Traditionally people in NI judge British politicians by how they match up to their own hopes, fears and prejudices, and relish it when they fall down over some nuance or hidden trap and then wail : ” they don’t understand.” Nationalists will surely have said that and more, as they listened to David Cameron speaking from the La Mon House hotel today.
By dodging the volcano ash in the middle of a 48 hour mammoth campaign swathe, Cameron was doing far more than backing Sir Reg”s outside chance. He was out to break the mould. In part, he did it. His aim, as Paul Bew has just said on the BBC, was “to warm up the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.” He was reclaiming Northern Ireland, so often forgotten or treated as a special case in permanent need of quarantine, on behalf of the Conservatives, ” the party of the Union.” You could see the joy in the audience’s eyes.
Yet while allowances can be made for electioneering, he left quite a few hostages to fortune in the NI version of the usual stump speech, with local inserts by Owen Paterson out of Jonathan Caine.
His crack “there’s nothing swish about the Conservative and unionist family ’ won’t be forgotten in the Robinson camp. On the other hand where else has the DUP to go now ? Cameron may be laying down new terms of political trade.
I will never be neutral on the Union
A place for NI at the cabinet table – this must mean a government, if not a cabinet job for Sir Reg if he gets elected and perhaps for David Trimble too ( only anoraks will remember Robin Chichester Clarke as Ted Heath’s junior employment minister; few others noticed).
We will look at ways of turning NI into an enterprise Zone.. and will continue to fund NI according to its needs.. There is no way NI will be singled out – we are all in this together in the UK
We will work with the Assembly and defend the education system from those who are out to destroy it
( How? This is a sore subject for Stormont. Is he intervening with what sounds like a defence of academic selection or new ideas for breaking the deadlock?)
Assurances were offered that the Agreements will be honoured. A warmer relationship will increase stability not weaken it.
A new kind o f politics, contain the dissidents, promote a shared future, look forward to a close relationship with the Republic
We take great pride in the men and women of the Royal Irish ..
We will not rewrite history and equate those who upheld democracy with those who tired to destroy it.. .. (So no universal recognition payments)
We will draw a line under the past with no more costly and open eneded inquiries.
Little enough here differs in substance from the Blair –Brown approach What is different is the tone of personal conviction.
If I become your Prime Minster I will be back in Belfast in a week.
To be nicer to the DUP and offer some warm words to nationalists perhaps?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London