Is it right they rule by rote?

I’m off on a wee rant below, apologies.

While Eamonn’s reproduction of a UUP communication to members has transitory interest, it could open up a broader discussion on the internal democracy of our political parties; how they manage policy setting, media protocols and transparency.

A party wracked with disagreement and conflicting messages for nearly two decades like the UUP is long overdue a leader to stamp internal discipline and defined direction for external eyes. The immediate threat of ‘you go through the press office or face a disciplinary’ could seem cack-handed but also reads as a leader willing to force a public consistency on a party torn to shreds by publicly presented dissent.

It takes a long memory to recall a united message coming from the UUP and Elliott’s early move attempting to force consistency via tight media discipline is understandable, though his methods indicate he could also do with examining internal communication protocols – no need to piss people off.

However, the UUP aren’t doing anything new. The two most successful parties in the north are known for their tight media control. Journalists know if you want a comment on a policy issue you don’t contact a DUP or SF representative direct – you contact the press office. You tell a Press Officer what you want to discuss, who you would like to discuss it with and they may provide a suitably briefed representative – just may.

That’s professional politics the world over. If party press officer positions didn’t exist you’d have a lot more people trying to work as sales reps for tobacco companies.

The concern not just for the UUP is professional politics the world over demonstrate many instances of press departments moving from the control of access to information; to thinking they create information and or policy, to actually creating policy and finally forcing the endorsed to regurgitate it. Giving over the message to groups focused on managing messages can lead to these groups thinking they have more ownership of politics than those chosen by the electorate and/or party members.

This also opens similar question on who sets party policy across our body politic.

Alan recently had a fantastic series of posts on what actually happens at party conferences (the other links are out there, google yourself). I came to the conclusion that they were mainly about geeing up the troops and getting coverage for key messages but there was very limited focus on actually discussing policy, debates and voting policy through.

Set pieces.

If party conferences aren’t focusing on policy, who decides it?

SF are notably different with days of discussion and votes on policy ranging from skate-parks to what paper to use in publications to energy and Europe – but they, this has been a criticism of some, essentially act as ‘democratic centralists’ with the members’ authority fully ceded to the Ard Comhairle between Ard Fheisenna.

At least their members get to have some input before the press office starts managing the message!

Where/when does that happen with other parties? If they aren’t discussing much real policy at conferences, then they surely cede all decision making to their party leader and his selected team between one leadership election and the next?

Is SF really the most democratic party in the north?

Has Tom Elliott just help demonstated once in leadership none of our party leaders will accept deviance from party line and rote is the order of the day?

As a final point why did Pat Ramsey’s statement on the recent conference on abortion disappear from view on the SDLP website almost immediately after release?

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