The journalist’s mirage

On Friday night David Cameron made some remarks regarding the public sector in Northern Ireland. He commented, after saying that some parts of the UK have economies with state sectors of Soviet scale:

“In Northern Ireland it is quite clear – and almost every party accepts this –that the size of the state has got too big. We need a bigger private sector. There are other parts of the country, including in the north-east. The aim has got to be to get the private sector, to get the commercial sector going.”

Eamonn Mallie suggested that this reminded him of Harold Wilson’s “spongers” speech. For the record in that speech, Wilson said:

The people on this side of the water – British parents – have seen their sons vilified and spat upon and murdered. British taxpayers have seen the taxes they have poured out, almost without regard to cost – over £300 million a year this year with the cost of the Army operation on top of that – going into Northern Ireland. They see property destroyed by evil violence and are asked to pick up the bill for rebuilding it. Yet people who benefit from all this now viciously defy Westminster, purporting to act as though they were an elected government; people who spend their lives sponging on Westminster and British democracy and then systematically assault democratic methods. Who do these people think they are?

So we are comparing “who do these people think they are” with “and almost every party accepts this”. It has been well rehearsed that the DUP and Alliance Party are severely disingenuous in their outcries over this matter, but shouldn’t we expect better of mainstream journalism? It leaves the door wide open for accusations that the only people who see these comments as Wilsonesque, or scorched earth policies, are those who wish to believe that they are.

  • cynic2

    Is it me or are the NI media just bereft of anything new to say about this election. Liam Clarke’s jibe – ‘politics on bromide’ – was absolutely right

    It’s like watching an argument between two sets of librarians on the merits of different catalogue systems. no fire, no passion, nothing new

  • Comrade Stalin


    You missed the part where David Cameron singled us out(” … I think the first one I would pick out is Northern Ireland … “). Yet the size of the public sector in Northern Ireland is roughly the same as that in Wales.

    Why didn’t he mention Wales ? Because he would lose votes. And what else does that tell us ? That Cameron feels that he can dish out the cuts over here without any blowback. It is a reminder that politicians speaking from London do not consider the interests of NI in the same way that they consider any other part of the UK.

    But why allow anyone to disabuse you of this notion that there is a difference between these words being spoken by Cameron, and the same words being spoken by local leaders ? Please go right ahead and tell people on the doorsteps that the candidate you’re voting in will, by virtue of the Tory whip, be compelled to support whatever changes to the block grant Cameron feels fit to implement, whether they are right or wrong. Let’s see how far you get with it.

  • Framer

    Watching Jeffrey Donaldson tonight made me realise just how attractive David Cameron is. He is honest and not a deceitful reptile.

  • Pete Baker


    “Why didn’t he mention Wales ? Because he would lose votes. And what else does that tell us ? That Cameron feels that he can dish out the cuts over here without any blowback.”

    Read Eamonn’s follow-up post.

    Which Michael really should have referenced.

    Or Jamie Delargy on this topic.

    Lots of ink has been spilled condemning [Cameron] for apparently wanting to wield the axe here. I may be naïve but I don’t think he has that in mind it all. In any case he is not in a position to slash and burn.

    Firstly a huge part of the cash we get pays for social security payments, pensions and the like. It would be impossible for Cameron to reduce the benefits paid in Northern Ireland but keep the rate up elsewhere. What is being suggested? That he would reduce jobseekers’ allowance in Northern Ireland? That he would cut the state pension here? It’s just not credible.

    Secondly changes to the rest of spending we get are largely determined by the Barnett formula. The same mechanism is used to decide the increase or reduction in public spending in Scotland and Wales. Could Cameron tweak the formula for here and leave it intact for elsewhere. Again, it’s simply not possible.

    The scope Cameron has for penalising Northern Ireland is quite limited.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Donaldson was indeed very poor.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    It is indeed “safe” for Cameron to pick out Norn Iron as nobody in North East England is likely to care. Yet he did say “the first one” so my implication he means other regions also….that he cant name for electoral reasons.
    Really Cameron is tapping into the Home Counties (and Cheshire etc) mantra that they are subsidising the rest of England…..and the English mantra that they are subsidising Scots and Welsh……all of whom are ingrates.
    There probably are target areas here……..the high incidence of Sickness Benefit, Disability Living Allowance for example. Id expect “standardisation” to be mentioned a lot.
    Yet rather like Fermanagh-South Tyrone ……..Norn Iron is unique. Decisions here DO actually involve another government and the entire Peace Process….cobbled together in Economic good times is too fragile to be played with.

