On the danger of being unprepared for regional politics…

All manner of people who never express an opinion on Northern Ireland from one end of the year to the other have leapt into the fray now Downing Street is briefing against the Tory intervention two weekends ago… (welcome to the world of obfuscation and pain that is Northern Ireland Nick!)… But first a word from an old mucker from the Daily Telegraph who starts with the bleedin’ obvious

The coverage this morning is roundly condemnatory of the DUP, and after the Iris Robinson saga who can object? But it seems a stretch to lambast Mr Cameron for doing his job as a unionist politician, which should be to find political ways to ensure Sinn Fein doesn’t end up the winner as the result of the failure of Unionism in Northern Ireland to get its electoral act together. As for the role played by the Marquess of Salisbury, call me retro but isn’t it refreshing to find at least one politician who hasn’t forgotten that republicanism and communism are bad for for the United Kingdom?

Except that what most of the cross channel correspondents are getting wrong (and who’s going to put them right, since besides Gordon Brown the DUP haven’t a friend left in Westminster to stand up for them), is that by the book, it is Sinn Fein’s problem we’re talking about here not the DUP’s

Even David Blackburn at the Spectator puts the blame firmly on the DUP:

Knowing that the DUP is on the cusp of succumbing to the rhythm method, Robinson has made himself the obstacle to power-sharing. He has procrastinated over devolved policing for nearly three years – finance, regulation, marching rights; he has used every possible pretext to defer to Whitehall. Now it seems likely that Sinn Fein’s patience is exhausted. The possible implications are obvious.

Of course, Mr Blackburn misses the point (which is not surprising since the BBC have been misreporting the detail of the St Andrews deal right from the beginning), in that this latest crisis is an attempt ditch an agreement that put Sinn Fein on the wrong of the truth in what they had to tell their own supporters…

Well? Well, tough. Politics is a rough trade and few parties (with the notable exception of their partners Sinn Fein) have played it rougher than the DUP… If you make no friends on the way up, you’ll have none on the way down either… But I’ve no doubt the DUP is already aware of the mortality of its own situation… The shift in focus from them to the apparent beneficiaries of their discomfort, will be welcome break for that party…

In the meantime, at this stage they may already feel that they have nothing to lose… In any upcoming election, no deal is a better ticker than a bad one… And a demonstrably good one will be even better… In the meantime, Sinn Fein’s keeping the other parties out suggesting they are not playing as hard to get that the media spin might otherwise indicate…

From a cross channel perspective what should worry people is that the party which is effectively lined up as the next UK government doesn’t seem to begin to understand the much larger strategic problems in Northern Ireland now lining themselves up ahead of them

Mr Cameron has turned things round for the Tories in Britain, and there is something endearingly unprepped about his manner that has charmed many of his 100 Cameron Direct events across the UK… I have little doubt that Owen Paterson’s intentions were honourable in gathering three parties together at the ancestral hall of the Cecils… But it is the ambiguity over a full week of specularion (not least on this blog) that has followed which has turned this from a little local difficulty to a 10 o’clock news feature…

It suggests lack of planning and, worse, a singular lack of foresight by the Conservatives…

Perhaps they are over relying on the corinthian talents of enthusiastic individuals like Paterson to conduct small significant parts of the party’s policy areas, but without the oversight of a ruthless Patrick Vieira type, constantly scanning the horizon for trouble long before it arrives…

It takes something to turn a messy story in which the Tories have had virtually no responsibility or part in into such unflattering national news… It could have been stamped on early with a short definitive statement soonest after Eamonn broke it… Instead it has carried on for over a week since the Hatfield House…

They should get that fixed before it happens over something much more important than our shadow play over the devolution of policing and justice…

  • mayday


    The problem is that it is the media who have generated the speculation. The talks were organised to promote the sabilisation of the institutions and to improve confidence in the institutions amongst the unionist parties. The DUP at that juncture of weakness could not do a solo run on devolution of P&J without the wider support of the UCUNF. Paterson was demonstrating a strategic perspective in agreeing to host these talks. The benefit of the discussions may not yet be known. However, should an agreement be reached at Hilsborough the Hatfield discussions may prove pivitol in delivering unionist confidence. We shall have to wait and see.

  • Crikey, Mick, that was bit of a ramble into the field of nonsense ….. and some may be unkind enough to suggest that it would be something I may know more than just a little about.

    I’m almost minded to suggest that it is best not to blog when you’ve partaken of the herbal medicine, but I’ve decided against that, in case it is thought offensive and is misunderstood.

  • Scaramoosh

    If we go back to Peter Brook’s comments that the British no longer had any political, economic, strategic or military interest, for remaining in Ireland, one can see why this proposed alliance (and indeed, the one with Reg’s party) raises the serious question of partisanship?

  • Kensei

    Except that what most of the cross channel correspondents are getting wrong (and who’s going to put them right, since besides Gordon Brown the DUP haven’t a friend left in Westminster to stand up for them), is that by the book, it is Sinn Fein’s problem we’re talking about here not the DUP’s…

    Key words highlighted. The problem that has been bugging me since the start of people’s crusade on this, is the inherently Protestant nature of the criticism of SF. Sola scripture, legalistic argument towards what exactly is in the St Andrew’s Agreement. But that is and never has been the whole game. There are a whole heap of other things aroud it that matter; how it plays in the media, what private assurances people have form the governments, brinkmanship, the lot.

    SF are gaining traction because they faced down their hardliners and very publicly backed the police when challenged and they’ve carefully ramped up the temperatur eon the issue. The DUP is getting hammered because it strung things out, obfuscated and didn’t prepare its base for the changes it had promised. The dates in St Andrew’s may not have been binding, but they set expectations. So SF have a narrative, and the DUP have “but technically……”.

