Opposition does exist, apparently..

Three wise monkeysInterestingly, it looks as if the BBC’s Mark Devenport might have been caught futuring somewhat in his earlier report on the longest day in the Assembly to date – the debate on the Programme for Government – although strictly speaking he may be correct that “‘opposition within’ [the Executive] at Stormont has receded.” [Adds That report has now been updated to remove the futuring]. But subsequent reports say that, although it was passed by a margin of 60-24 votes, the SDLP MLAs, with the exception of the the Executive’s Social Development minister, Margaret Ritchie, voted with the Alliance Party against the PfG. And now further reports speculate that the party intends to vote against the Budget tomorrow. Where now for those “problem parties”? And, via Mark in the comments zone, Alliance Party says – time to go.. Update On his blog, Mark Devenport acknowledges he “spoke too soon” – “So the civil war continues.”There’s one other point to note in Mark Devenport’s article [Adds Not in the updated text, which removed the futuring noted earlier]

Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson criticised the media for hankering after “the false paradigm” of a “real opposition”, arguing this was not the only way democracy could work.

She claimed a government truly in touch with the people could deliver real democracy.

It sounded a bit like “democratic centralism”, but then she has recently returned from Venezuela.

Ah, yes.. the media, again.. next thing you know they’ll be asking “stupid questions..”

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  • The alleged SDLP position is remeniscent of the Greens and the Lisbon Treaty in the South, except that then the party was trying to finesse a disagreement between party members and TDs. In this case it’s trying to make a distinction between the position of the SDLP’s MLAs and their Minister. That’s a finesse too far – if the SDLP opposes the budget, Ritchie should resign from her ministerial post. Given this would be a shame, the alternative is for the other SDLP MLAs to support the damn thing.

  • Jenny-

    “if the SDLP opposes the budget, Ritchie should resign from her ministerial post. Given this would be a shame, the alternative is for the other SDLP MLAs to support the damn thing.”

    Why? The SDLP has a seat in the Executive as of right. Unlike in the Republic, they are not there on account of having come to an agreement with other parties to form a government. On the contrary, they have a mandate to use the Executive in whatever way they see fit. There is nothing to say that they have to agree with the DUP/ SF axis. The benefit of having Margaret Ritchie in the Executive has been proven through her success in squeezing cash from her right-wing Executive colleagues for the building of social housing. Likewise, it is clear that the DUP/ SF wouldn’t have had the balls to deal with the loyalist funding issue. If she quit, then the axis would have free-reign to run riot. That’s clearly not in the interests of the people, so it is more beneficial for the SDLP to remain in the Executive as is their right, get what they can from it for the people, but ultimately call a spade a spade when push comes to shove.

  • Mark McGregor
  • Mark McGregor

    El Mat,

    Either Ritchie voted against SDLP position or lied about her true position. Hardly principled behaviour. And the equivalent of ‘sure she’s allowed to’ doesn’t make the position any less ridiculous and unprincipled.

  • El Matador – the SDLP is entitled to a seat on the Executive but that doesn’t mean they have to take it up. I agree that Ms Ritchie has done a good job, although I wonder how much of the ‘extra’ housing funding can be attributed to her – it’s the amount that’s needed to meet current social housing projections, so might well be a technocratic response to lobbying by the Housing Executive. My point, though, is that it’s inconsistent for a party to take up its place on the Executive and then vote against the budget outside it. It undermines Ritchie’s position in the Executive, because the implication is that she would have voted against it too if she had been able to. The SDLP needs to decided whether it’s in or out.

  • joeCanuck

    Much ado about nothing.
    It’s the very nature of the beast that’s been created.
    Some day soon, the UUP will also vote against a proposal brought forward by the Executive.
    Should the SDLP and the UUP both leave now and leave everything to les autres?

  • Mark McGregor

    Joe,

    I’d say at a minimum it has spent the SDLP’s negotiating capital at the executive table, if they are going to vote against things that provide for their key negotiating demands there is little incentive for the other parties to make any moves on their demands in future.

  • Elvis Parker

    Martina Anderson:
    – “claimed a government truly in touch with the people could deliver real democracy”
    I’m sure that’s just what Adolf said after he got elected in the 1930s

  • Bob Wilson

    El Mat:
    “The benefit of having Margaret Ritchie in the Executive has been proven through her success in squeezing cash from her right-wing Executive colleagues for the building of social housing.”
    What happens if Robbo et al and turn round and say “In light of the SDLPs duplicitious carrying on we’ve decided to amend the Budget and take away the money for social housing”?

    “the axis would have free-reign to run riot.” In a democracy you have to let the other lot ‘run riot’ then you propose an alternative.
    What the SDLP are doing is crazy and will simply give DUP/SF a reason to stitch her up.

