Alliance P&J and Westminster

David Ford the Alliance leader has two articles in the News Letter today: On the topic of taking the Justice ministry:

“There are real issues about ensuring that, whoever is Justice Minister, difficult decisions can be taken.

Look at what’s happening to education at the moment.

We need to ensure that any structures which would see justice devolved don’t get held up on the kind of inter-party fighting which is currently meaning that nine and 10-year-old children are suffering and not sure what the way ahead is for them.”“I think it’s absolutely vital that before there would be any question of devolving justice we must ensure that whoever is Justice Minister has the power to take difficult decisions and deal with awkward issues as they arise – even if other people aren’t terribly happy about it.

It would be absolutely inconceivable to have difficult justice issues held up because of the kind of row that we’ve seen over everything from rural planning to education to the national sports stadium.”

And, he adds: “I can assure your readers that there is no question of any Alliance person acting as a puppet.

A year ago, that was what was on offer – the opportunity to be a puppet – and we made it fairly clear then that we would not be providing a puppet.”

P&J will not be like Education in that the reason for the education problem is centrally the legal guarantee which the DUP received at St Andrews on which they will not move combined with Ruane’s complete refusal to accept that she cannot get round it: such a situation is unlikely over P&J for the simple reason that there is no comparable legal guarantee and of course it is unlikely that any possible Alliance P&J minister would behave in the same manner as Ruane.

The rows over the Maze, rural planning and such like are, however, a little more difficult to avoid. In part they would depend on how autonomous the Alliance Party manages to make the P&J minister and indeed how autonomous Sinn Fein and the DUP allow him or her to be. Ford’s comments above are probably one salvo in trying to ensure maximum autonomy. However, no amount of autonomy will avoid endless rows within the executive and the mutual veto although it can be bypassed for very minor things and also does not prevent negative action (stopping things like the 11 plus) it does function on any positive new ideas which Alliance might bring forward.

Alliance is of course likely to want to bring forward new plans to show how good the minister is at his / her job. If any of the minister’s proposals end up coming before the assembly for approval there is the danger that they will again be defeated by the mutual veto. Also many supposedly middle of the road or compromise suggestions could well end up antagonising both sides and hence, be thrown out by both unionists and nationalsists.

There may well be some things which a putative Alliance minister could do without reference to the rest of the executive or the assembly. However, as I mentioned above those would often be negative actions. In addition if the minister acts without reference to anyone else they are in danger of them being accused of exercising their power in an arbitrary fashion: something which Alliance have previously criticised the other parties for doing.

There is of course the additional problem that Alliance has made much of its opposition status and yet taking a ministry, especially in the circumstances of being gifted it by SF and the DUP, does somewhat undermine their oppositional credentials. Considering how Alliance will have obtained this ministry they will surely have much less credibility as an opposition than the UUP and SDLP currently have.

In light of all that one might suggest that Alliance would be wiser to stay out of the P&J ministry. However, in Ford’s other article he talks up his electoral chances and according to the News Letter: “Mr Ford says that he believed the next election will see marked differences, with voters backing politicians who have delivered rather than ‘flag-wavers’.” For Ford to refuse Alliance taking P&J would sit very poorly with an electoral strategy of “delivery.”

At the moment then it seems likely that Alliance will take the P&J ministry provided they can get a remotely reasonable deal (incidentally I suspect it will have to be Ford to leave Long open to run for East Belfast: of which more later). They seem to calculate that this is the best option for them and in view of Ford’s comments on his party’s electoral chances he seems to think that that will maximise their future vote. However, this is by no means clear. As mentioned earlier all the parties other than the DUP and SF have repeatedly complained about the executive and tried to portray themselves as in opposition: in part to tap into the NI public’s dissatisfaction regarding Stormont and in part to tap into the general disillusionment with politics in the wake of the expenses and double jobbing scandals. Naomi Long has already mildly shot herself in the foot by becoming Lord Mayor at the same time as being an MLA and if Ford adds being a part of the executive to Long’s bit of double jobbing that may do Alliance a little harm: not much but it might be enough to invalidate Ford’s pretensions to taking Westminster seats.

Ford claims “I think for the first time in several Westminster elections, we’re now seriously in contention in a number of constituencies and that’s a sign of the general upswing in Alliance generally, as much as it is about splits within unionism.

Based on European results, we are, at the very least, in serious contention in North Down and East Belfast.”

