#SluggerReport: Surely no self-respecting Speaker would consign opposition to the Naughty Corner


It’s beginning to sound as if we have some kind of editorial position on Opposition. We don’t actually. There are arguments for the smaller parties staying in, not least if you think the result is by and large an endorsement for being in Government.

The most powerful argument against going out is the fact that as an opposition you can never promise to ‘kick the bums out’ as they say in the US. If that’s the case you need to be careful not just about your red lines for leaving but your green lines for a return.

You cannot ever, under current rules, insist that the parties you’ve been criticising for the last five years leave office. It just doesn’t work like that, so it undermines its real existential power as an Opposition.

The other con is that the current seating arrangments. If there is to an opposition it de facto changes the nature of the Legislative Assembly from a Congress of Tribunes to a parliamentary chamber where truth may be spoken directly to power.

No self-respecting (or independent) Speaker would allow the Leader and deputy Leader of the Opposition to speak from the Naughty Corner at the back of the Chamber. Whoever is appointed, should insist that they speak directly across from the government parties.

That would mean that the FM and dFM and their parties would sit on the same side, with the whole opposition on the other side. First Minster and deputy First Minister’s questions would become more visually representative of how power is actually brokered.

Then we might actually get some actual stories out of Stormont (both BBC and UTV have been disinvesting steadily for years). More stories mean more interest. And more interest, then more engagement of citizen mind share.

The opposition won’t be guarantee of any future success. For anyone who goes there it will be a gamble. As noted in this morning’s SluggerReport Assembly elections have become a routine administrative matter, largely determined by who has the better organisation.

As we’ve seen in West Tyrone a good, young and ultimately fearless candidate – unafraid to speak up for himself – did perfectly fine even after losing 3/4 of his local SDLP party organisation. If organisation is the ground on which they choose to fight  they will lose time after time.

The question needs to shift to who can run the country better? It is for the mid-sized parties to decide how best to do prosecute that line. But if they insist (as they have in the past) on raising serious matters and then running round trying to fix it then there’s only ground war.

In which case, as parties (and viable alternative options for the electorate) they’ll all be virtually extinct within another decade.

Going into an opposition is in part about pinning the blame on the Government but also about demonstrating to voters over and over again that ‘if you want to make a change then you must stop voting for them and vote for us’. It would also give them a breather to consider what they want to do next.

Coming out and being separate also needs a longer term political reform agenda (absence of which contributed to the TUV’s failure to ignite), because the all shall have prizes and none shall be punished by the electorate is not working, either for the mid-sized parties or the broader electorate.

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  • Teddybear

    A good idea for SF/DUP to sit on the same side of the house but will their MLAs actually sit next to one another or will they leave a column of empty seats between them so that they don suffer the ignomy of brushing their elbows against one another or even God forbid asking to borrow biros from one another

  • Msiegnaro

    I was under the impression that behind the scenes the two parties got on extremely well?

  • Peter Doran

    It would make for a very sound editorial policy to consign the ridiculous language of ‘naughty corner’ to the dustbin. Opposition parties can perform a vital task….and will do so increasingly on behalf of wider civil society interests.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If organisation is the ground on which they choose to fight they will lose time after time.

    Mick, I’ve repeatably criticized the “Opposition TM” of our local political pundits. Organisation is the only ground on which to win the battle of politics not Opposition-ism. You’ve got the whole thing wrong, the reason why the Greens and People before Profit (who had no representatives) got in, was not because they were in opposition, but because they were focused on being organised on the ground (proportionate to their opponents) than simply in oppositionism zeitgeists.

    Since I never get read when I complain about this, I will highlight the views of that unsung hero of the Peace Process and in my view once “Self Respecting Speaker” Lord Alderdice.

    Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this workshop, the opposition is there to hold the governing parties to account, and in a power-sharing arrangement the back benchers of all parties can work together across party lines to hold the power-sharing government to account. This is a purpose quite separate from the role of being a government in waiting. I have noticed a tendency for parliamentarians to see their role as being to discredit and tear down those in the administration purely in order to replace them. The result of this is almost inevitably that their claim to provide a better alternative is demonstrated to be bogus for once in government they do all the same things that they criticised in their predecessors, all the while feeling justified on the basis that ‘It is our turn now’. The populace meanwhile feels cheated and let down for they did not vote to replace one set of corrupt oppressors with a different set of individuals who did the same thing. They voted for what they hoped was a different approach, and a better government. In short those in opposition have a different role to play than merely that of members of government-in-waiting. The role of the opposition parliamentarian is much under-rated and under-valued. Even in the donor community there is a tendency to train parties to win elections and take power, in the often vain hope that they will be better people, rather than train opposition parties to be more effective as opposition parties, which might also assist them to be more responsible in government once they did achieve power. To put it another way, for some politicians the achievement and exercise of power in their own interests is the sum total of the purpose of politics. When they do this in a particularly corrupt and abusive way they are recognized to be ‘bad people’ and since the system has permitted such ‘bad people’ to take power it must be a ‘bad system’. The wider community domestically, and more importantly internationally then seizes on the obvious alternative, that is to find ‘good people’ to put into a ‘good system’. But the so-called ‘good new people’ end up doing much the same things as their ‘old bad predecessors’, because the problem was to be found in the view of what government was about.

    The reality is in the mechanics of democracy is that there is no rule that says that the opposition gets a turn in government once the people are fed up with the government in the next 2 terms.

    Proof of this includes …The 22 year democratic rule of the African National Conference. There hasn’t been a turn yet for the South African opposition.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The question has always been “who runs the country better” … and the electorate say it’s the DUP and Sinn Féin.

    Going into an opposition is in part about pinning the blame on the Government but also about demonstrating to voters over and over again that ‘if you want to make a change then you must stop voting for them and vote for us’. It would also give them a breather to consider what they want to do next.

    So hard core DUP and Sinn Féin supporters are going to simply going to defect their loyalties “en masse” because the UUP and SDLP leave into opposition?

    The problem with all zeitgeists is that they fail to take account of individuality.

    * Alternative government is not founded on the coffee shop punditry of agitprop the government and the people like sheep will flock to your comparative credibility.

    * Alternative governments are not founded on which side of the house you seat, and which bills you decide to vote down.

    * Alternative governments are not founded on the political engagement that comes from an MLA asking questions to a minister via Stormont today in the hope his or her soundbites make the Stormont Today program.

    * Alternative governments don’t advertise themselves as such expecting party political broadcast time on the Nolan Show either.

    It’s action, organisation and engagement that Alternative governments are founded on and that doesn’t depend on whether there is an opposition or not.

    Every member in the Assembly should legislate, and they should also hold the government to account, even if they are in said government, and that applies to the DUP and SF too. We shouldn’t try to segregate these equally important roles.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Political Reform via Feng Shui.

    Effectively the argument is that “partitioning” the house is a screening process against bad politicians and bad politics. This is based on the dogma that the type of politics seen in Westminster and the Dáil is the best in the world.

    I’m sorry, but the problem is bad politicians, not the seating arrangements, the only screening process we have against bad politicians are elections.

  • chrisjones2

    “you can never promise to ‘kick the bums out’ ”

    But you can expose thjem as clowns or as corrupt and drive them out

  • chrisjones2

    Yes ………….. the tow parties do on a personal level. The optics are different lest the electorate realise that

  • mickfealty

    Form dictates content Kev. The medium is the message etc..

    For opposition to be meaningful requires them to sit ‘opposite’, otherwise, you can always be dealt with by a sidewards glance and a back of the hand.

    True the Scottish parliament sits in a shallow fan which means everyone speaks sideways to each other, but that’s not afforded by the Stormont U.

    I’m arguing that where there is no government/opposition polarity, then the congress model is fine. This is how the European Parliament sits.

