Opposition as a tactical opportunity to change the balance of power?

Interesting intervention from my old mucker, Trevor Ringland in the Irish News this morning. Diana Rusk reports:

He said he supported Mr McCallister’s proposal for opposition because the UUP and the SDLP need to show that they are not simply “a poorer version of the DUP and Sinn Fein. He said the changes made through the St Andrew’s Agreement on how the first and deputy first Ministers are appointed made opposition the only option.

“It is fundamental to any democracy that the electorate has the ability to change a government or, where there is mandatory coalition, they can change the emphasis of that coalition so that smaller parties can become larger parties. [emphasis added]”

Actually what Ringland is pointing to is less of an opposition as such, and more of a short term tactical device, since a real opposition would need to be a permanent creation of the overall structure. But at the very least, he points at a possible solution to the problem for anyone left in those two parties who have an ounce of ambition left in them.

Eyes down for the UUP leadership election?

  • Greenflag

    Trevor Ringland got that right . Opposition is the only way that either the UUP or SDLP or Alliance can ever hope to outvote the DUP/SF combo. I don’t think the UUP never mind the SDLP have the necessary cojones for that radical a departure from the status quo . Good luck to McCallister . Nesbitt’s not the worst though and probably would have made a better leader than the previous incumbent .

  • iluvni

    As long as UUP go it alone in ‘opposition’. The idea of a partnership with sdlp should be a non-runner.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Opposition is the only way that either the UUP or SDLP or Alliance can ever hope to outvote the DUP/SF combo.

    That contention is demonstrably false.

    The DUP and SF both grew their vote and overtook the incumbents without there being an opposition.

    As a matter of principle we would be better off with an opposition, but in practice very little would change. The executive would still be dominated by the DUP and SF. The SDLP and UUP would still fail to come up with a compelling alternative to persuade people to vote for them, and they would still stand up and make themselves a laughing stock with their misinformed self-serving bluster, much as Basil McCrea did yesterday. Voters would continue to elect functionally illiterate MLAs to represent them.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS, that’s not strictly a fair comparison. Both profited hugely from the inability of the ‘moderate centre’ to negotiate with what we might loosely call the insurgent parties.

    Once inside the new St Andrews’ Agreement, they made sure no one else would benefit from any further instabilities.And much as that stability is important, it is a problem in and of its for anyone looking to create any kind of democratic renewal.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    It is obvious that an official opposition will come, the only question is when. We cannot continue with a Goverment that no one can ever change that is not democracy it is a dictatorship.

    It is relatively easy to come up with a formula that protects power sharing until it is no longer required. So we must exert pressure on DUP and SF to look at how an opposition be formed.

    If not the UK government must intervene to ensure it happens.

  • “opposition the only option”

    But is opposition the only option for the smaller parties to demonstrate their suitability for government? I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities to expose the weaknesses of the big two both at regional and local level.

    Yesterday, Alex Attwood didn’t enhance his reputation when he talked nonsense about the planning service. There are many examples of poor governance for both Alex and Danny Kennedy to get their teeth into. Danny showed some promise when insisting that a developer restore a road to its earlier state but, more than six months on, nothing has been achieved.

  • FD,

    If not the UK government must intervene to ensure it happens.

    The irony of asking a higher power to enforce “democracy” from above is obviously lost on you.

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed AG. And we can continue rightly, if that’s what people want. I don’t hear a clamour for an ‘official opposition’ outside the political classes. The question is not can it be imposed, but can those who seek it make a difference from without the government?

  • “If not the UK government must intervene to ensure it happens.”

    FD, it is the sovereign authority but it may take the option of letting sleeping dogs lie. Awakening the dogs could put the TUAS strategy at risk. The present arrangements suit London and Dublin as well as the DUP and SF. On the downside, some councillors are under death threat for exposing law-breaking and others vote ‘the right way’ to avoid damage to their property or worse. Some democracy!

  • Mick,

    It’s not just whether they can make a difference, but also whether the public will see them as more than a coalition mudguard come the next election. On this point I think McCallister has it right – there’s no point being in politics and complaining about the system not allowing you to do what you want. It’s the job of politicians to find a way and get on with it. There are too many “politicians” in NI who are still stuck in the direct rule rut of begging Westminster/Dublin to Do Something. And sometimes I think we Norners as a people have lost sight of what politics is supposed to be about, and so don’t hold our politicians to any higher standard.

    If McCallister takes the UUP into opposition it may well be a cold and lonely place for some time. If they do manage to use it to rebuild and one day overtake the DUP, then maybe the DUP will in turn see merit in not always being in government. They wouldn’t be the first politicians from a long-serving government that have discovered the benefits of not having ministerial responsibility.

    Opposition wasn’t legislated for in Westminster, it just evolved. The same can happen elsewhere.

  • Comrade Stalin

    CS, that’s not strictly a fair comparison. Both profited hugely from the inability of the ‘moderate centre’ to negotiate with what we might loosely call the insurgent parties.

    Put in a more abstract way, the SDLP and UUP lost the trust of the electorate. They lost it while they were in government. The DUP and SF gained that trust without operating as a formal opposition. They did that by finding weaknesses in the incumbent parties and using them to fashion an appealing message to voters.

    The non-incumbent parties have failed to identify weaknesses in the government and, hence, have failed to fashion an appealing message to voters. Introducing an official opposition will do nothing to change that reality.

    Furthermore, I’m quite disturbed by the idea that the opposition should be created not to foster a change in politics here but, as Greenflag said, in order to save the SDLP and UUP. That’s not the right reason to create an opposition; parties which are failing should be allowed to crawl off and die, not kept artificially on life support. Alliance received no sympathy and no support whatsoever from the government or institutions when its vote began to collapse and there was a point about ten years ago when it looked like it might actually fold. Nobody suggested creating any constitutional framework to prevent this from happening and indeed the four major parties cared not a jot.

    Once inside the new St Andrews’ Agreement, they made sure no one else would benefit from any further instabilities.

    The StAA came long after the SDLP and UUP fell from grace so I don’t see how this is relevant. There is no aspect in the StAA that I can see which makes toppling the incumbent parties any easier than it was for the DUP/SF.

    And much as that stability is important, it is a problem in and of its for anyone looking to create any kind of democratic renewal.

    Most people agree that we need to move to a system of voluntary coalition with a proper opposition holding the government to account. But the opposition should not be created simply as a means to keep failing political parties on life support.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Andrew

    If McCallister takes the UUP into opposition it may well be a cold and lonely place for some time.

    It’s academic, as the UUP are about to disappear beneath the waves.

    If they do manage to use it to rebuild and one day overtake the DUP, then maybe the DUP will in turn see merit in not always being in government.

    I wouldn’t count on that. Our politics is actually a lot more similar to that of the RoI (unionists mightn’t like admitting that). Fianna Fáil’s modus operandi essentially became power at any price. In many ways the DUP and FF are very similar.

    They wouldn’t be the first politicians from a long-serving government that have discovered the benefits of not having ministerial responsibility.

    It would border on criminal negligence if the DUP abdicated their position to the collective dolts and dunderheads of the UUP.