Eight points for the future

A sum-up from me on the very interesting threads following the European election.

1. Breast beating about party performances is inevitable, but take heart.

2. STV goes a long way to ensure that a multi-party system will survive.

3. The Assembly is much more than a political chess board. The TUV phenonemon, the surge of violent republicanism and persistent sectarian attacks are reminders that the political settlement is a guarantor of peace and stability that cannot rest on its laurels. People tend to pay more attention to what they see as the opposing threat, than to assurances from their own kind. This is one of the factors that increases tension and a harder line. DUP /Sinn Fein dominance has not closed this dialectic.

4. The Euro-election shows that contrary to many hopes, the parties of the opposite poles can be outflanked on the right.

5. The future trend for or against powersharing is unknown. A bigger turnout in subsequent elections may increase or reduce it.

6. Public opinion polling is needed on this, but almost certainly, the low turnout in the Euro poll suggests disenchantment with the Assembly is greater than a wish to destroy it. The parties therefore should not stand by passively. They should seize the initiative and pull together on essentials.

7. If you chose to look at politics differently, you will see that the sectarian competition fundamental to parties’ behaviour is largely irrelevant to coalition government. The checks, balances and equality laws of the system make it difficult to impossible to chalk up sectarian victories over housing allocation, industrial location etc. as in the bad old days, other than by blocking. This marginalisation may make the competition on identity politics all the fiercer.

8. With responsibility in government, the discourse needs to change. Yet sectarian politics remain a fact of life; the Assembly is not going to turn into one big Alliance party. The first big lesson that needs to be learned is that a willingness to take responsibility for even the toxic issues like culture, symbols and parades makes them more amenable to solutions, through deal-making. This means devolving justice and policing now, on the agreed terms. When will be a better time? The second lesson is that a more coherent, strategic and dynamic approach to government can produce win:win for both sides rather than zero sum, the victory for one side at the expense of the other. When did we last see the FM and DFM trumpet an Executive success together? Key issues like academic selection cut across sectarian lines and demand a different approach. The rise of TUV warns of a potential threat to the system. The crying need for good government offers a much bigger opportunity.

  • I totally agree with you about the threat of the TUV. It is potentially very destabilising. The chances are that Allister will be looking for opportunities to create constitutional crisis.

    Allister wont be there until 2011 but he will be omnipresent. That thought may actually concentrate the minds of those who wish to continue with sectarian approaches to politics.

  • fin

    “Yet sectarian politics remain a fact of life; the Assembly is not going to turn into one big Alliance party”

    does this statement imply that all other parties are sectarian? even the SDLP?

    when the Greens and Alliance were elminated in this election almost 19000 votes transferred to unionist parties.

    Possibly support for the Green and Alliance party is from unionists who don’t want to think themselves supporters of sectarian politics and so vote for ‘nice’ parties who they know will be elminated and their votes transferred to the party they really support ie the Alliance is a big sectarian condom.

  • Danny Boy

    A ‘big sectarian condom’ – wha?! Love it, want one, but don’t think I get it.

  • Greenflag

    BW ,

    Excellent summing up . And yes it’s up to the DUP and SF to make it work or else it’ll go the way of previous efforts .

    The jury is still out on either option at least this side of a general election .

  • New Blue

    John F. Kennedy:
    “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

  • Greenflag

    New blue ,

    A seemingly apt quote from JFK however there’s another one(quote ) out which may better reflect the spirit of these times more than in Kennedy’s day .

    The past is being revised and the present is turning upside down and as for the future ? well
    even the future ain’t what it used to be ‘

  • fin

    Danny the Alliance Party is a ‘big sectarian condom’ because a sizeable percentage of unionists wear it as their party of choice, knowing their candidate will be eliminated early doors and their 2nd preference vote for the DUP or UCUNF candidate is the one that’ll count. Ergo giving one to the nationalists.

    The SDLP on the other hand is ‘a big sectarian tease’ as nice unionists will give the SDLP their second preference after UCUNF knowing full well the poor stoop will be eliminated first.

  • Fin,

    Firstly, you deserve a prize for the invention of your metaphor. I got a great laugh out of that.

    “sectarian condom” is a little bit unfair on the Alliance voters. There is actually no way of telling their thought processes on casting their second preference votes.

    Your last point was unfair as well. I was one of those who did give Maginnis my 2nd pref vote after Nicholson. I didn’t think it likely that Nicholson would be eliminated but I did think it a possibility.

    On your last point No. 8, Brian, the election may be a wake-up call both for the DUP and Sinn Fein who, at the end of the day, represent the bulk of the Executive for the next 2 years. They have still got an opportunity to show what they can do for the greater good of NI. The big question is, will Jim Allister distract the DUP from doing what is right?

  • fin

    funny Symour I was thinking of you (in a manly way) when I was writting that and yes I did feel it was probably unfair to at least a % if not moreunionists who vote in a similar manner, likewise I know there are genuine Alliance voters out their, but I also believe they may be outnumbered by the Durex brigade.

    Although I do prefer Durex over Semtex as you don’t get blown up by a durex.

  • Junior Apparatchik


    On the contrary, I think there were a lot of natural Alliance supporters who voted Nicholson number one to ensure he was elected, recognising their own candidate had no chance. Likewise with Maginnis, who of course got more Alliance transfers than any other candidate according to Nick Whyte’s site.

    Again, your crusade collapses against the facts…

  • fin

    strange take on the voting pattern Junior, you imply that the Alliance vote is actually bigger than their first preference?

  • PACE Parent

    Seymour Major-you ask “will Jim Allister distract the DUP from doing what is right? ”

    Unfortunately you ask the right type of question but focus on the wrong party/individuals.

    The unanswered question has always been;

    “when will a voluntary coalition of parties willing to form a government and risk being rejected by the electorate take the place of guaranteed power bases to parties who have delivered nothing of substance to the electorate?”

    Your example of education, destroyed by imposed ideological diktat taken by the Minister of Education and unaccountable educationalists despite cross-community opposition is a case in point.

    Allister is a threat to the cozy, ineffective charade that the NIO run Assembly currently represents.

    His presence is and will be the effective morning after pill contraception compared to the thin,risky sectarian condom used by those with an urgency to lay their members on power.

    Only government with effective opposition can deliver what the majority of the electorate want.