    If you don’t give physical form to the power relations that exist on the hill, then you are hook-winking people. And weakening the proposition.

    In theory, I’d prefer a completed circle, with all parties given seats that break them up into groups of two or three. But I don’t think we’re ready for that.

    Now tell me again, your interesting theory on where bad politicians come from.

  • Teddybear

    Indeed but they play Punch and Judy for the electorate’s entertainment

  • notimetoshine

    So you essentially advocate a free rein for the executive parties unencumbered by any sort of accountability within the chamber?

    The previous assemblies have not had any organised opposition, with the main parties all in it together, and what did we get? Very little. Increasingly poor health services, delayed infrastructure projects, a sclerotic economy, an education system in chaos and next to no fiscal planning. The assembly did very little, too busy over troubles and constitutional issues by half. An organised opposition to ask the really difficult questions, to run committees that can conduct no holes barred inquiries into government conduct, that’s what we need. We have no accountability up there at all.

    The problem with government is that It’s about far more than party politics, but unfortunately many political commentators and some on this blog seem to view the practicalities as an addendum, an inconvenient roadblock to the real business of political power and political science.

    We don’t need an opposition because it might improve a parties prospects(a disgusting notion), we need an opposition to improve the quality of government and its accountability.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “Bad” politicians, and people can be subjective about what constitutes “bad” are voted in.

    For opposition to be meaningful requires them to sit ‘opposite’, otherwise, you can always be dealt with by a sidewards glance and a back of the hand.

    True the Scottish parliament sits in a shallow fan which means everyone speaks sideways to each other, but that’s not afforded by the Stormont U.

    Parliament (Westminster/Dáil Éireann) is meant to be addressed through a speaker, or Ceann Comhairle for all the rowdy PM/Leader’s questions there is still frowning on the whole concept of “talking across the house”. It keeps Politicians from engaging in Nolan Show style blabbering and personal vendettas.

    The sides of the house are irrelevant, Churchill’s famous speech about the enemy being behind pretty much says as much.

    We’d get nothing but squabble if people spoke across the house, or to the parties left and right to them instead of to a speaker.

    A Self-Respecting Speaker wouldn’t make his/her role redundant just to permit arguing between sides of the house. If he/she did he goes from being a Speaker to being an umpire.

  • Jollyraj

    Similar aims and aspirations?

  • Teddybear

    No one refers to the Lib Dems or Green or UKIP MPs as naughty corner in Westminster so why in Stormont?

    Is it the NI mindset of people should know their place and how dare they be independent minded?

  • ted hagan

    Yes, agree. Eamonn McCann quite rightly rounded on Mark Carruthers on BBC for using the term.

  • Dessie

    That’s because none of the above are the opposition and none of them sit in the corner of the room due to Westminster’s design.
    I think it comes from the fact that everyone was in government bar 6 people and therefore they took up a “corner” that rebels against the government, hence the “naughty”.

  • mickfealty

    It is demeaning, of course Peter. But it’s also a fairly literate extrapolation of where they sit in relation to the ‘grown ups’ at the front. A transactional analysis would be revealing.

    Jim Fitzpatrick nails it on the head, it is an Opposition’s job to Oppose, and it it out of that opposition both government and opposition parties are motivated to find the public interest and seek to serve it…


    Oppositions only get listened to when they attend to the craft of politics diligently and effectively. This is why I challenged the First Minister over the weekend over her stated ambition to take politics out of health.

  • mickfealty

    “A Self-Respecting Speaker wouldn’t make his/her role redundant just to permit arguing between sides of the house.”

    …I’ll just leave it there.

  • Peter Doran

    We have yet to find the happy balance between the need to neutralize the over-determination of policy discourse by the Unionist/Nationalist fracture (e.g. education) and the need to champion a genuinely political and evidence-informed debate. It is not – and has never been – a question of opposing ‘normal’ politics to what we have inherited from the GFA/BA; but about finding ways to allow parties to face both ways and disaggregate, insofar as it is possible, their communal/clientelist interests and the common interest.

