Observe the sons of Ulster, marching towards the bin

It was the best of campaigns, it was the worst of campaigns. Arlene’s decision to meet the three letter problem of RHI with the three letter solution of IRA worked masterfully in terms of holding the DUP’s vote together; despite three months of unremitting negative publicity and a collapsed government, DUP losses were kept to just 1.1%, with the drop in seats not much worse than the five likely to go with the shrinking of the Assembly. The DUP actually …

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If Brexit means Brexit, the UK Can’t Block an EU Army

“This is not going to happen. We are full members of the EU and we will go on resisting any attempt to set up a rival to NATO.” Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon’s response to proposals for an EU army discussed at the Bratislava summit ‘informal gathering’ of EU Heads of Government (minus Theresa May), reported in The Times yesterday cannot be, if Brexit means Brexit, anything other than a denial of reality. If government statements are honest, then the …

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South Africa: An Electoral Tremor, Not An Earthquake

In few countries would a governing political party in the throes of internal crisis consider 54% of the vote in mid-term elections to local councils a disappointing result. In South Africa, however, this represents a significant shot across the bows of the ANC 22 years after it took power, a decline of 8% from the equivalent elections in 2011, and almost 16% from its all-time best result in the 2004 general election. (Official results service here.) The shock is amplified …

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A historic day in politics: not Boris, but Vienna calling

A potentially epoch-making day in European politics: no, not the shenanigans in London on Thursday (of which a brief mention in a moment), but in Vienna on Friday. The Austrian Supreme Court has ordered a rerun of May’s knife-edge Presidential Election, in which Alexander von Bellen, a Green, held off the Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party by just 31,000 votes or just 0.7%. According to Reuters, “the court found no proof that the result had been manipulated, but …

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On parliamentary sovereignty and post-Brexit Britain

The latest phase in the stages of grieving for Remainers is the idea that parliament can save the UK’s membership of the EU. How would that play in blue-collar England? As 78% of the men on the Clapham omnibus, in the London Borough of Lambeth, voted Remain, we’ll need someone different to act as our ‘typical’ Leave voter. What about the man on the wonderfully-named Jump Circular bus, which really exists in the Borough of Barnsley (68% Leave)? The man …

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Democracy: Referendums, Petitions, and a Reality Check for Leavers and Remainers Alike

2.5 million people have now signed a petition calling for a second referendum. I won’t be signing it. It’s pathetic. We had the highest turnout in an election for 24 years on Thursday. I think collectively we’ve made a bad decision. But it’s the decision we made. You know what, in democracy, you win some and you lose some. Sometimes the decisions are momentous. There we go. Grow up and get over it. Where were those 2.5 million people when …

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Britain will Brexit if young voters fail to turn out. It’s a real possibility.

Opinium was the most accurate online pollster at the 2015 General Election. They have just released their final poll of the referendum campaign: Leave 45%, Remain 44%, and 11% undecided. There was a swing in the polls last week, which began before the Jo Cox assassination and seems to have primarily been driven by worries about a post-Brexit economy, which spiked sharply at the time of George Osborne’s ‘punishment budget’. That has stalled and may have even gone into gentle …

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We can already see a post-Brexit economy emerging. It’s grim.

Here’s a confusing financial press headline from today: German 10-year sovereign bond yields turn negative for first time. What does that mean in plain English: it means traders are so worried about what the UK economy would look like post-Brexit, they’re pulling their money out of the UK, and actually paying the German government to let them lend it money. Read that sentence again to realise how deep the fear is. You’ve heard the scaremongering. This is what the reality …

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Why has the Mail on Sunday gone soft on Brexit?

“[I]t is clearer than ever that the Leave campaigners are losing the economic argument … Their preoccupation with immigration … can sometimes seem more like an obsession, and one that is not entirely free of a prejudice that most British people have long ago rejected.” These are excerpts from today’s editorial lead in the Mail on Sunday. No, not The Observer, but the Mail on Sunday, a newspaper that has long thundered about the cost of Brussels bureaucracy, real and …

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After the Marriage Equality Veto

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of opening marriage to couples of the same gender by 53 votes to 52 yesterday, although in our Potëmkin democracy it is unlikely to become law any time soon. Although I have known for several years that this would be an inevitable stage in the road to marriage equality in Northern Ireland, it still felt like a punch in the plexus to finally secure a democratic majority through years of hard work only …

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Paisley: Relic of the Past or Harbinger of the Future?

