Preparing for another Groundhog Day Election?

Nice piece from Alex Kane again this week, in which he points to the current stasis in which Northern Irish administration suffers:

13 years since the 1998 referendum and weeks away from the fourth assembly, there is still no evidence that the parties have any interest in agreeing a radical, era-changing agenda for what is supposedly the ‘new’ Northern Ireland. They still plan for the future with the signposts from the past and prefer to settle scores rather than govern in the common interest.

And apart from the fact that the assembly managed to survive for a full term (although it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s actually survived for 13 years) what will the 2007-11 years be remembered for? Well, for most people, the response to that question will be a shrug-of-the-shoulders indifference. They don’t remember. They don’t care. Few could point to anything that has made a real, life-changing difference to their everyday lives. Even fewer could point to anything that could be construed as representing a new way of doing political business in Northern Ireland, let alone demonstrating evidence of newfound trust, cooperation or confidence.

Now there are rumours that privately even Sinn Fein are interested in political reform of the clunky institutions set up under the Belfast Agreement. But, as Alex points out, we now face a cacophonous (and substance free) election campaign in which everyone tries to pretend that none of them have been running the place for the last four years (which four and a bit of them have) in partneship with the people they’ve agreed the latest budget with:

The parties are already tearing lumps out of each other: the DUP accuses the UUP of not being serious about government; Sinn Fein has said it will veto any plans to introduce an official opposition; the UUP talks of a game-changer, but isn’t likely to be in a position to implement it; the SDLP says Sinn Fein is controlled by the DUP; and the Alliance Party blames everyone for not listening to them. And in a few weeks time all of these parties will be trying to form a new government with each other.

Groundhog Election Day anyone? Just keep an eye on those turn out figures… Or as Alex puts it: “Oh dear, maybe this is as good as it gets: in which case I may soon be joining the ranks of the non-voter.”

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  • Henry94

    I see the 50/50 recruitment policy for the PSNI is going

    http://www.independent.ie/breaking-news/national-news/psni-5050-recruitment-policy-ends-2590181.html

    The transformation of policing has been a key achievement of the process.

  • Who exactly wants a “new Northern Ireland”?
    If that was implied in the GFA, nobody actually cared enough. The pup was sold on the basis that it was a barricade to a United Ireland and also sold on the basis that it was a stepping stone to the same.
    It cant be both. Maybe neither. But people would be gullible if they thought that the Big Lie of Creative Ambiguity (which to its credit brought Peace) would bring about a new agreed form of “Northern Ireland”.
    Groundhog Day.? Almost certainly. But is that not what people want? Can Democracy be enforced in Libya but not acknowledged in Norn Iron?
    Almost certainly the new Assembly will be elected on the basis of the ratio of 48:10:42 or near enough. So the battles will be within the Tribes for a re-allignment.probably minor and as much to do with local issues/personalities than the grand issues. Win some. Lose some.
    A result which will have many crying into their beer about other kinds of allignment……ignoring the fact that UUP and DUP are “unionist/loyalist” and SF/SDLP are “republican/nationalist” and we will be invited to believe that the left of centre SDLP has so much in common with the right of centre UUP. Er…….no they dont.
    But Id point to the transfer of votes in 2007 and will do so again in 2011. There can be no “new Norn Iron” on that basis.
    The brief experiment of UPCNF in 2009/10 was a disaster and no doubt some lefties would love a new lefty party. But it wont happen in the next 6 weeks or the next century.

  • JAH

    When I was a kid in the Sixties I used to lament that nothing ever happened in the place. Never on the news, run down and going to rot.

    Never get what you wish for. Forty years on, I think most people are quite glad that nothing much ever happens, only it still looks a healthier, wealthier place that it did then. The people remain mostly happy and friendly.

    Maybe a bit dull for political commentators, but they’ve surely had their fun in the past.

  • “Groundhog Election Day anyone?”

    Apparently the tradition was associated in Europe with the badger. Far more apposite here where so much is in black and white, weasel words flow and unsuspecting voters are badgered on the streets and on the doorsteps by little beasts that come of hibernation for a few weeks every four or five years.

    “joining the ranks of the non-voter”

    The non-voters and the acolytes of the badgers give us the elected representatives they deserve.

    “a radical, era-changing agenda for what is supposedly the ‘new’ Northern Ireland.”

    There are no shared constitutional goals; the constitutional question still looms large.

  • “Maybe a bit dull for political commentators, but they’ve surely had their fun in the past”.

    And some have had decent and lucrative careers. And now in happy retirement. The Conflict was the Goose that laid the golden eggs and is now incapable ……and younger journalists yearn for the life they never had.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nevin,

    Would you please make an effort to stick to the subject? I feel a Yellow coming on!

  • The Word

    Nevin

    “There are no shared constitutional goals; the constitutional question still looms large.”

    I would point to the Agreement of the model as a movement away from the unionist and republican constitutional models.

    Does the model have any constitutional agenda? Insofar as
    the constutition is negated by the model, and defined as the legal structure of an historical model that would cause infinite violence within the boundaries of the model, the model has the honesty and integrity to persuade the politicians of all parties to do as they say they do when elected: that is to serve the people.