  • mickfealty

    I’m not sure the normal condition of democratic discourse is supposed to be happy Peter. I detect Soma in the air. And we all know what happened in Huxley’s Brave New World.

    I’ll be blogging Steven McCaffrey’s excellent piece for the detail on the rather contemptuous choreography surrounding this election between the big Two shortly. http://goo.gl/wbielY.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s debating matters and then there’s arguing.

    The whole purpose of the Speaker is not to remove the facility that politicians argue directly to one another.

    He or She who argues loudest and most aggressively is not always the expert. Empty vessels make the most noise.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I haven’t advocated for a free reign for anyone.

    Oppositions have to be held to account too, not just Governments.

    Indeed it is the job of Good Governance to hold itself to account, and Good Opposition to hold itself to account just as much as they have to hold one another to account.

    I don’t even know if the formal opposition gets any improved research resources.

    Opposition or not, if the politicians don’t get better there’s not going to be improvement.

    Opposition by itself is just a panacea.

    In South Africa they have an opposition and their government is unlikely to change for another 22 years on top of the 22 years they have now.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Form doesn’t dictate content. People can put past mistakes behind them. Having great form doing action A for so long doesn’t mean you have great success transferring it to action B.

    Research and Work determines the forming of content, Determinism doesn’t form what Research and Work people do.

  • Kevin Breslin

    So’s the Terms Tory and Whig and Trot and Blueshirt and Stickie and Stoop and Dupper and Kipper … but people adopt these in jest.

  • scepticacademic

    although there are definite ‘zones’ on either side at Westminster where the ‘awkward squad’ tend to sit – think Dennis Skinner on Labour side or the Bill Cash-type hardline eurosceptics on the Tory side

  • scepticacademic

    “the reason why the Greens and People before Profit (who had no representatives) got in, was not because they were in opposition, but because they were focused on being organised on the ground”
    Yes, Kev, but I don’t think you can dismiss the idea that the Greens and PBP attracted a significant number of voters precisely BECAUSE people knew they would not be part of the Exec

  • scepticacademic

    yes, this – only by leaving the Executive will MLAs from the UUP, SDLP or Alliance be truly ‘liberated’ to deviate from the agreed PfG and speak freely and critically on key issues. Democratic scrutiny in a debating chamber is never a bad thing. Too little of this in the previous mandates has led to staid and complacent government. A stronger and re-modeled committee system would surely help too.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nope, because that was their position in 2011 as well and they stood then.
    Indeed the Green Party would prefer to talk about their Children’s Bill i.e. governing, than simply opposing things.

    People before Profit talked about the power of the people in the streets, they know most of their politics is going to be outside Stormont on the picket lines.

    There is very little about their 2 MLAs opposition within the chamber reversing the decisions of the Executive. There’s no manifesto on how what they will do with the fiscal constraints we have.

    Indeed one great measure of the Oppositionism Jim’s TUV saw hardly any significant rise and he was the so called Official Opposition.

    Even the man who brought the opposition bill was voted out in favour of an executive party.

    Sugden inherits McClarty’s good graces from her role as a politician but it’s not had any effect.

    The UUP and DUP played with going outside the executive, they came back with 0 net gains but a swapping of a seat between Lagan Valley and South Belfast.

    You need 1 to oppose something, you need a majority and a consensus to get something passed.

    Oppositionism is only an ideology, even after 30 days in the Dail of Oppositionism from all sides, eventually it required an “opposition” party to help the government get in.

  • scepticacademic

    I don’t think we’re going to agree on this one. Regarding the Greens, their election campaign around Stormont waste was implicitly a critique of the exec parties, and a plea for voters to oppose them. Although they had Agnew in last time, they increased their vote and gained an extra MLA – I don’t think this can be attributed to the Children’s Bill. Some people (albeit a small minority) clearly want a change from the usual suspects. Having a more pluralistic assembly can’t be a bad thing.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Politicans are elected to be liberated from their responsibility. One role of Government is to hold the Opposition to Account. We have heard the parties of ministers scrutinise the parties of opponents on their opposition to their party’s minister’s decisions as much as we have the reverse.

