After #AE17, the Alliance party…

A few years ago, I recall Belfast based lobbyist Brendan Mulgrew describing Naomi Long as “a full colour politician in a black and white world”. And that was a few years before she took on the top job on from David Ford.

Just over a year into the job, and Northern Ireland’s liberal party have their best result since 1987. That’s a very long way from the nadir of 2003, when it was lucky to retain its six seats on a vote share of just 3.4% of the overall vote.

The party was able to use that apparent success to regroup and ask itself questions about what the Alliance party was actually for, now that the war was over and the progression of peace was largely undisputed.

That year, 2003, the party had suffered a squeeze as Unionism had its final squaring off over the Belfast Agreement, which sucked up almost all the independent unionist groupings in an effort to see who was top dog.

Fortunately the winner was the DUP. Alliance’s passionate anti-tribal liberalism gave them a clear contrast with the winners. It helped too that the UUP could not thereafter decide whether to attack their now incumbent rivals from left or right.

By the next election their vote share had recovered sufficiently to bag them another seat, and by 2011, they’d pushed their total up to its present level of eight seats. For the first time they had enough seats to come into the Executive.

Having struck a deal with the DUP and SF to take the Justice portfolio outside the aegis of the d’Hondt mechanism, it benefited from having two ministers in the Executive giving it a visibility and prominence far above its electoral strength.

But despite holding that figure (barring a tidal wave) no one was going to do that in an election where 18 seats had been removed, 2015 is a watershed year for the Alliance party. In none of its seats is it struggling to hold what it has.

And there are signs that the brand is starting to take hold outside greater Belfast. Paddy Brown gave the SDLP a fright in its former heartland of South Down, when Colin McGrath had to rely on Unionist transfers to get in ahead of him.

Clear positioning within the new landscape, combined with a major upgrade in the passion and clarity of its leader’s messaging has enabled the party to begin to fill reservoirs far from its home base in the east.

In short, in 2003 it was able to feign a strength it did not have in order to review its purposes and aims. This thorough review led it to discard its conflict-era old guard, allowing it to recruit new talent and communicate a shared purpose.

It has built thoroughly and consistently under the rather staid, and understated guidance of adopted son of David Ford. But Naomi Long’s passion and ability to extemporise on her feet has been this year’s great leap forward.

The test will come, as always, to see how she can build on that further. Because the next stage of growth may see them moving up the line and into third or fourth place. They will become a target for other parties. Ms Long does seem to be up for a fight.

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  • Gavin Smithson

    Alliance trickle down from Belfast to the western counties is starting to happen but remember many western councils had Alliance councillors in the past. Alliance is reclaiming ground, not conquering new ground

  • MainlandUlsterman

    SF isn’t building a future with anyone though

  • MainlandUlsterman

    again, I think their USP protects them – that they aren’t for ‘sides’ at all. I don’t think they need to go green to appeal to some SDLP voters on that score. They should and do make a virtue of not doing that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    regardless of the terror glorification stuff? I just wonder what would it say to future generations that people stood by and allowed that to happen, without even asking for so much as an apology from them. Deep wells of anger I think would be dug by something like that. Not good for a healthy body politic. All they have to do is admit they made a big mistake. Is it really asking too much? We get that they’re not doing it now, congratulations to them for their belated entry into the world of humanity. But they can’t carry on surely bigging up the IRA – I just don’t see how they square it with who they claim to be now.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    national socialists more like

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Keep telling yourself that all you like. The electorate and general public feel differently. Facts don’t care for your feelings and fortunately the facts are there for all to see. SF are up for building a future with everyone

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Nothing wrong with the prosecution of soldiers who broke the law, but a lot wrong with picking out only them as SF would like to do. I may have missed ut, but I’m yet to hear SF calling for the prosecution of IRA members. You just can’t operate credibly with that kind of double standard.

