On the SDLP and ‘the government’…

Peter Robinson spent a fair amount of time on attacking the SDLP’s Assembly party for voting against the Programme for Government yesterday, suggesting as a party that was inside the Executive, it was “politics devoid of principle”. Although he also announced the formation of a Performance and Delivery Unit to police the performance of each Minister… There is also to be an Advisory Panel to bring in expert help, presumably from outside the Government to develop best practice across government.But are any of the parties in the Executive? Conspicuously, two party leaders have chosen not to join the Executive: Gerry Adams for Sinn Fein; and Mark Durkan for SDLP. No doubt, Durkan will have more to say in response to Robinson’s attack. But, setting the inevitable party political badinage to one side for a moment, there are some questions that might usefully be asked:

– are the parties as a body within the Assembly, actually obliged to endorse decisions made within the Executive?

– if yes, then we return to the question of whether the Assembly is genuinely a legislative Assembly, of a populous rubber stamping device for a four party politburo?

The least that can be said, is that the SDLP appears to have resiled to the only safe ground left them. Had Margaret Ritchie broken ranks on the budget, the Executive could have excluded her. The party in the Assembly is under no such obligation. And in order to carry a consistent opposition to elements of the budget, they are obliged, they may argue, to vote against it.

The party may hit some rough weather in the initial reaction to it, but it could give it the opportunity to stand back and criticise ‘the Government’, even as it technically sets them against their own Minister.

The joys of ‘Manditory Coalition’!!