    There is such a thing as a staid and complacent opposition too.

  • notimetoshine

    Of course in an ideal world a governing party or parties would hold themselves to account but they don’t. Indeed the parties of last terms executive simply crowed about their supposed achievements while in office (no wonder the manifestos were short this year).

    Government in NI has been an abject failure with nothing but Jim Allister, Stephen Agnew and NI21 to hold them to account. Hardly an effective opposition, though in fairness they tried their best.

    Of course an opposition on its own is not going to fix our politics but it is critical to achieving better government. You say “Opposition or not, if the politicians don’t get better there’s not going to be improvement” but opposition will help improve our politicians by holding the government of the day to account and challenging policy and practice.

    As for South Africa, I take your point, but the important thing is they have an opposition and a vociferous one at that calling to the government to account, that is the crux of matter. Just because an opposition party doesn’t convert that opposition into electoral success, doesn’t mean that opposition is ineffective, especially somewhere like NI where silly constitutional matters override the important things in life.

    I suppose in judging the effectiveness of an opposition project it depends on what’s more important to you, bettering things for the country or bettering things for a party. I know which one I prefer…

  • Kevin Breslin

    Opposition is just an articifical concept, only political action matters. As far as I’m concerned the yearning for any form of nihilistic contrarianism to fill the void of better governance is not going to produce the fruits to make that government better.

    You speak about vociferous opposition, we have those. Go to the 1916 Societies wanting the abolition of Stormont, go to the hardcore loyalists wanting the abolition of power sharing.

    If you want to hear passion and determination without end, go to the ones who want to oppose everything.

    What does it matter the vociferousness of the voices? We have that in Stormont, the UUP walkout, the SDLP voting down welfare legislation and budgets. People in the parties need to bring forward their alternatives, it’s not going to be any easier simply freeing yourself from a Program for Government.

    There’s no absence of vociferous voices in our society. Look at our journalists, opposing what Stormont is not on any policy matter but because it doesn’t have an opposition. Only Newton Emerton offers real policy debate, our other journalists (excluding those who have put themselves forward to election) want to talk about Stormont’s structure, or moan about orange and green and complain about the inertia … Normal politics would be a nightmare.

    Journalists of the 1960’s to the 1990’s have been treated to the drama of opposition from without, sometimes it would seem only for opposition’s sake. There’s no evangelising of the achievements the Nationalist Party or NI Labour achieved in opposition. Most of the time any opposition happened in the NI Parliament to block a bill came from a revolt in the Official Unionists.

    The most successful oppositions in Northern Ireland have been the ones that have brought Stormont down, and I believe that our local commentariat care more about the vitality of political dramas than the vitality of our public services and public sector precurment processes. I don’t believe the electorate are on the same page and the drop in newspaper sales and the market for the vitality of political activism and political organisation rather than eulogising nature of political commentary is what is bringing the little change we see in our political environment.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The fact is that the Green Party didn’t say oh we’ll decide we’ll oppose things and thousands of new voters came out to vote simply for that. Claire Bailey herself said that one reason that her party appealed to a wider audience was that they were standing FOR (and that’s the key word FOR not AGAINST) more than just environmental issues.

    In other words all their talk about reducing waste, the stuff they were talking about in 2011. It was to keep the votes of 2011. It wasn’t enough to get the non voters out in 2011 and there wasn’t any change since.

    A robot could do the job of putting a No vote in the no lobby, A teenager could complain about the negatives of a government decision. These don’t bring any reform with them on anything.

    Look at George Galloway, he appeals to those who think opposition is reform in and of itself, and he faces the revolving door when the Emperor’s New Clothes is revealed to the public as the wearer remains unaware.

