Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative
Are we unrealistic about our politicians and the criteria that we use to judge them?
You just have to listen to the Nolan Show or Talkback to hear plenty of criticism directed at our political leaders. Hell on this website we give our fair share of criticism of politicians. However, recently anytime I hear the chorus of sustained criticism directed towards MLAs and their performance I am reminded of the above quote from the former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau when he faced sustained criticism for his leadership.
What Trudeau meant in his famous throw away line was that when his supporters became disappointed they should have both more realistic expectations and should always remember that whilst he may disappoint, they should always look at who is sitting on the other side of the fence.
Maybe this is what’s missing from politics in Northern Ireland? We have effectively weak alternatives and in many respects the real politics goes on within the parties. As we are seeing due to the weakness in the Labour party, most of the political focus is likely to shift towards the internal dynamics of the Conservative party as they debate Europe and a post-Cameron future. Which at the moment is substantively the only show in town that matters as Labour/Liberal Democrats luxuriate between irrelevance and introspection.
Closer to home we have a similar issues as the DUP (albeit to a lesser extent in recent months) dominates Unionism and Sinn Fein continues to dominate Nationalism. The problem is that in these two parties in many sections of the membership the leader may as well be regarded as the Almighty as they evoke a great degree of loyalty from their party base.
We do need strong leaders, we have seen the result of weakness in the past, but we also need to have parties with internal political dynamics that encourages debate and challenges of the leadership where they stray too far from the party platform or into any ethical quandaries.
Likewise, we need to have alternatives to keep parties on their toes and keep the base motivated to continue seeking new ways to engage with the public.
In conclusion, perhaps what Northern Ireland politics needs is a few more alternatives and less Almighty’s
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs