Rookie SDLP MLA fumbles the ball in Nolan interview…

The golden rule in Northern Irish politics is, ‘tell ’em nahm”, especially if it has anything to do with money. The SDLP were determined to try and plot a different route, and in the process gave us the most amusing/excruciating moment of the campaign so far.

It’s about 19 minutes in and well worth listening to very carefully. It’s clear that Diver mistakes the party costings as covering one year when in fact it covers four. And since the party had not previously released the figures, Nolan rushed into the gap.

And it is in that gap that a whole bunch of speculation has grown suggesting that the whole manifesto is based on wildly false figures.

Here’s the exchange from the BBC...

“My understanding is that in the last budget there was something like £233m to Northern Ireland as the Barnett consequential and as I understand it that the minute that has not been allocated or identified for any specific or particular purpose,” Mr Diver said.
“Why would it not be put to address many of the very difficult issues that we’re hoping to grapple with in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Diver was then asked by the host of the programme Stephen Nolan: “Is that £223m a year or what’s that?”
Mr Diver replied: “That’s the additional money that’s been allocated in the budget under the Barnett consequential to take account of the population in Northern Ireland as it currently stands.”
He was asked again over what period of time the money was – “per year, per two years, per four years, what is it?”
Mr Diver replied: “I would presume that that’s an annual amount.” [Emphasis added]

On the hoof presumption with figures is a rookie mistake. And the controversy revolves around Diver’s misassumption that it was a yearly figure rather over four. When Slugger contacted the SDLP this afternoon, they clarified their manifesto’s funded position thus:

The Barnett consequential is £223m over four years but most of it is from next year for the next three years.

1. Strong Start Fund will provide £250 per child at birth. That will cost £5.59m per year or £16.7m over three years. The figure is based on the median cost based on birth rate over last ten years.

2. Our plans to reverse the cuts in student places by 1720, increase places by 1000 including at Ulster University and reduce fees by £500 will cost £122.9m in total over three years. The additional places will cost £71.3m and reducing fees will cost £51.6m. (The tuition fee has gone up way ahead of inflation since 2011).

3. We will invest an extra £5 million per year for three years meaning a total of £15m.

4. The cost of expansions of pre-school childcare from 12.5 hours to 20 hours is £21.8m per year so £65.4 over three years.

In total that equals £220.07m.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Gopher

    There is the Keynsian school of economics, the Austrian School of economics and now in Nothern Ireland we have the “Back of fag packet” school of economics.

  • Gopher

    I’m with you on this it looks like the senior figures in the SDLP weren’t prepared to defend this against Nolan. I get the the impression that a certain party leader in tight contest in Foyle won’t be too unhappy that a running mate crashed and burned.

  • mickfealty

    “More likely”? Why? The Barnett Consequentials are a fixed and known cost. And we’ve known that that is the margin on which these five pledges were built. Suggesting otherwise is pure ignorance/mischievousness.

    Fair play to Nolan on catching Diver out. He should have known the figures, and if the SDLP want to up the general game their screw ups belong to them and only them. But let’s not get blinded by the usual election cabin fever?

    I’ve been running Slugger a long time (14 years in June), and I don’t pay any attention to spin. Mostly I haven’t patience for it, and unlike some of my journalist friends we are not obliged to fill the pages of Slugger every day with speculation about what might be coming.

    A promise is barely worth nothing till it is delivered. I can see why they kept the figures quiet, because they are small but they’ve said all along where the money was coming from and it’s always been a relatively small figure.

    But a fully costed manifesto? No one costs their manifesto figures in NI. Who has costed the 50k jobs promised by SF? Fluctuations in the job market will account for that. I saw Alliance getting flack the other day over whether their proposals for Water Charges were revenue raising or not.

    Ahem, none of it comes with costs. Yesterday should have been a good day for the SDLP to compare and contrast with the SF/DUP manifesto. instead they shot themselves through the toe with their own fiscal shotgun.