    People need the positive side of politics to encourage them to vote, the constant agitprop just encourages people not to vote because human beings do imperfect things.

    Even Paisley had an evangelical side to him, people don’t like eternal contrarians … Which is why the likes of David Vance don’t get elected here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Representative Politics is not really that much of a somatic process, it’s more cognitive, limbic, verbal, psychological.

    Perhaps your big problem with “Peace Process TM” is that the somatic processes of terrorists and street protestors is infinitely more interesting to comment upon than elections and parliamentary democracy?

  • notimetoshine

    Of course opposition is an artificial concept, but it is still necessary to hold our government to account, and in a parliamentary setting that involves an opposition force of some description. It is not acceptable to leave it solely up to those in power or outside groups.

    I want an opposition to bring the exectuvie to account for the gross negligence they will inevitably serve up as government over the next five years. Outside groups and campaigns etc are all well and good but a day to day formalised opposition is required.

    I’m in agreement with you that much political commentary and news is focused on the minutiae of silly, irrelevant constitutional and ‘cultural’ matters at the expense of the things that really matter. I also agree that there would be a serious risk of the same old rubbish about flags and this and that being brought up in an assembly with an opposition, but the chance to get some real bread and butter issues that actually matter challenged openly in stormont is too enticing.

    When I talk about opposition I mean in a parliamentary formalised manner, the outside groups you mention are irrelevant in the context of a discussion on an assembly opposition.

    Opposition is not just about offering your alternative way of doing things, it is about challenging and questioning the actions of the executive. Opposition is key to a functioning system of governance, at the moment our assembly can throw any old tat out there and call it policy.

  • mickfealty

    Just try and keep to the subject Kev. I’m not the first on Slugger to make this suggestion. David noted back in Nov 2013 that there’s really no justification for keeping the current set if there’s an opposition (http://goo.gl/CzTZlS):

    I just wonder is there not something to be said for making DUP and Sinn Fein MLAs sit together in the assembly chamber.

    In Westminster, the Liberal Democrats sit with the Conservatives and in the Dáil, Labour TDs sit with their Fine Gael counterparts. My question is why can’t we do it here?

    I would truly find it hard to believe that the display of blame game politics that was on display yesterday would be as likely if the DUP and Sinn Fein had to sit beside each other.

    I don’t believe that this would solve all of the problems between the two parties. I just think after more than six years in coalition, they should perhaps give up the ghost and realise that they are in government together.

    How is it not a good thing if the parties sit in relation to the power and responsibility they hold?

  • mickfealty

    How many stories emanated from the floor of the chamber at Leinster House in the last five years, and how many from First Minister’s Questions at Stormont?

    I’m not a fan of the punch and judy style, but the alternative is zero deliberation. Zero deliberation, then zero action. Zero action then zero change.

    In 2013 I wrote this for Queens (http://goo.gl/ACgLA5)…

    As Mario Cuomo famously put it, political parties campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. But in Northern Ireland our structures of governance has been arrived at via two major compromises, (the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements) with the overriding aim has been the prevention of any easy return to the status quo ante.

    Disappointingly perhaps, in government the two parties which hold real power in the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister have made little progress, even in the most uncontroversial policy areas.

    All incumbents at Stormont seem to have forgotten a valuable lesson in the utility of compromise by Senator George Mitchell in the long and protracted negotiations to establish the Good Friday Agreement. Deal with the easy stuff first, then leave the solution of tougher problems to a non political technical sub committee.

    Yet after six years of uninterrupted executive power, the Assembly has just one piece of legislation regulating the height of hedges between neighbours to its name. An attempt to regulate the ongoing controversy over parades was rejected as too authoritarian by groups on both sides of the communal divide.

    The re-jigging of the architecture of the chamber to empower an Opposition would at least give some incentive for the government to co-operate sufficiently well to make a decision or two together.

