What Slugger readers got right about our politician of the year…

The art of politics is not just about the possible, it’s also about the plausible… There was a certain amount of disgruntlement with the choice of Martin McGuinness as Slugger’s Politician of the Year (and for good reason when you consider how his party has blocked the capacity of the Executive to progress any serious legislative measure in lieu of devolution of policing and justice)… But a poll of readers by the Belfast Telegraph came to a similar conclusion to our own:

“It suggests that we maybe moving into a different phase of political life here in which politicians are judged as much on their performance in the here and now as on their history. If so, that has to be seen as a positive step. If the message is that some people are recognising that politicians can begin the journey from conflict towards statesmanship it is to be welcomed.

“If the message is that our politicians must do more to leave their historical baggage at the door of the debating chamber that too is positive.”

It’s worth noting that no one scored particularly highly, even if Mr McGuinness is way out front:

The Belfast Telegraph/Inform Communications survey put DUP leader Robinson on just 7% — Mr McGuinness scored 27% — with a zero rating among Catholics. The DUP’s best performing minister is Arlene Foster with 9% of those surveyed endorsing her track record at Enterprise, Trade and Industry.

Party leader Mr Robinson was in a disappointing fourth place, behind SDLP Social Development Minister and leadership candidate Margaret Ritchie. A DUP spokesman said: “Obviously the DUP is aware of the sort of issues that have been raised by this poll and even before the poll was released our leader Peter Robinson was moving to address some of these issues.”
Sinn Fein’s Agriculture Minister is in second place overall with 10%, again with a significant approval level from Protestants (8%).

There is no getting over the fact of Mr McGuinness’s history (anyone who wants the full blown emotional impact of the past should read Brian Lynch’s powerfully moving epic poem Pity for the Wicked), but this poll (and the Slugger Awards) are unsentimentally about performance in the here and now…

Mr McGuinness is Sinn Fein’s (not so secret) secret weapon… whilst their number 1 (Mr Adams and his unconstitutional kitchen cabinet) dictates the party’s deeply obstructionist policy, the party’s number two (Mr McGuinness) plays a blinder and is – de facto – Northern Ireland’s public diplomat par excellence (as his acceptance speech amply demonstrates)…

And being a number 2, he is also impossible for other party’s number 1s to negotiate with… To anyone with a detached eye for the political game it’s a beautifully wicked stratagem… Although its limitations are amply shown by the disapproval rating for the one policy area in which the ‘kitchen cabinet’ (or as Pete calls it, the detached polit-bureau) is said to have predominated, Education:

A total of 24% of Catholics, as well as 39% of Protestants and 19% of others, contributed to Ms Ruane’s disapproval rating of 31%, almost double the next most disappointing, Mr Robinson.

Meanwhile, Mr Robinson subsists with a Zero rating from Northern Ireland’s Catholics… A situation the party cannot be happy with (though is likely not to be terribly surprised at) given the promise of his maiden speech as First Minister last year. It hardly scores as an existential crisis at this stage either, given the tiny amount of cross community churn either party currently gets. It may simply reflect the fact that the wider polity (not to mention the MSM) is still stuck in the Peace Process™ mode of rewarding ‘good behaviour’, rather than ‘good politics’…

But if Sinn Fein were to take a single warning from this poll it’s contained in the incredibly low rating the current settlement gets overall. Also, they already have an urgent memo from their own recent past, in their own over-extrapolation of the party’s potential in the south based largely (though not exclusively) on a consistently high personal rating for Gerry Adams during the lifetime of the 2002-2007 Dail. Topping a ‘leadership’ poll does not, of itself, vouchsafe further political success.

Rather such success will more likely arise from slow incremental ‘victories’, than from the current series of big, barrack-busting plays… And, paradoxically, as the unionist population becomes more acclimatised to an outwardly agreeable SF dFM, it becomes less likely that the Unionist meltdown one might reasonably expect if SF’s current Number 2 were to become Northern Ireland’s Number 1 (ie First Minister) will be as complete as some inside the kitchen cabinet may be hoping just now.

, , , , ,

  • Sean

    LOL I had to laugh McGuiness has a higher approval rating among protestants then Robinson does. Man that has to hurt

  • kensei

    Sinn Fein’s Agriculture Minister is in second place overall with 10%, again with a significant approval level from Protestants (8%).

    Dear God 🙁

    Meanwhile, Mr Robinson subsists with a Zero rating from Northern Ireland’s Catholics… A situation the party cannot be happy with (but is likely not to be terribly surprised at) given the promise of his maiden speech as First Minister last year.

    Well, surprise would be a push, since his entire strategy has been to, if not deliberately piss them off, certainly ignore them in favour of section advantage.

    … will be as complete as some inside the kitchen cabinet may be hoping just now.

    Are you privy to the “kitchen cabinet”?

  • DC

    Martin McGuinness is not politician of the year but the best of what is a pretty poor lot.

    In the last decade or so politics has been less about policy or plans but more so about the quality of the opposition.

    Before the last Labour election a Labour member, a lady, groaned to Tony Blair that “we waited decades to get a Labour government and we get a Tory one”; Blair quips – “not so look at the oppostion” – i.e. Michael Howard. Too right. Right wing on immigration and save the pound stuff. As we all know now, Blair won the next election.

    Same with McGuinness. He’s alright and he took a strong stance over violence, but I mean, that’s about it I’m afraid.

  • Panic, These Ones Likes It Up Em.

    Martin McGuinness showed some real leadership after the two soldiers and the police officer were murdered.

    Robinson is like a rabbit in the headlights when leadership is needed from him.

  • Driftwood

    It’s a pity Joanne Mathers never got to vote on this issue.

  • DC

    Driftwood, Mairead Farrell likewise.

  • Mick Fealty

    Look up Whataboutery in Google… and drop it now please… this space is for talking politics “unsentimentally”, not kicking over grudges from the past…

  • Marty McG

    One could excuse the bloggers on Slugger for voting McGuinness….the readers, I believe, preferring Jim Allister as the Politician of the Year but for the Belfast Telegraph readers to vote for McGuinness???? Obviously the Tele didn’t consult the families of the 2000+ victims of McGuinness. When the smiling terrorist and his Dungannon based heifer colleague are the two top politicians in this part of the world, we surely have a dysfunctional government.

  • Whataboutery

    MICK…..Did someone more famous than you say something along the lines of, ‘he who ignores history may be forced to relive it?’ Driftwood has every right to question the attempted ‘airbrushing’ of the 2 I/C’s past, he who never served a day in jail in Northern Ireland, yet was the leader of an organisation responsible for more murders than all other protagonists put together and that includes Billy Wright and Johnny Adair !!!

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed W. The reference to the past is in the post (if you have not read the poem I warmly recommend it). No one here is trying to airbrush the past, but I know how the whataboutery game goes and it takes us far from the pressing point.


    Next year, come along to the readers’ panel[s] and make your voice heard on and off line.

  • Mick

    Sanitising the track record of those who now preen as politicians has every relevance. Also, the Belfast Telegraph has quite a record when it comes to polls which – amazingly – always paint such a bright pro-Agreement portrait. Then again I guess the Advertising Revenue stream from the Government has some relevance to the Tele?

    The idea that unionists now rate the Butcher Boy is risible – and even if you choose set aside sentiment and justice – what exactly has McGuinness achieved in terms of matters of substance on his own that benefits the general population?

    In my view, nothing. The Executive is dysfunctional and McGuinness is as useless as the rest of the crew, Dupes included.

  • kensei


    The idea that unionists now rate the Butcher Boy is risible

    They don’t. He got 11%. It’s just higher than 0.

  • JG


    You’ve often cited newspaper polls on your own blog. Is it just when you don’t like the results that you cry ‘FIX’?

  • Mick Fealty

    I would not presume to do so David (I’ve already wiped two nationalist rabbit punchers to let this thread go ahead unmolested for all comers).

    But, and you know this better than most of us, where the mainstream is and where the moral high ground resides are not the same thing.

    The overall low ratings for the settlement as is, is the key to understanding the reality of how the settlement is perceived. And the greater the drift in the coming months the greater the damage to ALL of those inside the tent.

    But for all those caveats (above in the post) and those mentioned since, McGuinness is doing an excellent job for his party.

    The challenge for the rest (including the SDLP and the UUs, who are trading pretty low in this situation, despite some good performances internally) is how do make real politics count for a media that’s still obsessing on the ‘good behaviour’ metrics of the peace process era?

  • Mick,

    I fully agree that McGuinness is doing a good job for his Party and in that context I see what you mean.

    Re the metrics of what makes effective politics, I would suggest that the only unionist who is actually doing a good job is Jim Allister. He has shown to be cutting through and into the groundswell of unionist opinion in way that the UUP are not.I think that a key indicator of political effectiveness is in setting the agenda that others then pick up and the TUV Leader has proven spectacularly successful in that regard. Then again, he did do well in your poll! 😉

  • JG

    Another key indicator of political effectiveness is getting elected. Poor ol’ Jim…

  • DC

    The moral of the story isn’t about McGuinness or a fix, but the problem of unionism failing to connect with people outside of its own coterie and a problem with poor style and the bitter after-taste left in people’s mouths. A classic example of this is of course old-style Paisley but the short shrift between Robinson and Martina Purdy is a more contemporary news piece worth checking out to see what I mean. It was a bit of a fart-in-a-spacesuit moment.