  • Fair play to the SDLP! SF are voting for a budget that will end the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund and a budget that has no provision- because the DUP are openly against the idea- for an Irish Language Act.

  • I’d say at a minimum it has spent the SDLP’s negotiating capital at the executive table, if they are going to vote against things that provide for their key negotiating demands there is little incentive for the other parties to make any moves on their demands in future.

    Mark has succinctly pointed out why this tactic, although clever in the short term, actually makes the SDLP’s position untenable in the long term. I mean no disrespect for Margaret Ritchie, who has been the best performing Minister in the Executive, but as time goes on this undermine the very things Margaret is fighting for.

    It’s time for the SDLP to leave the Executive, and help construct an alternative government that can deliver a better future for the people of this society after the 2011 elections.

    For that matter, why did Basil McCrea and David Burnside vote for a Programme for Government that they clearly have little regard for? Not all the Ulster Unionists looked all that happy when walking through the pro-Executive lobbies this evening.

    The SDLP and UUP have a choice – be used as patsies by Paisley and McGuinness for four years or take the risk of ditching the trappings of office I’d say at a minimum it has spent the SDLP’s negotiating capital at the executive table, if they are going to vote against things that provide for their key negotiating demands there is little incentive for the other parties to make any moves on their demands in future.

    Oh, and while I’m at it, Martina Anderson is a laugh. The government can stay in touch with the people when the legislature consists of a bunch of pro-government sycophants? Idiotic! They tried that in the USSR with the popular input coming from “workers’ and peasants’ councils” (aka soviets). Didn’t work too well. Or maybe Martina thinks it did?

  • Pete Baker

    Bob

    “What happens if Robbo et al and turn round and say “In light of the SDLPs duplicitious carrying on we’ve decided to amend the Budget and take away the money for social housing”?”

    What happens, indeed? I’d be interested to hear the defense of any such decision.

    After all, it would appear to be the only possible punishment available to the administration..

  • Pete Baker

    Sammy

    “It’s time for the SDLP to leave the Executive, and help construct an alternative government that can deliver a better future for the people of this society after the 2011 elections.”

    Possibly.. but it only applies if there is an end to the current mandatory coalition.

    And we can vote the bastards out of office.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    The list of press releases on the Alliance website is laughable:

    *Alliance attacks SDLP and Sinn Fein on Public Accounts Committee decision.
    *Alliance Slams SDLP ‘Border Poll’ Proposal.
    *Alliance blasts UUP/SDLP ‘hypocrisy’ on Scottish anti-sectarian trips.
    *SDLP must clarify its rates proposals – Alliance.
    *Alliance slams SDLP for leaving future to the IRA.
    *Alliance slams SDLP man over use of racist term.
    *SDLP Position on Accountability Letting Down Nationalists says Alliance.
    *SDLP Defending Sectarian Carve-Up says Alliance.
    *SDLP Contributes to Sectarianism says Alliance.
    *Alliance slams SDLP hype over policing.

    Anyone would think that the SDLP are to blame for all of life’s woes. Nothing to do with wanting to steal their votes of course…. Bunch of watery liberal unionists.

  • Pete Baker

    And until we can vote the bastards out of office..

    The current political game is there to be played.

    As we’ve already seen..

  • The__Raven

    If we take out the “who-voted-for-who-voted-against” part out of it, I wouldn’t blame anyone for voting against it. The SDLP’s reasons as stated on one news report I saw, and indeed on one of the Beeb’s online reports actually make it quite clear.

    “They are citing issues like water reform, the lack of detail over the 11-plus replacement and the lack of a children’s fund.

    “By complaining, amongst other things, about what they term a “standstill” in health funding, they could potentially embarrass the Ulster Unionists who have pronounced the health settlement “as good as it gets”.”

    All politicking aside, this PfG is pretty much an unimaginative, lacklustre, and downright dull effort, and was, frankly, nothing more than we should have expected….from an unimaginative, lacklustre and downright dull bunch of elected representatives.

    C’mon folks – we should be demanding more.

  • Anyone would think that the SDLP are to blame for all of life’s woes. Nothing to do with wanting to steal their votes of course.

    Ach, now, 1967, stop being such a wet blouse, I’m sure if I searched through several years’ worth of press statements from the SDLP, I could find 10 attacking the Alliance Party.

    As for the vote business, what do you mean ‘steal’? Are they yours by right or something? Joe Boyle tried this “all Catholics should vote for me because I’m a Catholic” stunt in Strangford and it backfired badly. Youse really ought to have learned your lesson by now.

    Of course I want to gain votes from the SDLP and I presume most people in the SDLP want to gain votes from Alliance. That’s kind of a big part of this whole party politics stuff.