  • mickfealty

    Sorry Kev, but you are finessing your point to the point of very silly.

  • mickfealty

    That’s just an empty assertion. Check out McLuhan: https://goo.gl/xeixZb. And this wee gem on Ontological design:

    “We design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us.”

  • Teddybear

    Firstly I am honoured that you replied to my comment. I’ve been a big fan of your work and analysis for years.

    I agree with your points above but I do think that all the proper legislative scrutiny takes place not in the theatrics of the chamber but in the more sober and searching setting of the Committees.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Mick, let me use a Fealtyism … The Speaker is there to stop politicans from “playing the man/woman” … The ball is the issue, and that has to be played to the speaker not the opponent.

    Isn’t that how parliament works?

  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s a pointless aesthetic Mick, they could sit in alphabetical order just like the UN and there is no guarantee it would change them in the slightest.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You create a false dichotomy saying that only through Punch and Judy politics can you get deliberation. If anything Stormont has shown it is that you don’t need an (offical) opposition to have Punch and Judy politics. If you want your local politican to deliberate on a matter, go to their constituency office on a matter you care about and ask them to tackle it, if they can.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Kevin, if you are suggesting that opposition brings no electoral gain in and of itself then I would agree with you. However I am coming to the view that being a minor party in an executive here hurts electorally. That’s certainly the case whilst the executive is being run as it currently is so far as I see it. Sinn Fein and the DUP are going to give the minor parties a look at a PfG they made earlier and then let them choose to sign up to it. Being another party”s whipping boy is damaging. As has been proven this last 10 years. Not so much that opposition is a positive as it removes a negative.

    Again I would agree with you on the organizational front. And to be fair that is pointed out in WT where a young guy was able to grow the SDLP vote despite public defections because he was organise and had worked hard for a number of years. But it’s a couple of percent here and there. The difference is 500 votes or so or 1000 if someone else really drops the ball.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s loads of nonsense that passes through Westminster and the Oireachtas and other parliaments.

    The whole if we get an opposition normal politics will thrive belief, is just a silly superstition. The fact is, is that it is part of normal politics for parliamentarians to discuss issues even if they are weird caveats like flags, emblems, parades and Gary Linekar on March of the Day.

    Did having an Opposition against him stop Cameron from his wear a suit and sing the national anthem speech? Did it stop a Senior Green Party member of the Irish Government swearing at a member from the opposite side of the house.

    Of course not.

    Having an opposition isn’t going to stop politicans behaving like children.

    Governments and Oppositions emerge from the primordial swamps of democracy, they are never intelligently designed by it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    It may hurt electorally, but the SDLP have to do a lot more inside and outside Stormont to get any build up of support. I believe the SDLP would be fools if they focus too much on opposition issue as a catalyst for drawing back support. Alliance came back with an extra seat when they entered government, the party can’t use being a junior coalition partner in government as an excuse. I say that with the deepest respects to that party.

    I have no problem with with the desire for opposition, I do have a problem with Oppositionism, because it is the belief that Opposition offers some Opportunistic advantage. It doesn’t, Labour were hammered in England under Miliband, the Tories consolidated their advantage.

    Opposition doesn’t take you out of the firing line of the electorate or the parties in government. It’s the Government’s second job to hold the Opposition to account. Yes there may be freedom of movement outside the Government, but freedom from Judgement doesn’t exist in politics.

    I believe the electorate is too smart and or too cynical just to fall for that one trick pony ride.

  • mac tire

    “I’m not a fan of the punch and judy style but…”

    Punch and Judy politics doesn’t really work – have you seen British PMQs? That show comes complete with its own braying and howling audience.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There is very little I would disagree with there. If the SDLP go into opposition they must do it with eyes wide open to the massive challenge that that represents.

    And you make the point well. The people don’t fall for opportunistic granstanding. Frankly that’s why the SDLP position on welfare looked stupid. And the UUP reason for leaving the executive equally so. It looked like grandstanding and the public didn’t like it.