    On the mirror image thing, really no.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Its such a shock and surprise because the convention here has been to treat unionism – even it’s nasty parts – with kid gloves when it comes to the media. It wasn’t so long ago that the neo-nazi and former leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, was hounded by all and sundry when he appeared on Question Time for his extreme beliefs. A short while later he was given a rapturous round of applause on the Nolan Show for none other than backing up his “fenian b*stards” comment on Twitter. The norm has always been to side with unionism, no matter who the unionist is so departures from convention, which LAD is, is a proper eye opener

  • grumpy oul man

    Oh dear, I always forget im talking to Jolly, who reads little of what he replies to and understands less.
    my point (which was quite obvious) is that AFs arrogance and bad manners over a ILA has brought unionism to this happy place.
    It would a fair bet that she is sick to the stomach every time she thinks about where the crocodile quip has brought her,and people shouting “see you later alligator” must hurt.
    Of course like many unionists (yourself included) she thinks that insults and a obsession with dead cats is politics,
    No other political leader would go out of there way to widen and mobilize a opponents support base before a election.
    like i said when she announced after the election that she was not standing down as leader the Campaign corks must have been popping in Connolly house.
    but please don’t let me stop you and the DUP supporting this great leader i think its a wonderful Idea.
    oh and remember i said for you to read posts twice before you reply,
    Well read this one twice!

  • Biftergreenthumb

    I completely agree with you regarding Sinn Fein. But I think the DUP are more than just “crap like the Tories or UKIP are crap”.
    Remember that the DUP deliberately got loyalists worked up over the flag issue and purposefully directed that anger at the Alliance party. As a result this violence was directed at Alliance party offices and homes. The DUP’s response to the violence was to say “Violence is bad, BUT……..” i.e. they tacitly approved of it.
    The DUP aren’t just crap they are morally reprehensible. They are corrupt, dishonest bigots willing to stir up trouble for their own gain.

  • grumpy oul man

    wow,

    Of course the same could be said of unionists and the attitude of the DUP towards Catholics and the people who murdered them and the government who discriminated against them doesn’t fit into you worldview.
    That was classic dead cat all the way through.
    Even for you it was quite a rant!
    Some proof on links to organized crime, vilifying police, oh what the hell prove the whole bloody lot of it!

  • hollandia

    Arlene was raised less than 3 miles from the border. She knows full well the implications.

  • grumpy oul man

    It is certainly trying harder than unionism is!

  • grumpy oul man

    Iv never heard a unionist calling for the prosecution of soldiers or police who worked with loyalist death squads so mirror image is right.

  • Jimmy

    Gerry that is roughly what I thought

  • Gopher

    I’m sure she did, she just did nothing to explain personally to the people at the border what she was going to do to mitigate any of the effects.

  • Gopher

    One does not sneer, one is just pointing out that it is one thing to be a flat track bully (though Muir came a cropper doing that) and it is another going up against SF for a MLA seat. I am for Equal marriage and fervently hope you get your wish.

  • Gopher

    So basically you want to dictate through law what a woman can and can’t do with her body.

