What do the DUP, PUP, NI21, Protestant Coalition, NI Conservatives, TUV, UKIP, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Workers Party, SDLP, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, Alliance, Socialist Party, Green Party, Socialist Workers Party, People Before Profit & the Workers Party of Ireland have in common?
Every single one of the mentioned parties have formed from another party. In fact there is not a single party currently registered in Northern Ireland that didn’t exist prior to the troubles (or possibly even world war 2) except for the UUP & Sinn Fein. Many of the “new” parties formed from movements within other parties, some are splinter parties, associated parties to the UK…but not one of them is an original political party.*
We hear so much these days about the “silent majority” the “disaffected middle ground” those of us, myself included, who don’t see a political party that they feel completely at home with. So lets say that you and I decided to form our own party, I am a bar manager and other than a placement as an a-level student with a conservative MP, I have no political experience, I shall assume that my co-founders amongst you also haven’t stood in an election or been a member of a party before, so what do we do next?
We need to register. So lets register our party with the electoral commission, lets call ourselves “Square One”. We also need an emblem, but with a name like Square One, that pretty much designs itself. We need a description, so what shall we go with? Apparently we can have up to 12 descriptions, I’m starting to see that the identity crisis faced by most parties is encouraged from the offset…We’ll just pick one, lets say “The future of Northern Ireland starts at Square One”…catchy, and didn’t cost me the earth to come up with… which is handy because we haven’t even began fundraising yet. Before we can ask people to give us their money, we need some party officers, this could be a tricky one, you need to absolutely know who you are getting into bed with…as recent “start-up” parties have discovered. So I need to find some like-minded individuals who believe in the same vision as I, I need to research them well enough to trust them to have a prominent position within this organization from the start… We’ll assume a few of you stepped forward and I now have the party officers registered also. So officially, we’re now a party.
Now, for the money. We hope one day to compete with long-established parties, I spoke with former UUP & NI21 deputy leader John McCallister about what comes next…if you register a party that already has an elected MLA, as NI21 did, you immediately have access to to “financial assistance for political parties” money, £59,300 per year. Square One will have however much I and you who join it can afford to pay into it. When we get a bit more traction, we can charge people membership of the party, the Alliance Party charge £46 per year, which I’m sure is very helpful in helping a party maintain its advocacy, however nobody is going to pay to join us yet, we’ve done nothing! On the plus side, when it comes to election time, we’ll get our postage free to a certain extent, so we’ve got that going for us…not much else though. I think an ideal suggestion would be to cherry pick the industries our first few members came from, someone from Marketing, Accounting, Graphics & Design, Computer Science, Law…then we would have a knowledge base…without that, we’d be shooting in the dark (which paradoxically, is literally how some political parties started out…). I’ve heard many people lambasting the political expenses system, “why should they get any expenses, sure I don’t!” I see your point and I understand what you mean, but could you afford to be an MLA? Could you afford to hire an office, employ some staff, drive to different events and meetings sometimes across the province on a daily basis? The expenses system exists to protect the elected positions being solely the reserve of the financially better off, from becoming an oligarchy of sorts. Yes, people abuse it, but for our new party, could we afford any of these things? We would be grassroots by very definition, with no existing roots from which to draw advice, so I asked John McCallister for his notes on what we should and shouldn’t do…
Johns tips would for starting a party:
“Ensure you have a narrative”
“Know your people”
“Give time to grow”
“Find likeminded people, preferably some high profile people, who are prepared to get the message out there and work hard”
“Perhaps even identify prominent citizens already embedded within communities and approach them.”
“Don’t try to be all things to all people, don’t spread yourself too thin, know your limitations and your abilities”
I also asked what mistakes we should try to avoid making:
“Make sure you vet your candidates and your core team”
“Make sure everybody knows the party rules”
“Don’t defend the indefensible, the party comes first”
“Don’t be Naive”
“Don’t start a party with Basil”
So we have these pearls of wisdom, we can learn from mistakes other parties have made and we now have our core team of hard working individuals who form a cohesive group with a strong narrative and a sense of collective identity and purpose…
Perhaps we should get someone with experience…but then the status quo is perpetuated
There needs to be a concerted effort for a politically agnostic engagement of society, free from nuanced directions towards what already is, future – Northern Ireland needs to go in a new direction, only those who benefit from our failed-state could possibly object to a new heading with a new map and compass, maybe a rudder that isn’t attached to an anchor…and some more sailing metaphors too…for we are in the doldrums, we need to find the wind in our sails, I don’t see that happening from our current position and I believe few do… But there is no easily-accessibly format for a complete start-up party. NI21 have hamstrung any party in future from trying to drive for that middle ground, but what if a new party was an actual new party…with no established faces, no ex-tv news presenters, no “public spokesperson for [insert group here]”, what if it actually was a group of united citizens trying to make the future better by going back to square one…
Anyone know how to do it?
Maybe we should just ask some MLA’s if they’ll jump ship, sure we’ll get near £60k just for having them!
DUP (Protestant Unionist Party – Ulster Protestant Action Movement – UUP)
PUP (Independent Unionist Group – Hugh Smyth was already in NI Assembly)
Protestant Coalition (UDP – UPRG – BNP)
NI Conservatives (UK party)
UKIP (UK Party)
Irish Republican Socialist Party (Official Republican Movement – Workers Party)
Workers Party (Sinn Fein)
SDLP (Republican Labour Party, National Democratic Party, Nationalist Party, NI Labour)
32 County Sovereignty Movement (Sinn Fein)
Alliance (New Ulster Movement – Ulster Liberal Party – UUP)
Socialist Party (Labour Party)
Green Party (UK Party)
Socialist Workers Party (Peoples Democratic Party)
People Before Profit (Socialist Workers Party)
Workers Party of Ireland (Sinn Fein)
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.