“They held an election and the government won…”

Something of a one-two in the Irish News opinion pages today.  Firstly, from the editorial.

For a government, it is difficult to claim a credible mandate when around half the voting population refuses to offer its backing to any of the candidates on offer.  This disconnect is not a new phenomenon, of course, but representatives who dismiss this as simply a symptom of normal politics need to take a reality check.

What they should be asking is why voters are staying at home, why parties have failed to motivate them, interest them or make them feel that what happens at Stormont impacts on their lives.  Perhaps our new MLAs need to examine how they present themselves and their policies, how in touch they are with the concerns of the public and how they can make politics more relevant to a disaffected electorate.

In fairness, our unusual structures, with no formal opposition, are a factor, but ministers could be more open, really listen to opinions which challenge them and encourage greater scrutiny and accountability.

They could.  But what’s the incentive?  As Patrick Murphy points out in his op-ed piece

Guess what?  They held an election and the government won.  No, not a new government, the same one we had last time.  Oh, and it will be the government we will have the next time too – and every time as far into the future as we can see.  (No, you may not tell the old joke about someone breaking into Stormont last week and stealing the election results.  Our political parties can be sensitive about that sort of thing.)

So, while the assembly election results reveal the popularity of politicians and parties, the overall outcome confirms a pattern of predictability and growing apathy.  With turnout as low as 46 per cent in some constituencies, assembly politics is the new trainspotting.

Most interest will focus on the short-term issue of how the results will impact on the assembly’s composition.  But the more significant concern is how the assembly’s unchanging nature will influence future public engagement with elections and with what passes for politics here.

And the record of that “government”?  As I pointed out previously

With unemployment in Northern Ireland at a 13-year high, an unbalanced budget for the next 4 years, and having only made a start, at least, on just over half of their 2008-2011 “key goals and commitments”, you’d have to think that something’s got to give.  Eventually.

Perhaps we should try the Belgian way…  They’re still not at it, you know.

Back to Patrick Murphy

The best we can hope for is that they will learn three lessons from the impact the last assembly had on us – that public relations are no substitute for an honest relationship with the public; that entering Stormont gives you power but not ability; and that claiming to be concerned about bread and butter issues while eating subsidised bread and butter in Stormont produces a low electoral turn-out.

But, to repeat myself, what’s the incentive?

, , , , , , , ,

  • DC

    Well said Patrick Murphy, brilliant wee paragraph – you nailed it.

    Politicians north and south are just not in the socio-economic zone, the electorate don’t appear to motivated by it either! It’s all about identity and liking people that behave in similar ways and then giving your vote to them.

    But one thing is for sure, I know now why the republic has a technically bankrupt banking sector – the politicians there just don’t get the gist of proper socio-economic policies. Exactly the same as our lot up here – miles if not lightyears out.

    The budget doesn’t balance as mentioned above. Absolutely crazy.

    Remember the time DUP/SF tried to legislate once – the Public Assemblies, Parades and Protest bill? What a complete and utter shambles that was!

    To the government, welcome back everyone. Time to take a second bite, I wish you all the best of luck.

  • The Raven

    There they are in one place. Apathy rul…

    Unless you’re MMcG of course, in which case turnout was low because “people are broadly content with the way we are running the place.”

    Constituency % turnout
    East Lderry 52.9
    East Antrim 46.8
    East Belfast 52.8
    F & S. Tyrone 67.8
    Foyle 56.4
    Lagan Valley 52.4
    Mid Ulster 63.8
    N/Armagh 59.7
    North Antrim 53.4
    North Belfast 49.1
    North Down 44.9
    South Antrim 49.3
    South Belfast 52.0
    South Down 56.8
    Strangford 47.5
    Upper Bann 54.0
    West Belfast 56.7
    West Tyrone 62.2

  • Tweedybird

    Just 54% of the people of N.I. decided to vote in these elections, that’s a damning indictment of what Joe blogs thinks of the politics in N.I.,

  • Alias

    The analysis of sorting ‘winners and losers’ applies and elections are downgraded to discussion of party ambition and the career hacks within, and with the national interest and related issues being a mere add-on to the dismal proceedings.

    The incoming regional administration will always be the same as the outgoing regional administration, and ‘the process’ requires that the real issues should be overlooked by the public because if the public were ever to judge the hacks by their poor performance and decide to vote accordingly, they’d quickly realise that they don’t have anything that remotely approximates a democracy in the present shared administrative arrangement since they don’t have the essential democratic condition of being able to vote the hack parties out of the regional administration.

    Therefore, their wee minds must be focused by their masters on the irrelevant circus of party ambition.

  • Henry94

    If Joe Blogs didn’t vote then he has declined to tell us what he thinks. The idea that he is perfectly happy is as legitimate as a claim that he is deeply alienated. We’ll never know (unless he blogs!)

    The people who need to make a big decision now are the UUP and the SDLP. They must aspire to taking over as the big two again and the only way they can do that is from opposition. They should decline to nominate ministers and start putting forward alternative policies. It may Thame a few elections but eventually they would regain their positions as the top two.