  • Pete Baker

    “It is indeed “safe” for Cameron to pick out Norn Iron as nobody in North East England is likely to care.”

    Do pay attention, Fitzy.

  • Alias

    So why does he think it possible that Cameron could “tweak the formula for [NI] and leave it intact for elsewhere” in regard to corporation tax but that “it’s simply not possible” for the Barnett formula?

    The disloyal loyalists in NI will never get taxation powers devolved simply because they would use it to undercut the rest of the UK, putting their own selfish interests ahead of their shared interests as UK citizens by siphoning investment away from other parts of the UK.

    The UK, however, would give them taxation powers if some expedient could be devised to ensure that they only used it to siphon existing investment out of Ireland and into the United Kingdom and, in addition, to divert FDI from Ireland into the United Kingdom.

    Given that one of the roles of MI5 is to promote British economic interests, no doubt their mouthpieces in the so-called nationalist parties will be spouting an “all-Ireland” agenda to neutralise any opposition to promote British economic interests at the direct expense of Irish economic interests should such an expedient be devised.

  • cynic2


    You still don’t seem to get it. You seem to want politicians to mislead the people. The reality is that UK plc is almost broke. There will have to be cuts. They cannot be avoided. Whether they are ‘right’ or not (whatever that means) is irrelevant.And our esteemed Assembly will have to make some hard decisions on priorities as any cuts will fall on the block grant which they then carve up.Irish language or cold weather payments? policing and Justice or industrial development?

  • Comrade Stalin


    Jamie is wrong.

    The scope Cameron has for penalising Northern Ireland is quite limited.

    You would think the Barnett formula was written in there as part of the Magna Carta. A British government with the will do to so can change anything it wants.

    From Wikipedia

    .. it is not applied to all public expenditure, but it remains a default option unless other decisions are made…

    The Barnett formula only applies to certain areas of ‘identifiable’ public spending, and excludes large items of expenditure such as defence.

    When someone is discussing the state of affairs with the private and public sector, it doesn’t hold that they are referring to the benefits system, which I understand is part of the Barnett objective – ensuring that the provision of welfare benefits and healthcare is uniform across the UK (with limits though, noting the NI and Scottish decisions to abolish prescription charges).

    We have a massive “ceasefire industry” here that doesn’t exist in other regions of the UK. I suspect that, together with things like Invest NI, the high levels of police funding, and so on, all have nothing to do with Barnett.


    You still don’t seem to get it.

    I get it alright. Cameron is singling out NI for cuts, and UCUNF are going along with that, and people should consider that on May 6th.

  • Anybody hear the reference to a 25 year plan by Sir Reg eMPey (in waiting) this morning on the 8.10 special from Broadcasting House.

    Most strategists are content to attempt to look over the horizon, and if they are really visionary stand on a chair , but 25 years!

    Surely the question is, in the assumptions underpinning the plan, are we or are we not? OK I’ll spell it out. In 2035 are we BTlanders still part of the Union or are we not?

    I think we should be told without the need to visit Sir Reg’s booth and crossing his palm with silver.

  • There have been many who have supported UCUNF on the basis of change and getting onto ‘real issues’ and the first time Cameron injects reality those same people run around saying ‘no that’s not what he meant’. Nothing new in what Cameron had to say, nothing new in what Mallie had to say. Just some facts of life of which our politicians seem to want to shelter the electorate because we’re not ready.

  • The Raven

    “I get it alright. Cameron is singling out NI for cuts, and UCUNF are going along with that, and people should consider that on May 6th.”

    That’s right. The options are:

    Ok we know what’s coming – let’s get ready.

    Phew – thank God for Peter/Gerry/Margaret, because they will successfully win more money for us. We’d better vote for them.

    The blind leading the blind yet again. One of these kids is doing their own thing. And for once it’s right. As Dissenter says, a bit of reality will do no harm. I still argue that there are many “cuts” could be made across a range of frivilous services. Perhaps it’s about time we realised the lap of relative public sector luxury we’ve been living in for quite some time.