    So I would say this.

    The SDLP would have to leave government on the basis of substantive policy disagreements. It’s going to look like opportunism in the first instance but if there are substantive differences between them and the executive, then that will.play out over time.

    If they don’t have substantive differences which are significant enough for a minor party to demand their changing as a price to go into government then they should stay in. And if they stay in, they sign up to all of the budgets and the pfg etc etc.

    It’s a big decision that effects everything in the next 5 years. The problem will be I suspect that the PfG will be a wooly piece of nonsense promising additional funding here and extra jobs thereally with nothing in detail. The substantive difference might be against inertia which is a difficult one to argue.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And I find little or nothing to disagree with there.

    Well the SDLP have outlined what policies they would not enter government without getting. They need to push their own legislation through, and without counting the bits passed by Executive ministers you would have to go back to Dominic Bradley’s Autism Bill for a successful example of that.
    It’s also clear you can see some of the ideas from the SDLP paper New Priorities in Difficult Times highlighting an example of an alternative budget.
    There are other matters around membership and campaigning and networking and public engagement which are the bread and butter of political movements.
    I haven’t read much of the UUP manifesto, or the Alliance one but there are some issues like developing entrepeneurship, civic democracy, and social enterprise that these three parties could form a loose coalition of the willing over to their own personal strengths.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Mick, the whole “form determines content” thing struck me as an empty assertion.

  • scepticacademic

    the fact remains, opposition to the government of the day – including the proposal of alternative policy ideas – is a fundamental part of liberal democracy and the fact NI – despite all its idiosyncracies – has this strange grand coalition with a minimal number of dissenting voices in its elected chamber is unhealthy, in my opinion

  • Kevin Breslin

    Liberal Democracies exist in Switzerland, in Local Authorities. Dissenting voices and Alternative ideas are rarely exclusive to an Opposition. Complacency and Apathy can exist in chambers with Governments and Oppositions because all those dissenting voices and alternative ideas can simply descend to Punch and Judy politics.

    If Opposition benches were some magical place for alternative ideas, the greatest scientists would want to be sitting in them to improve themselves. If they were a magical place for dissenting voices, rock musicians and art critics would want to be sitting in them to improve themselves.

    Opposition doesn’t inspire people to have alternative ideas or dissenting voices, any more more than changing the pitch and the laws of the game inspire footballers to be better footballers.

    Groups of people disagreeing with one another and craving popularity doesn’t mean they have one coherent or even semi-intelligent idea between them. It doesn’t mean that politicans are motivated more to pass legislation.

  • Ryan A

    I think you’re right in saying opposition is no silver bullet and sitting in it for the craic isn’t going to help reverse your electoral fortunes or kick the DUP/SF out. It has to be used as a constructive platform to expose Government weakness and/or ignorance and either use the backlash to cause a drop in support or reverse the decision – Look at Steven Agnew and welfare reform. Also notable neither Government party benefited from that ‘faux opposition’ populist decision in the election.

  • Kevin Breslin

    My view is alternative policy ideas are a lot more dominant in people’s judgement than whether they would be in opposition. If people didn’t want potentially governing parties they’d spread their votes out a lot more wider to those who wouldn’t be near government than they do now.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t think making noises and protests in the Chamber alone is enough to give yourself credibility, Basil, John, Stephen and Jim all tried to pass PMBs and only the first was unsuccessful.

  • Granni Trixie

    The term ‘naughty corner’ took off as a cute sound bite. Let us remember however that it originated from a Tv programme about unruly toddlers. When they misbehaved an expert presenting got parents to exercise control by placing the children on “the naughty step” on the stairs. This gave everyone time out and conveyed to the children which behaviours were unacceptable.

    Sooo – by labelling a space where MLAs debate ” the naughty corner” we are hampering,by infantilising , people trying to be effective in fulfilling their role.
    Trust it is not being too heavy handed to say that the days and label of ” the naughty corner” ought to be binned.