  • woodkerne

    He didn’t say moderates he said moderation. Moderation is the act of reviewing and revising on the basis of a considered or authoritative understanding. A moderator is a power broker, who moderates, by presiding over proceedings. To moderate, in the sense of not being extreme or excessive within reasonable limits, is an adjective. In translating the adjectival-form into a noun, an ellision customarily occurs. By habit of mind, in everyday speech-acts, the noun-form, a moderate (i.e., person) is a personified index of a liberal order of things, whereby reason resides in the (politically liberal) centre, on a continuum or range or span, that is, as between left and right of the (parliamentary) spectrum, at the twin ends of which, on this prevailing logic, sit two polar extremes (of left and right). On this common sense model, the span of opinion from reasonable left to reasonable right is comprised with the prevailing consensus (HM’s loyal opposition as much as the government in any era are integral to the consensus). An interesting and important companion term is this connection is ‘responsible’ (and responsibility) where, parties to the status quo, are permitted representation within the limits of consensus, but irresponsible voices (aka extremists) are deemed irresponsible and in this way, ‘beyond the pale’ of how things are. The idea of ‘middle ground’ in this way presupposes a ‘positional superiority’ (which is why as a trope of conversation it irritates the f**k out of those who lack defintional authority). In NI, by contrast, the term middle ground is non-sensical. For ours is not a political society defined by a left-right-centre continuum within the limits of a liberal consensus (socialism/left-wing, conservativism/right-wing). There isn’t a liberal middle ground in NI (liberal opinion is marginal, located off to one side if you will) because the socioeconomic cleavages of left-right do not map onto or determine the primarily constitutioanal motives and objectives of nationalism and unionism. The related idea that parties or interests which condone or espouse political violence are automatically (and irretrievably) placed ‘beyond the pale’ (aka extreme, aka terrorist) is, at best, a debatable nostrum because, in fact, finally the determination of what constitutes political terror is a question of legitimacy. (In particular, where there is consensus over which agencies are authorised to deploy coercive force in protection of the liberal state). SF’s refusal to dub the northern state (produced by the 1921 border on the basis of a treaty they opposed and have never accepted), ‘Northern Ireland’ is a linguistic exampleof what they see and understand as the illegitimacy of the (local) state. For them, moreover, as a political state in waiting, opposing the definitional authority (aka legitimacy) of the ruling order, the political violence of the state and the political violence (‘physical force’) of irish republicanism are moral equivalents. Arguably, indeed, the basis of the conflict (the Troubles, 1968-99) was an argument, in words and deeds, over matching questions of legitimation and deligitimation. Who says what’s what. This is why in the lead-up to the Belfast accords there were ‘talks about talks’, because to accept your protagonist’s langauge is to accept their definitional authority and terms of reference. Either way, in light of the above, the term moderate, when used as a noun, is categorically at odds with the dissensus character of our society.

  • Fear Éireannach

    She did not get the message across she was First Minister for everyone on this, because she doesn’t really see herself as First Minister for anyone not in an Orange Lodge. And DUP policy generally is captured by Nelson McCausland (the best news of the election was his removal) “Who cares about border in Ireland so long as we are out of Europe

  • Katyusha

    Yes, Gopher. Of course the law can dictate what women (and men) can and can’t do with their own bodies. You can’t inhale the smoke of certain plants, or walk around with no clothes on, or import certain goods, or drive as fast as you please. If you’re a minor, you can’t have sex or drink alcohol. The law would be meaningless if it couldn’t dictate what people can and can’t do. If you want to live free from the law, take yourself off to a desert island somewhere.

    And chief among the things we are not allowed to do with our own bodies is infringe on the rights of others. The law tells us that we are not allowed to murder, or assault, or rape, or maim, other human beings, although you would hope morality would prevent this long before the law has to.

    And of the rights you can infringe, I believe the right to life is the most fundamental and vital to protect. A woman (or man) does not have the right to end the life of another human being, except in extreme circumstances, and that includes the life of the unborn.

    You may well argue that the unborn child is not “human” and not deserving of human rights; you would do well to bear in mind that the most heinous crimes are always preceded by the perpetrators dehumanising their victims, and the horrific fate that befall minorities in human society who were deemed to be not human, or less human, by society and the state. It is the most vulnerable in our society that are most in need of our protection.

  • Katyusha

    But how do we impress upon SF that they can’t continue to honour the IRA while holding public office? MON’s words the other week at that IRA event were chilling. If she were in any other party she would have had to resign.

    You don’t, or rather you can’t, MU. It is not within your gift to decide what SF can and can’t say in public office, an office they were granted by the electorate.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes it is. Everyone has the right to comment and judge as they see fit. They are not obliged to listen and, being bigoted idiots, it would be very surprising if they did. Still important to register one’s deep moral objection though.

  • Gopher

    Nobody is telling you to terminate, If a women feels she cant go through with a pregnancy I dont understand why anyone can stand in her way. Makes no sense to me.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I know what moderate means thanks.

    So to return to the subject in hand, you’re saying ‘moderation’ is a word you associate with the DUP and SF? You can argue all you like about not accepting the paradigm in which your lot are regarded as extremists; but you don’t become moderate just by regarding yourself as such. It’s an odd linguistic world indeed in which Alliance has no more claim to the properties of moderation than a party that venerates a violent paramilitary gang, or a sh**-stirring Bible thumper. Meanings of words are determined in the big real world out there and are beyond the power of a political party to corral. Sorry, but parties allied to terrorist movements just can’t lay claim to ‘moderation’ without stretching meaning beyond breaking point.

