can tell that marriage of convenience is on the rocks when Iris Robinson devotes large chunks of her News Letter column to quoting SDLP attacks on Michael McGimpsey’s handling of health spending.

I’d planned to write about that, but now there is no room.

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  • seanzmct

    Peter Hain and all previous Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland were free from the democratic constraint of having votes to win or lose for their parties in Northern Ireland. In Hain this vice-regal detachment from the democratic process merely encouraged a strain of inherent arrogance. He got used to cutting corners at Stormont and forgot to switch back into Westminster mode on the issue of his grandiose deputy-leader campaign and related expenses.

    Ian Paisley Jnr is also of a natively arrogant disposition and that arrogance has been fuelled by the fact of his being first in line in the Paisley dynasty. When he said that he merely “knew of” the ubiquitous developer Seymour Sweeney, when in fact he was a friend and fellow party member, he should have been history.

    We see in both these, and other instances of political sleaze in recent times, evidence of a contemporary malaise in party politics at the highest level- the clinging onto power by the discredited, at all costs, to the bitter end. Gone are the days of honourable resignation.

    If Hain and Paisley Jnr do eventually go then it will be on the basis of death by a thousand cuts, distracting attention away from the real issues in health,education and employment and dragging a stinking system even deeper into the mire.

  • Mick Fealty

    We should keep some of this in proportion. Neither, at this stage at least, is facing much other that fairly minor infringement of codes. Some of those codes (certainly in Hain’s case) are themselves suffering accusations that they are unclear and difficult to follow. But they were at least an attempt by politicians to clean up their collective acts.

  • methinks

    Mick,
    In the case of IPJ I disagree. He did much more than breach some code, he wasted the opportunity of major negotiations to extract more for NI, particularly unionism, by instead cashing in his chips to advance his pet projects. The timing and urgency of the PM’s positive response makes it clear his demands were tied into the negotiations.

  • I don’t agree with you, Mick, that Hain’s infringement was “fairly minor”. £100K is a lot of money and Hain, as a former Leader of the House no less, would (or should) have known the disclosure rules backwards. He is the sort of arrogant individual who believes the rules don’t apply to him as they apply to others. (£100K would run Slugger for quite a while.) So much we already know about Hain stinks eg the dubious “thinktank” that looks to have been a conduit for donations. Paisley Junior shows the same slapdash attitude. Both men seem to lack the high ethical standards that we are entitled to expect of those in public life. If either had integrity they would already have resigned.

  • dewi

    Mick – I know Slugger is wonderful but it is getting very difficult to keep up and hold down a day job. Have you considered imposing a Soviet style quota on your bloggers? Like maybe three a day? (Word on Hain is that he can’t afford to quit – owes 25 grand in loans and another 17 grand to party )

  • Billy

    “He (IPJ) certainly has the ability to go far”

    I wonder exactly what evidence Liam Clarke bases that ridiculous assertion on?

    The vast majority of people I know (including quite a few DUP voters) think that he’s nasty and arrogant.

    He is only in the position he’s in because of his father. When his father is replaced as leader (almost certainly by Robinson), I have no doubt you’ll see IPJ fade rather rapidly out of the picture.

    I may well not often agree with the likes of Robinson or Dodds but they are intelligent men and pragmatic politicians.

    It’s one thing for IPJ to be an embarassment here (which doesn’t get alot of coverage in the UK press). However, the new DUP leadership won’t want him embarssing them in the Westminster spotlight.

    I think he’s only got this far because of his father and in spite of his lack of ability which is all too apparent.

    I don’t think he has any chance of “going far” which I think we should all be thankful for.

  • seanzmct

    “He has the ability to go far”. He has already gone much too far and needs to be stopped before he makes an even greater mockery of what passes for democracy here.

  • joeCanuck

    Surely only one of them is thick skinned. The other is simply thick.