What you might do with a Stormont Opposition (1): First, build a Fence?

I have some problems with the kind of demogogic simplification Dan Hodges is talking about here, but it demonstrates a line of Machiavellian thinking that is almost completely missing from Northern Irish politics these days. The parties in power don’t need to resort to it since their potential opponents are junior partners (mudguards in Dublin parlance).

In the process he nails what’s been bugging me about Labour under Milliband E for months now:

Ed Miliband loves hard thinking. He also loves identifying hard choices. His big problem is that he isn’t prepared to actually take any of them.

Time and again Labour’s leader has been presented with the opportunity to redefine where he and his party stands on welfare. And every time, he has bottled it. On housing benefit. On the overall benefits freeze. On the Bedroom Tax.

It’s a great line, the Bedroom Tax. And on each occasion it’s uttered, it reminds people that “the Tories are against benefits, Labour is for them”.

The closest Labour has come to shifting perceptions was last month’s vote on welfare sanctions. But even here, the best Miliband could manage was heroic abstention. Presented with yet another of those hard decisions about which side of The Fence to place himself, Labour’s leader opted to sit astride it.

Over the next few weeks the storm over welfare will continue to rage. More emotive case studies will be unearthed. Serious technical problems with the implementation of Universal Credits will come to light. Iain Duncan Smith will lower his guard and buy something that costs £53.99.

But The Fence has been completed, and it is sturdy. The Tories are standing on the right side of it. Labour is not.

So section one of the Slugger Book of How to Survive Opposition at Stormont is first, build a fence around an issue that matters to the public. Just make sure you are standing on the right side of it first.


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