    Personally, i just want this over, so lugger becomes at least 15% less tedious than it has been for at least a year.

  • John Joe

    Surely it is possible to read the Hatfield House story as a belated realisation that the DUP were [are] in deep trouble with little remaining credit with any of the other partners in Belfast, London or Dublin. What realistic political strategist could have plotted out anything meaningful at Hatfield so close to two elections? The awful handling of the issues around Tory (and Catholic) candidates suggests that there is/was a belief that there could be a return to some sort of [imagined] pan-unionist utopia. None of this looks thought out and it all looks suspiciously panicky.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Maybe the Tories don’t know what they are doing.

    They would not be the first party that knew how to win (or accept the ball from labour) an election but then fell into little boy lost syndrome.

    The clothes-less emperor comes to mind.

    After Bankers in suits being found quite ignorant about what was actually going on it would be foolish of us to put too much faith in politicians in suits.

  • Scaramoosh, the BBC has this up as the quote:

    Peter Brooke said Britain had no “selfish strategic or economic interest” in Northern Ireland and would accept unification, if the people wished it.

    The presence of selfish and the absence of a following comma leaves room for various interpretations/spins. The creative ambiguity was probably a response to Irish nationalist’s demand for the UK government to act as a persuader for a United Ireland.

  • alan56

    Cannot imagine this kind of situation developing under ‘Blair/Campbell’. There would have been a clear statement from the top which would have killed the story. Tories do need to keep watching the horizon as Mick suggests

  • mayday

    Alan 56 – Perhaps the story is still evolving? These are fluid times.

  • trinners

    what do you mean by corinthian talents?

  • “If you make no friends on the way up, you’ll have none on the way down either”


    It seems this is not a mistake you intend making, ah? Cameron got his pal Cecil to smoose the Unionists at his aristocratic pile which was built on his families ill-gotten gains, and for no better reason than he wishes to entice the unionists to play their traditional role as the stooges of the English upper middle classes and aristocracy, by keeping the tories in power were there a hung parliament. Little changes, show an ulster unionist an English aristocrat and they wet themselves in subjugation.

    Scaramoosh is correct if I were a Shinner I would be wondering whether I sucked a pup when I believed that talk of the British no longer having any political, economic, strategic or military interest, for remaining in Ireland.

    It seems David Cameron certainly has an interest in remaining in Ireland and if that is true so will the next UK government if he is elected PM.

  • Brian Walker

    Talking of muckers, Ben sat on the seat beside mine for a couple of your in the lobby office. He’s an fine ornament to the Westminster village – a very different place from home where poltical calculus is different.. I’m rather more sympathetic to the SF case than some…

  • Republic of Connaught

    If there be any more obvious reason why Ireland needs to be completely free from English rule then it is surely personified in meddling characters like the aristocratic Englishman Lord who who-ever the Marquee of Salisbury.

    Were the United Kingdom a Union between Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the northern people of England it would have lasted. Because the people are generally similar.

    But those poisonous xenophobic aristocratic imperialists that were bred in Eton and such like for centuries brought misery to peoples all over the world.

  • Cynic2

    “Ireland needs to be completely free from English rule”

    …but your problem then is the 1 million (or so) Brits who live here.

  • Mary Ann Evans

    RoC – you seem to be echoing an expression that’d have found much sympathy in your province – in the 19th Century. It has little to do with Ulster unionism – Presbyterian, industrial with little to do with the landed gentry that so misgoverned Ireland.

    It’s a crying shame that Ulster’s unionist people place confidence in people to represent them who then prostrate themselves to England’s landed gentry.

  • Framer

    Why this hatred of tradition and Britishness? We don’t want permanent Trotskyite revolution.

    I find the Marquess of Salisbury’s continued concern for this place quite touching.

    It is not as if dynasties do not occur elsewhere:

    Syria, the Irish Republic (Cowans, Cosgraves, de Valeras etc etc), India, the Kennedys in US, North Korea, Cuba, Greece (3 Papandreous as PM) but in UK it is regarded as some sort of unique crime against humanity.)

    Better the House of Lords than the Lubianka or Buchenwald.

  • Alias

    Tory and unionist pacts before an election are a matter for the parties concerned, but the nationalist community see it as a harbinger of pacts that may come after an election, wherein pacts may be made between the British government and the unionist community to the detriment of the nationalist community.

    That summons forth the rather alarming – as far as they are concerned – realisation that British sovereignty over the state is absolute despite all the waffle of the last 16 years of talks and talks about talks to ensure parity of esteem between the two nations within the British state.

    As a non-sovereign nation, that nationalist community are hyper-sensitive to that underlying reality, and that is why Cameron now needs to reassure them that the comfort blanket of the policy of bi-partisanship will not be torn from them by self-serving interests.

    I suspect that Cameron just hasn’t been briefed by the Security Services about the finer dynamics of ‘the process’ yet, but that he will follow the pacification policy when he assumes office and is fully briefed.

  • Framer


    Sovereignty is absolute.

    That’s what it is all about in a world of sovereign nations.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think that’s his point Framer…

  • barryfrombelfast

    I was going to describe this as my ‘virgin’ post on slugger, but …

    At 04:27 PM, mayday says:-
    “Perhaps the story is still evolving? These are fluid times.”

    Perhaps, this is an understatement?

    With no disrespect to mayday’s name, perhaps any DUP/UUP merger should, in this acronym-driven society, be called the the SOS (‘Save Our Skins’) Party?

    BTW, isn’t a bit ironic that the DUP is so fervently supporting a draft report on parading from Paddy ‘Pantssdown’ Ashdown?