Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Middle ground politics

I contributed a guest column to the Belfast Telegraph today on the topic of "middle ground politics". In it I argue that a greater policy focus will develop as a consequence of devolution and as a means to tackle voter turnout issues. As regards tackling traditional voting patterns, I contend it can assist such a process but people need to be realistic about the level of return it will yield. As to the role of Unionist Unity I argue it is how that idea is shaped that will determine whether it is a help or hindrance.

There are two alternative viewpoints with Owen Polley argues that Unionist Unity will prevent any such development while Dr Peter Shirlow thinks the two present Unionist parties incapable of attracting the groups of Unionists that have stopped voting.

Polley's rejection is no surprise. He has been a persistent critic of various forms of co-operation and collaboration in Unionism. On his blog he highlights my use of 'dead-head'. I had toyed with whether to include the term or not but in the end kept it in because I consider the much of the commentary to be just that. The idea was never explored for any potential benefit it was simply rejected upon mere mention. Simply an unthinking approach was adopted to it and I dislike that whether from a liberal or anyone else. It is like rejecting the idea of a new house before a design has been even produced let alone built. Any idea deserves some basic consideration before rejection. I have made this criticism before of an Alex Kane piece where I argued:

"Both unity and a stronger policy agenda are perfectly possible, they are not mutually exclusive. Unionism overall might also be better off if its commentators didn't try to kill a potentially useful debate because of a burden of history and perception or simply list problems but rather engage in creative thinking about possible solutions."

Shirlow's contribution does recognise the working class element of non-voting Unionists that the media regularly overlooks but in his conclusion he seems to lump in the reasons for their disenchantment in with a 'liberal' section of the middle class which I think is unwise. Also as someone who worked in the community sector for over 15 years I can see the bog-standard sector whinge a mile off and Shirlow appears to have bought into hook line and sinker. Blaming politicians is the common conclusion to many a debate in Northern Ireland but it doesn't mean it is always legitimate.

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