    And the boring unionist waffle just means “I can’t be bothered arguing about issues so I’ll just hurl an epithet”. And comes close to saying “don’t vote for that nasty Alliance Party because they’re all Jaffas – we’re good Taigs like you”. It’s lazy and undermines a lot of the good work people in the SDLP have been doing on constructing a shared future.

    Calling Alliance unionist is about as accurate as calling the SDLP socialist…

  • IJP

    Where to start…

    BBC NI

    For goodness’ sake, the story is not ‘more than 3/4 of Assembly members vote for spending plans’, it is that an Executive party voted against the Executive (and what’s more, these are policy plans).

    Jenny

    Morally, you’re probably right. But more relevantly, politically you’re absolutely right. It’s bad news for a party not to have a clear position. Half in, half out doesn’t work.

    Mark

    I don’t think the Alliance Party was really criticizing the SDLP position, but rather establishing that the logic of it is that it now withdraws from the Executive.

    I think ‘duplicitous’ is taking it a bit far, to be fair I think most SDLP folk I speak to were and are genuinely concerned about the PfG/Budget.

    The issue is, if I go to the polls and vote SDLP, what do I get – a party within or a party without? Such uncertainty rarely appeals to the Electorate.

    Bob

    Yes, I agree entirely that it further limits Ritchie’s bargaining power within the Executive.

    Joe

    I agree it’s probably a matter of time too – but what precisely is the difference between DUP/SF and UU/SDLP?

    The SDLP and Basil McCrea seem to be saying that they basically don’t have enough information to go on, and I’m sympathetic to that.

    But that is different from the Alliance Party, which says that the fundamentals of what is already there are on the wrong track. (That said, Basil may as well have been reading straight from the Alliance Party’s response to the PfG and Budget in his Assembly speech!)

    1967

    Yes, how dare those nasty Alliance types attack other parties? Liberals should be seen and not heard. Disgraceful.

    The Raven

    Well said.

  • nineteensixtyseven

    Sammy,

    It might be a bit more constructive if Alliance would start working with the SDLP a bit more rather than playing politics all the time.

  • J Kelly

    It seems to me that the SDLP who “were the architects of the agreement and the instituitions” are all for powersharing as long as they are in power.

  • Continental Drifter

    NINETEENetc

    Don’t be ignorant. Your selective memory says more about you than about Alliance or the SDLP.

    Alliance strongly backed Margaret Ritchie’s stance on ending paramilitary funding, worked strongly with the SDLP on ‘on-the-runs’, etc etc.

    Where Alliance disagree with the SDLP, they say so.

    It’s called democracy.

  • IJP before I even read 1967’s comment I was thinking to myself all the Alliance seem to do lately is bitch. Maybe I imagined it but I thought they used to have ideas.

    It’s really put me off voting for them; they just seem to be turning into another negative party more concerned with throwing insults at other parties than actually coming up with policies and ideas.

    Ultimately I don’t know if the UUP and SDLP are doing the right thing by hanging in there and making the best out of a bad situation (and a bad system) or whether they should go into opposition. As pointed out previously, they can’t really be a true opposition, in terms of providing an alternative government, as long as mandatory coalition is enforced at executive level.

  • URQUHART

    This doesn’t look good. If the party were unhappy with part sof the budget and PfG, surely abstaining from the vote would have made that point sufficiently?

    Voting against it leaves Ritchie, an excellent Minister, in a very preacrious position.

    As Mark McG says earlier, how does she avoid the accusation that she either voted for a budget that she didn’t support, or is out of step with her Party leader?

  • they just seem to be turning into another negative party more concerned with throwing insults at other parties than actually coming up with policies and ideas.

    Response to Programme for Government.

    2007 Manifesto.

    Just because Sammy Wilson and Martin McGuinness spend all day saying we’re negative doesn’t make it so.

    It might be a bit more constructive if Alliance would start working with the SDLP a bit more rather than playing politics all the time.

    We work with the SDLP quite a bit when there are issues of mutual agreement.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Elvis

    “I’m sure that’s just what Adolf said after he got elected in the 1930s.”

    Godwin’s Law.

    Now leave the building.

  • TKMAXX

    The SDLP position is another attempt at a short term win but without a long term strategy. The very people who advocated to vote against the programme of government are the same people who see their future in closer cooperation with the UUP. Unfortunately they have successfully broken any potential for that strategy to work by breaking ranks with the UUP who supported the SDLP Minister on CTI. Perhaps the SDLP should become the party of ourselves alone and Sinn Fein should become the SDLP. This is shambolic. Everyone else is at a crossroads and the SDLP is on a roundabout!