    Has that got any implications for the Union? The Union was slain by the 1998 Agreement. Monarchism, like republicanism, was replaced by a social democratic model, a universalist model, that sustains the peace because it is is based on social justice and the suppression of the national ego that has motivated every soldier in history into war.

    Does the model predict a united Ireland? That would certainly be on the road to a world where people would have real and tangible goals rather than symbols symbolising goals. If a united Ireland means a better world, yes, it will happen.

  • Mick Fealty

    FJH:

    I reckon JAH has a point. But the stasis prior to 69 brewed a terrible discontent. I’m not sure what the Electorate’s function in all of this is supposed to be. Having said which that may be more of a problem for politicians rather than the people.

  • “everyone tries to pretend that none of them have been running the place for the last four years” – well actually there are parties and independents who haven’t been running the place, and succeeding, on tiny budgets, to do the job of an opposition.

  • Cynic2

    If we weren’t encouraged to hate each other how would they induce us to vote for them?

  • Mick, I’m responding to a small number of the themes that you’ve put on the thread.

    I see that Alex is also referring to a carve-up but when he asserts that ‘change will require alternatives (which the UUP and SDLP have failed to produce in any substantial form)’ he seems to have missed the point that it’s a DUP-SF carve-up; that the UUP and SDLP, as minnows, can suggest as many alternatives as they like but they haven’t the leverage to implement them.

    I don’t get the bit about ‘in partneship with the people they’ve agreed the latest budget with’. Dolores Kelly and Tom Elliott reinforce the points that I’ve made: “We and the Ulster Unionists are being excluded at every turn”; “We are also angry that our input into the budget and the draft budget has been minimal”; “We were given sight of these documents on the day they were produced ..” These comments clearly reflect anger and frustration as well as an absence of partnership and agreement.

  • Cahir O’Doherty

    JAH, I agree. Though I didn’t grow up in the sixties, Kane’s article just smacked of a political journalist’s moan that there isn’t enough excitement to report on.

    ‘Well, for most people, the response to that question will be a shrug-of-the-shoulders indifference. They don’t remember. They don’t care. Few could point to anything that has made a real, life-changing difference to their everyday lives.’

    But I imagine that if you told them that it was, what, the longest period of functioning government here for damn near 40 years I think most voters would be very happy. I’m not sure people want massive, life changing events..they just want politicians to do the job they were elected to do with the best they’ve got.

    I remember reading an article (in the Guardian, I think) after the Iris/Robbo/Kirk/land deal affair and it said that that marked the time when Northern Irish politics became normal because it was about sex, money and property, just like an awful lot of other political scandal in the world and not about ‘politics’, religion, history or hatred. So I, for one, am glad that voters are apathetic, that the assembly hasn’t really done much, that politicians are tearing strips off each other despite being in government with each other, because it means that we’re just like every other democracy the world over.

  • Cynic2

    I see that Castlereagh Council plans a series of events for ‘the Royal Wedding’ including a grand banquet with scores of guests invited by Councillors, street parties in all areas of the Borough to celebrate the happy couple and 13 bursaries of up to £1000 each to support ‘community festivals’ in various estates to be led by ‘community groups’ .

    As this is predominantly a Prod event one assumes that these will be mainly DUP affairs. And all just a week before the Elections.

    I am sure that the thought of ‘treating’ voters never entered their heads though. Of course not. .

  • “a cacophonous (and substance free) election campaign”

    That’s not too far off the mark, Mick. There may well be a paucity of concrete proposals in the party manifestos but if you look around the various ministries and councils in the run up to the election you may well spot some familiar pre-election substances: some good news stories about funding and job creation. It remains to be seen whether or not such taxpayer largesse will translate into votes for the ‘right’ party.

  • The Word

    Nevin

    “it’s a DUP-SF carve-up; that the UUP and SDLP, as minnows, can suggest as many alternatives as they like but they haven’t the leverage to implement them.”

    Yes, completely true, so far as it relates to the DUP and Sinn Fein. But since the SDLP (and the UUP) now accept their right to so rule, we also expect them to accept our right to so rule when the time comes. Only the natural leaders will be less paranoid about having to have it seen as they are in control all the time. A new democracy develops where the people as a whole are served rather than the abstract “nation”, the vehicle for the maximisation of capital historically, whether in republics or monarchies, and the slave of war throughout history.

    “partnership and agreement”, while postponed under the DUP and Sinn Fein because each party senses a shorter lease than the people are aware of, is actually served anyway in the way of duplicity and subtle betrayal of their own positions, but will be much more open under the natural order of strong leaders and not extreme positions, somehow long forgotten.

  • ThomasMourne

    Wouldn’t it be great if the N.I. electorate decided not to vote for sectarian politicians – just for once. Then we would have a ‘new’ N.I. and the sectarian selection system for government posts could not be used.

    A daydream, of course.

    We will end up (more or less) with the same bunch of incompetent, narrow-minded, expense-grabbing, work-shy, anti-democratic cretins as before.

  • aquifer

    Bored electorates are good.

    They change governments because they can.