    Btw not sure if you missed it but all of nationalism expressly recognised the legitimacy of N Ireland in the GFA.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    A lot of Protestant voters, your SF?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Tee-hee
    You couldn’t make it up

  • Skibo

    Actually MU I didn’t make it up. Michelle O’Neill condemned Michelle Gildernew for saying they would put manners on the Unionists. Too bad Arlene doesn’t know how to check her MLAs.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Nothing ‘pseudo’ about this information – these are well quoted authors – it’s just that the information they are providing doesn’t fit with your prejudices. There are a large number of studies from reputable sources which all point in the same direction.

  • woodkerne

    Any position or politics or production can be moderated. To be moderate is a relative value, i.e., an action occurring in relation to other words and things, notably in respect of the contrasting value of extreme. The latter is a pivot-point on the continuum of what Nesbitt called ‘normal’ politics (by which he means liberal-democratic, determined by socioeconomic bases): in normal politics there are extremes defined by their distance from the centre of consensus, but in abnormal politics extremes constitute the norm due to the absence of a continuum as between left and right. On the latter, illiberal model, Ulster unionism & Irish nationalism co-exist in an ontologically opposing relationship. Equal and opposite, by the mandatory logic of power sharing, they are thus, in a literal sense, extremes in relation to each other – which is say each other’s other.

    (On a point of clarification, the whole of the Belfast Agreement is about legitimation: Northern Ireland is legitimated by the principle of consent and the incorporation of this superordinate article into the constitution of (the Republic of) Ireland. But matching this acknowledgement, antipartitionism is deemed a legitimate objective. The Agreement also in effect accedes a co-authority to British and Irish governments as arbiters of the terms of reference. Through the negotaitions preceding the Agreement, the British state declared itself neutral on the constitutional status of NI and Irish nationalism and republicanism accept this declaration of disinterest in the future. What these symmetrical arrangements amount to is that among possible futures there is a preclusion on purely internal (i.e., NI only) solutions but an anticipation that unity may occur, as and when consent for it has been achieved.)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So you’re standing by the idea SF and the DUP are accurately and fairly described as ‘moderates’? That was the point.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    And yet she praises the IRA a few days apart from that. Does she not think she needs to be coherent?

  • woodkerne

    No, I didn’t say that or concur with your characterisation. Moreover, I don’t believe that any disinterested reading of what I’ve said could reasonably come to that conclusion.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So why the essay on the subjectivity of any judgment about what is ‘moderate’? Not sure what point you’re trying to make here.

  • woodkerne

    If you are interested, which by your comments, I very much doubt, my main point is that to use the term moderate as an attribute in contrast to extreme (understood as a misattribute), according to the lexicon of liberal common sense making is inapt to the conflictual circumstances of NI history and politics. As a matter of further observation, I find the use of demonising short-hand terms to be critically reductive and intellectually harmful to reasoned argument. Which is to say, it’s just bloody tiresome.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What kind of things would count as extreme then, in your lexicon? Or are you suggesting there is no such thing as an extreme political view at all?

  • woodkerne

    I don’t take the view that ‘there is no such thing as an extreme political view’. The latter position would be mere relativism – a species of argument only marginally less harmful than the vulgar reductions praise/blame reasoning.

    Judgement, to my mind, of ‘what counts as extreme’ depends upon two preconditions in particular, above a range of contributing factors:

    1) methodologically, an evidence-based approach and review of the concrete particulars of any given hstorical circumstance and, 2), As a conceptual given, critique of the prevailling nostrums of the time – of orthodoxy, because I’ve learned to be mistrustful of the common sense, on the grounds, as Antonio Gramsci put it, that ‘common sense is the ruling class sense’.