His optimism on Alliance’s vote stems from their “.. second best ever vote in a European election. Our vote was up compared to the Assembly election two years ago and recent experience has been that we have done significantly worse in European elections than our general run in the polls or in other elections.” However, the very low turn out is more likely to have helped than hindered Alliance’s vote this time and the only way in which Alliance can have a chance in either East Belfast or North Down is if there is major unionist vote splitting.

East Belfast could fall to Long especially if the DUP run someone other than Robinson (as seems likely), if the UUP run someone other than Empey and if the TUV run a good candidate. That is a possible option but would require each of the pieces of Alliance’s jigsaw to fall into place. In addition during any campaign Long would be very vulnerable to the multi jobbing jibe.

North Down is also a possibility but again that would essentially depend on all three unionist parties running a good candidate and Sylvia Hermon running. Hermon running as an independent would, however, be likely to attract a considerable number of Alliance votes and as such an Alliance victory seems less likely. Equally if Alliance could capture North Down it is possible with North Down’s tendency to back non mainstream candidates that Alliance could then hold the seat for more than one election.

Overall then Alliance does stand on the brink of some modest success: in the P&J ministry and possibly in future Westminster elections. However, in all this they are in danger: they will only gain P&J if the DUP (and SF) allow them and will only gain in Westminster if the unionist vote shreds. Such potential for success does somewhat reinforce the impression that Alliance are in essence unionist-lite.

A last thought: is it possible that Robinson will refuse to give in to any of Ford’s demands on the P&J ministry in order to ensure that it is not devolved? That would prevent him from having to face the backlash from the TUV (and UUP) and would also provide semi plausible deniability of responsibility allowing him to tell the British government and SF that he had not reneged on any commitments he may or may not have given. Just a thought?

  • cynic

    Alliance not puppets if they take the MoJ post? Why else would they be alolowed to?

    Alliance seriously in contention in North Down. Only if Slyvia defects to them.

    Oh yes…its the silly seasons again isnt it.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Wee Davey is some jumped up fecker.

    He only get to the party becuase someone has dropped out and he’s no sooner in the door than he’s ordering the hosts around.

  • otto

    Looks more like he’s been asked to host the party and he’s setting down some reasonable house rules.

    If the other parties don’t like that just re-run the d’hondt round and see who asks for it first.

  • drumlins rock

    umm that would make it a UUP post then Otto, as the deal is neither the DUP or SF will take it, UUP is next in line, happy enough there?
    Actually I’m almost looking forward to Alliance taking on the role,will it be the first time ever thay have had any real responibility?, there is enough posion in that chalice to polute the Atlantic Ocean, and can you picture wee David dealing with riots and dissidents?

  • Electoral success is an Alliance wet dream and nothing more.

    Polling 9440 votes fewer than in 2007 is hardly a recipe for for a landslide in the future now is it?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Turgon,

    you final thought will certainly enter Robbo’s head as I have little doubt that DUP are not moving on P an J entirely voluntarily and if the treasury supply the readies(which I guess they will) then Wee Davy could be next in line as an excuse.

    But surely Wee Davy is speaking already from some sort of position of knowledge and his tough talking is on the basis of what he thinks is in the bag already ie agreed in outline with SF and the DUP.

    But if Wee Davey has, as I suggeted (lightheartedly) above lost the run of himself and Stormo fell because Alliance wouldnt play the white man – as in the white between green and orange – then Alliance could forget about any potential electoral growth as their moment of glory, would be seen by most, to have been turned voluntairly into a moment of madenss.

  • YelloSmurf

    I still have serious reservations about Alliance taking the Justice job. Why would we want to be part of an executive which is a complete and utter failure? On the other hand the electorate may not see it like that.

    In terms of electoral sucess, East Belfast seems to be acheivable on the European tallies. This would be a mixed blessing. I’d like to have NL as my MP, and I think that she would bwe absolutly fantastic at Westminster. However, we would lose our strongest MLA at Stormont, leaving us a bit bereft.

    As far as North Down goes, not a chance. Lady Sylvia has a massive personal vote, including a large number of Alliance voters. It won’t happen

  • Turgon

    YelloSmurf,
    I am inclined to agree that East Belfast offers Alliance a higher chance than North Down. However, the unionist vote would have to fracture very badly for Long to win.

    Clearly this could happen and the big names of Robinson (and possibly Empey) not standing would help Long’s cause. If that happened and the TUV ran a good candidate then yes it is a possibility, but still unlikely.