I recently chanced upon this 1987 review by Charles Townshend in the LRB of Steve Bruce’s God Save Ulster: The Religion and Politics of Paisleyism. It now reads as a fascinating period piece. Just the previous month, Paisley had performed the first of his major protests at the European Parliament, heckling Margaret Thatcher. She was congratulating the EEC on its expansion to Spain and Portugal when he stood up, brandishing an ‘Ulster Says No’ poster, and shouted, “I would like …

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The Pope Is Still A Catholic

Lefty atheists from North London to Northern California are in outrage today at the latest shock revelations that Pope Francis is, in fact, a Catholic. “The pope played us for fools, trying to have it both ways”, thundered Michaelangelo Signorile in the Huffington Post, outraged that the Pope had (briefly) met Kim Davis. Ms Davis, you’ll remember, is the rather silly Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on ‘biblical’ grounds while herself being on …

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A Brief History of Time

In what is claimed to be a blow against one of the last remnants of Japanese Imperialism, North Korea will move to a new time zone on 15 August, the 70th Anniversary of the surrender of Japanese forces on the Peninsula at the end of World War Two. Clocks will move back by half an hour next Saturday, taking the hermit state half an hour behind Seoul and Tokyo (GMT +9) and half an hour ahead of Beijing (GMT +8). …

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“A Battle A Day” Is Creating A Political Wasteland

“It will always be a battle a day between those who want maximum change and those who want to maintain the status quo”. Recognise the quote? It came from Gerry Adams’ speech calling for the IRA to permanently abandon violence in 2005. Just a few days before the 2007 Assembly Elections that restored devolved government, Peter Robinson concurred with Adams’ assessment in a BBC Radio Ulster interview. Asked whether a government jointly led by his party and Gerry Adams’ could …

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On Charlie Kennedy

There’s lots of talk about Charlie Kennedy’s talents and his ‘flaws’, often a euphemistic way of talking about his alcoholism. Alistair Campbell has blogged movingly and directly about their shared illness. It was never exactly a secret. I remember canvassing a man in the 2004 European election campaign, a rather grand chap in a very wealthy street just north of Kensington Gardens. “Oh, the Liberals”, he sneered, “Couldn’t possibly vote for a party led by an alcoholic.” “I take it …

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A Good Week for Democracy Globally

There was something discomfiting about the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore’s achievements under his rule were extraordinary, but the story presented on his death was a sanitised fable. World leaders queued up to subscribe to the cult of wise old Harry, father of the nation. Lee wasn’t so benevolent when challenged. Opposition politicians were sued for libel and bankrupted for criticising government policies during election campaigns. When the opposition had the temerity to actually win some seats, the state …

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Your Guide to Israel’s General Election

Israel goes to the polls on St Patrick’s Day to elect a new parliament, which in turn will either confirm incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu in office or oust him in favour of the centre-left. The St Patrick’s Day connection? If Netanyahu loses, he will be replaced by a man whose father was born in Belfast’s Clifton Park Avenue and whose grandfather was Chief Rabbi of Ireland. Polls indicate that it will be a close run thing, with 11 lists, many covering …

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Two Tribes, The Winds of Change and an old man’s death

30 years ago today a man only moderately old died in an élite Moscow hospital; he had smoked incessantly for six of his seven decades and drank heavily for five, and after years of mounting illness, his liver, lungs and heart had all given in. His name was Konstantin Chernenko and he had, for 13 months, been the leader of one of the world’s two superpowers, and he was a gravely ill man for all of that time. Never in …

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Flegs and Anthems

I was interested to note the Union Flag carefully positioned immediately beside Belfast PUP Councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnson for her interview with BBC NI’s The View recently. “On one hand they tell us the British identity of Northern Ireland citizens is under threat”, she thundered, “whilst at the same time denying British citizens like me access to British laws and British rights.” The openly lesbian Corr Johnson was objecting to the DUP campaign for a ‘religious opt-out’ to equality laws …

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Gay Life in NI if the Conscience Clause Were Enacted

It was a summer Friday in 2008, and we were in a provincial town West of the Bann. Jordin Sparks was Number 1 and Ian Paisley’s tenure as leader of Our Wee Country had ended a few weeks before. We’d planned a day trip, but we’d ended up exploring a bit further than expected. It was chilly for June, but the showers from earlier had cleared into that gorgeous, soft, summer evening light that is the thing I miss most …

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