    As you ask, I object to the fact, for instance, as a result of the ideologically extreme, upside down logic unleashed during the neoliberal era, that the richest 1% in the US and, in similar proportion, across the other leading capitalist countries, now own more wealth than the populations of entire nation-states in the third world. The 1% is by any measure a political and economic extreme. I also object and regard as politically extreme, the right-wing populism sweeping the capitalist world. Two further things to say about the latter. Importantly, populism has arisen as a consequence of the prior failures of the neoliberal consensus to address the extreme inequality neoliberalism produces. And secondly (I’m not sure if this irony or simply what happens when unreason accedes to power), populists in power aren’t generally at all embarrassed by the use of extremist methods and irrationality. Indeed they thrive on it, as the basis of their reactionary appeal.

    I find the parochialism of much of the commentary on popular blogs like Slugger and LabourList and the add-a-comment sections tof national newspapers to be extremely irritating because they routinely reproduce the tropes of unreason I’ve highlighted above. Relatedly, I find the state-terror of Israeli against palestinations, disproportionate in the extreme and an example of the institutional extremism of ‘blaming the victims’ which the US-led geopolitical consensus normalises while failing to condemn the extreme social injustices of religiously crackpot regimes and ideologies, such as those practised in Saudi Arabia, without impugnity to be extremely upsetting.

    And by the way, am wondering, what would an extreme moderate look like? (Don’t feel you have to answer. It is admittedly a rhetorical question.)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t demur from most of that. But where does that leave you with SF and the DUP – ‘extreme’ both, neither, one or the other? Not that it matters really. But just to tie it up, as it was what we started disagreeing on.

  • Brendan Heading

    Ciaran,

    I must admit that I am flummoxed by this too.

    Sinn Féin refused to accept that the Northern state could ever be reformed and played no role in trying to solve any of the problems within it. They didn’t want to try to make it work by fixing the problems.

    The MacBride principles were and are in practical terms irrelevant; fair employment legislation (and the associated implementation bodies) in NI date back to the mid 1970s, ten years before the principles were ever mentioned, and decades before they were adapted in US law. Even if you do want to argue that they were influential, SF played no role within them – the credit for that probably belongs to John Hume and his Irish American connections.

    The Housing Executive – an NI Labour Party idea – was established in 1971, again nothing to do with Sinn Féin. Reform of local government also happened under Stormont, yet again nothing to do with SF.

    I’d genuinely like to understand what on earth has led you to believe that SF played any role in equality here. I’m afraid that, just because a bunch of young people got it into their heads that the IRA were some sort of engine for gradualist reform of the Northern State with partition firmly in place, doesn’t mean that is what actually happened.

  • woodkerne

    Nationalism, the ideology of nationhood, is a base element of modern politics, understood and sympathised with as part of a universal register of meaning. As Benedict Anderson remarks in respect of the pervasiveness of the ideology of nationhood, nationalism is less like vocabulary than it is like syntax: i.e., in the discursive sense of being inherent, structural and integal to political meaning-making. Sinn Fein’s rationale and objectives, consequently, are readily understood and sympathetically appraised the world over. By contrast, JH Whyte (who’s son is cited elsewhere on Slugger today) categorised Ulster unonism’s aberrent espistemological moorings as a ‘no-nation’ theory and mindset utterly at odds with the modern nation-building experience. Consequently it has few friends or interlocutors who can make sympathetic sense of it to others. Am bound to conclude therefore that Ulster unionism is an inherently extreme political ideology in the precise sense that it is utterly at odds with international geopolitical norms. Sinn Fein, by contrast, especially since 1999 can claim affinity with the universal experience and outlook of nationalist parties everywhere. On this normative register, their politics are not extreme, since you ask. In conclusion, by coincidence, Slugger commentator Brian Walker speaks to this subject in another of today’s features. He says in related context: ‘Most of what Sinn Fein want dare I say it, is innately reasonable give
    or take a detail. None of it undermines the Union one jot.’

  • woodkerne

    Indeed. Brian Walker today: ‘Most of what Sinn Fein want dare I say it, is innately reasonable give or take a detail. None of it undermines the Union one jot.’