    Basically, it isn’t a happy story of ‘McGuinness’ success’ but more so just how uninspiring the political lot have been here to date.

    Just so happens McGuinness isn’t as bad and has given a wee bit of a lead and took a strong stance on violence whenever his past might have merited more sensitive language – all of this against a backdrop of public expectation – willing him on and with it the peace process too. So he did step up to the mark – but as other commenters have rightly mentioned – that’s the only thing that he’s done that can be viewed as difficult. One thing. But it’s one big thing more than the rest I suppose.

  • Mick Fealty

    I would reserve your sympathies for ‘poor ol’ Jim’ until next May JG… 🙂

    Agreed on the UUP David. Though to be maximally effective in damage creation, Jim needs the UUs to push strongly in the other direction. The passive aggression against local Tory involvement in the Cameron project may prove fatal in that regard.

  • JG

    Thanks for the advice, Mick. I was referring the the very recent European Parliament elections.

  • J Kelly

    On this poll who would want an election now.

  • joeCanuck

    First we had Dervock steers, now we have Dungannon heifers. Is this becoming a farm site or will it remain a zoo?

  • First, it would be necessary to understand how the question was framed. If it was a single question and you had to tick one box against the minister you thought had impressed the most, and then the one that disappointed you most you have to look at the figures in a different way than if you were asked to name one the minister etc. Which was it? We don’t know. More likely the first.

    Given that Ruane is loathed by parents generally, Murphy is almost anonymous, and Kelly is a junior and no one has a clear idea of what he is meant to be doing, then with fewer being asked (percentage of population) and fewer Ministers to choose from (d’Hondt) hardly a surprise that McGuinness gets the headline. Yet another BT headline that is bigger and self-important than the research it heralds.

    On the other hand with Unionists having a wider choice, four of the 8/14 are given more than 10% to the nationalist two out of 6/14 (McGuinness/Gildernew) reflecting greater satisfaction with a wider range of individual ministers. Furthermore, unionists seem more generous and willing to give some credit to nationalist politicians, whereas nationalists barely recognise unionist performance with no Unionist minister scoring over 3% on the impression stakes. In fact more unionists rated Conor Murphy than did nationalists.

    Overall, this is a far more worrying poll for Sinn Fein than any other party, with huge dissatisfaction with Ruane, and worrying for the SDLP that Rithie could only muster 6% of the entire nationalist sample and that more were impressed by no Minister (9%) than her. And the UUP will be worried that McGimpsey is only one of three ministers to be considered as underperforming to expectations – South Belfast selection will be interesting.

    The survey of voting, on all sides is one of indifference. Given the fairly low sample of 500, the margin of error is at least +/-3% which would suggest that for the most part Executive Minsiters are making very little impression at all.

    Then again, this is research lite and a personality contest is substantially different to a substantive opinion poll which is considerably less than the election in not much more than 6 months time.

  • willis

    I think the title of this post was a clue.

    Small sample, broad brush strokes etc etc.

    Two things stand out about MMcG and they are both to do with body language.

    1. He was not afraid to play second fiddle to Big Ian.

    2. He was not afraid to tell former comrades that it was ‘over’.

    They say 2 things ‘Teamwork’ and ‘Leadership’.

    Compare and contrast with Gerry Adams.

  • Marty McG

    Hi JoeCanuck……hope you’re doing well in that fine British Commonwealth country Canada…..by the way a Dungannon Heifer is usually called a ‘Gildernew’

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks, Marty, I’m doing very well indeed since I emigrated to here. Not too many of us pay attention to the Commonwealth, mind you, or were in the least interested in the future UK King and his Consort when they visited a couple of weeks ago.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘I would suggest that the only unionist who is actually doing a good job is Jim Allister.’

    By being a loosing incumbent, leaving his defunct M.E.P title up on his site up for several weeks after loosing and general sneering from the sidelines….great job altogether.

  • dub

    Trimble admitted that he liked McGuinness as a person and Paisley, well we all know the story there… so McG has the ability to actually get on with people of differing political viewpoints. Hs comes across as reasonable. The fact the Robinson has been completely unable to form any type of personal relationship with him makes Robinson look bad. Yes indeed McG is sf’s secret weopon.

    Despite the fact that you can recognise McG’s qualities your sheer partisanship Mick is becoming embarrassing at this stage. It is not clear to most people believe me that sf have been deeply obstructionist. They have taken all the difficult decisions and have not come up short. P and J and the ILA are both in the St Andrews list of commitments. Please remind us which commitments SF have failed to deliver on??????

  • Big Bopper

    Ronnie Biggs is a likeable guy as well. Salt of the earth. AND he never murdered anyone.

    McGuinness is more Ian Brady-ish.

  • LabourNIman

    I’m still laughing at this… seriously, BT must be getting some serious bribes for this crap…