Launching the Slugger O’Toole Politicial Awards 2009…

Today we launch the Slugger O’Toole Political Awards for 2009. After last year’s roaring success, this is looking like it’s going to be Slugger’s big annual social (we’re holding the awards night on the 24th November), and we’ll be publishing the award categories gradually over the next few weeks.

As with the 2008 awards, we are keen to retain an emphasis on positive strokes for our politicians. It’s not that they don’t need a damned good nip on the heels every now and again, it’s just that the public ‘carrot’ is, in these days of rampant cynicism regarding representative democracy, is as important, if not more, than the ‘stick’ .As was the case last year this depends on your input. There are no stuffy rules (besides the usual ‘play the ball’ one), no stuffy judges on a pompous panel, no stuffed shirts on the night, just politics and your commentary – lots of it.

From the obstructive trenches of daily politics, it’s not always easy to retain perspective: the very least we can say is that our current settlement is better than the (many) alternatives that went before them. We don’t kill over one hundred people each year any more, for instance.

At first glance, it may seem to have been a fairly unproductive year for Northern Ireland’s representative democracy – not least in the continued deadlock over policing, education, shared and better futre, the Maze and the lack of agreed flagship policies…

But there was a united response to the Masserene and Lurgan killings, they enabled UDA and UVF decommissioning, secured cross-party agreement on a new Chief Constable; and they responded swiftly to the downturn (only to discover the toolkit was empty); they paid out to wet flood sufferers swiftly and again to those experiencing fuel poverty (although a tad less swiftly); and even took a lead on MP / MLA double-jobbing and so on.

The health of politics here will also depend on active engagement from civic society. It’s not good enough for us to pat politicians on the back after each election and say ‘see you in four or five years time’.

Tomorrow’s Evolve event and the local dissemination of Jack McConnell’s experience, the Stratagem/CBI gig on 6 October (with Icelandic participation), and BMF’s seminar last week in Stormont on what the incoming Conservative government is likely to mean for us, in future all point to a new openness and a willingness to learn from other spaces.

Yet, as Conall notes on Slugger today, this legislative Assembly has clocked up nearly 20,000 hours of devolved government. Councils across Northern Ireland have sunk countless hours on trying to get broadly based consent for a range of developments, from redevelopment of Newcastle town centre to the sighting of a ‘energy from waste facility’ (regional incinerator) on Belfast’s northern lough shore.

Politics in future, whether all of our politicians yet fully realise it or not, will be about how well they conduct our business in their government. The stakes will be raised considerably with local government reform. That requires them to get closer to the people who’s complex interests of the local they seek to represent and at the same time balancing wider interests.

Not for the first time do Edmund Burke’s speech to the electors of Bristol come to mind:

“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”

That’s a tall order in a polity where most of us define ourselves by a national allegiance to somewhere else. But having had the endorsement of the population of the island, north and south, the only way forward our increasingly professional political class is to start to demonstrate that they are focused on the job they were elected to: building a future capable of delivering the very things our shared and violent past signally failed to do.

Our purpose this year, as last, is not to poke through the wreckage of what might have been, or what should have been, but deliberately look for occasions when our politicians were caught out doing something good. That’s not to obscure the current problems, but to help set aspirational standards for politics where it really matters: at home.

Each Monday over the next two months we’ll open a nomination thread both here and over at the Slugger Awards site. Today we start off with the

  • Only Asking

    The black box 🙁

    Sounds like an anorak event rigged to stroke the egos of the political class…sigh!!

    Another advertised slugger event minus real people.

  • Only Asking

    No link to slugger awards site?

    Winners already picked?

  • The Black Box is a great venue, what’s yer beef, anonymous troll.

    do we get to choose the categories as well?

  • Can we have a booby prize for worst council website to highlight the quantum leap some will have to make in the transition. I’ve a handful of contenders … hard to figure out who’s worse between Magherafelt and Castlereagh – and I’ve yet to look at most of the rest!

    Maybe broaden it out to worst public sector website?

  • joe the pedant

    the sighting of a ‘energy from waste facility’ (regional incinerator) on Belfast’s northern lough shore.

    I don’t think anyone is going to get a sight of it any time soon, if ever, Mick. Maybe they can find a site elsewhere (Stormont?).

  • Is there an award for the politician or political party who/which most promotes positive cross community interaction?

  • Mick Fealty

    Joe, that was a misdirect from my spellchecker Joe. Er, sorry.

    Keith, the Awards will roughly be the same as last year… like last year we’re going to try and focus on one at a time each week…

    ‘only asking’, you sound like a man who knows what he’s talking about. Perhaps you might give us the benefit of your experience? Or would that entail you giving too much away?

    The Black Box has roughly the same capacity as last year’s venue, the atrium in the Odyssey… If we look like we’re in real danger of massively overshooting it, we may have to consider another tack…

  • Mick Fealty

    Con, short answer is no. But it is might be one worth considering for future awards.

  • “The health of politics here will also depend on active engagement from civic society”

    Mick, the Stratagem sponsored Slugger Awards certainly raised the profile of NALIL blog.

    Some of the stories have touched on important issues that the MSM hasn’t yet reached. The individual responses of political representatives have been mostly positive and encouraging even if that of Stormont committees has been disappointing.

    I understand that officials from several government departments and agencies – and even the European Commission – keep a close eye on (and for) certain NALIL stories!!

  • Mick Fealty

    You mean the Rathlin Island ferry ‘story’ Nev? The site search on Slugger’s not great at the best of times, but the amount of mentions that it gets on largely unrelated thread renders it next to useless in finding the few things we actually have written about the ferry and its contract holder.

    That said, you should get over to the nomination thread and give us the benefit of your inside knowledge.

  • Mick, I referred to the impact of the award, not Slugger’s coverage.

    Why would interested parties avail of Slugger’s search box when Google or the blog’s own search box will take them to the meat of the stories, including the referenced FoI data?

    Inside knowledge can be something of a two-edged sword. If it’s not used with discretion and integrity it would soon dry up.

  • Pigeon Toes


    “give us the benefit of your inside knowledge”.

    Please do…