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s a very roundabout way of saying ‘I dislike unionism’. I had gathered that. Not seeing a lot of acceptance or parity of esteem in there; and I am seeing a lot of overlooking SF’s advocacy of political violence. Their bread and butter policies aren’t the problem when it comes to SF’s extremism. What is extreme and highly unusual about them is their past, and their present attitude to their past.

    It’s one thing to have been part of a machine that carried out 30 years’ worth of brutal sectarian
    attacks; it’s another to then continue to champion that chapter in the party’s history into the present, honouring the abusers, torturers and killers as heroes. SF is the party that does that, every bit as much as it is a party that has mundane normal policies too.

    So their weirdness is very much in the present, as Ms O’Neill reminded us the other week. What sort of a party can’t straightforwardly condemn terrorism? And that’s leaving aside their unreconstructed sectarian ultra-nationalism. Never a chance missed to do down the British population in N Ireland and ethnically scapegoat them. They are a nasty bunch of ethnic chauvinists who have always pulled the stunt of dressing up their ethnic aggression in butter-wouldn’t-melt faux liberal verbiage. They fool only those who want to be fooled. The rest of us see right through them. Please, don’t insult the intelligence of people who lived through the “armed struggle”. We had to suffer it, but we do not have to accept their self-exculpating bullsh** excuses for their cruelty and brutality. A whole lot of kids had to grow up without mums, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. To be asked to regard the murder of people as not extreme is basically gas-lighting, it itself a further act of abuse.

  • woodkerne

    I’ve made no secret of my dislike of the DUP because they are the major obstacle on the road to a lasting political settlement. They’re a toxic dump of a political party – more of a pathology than a modern political ideology – whose ultra-reactionary positions, bellicosity, bullying arrogance and impotent rage embody the very ugliest and most odious features of retrenchant sectarianism. But their voice also represents a significant tranche of northern protestant opinion and interests and to that extent a body of opinion that has to be understood and incorporated into the historical project of detoxification that is the ‘peace process’. In the long view, in the interests of the whole society, conflict-reduction (and eventually, one hopes, resolution) requires generosity on the part of the former combatants, winners and losers, but especially the winners. Refusal to be accommodated is of course the right of the sufferers of violence and all those who’ve experienced loss (the latter number will be high) and who may wish to maintain it, but residual bitterness and resentment will not help anyone to be settled in the longer term.

    Whether espoused by a nationalist or a unionist, righteous (passive aggressive) victimology is as unattractive a trait in Irish political life as its constant companion, (outrightly aggressive) triumphalism. Personally, I’ve no time and diminishing sympathy for either/both manifestations.

  • Skibo

    MU there are people, important people in Unionism who believe that the UVF from 1914 were a battalion of the British Army.
    I remember when the peace talks were ongoing and I remember John Taylor commending their actions in forcing the IRA to the negotiating table.
    William McCrea along with others stood on platforms with Loyalist terrorists. Unionist politicians dis not condemn the parades commemorating UVF and UDA terrorists on the streets of Belfast.
    You call it praising the IRA, I call it commemoration of lives lost.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But taking a cold hard look at SF, you don’t have a problem with them as a party at all?

  • woodkerne

    I don’t vote for Sinn Fein – not because of their past affinity with physical force – and won’t do while they are a party of catholic nationalism. Am positive, though, and hopeful that their practical evolution towards social democracy will continue as a dimension of the steady transformation of the basis of politics on the island.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Fake it till you make it, as they say, and I hope they do eventually become the party of fairness and equality they have claimed to be for decades, while acting like anything but. I tend to be skeptical about that though.

  • woodkerne

    ‘Fake it till you make it’, I have to admit I don’t know what that means. In general, am in favour of scepticism, especially a sceptical eye on orthodoxy and things as they ostensibly are but equally would stress the importance of critical investment in the future – practical hope – thus appropriately armed with ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Fake it till you make it is just a mantra for behaviour change – pretending to be something can turn into actually being something. Just hoping it’s true with SF and their newly discovered belief in pluralism.

  • woodkerne

    They’re not anywhere near sufficently pluralist or secular in their policy conception just yet.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Agreed