    The other issue we have not factored in is the importance of turn out:

    Europe 2009 38.82%

    Westminster 2005 58%

    It is also a reasonable guess that Alliance voters are more likely to turn out.

    So it is possible but pretty doubtful that Long can take the seat. I am sure she will try hard but so will everyone else: this will be the first time since 1979 that East Belfast will be anything other than a walk over.

    Overall I would suggest that a Long victory is less likely than any other party (DUP, UUP, TUV) winning.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    YellowSmurf,

    re. ” Why would we want to be part of an executive which is a complete and utter failure?”

    Thats like a fireman asking why he should go into a house to put out a fire”

    The Alliance should be part of an executive in order to make it WORK – that’s presumably why they became politicans in the first place.

    RE. North Down is herself definitely leaving the UU/Tory crypto party?

  • Drumlins Rock

    dont think even she knows that sammy, if she was on board then she should walk it, if she jumps ship its opens things up, its not easy campaigning as an independant, and it depends on the other candidates obiviously, could be an interesting election where everyone will watch North Down and North Antrim, and miss whats gonig on elsewhere.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The possibility of Hermon joining Alliance is so remote that it’s not worth discussing. Which is a shame, as I have a great deal of respect for her, but I don’t think it is a relationship which would work for either side. Hermon’s support for New Labour and 42 days is something which would be tolerable to many in Alliance. Furthermore, Hermon’s identity is very much that of a unionist, which again is not Alliance. I guess the question will be whether or not the party field a candidate against her in North Down in the Westminster elections, should she choose to run independently. My instinct is that the party should always offer the choice, but there may be other local matters to contend with.

    Sammy:

    He only get to the party becuase someone has dropped out

    Dropped out ? You make it sound like someone said “cheers lads, but I don’t really fancy the P+J seat”. You’re such a joker.

    The reality is that the SDLP and UUP are being systematically excluded from the post. The DUP and SF will not nominate each other. That’s not a dropout, that’s a stalemate, to which only Alliance hold the key.

    and he’s no sooner in the door than he’s ordering the hosts around.

    Better start getting used to it. The failure of the DUP/SF axis to have a plan B for devolution of these powers will come with a heavy price, and I would expect Alliance to squeeze them until their pips squeak for that failure.

    you final thought will certainly enter Robbo’s head as I have little doubt that DUP are not moving on P an J entirely voluntarily

    If the DUP did not want a deal, then there would be no deal. And if the DUP consider that a deal would help Allister to any significant degree, they would immediately scupper it, even if it would hurt them. Remember – unionists are not rational.

    and if the treasury supply the readies(which I guess they will) then Wee Davy could be next in line as an excuse.

    It’s going to be a necessary prerequisite that the treasury supply the right level of funding to make this work, because the incoming minister does not want to walk into office and have to preside over cuts.

    Personally as an Alliance supporter I am ready to see a deal being done – at the right price – where the party take the ministry. However, as far as I am aware, no internal decision has been taken on the matter and I don’t suspect will happen until the leadership can present the party executive/council with a deal.

    But surely Wee Davy is speaking already from some sort of position of knowledge and his tough talking is on the basis of what he thinks is in the bag already ie agreed in outline with SF and the DUP.

    Neither SF nor the DUP have formally approached Alliance about this, although I would guess they have probably made informal approaches. I would expect the decision will at the very least need to be put to the party executive, if not the council.

    But if Wee Davey has, as I suggeted (lightheartedly) above lost the run of himself and Stormo fell because Alliance wouldnt play the white man – as in the white between green and orange – then Alliance could forget about any potential electoral growth as their moment of glory, would be seen by most, to have been turned voluntairly into a moment of madenss.

    I’m not even faintly worried about Alliance taking the blame for the collapse of the executive. Alliance has already presented several proposals to strengthen the executive against collapse and they’ve all been rejected. Moreover, the fact that a party with a small, albeit growing, proportion of the vote, are even being asked to do this already shows a failure of leadership within the executive parties, and that’s whether Alliance accept the seat or not. Alliance can’t force the tribes to agree, and anyone who believes otherwise is frankly wrong.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    DR,

    if the Alliance do their National duty then I wonder will that colour her view of them ?

    ps Either way I hope she joins them as it would be a kick up the Tories arse after much patronising and lecturing of the natives they will have reduced the UU to zero MPs.

  • Comrade Stalin

    re. ” Why would we want to be part of an executive which is a complete and utter failure?”

    Thats like a fireman asking why he should go into a house to put out a fire”

    The Alliance should be part of an executive in order to make it WORK – that’s presumably why they became politicans in the first place.

    Yello Smurf, Sammy,

    Actually I agree with Sammy here. As a senior Alliance person said to me a while ago, you don’t get into politics in order not to do stuff.

    It’s ironic to hear you saying that Sammy, since you keep threatening that SF will walk out if the executive collapses. That’s not making things work.

    RE. North Down is herself definitely leaving the UU/Tory crypto party?

    I don’t see how she can stay in it, and ordinarily, making a remark against the party during an election campaign in the way that she did recently would normally be expected to see a person subject to disciplinary action. My guess is that she’s run as an independent, and unlike Drumlin’s Rock I think that running as an independent against a failed ascendancy party a la Martin Bell could well work out for her.

  • Gagging for a renewed IRA campaign

    Turgs,

    Why did Allister bottle the Ballymoney by-election? I thought that he “wasn’t one to run away from such opportunities”?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    CS,

    thats a distinct and welcome shift in your previous position that the DUP were not under pressure to move on Police and Justice to the view that the DUP may not act rationally.

    Re. Wee Davey and the party of the muddle.

    You dont seem to realise that there was quite a bit of serious political unrest and violence leading up to the current settlement (the last and crucial piece of which is Police and Justice which is currently being implemented) and that it is inconcievable that a party like Alliance, which was formed because of the absence of agreement betwen the 2 communities could feck up a chance to bring that about because of some self-serving-esoteric-jibbber-jabber that no one could give a flying feck about.

    After Wee Davey calms himself down and thinks it all through I’m sure he’ll supply the necessaries.

  • Decent people vote Alliance

    [i]can you picture wee David dealing with riots and dissidents? [/i]

    Priceless. It’d be worth seeing P&J devolved just to see a former Home Counties social worker sticking it up to the likes of eírígí, the Contos agus t’others

  • Comrade Stalin

    thats a distinct and welcome shift in your previous position that the DUP were not under pressure to move on Police and Justice

    I’m wondering what made you think that. I’ve never been of the view that the DUP are under pressure to shift on this matter, and I’m still not.

    to the view that the DUP may not act rationally.

    These are not mutually exclusive observations. The unionists have never acted rationally at any time during the past 100 years. They haven’t changed in that respect, and if they can get a short term benefit for a long term loss by torpedoing the assembly, they’ll do it.

    You dont seem to realise that there was quite a bit of serious political unrest and violence leading up to the current settlement (the last and crucial piece of which is Police and Justice which is currently being implemented)

    I’m not clear about why you think that the police and justice arrangements currently being implemented have anything to do with preventing further violence. The DUP exercise a veto over the matter which can be used to ensure that no nationalists or republican will ever get the seat. Of course, that matter works both ways, but considering that it is republicans who are especially worked up about this matter and not unionists, it is surely of greater disadvantage to the nationalist side.

    If you’re threatening the return to violence over the exclusion of nationalists, surely the setup which is being agreed by Sinn Fein will increase that likelihood ?

    and that it is inconcievable that a party like Alliance, which was formed because of the absence of agreement betwen the 2 communities

    That’s not why Alliance was formed. Another strawman bites the dust.

    could feck up a chance to bring that about because of some self-serving-esoteric-jibbber-jabber that no one could give a flying feck about.

    It must really piss you off that Alliance are likely to get the seat and, barring accidents, are likely to hold onto it for quite some time. And not only that, they’re going to do so with the full endorsement of your party leader. It’s Alliance’s principles which make this possible and you know it.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “We need to ensure that any structures which would see justice devolved don’t get held up on the kind of inter-party fighting which is currently meaning that nine and 10-year-old children are suffering and not sure what the way ahead is for them.”

    No we wouldn’t Mr Ford, certainly where a couple of wee youngsters might be forced out of their home,country and education system because of the “apathy” or “downright fraud and corruption” because of the system of “government” within Northern Ireland.

    That would be a damning indictment of the Alliance et al wouldn’t it?

    What was that campaign…?

    Oh yeah “Why can’t it be like this all of the time?”

    False advertising?

  • united Irishman

    I have just joined so am new to these discussions.

    I must say I find it all a bit futile.

    Even thought these discussions are clearly between some obviously gifted people – its all a bit like – very intelligent people re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic – but they all lack the basic common sense to realise their ultimate fate – a bit like the people who run banking.

    You all need to waken up – smell the coffee and move the discussion on to where it should be – How do we achieve an Ireland united for the benifit of all.