  • mickfealty

    Yes, the instinctive defence of St Mary’s doesn’t really sit comfortably in that package.

  • Gingray

    Declan – SF candidates have topped the polls not the party, but they will only end up with 7 of the 49 elected Senators.

    FF as a party have topped all 4 panels so far with 31-35%, FG next on 27-32%. SF have generally been on around 17% (they have gained about 3% solid support from independents).

  • John Spence

    Surely you’re not saying HRC is an example of a candidate right on top of her brief. I think 45% of her party supporting a 73 yr old who just joined it a short time ago says otherwise

  • Granni Trixie

    Perhaps I have communicated badly but where did I refer to Barnet? I used the example of how Diver was tied in knots over integrated education because he was unable to explain how his party proposes to retain schools with a Catholic ethos whilst promoting integrated education. I actually think
    an innovated model might emerge from this challenge.
    TBH I suppose I was also unconsciously bringing into my thinking conversations which led me to believe they were uncomfortable with this new SDLP policy to promoted IE. Not to mention the inconsistency in their robust defence of retaining segregated teacher training – something else which Diver was questioned about. He was also queried about where the money would come from to lower the level of student fees etc.
    At the very least Mick I trust that I have said sufficient to convey why I say that your assumptions about how “everybody” consumed this programme are misplaced.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    My o my it was entertaining radio! I listened to the show force-fed in a public space. It was interesting to watch others gradually looking up from their magazines/phones to listen to the slo-mo demolition of the politician.

    The rabbit-in-the-headlights hesitations in answering as they developed during the interview were particularly funny. Much like being poised to jump into a cold pool, you know it’s not going to be fun but you have to take the plunge anyway; poor Diver had to provide an answer that by then even he knew was only going to add to the debris that was his credibility, and by extension that of his party.

    The kinder members of the group I was in we’re offering up “oops”, and “oh dear”. One wit shouted “take the 5th!”.

    As 10 am came around even I was feeling ‘just make it stop’. Well no, not really.

  • Granni Trixie

    People are trying to make sense of how a party which continually tries to legitimise a past which includes tactics such as violence and intimidation has the brass neck to lecture people? Its about moral authority.
    . Don’t you get it?

  • Granni Trixie

    Cant say I agree with you. Nolan is often insightful. And brave – for example he is one of the few journalists to give attention to punishment beatings during the troubles as now. He was well able for the majority of listeners who were people saying punishments were needed and he didn’t understand what it is like for working class people who need to do something about anti social behaviours.

  • Dominic Hendron

    After Nolan your talking about Nolan, after talkback your talking about the topic. Didn’t say he wasn’t brave but he never got back on the loyalist protection money issue.

  • mac tire

    Of course I get it, Granni. Wanna talk about “mak[ing] sense of how a party which continually tries to legitimise a past”? Then start your own thread.
    God knows, you’ll get plenty of opportunity to discuss the things you want. This one was about the SDLP.

  • Paul Gosling

    But how could Gerry Diver have gone into the studio thinking that the Barnett consequential was per year? He failed to do the basic research.

  • willieric

    Count the number of times Conor Murphy uses the phrase “very clear” on Friday morning. Record currently held by Paul Maskey on Nolan, 17 times during 12 minute interview.

  • Ed J Caites

    Hmmm … Perhaps he has researchers that do that for him!?

  • Ed J Caites

    What does he mean that he doesn’t want kids going to university in Liverpool? …….doesn’t his own wife lecture in a Liverpool uni???? OMG, painful !! … It’s faux pas après faux pas.

  • mickfealty

    Spot on Paul. Senior Hurling it most certainly was not. Almost Donegal in [hurling] standards, if I’m permitted a dig at the Fealty home county?

  • barnshee

    “We expect too much of our politicians for £50000 a year ….i mean you cannot get quality at that money”

    Its a multiple of what most of them have ever earned in the past