Saturday, 18 December 2010

Quote of the day

"Playing on people's fears in such a populist manner is nothing short of a disgrace."

No not a comment on the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey but a UUP spokesperson condemning the DUP for highlighting the UUP confusion over water charges.


Chalk up a defection for the DUP.  The News Letter reports that UUP Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Castlereagh, David Drysdale has defected to the DUP.  Some of his reasons are quoted from his resignation letter.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


It appears that the UUP's confusion over health spending has now infected its water charges policy.  UUP Deputy leader, John McCallister, on the Nolan show backed the introduction of water charges as a means to boost health spending.  He highlighted a UUP 2007 manifesto pledge for a £100 water charge (if Direct Rule had implemented water charges by the time devolution was restored):

"• Capping the Direct Rule Administration’s introduction of water charges at a maximum of £100 – prohibiting any rises while the Assembly and Executive devise a fairer, more sustainable alternative."

Leaving aside the manifesto pledge being conditional on them already being introduced and presented as a temporary measure, the recent policy paper of the UUP was more circumspect on the issue:
the Ulster Unionist Partyrecognises the serious financial difficulties families are facing across Northern Ireland and recognisethat households are on average paying £160 per year servicing water charges through their rates. Wetherefore call upon the Minister for Regional Development to lay out the facts and options open to theNorthern Ireland Executive with regards to water charges – focusing on the potential increase in costto the average household in Northern Ireland if they were to be introduced. The Ulster Unionist Partyfirmly believes that an informed and time-bound debate must take place and that if water charges are
the Ulster Unionist Partyrecognises the serious financial difficulties families are facing across Northern Ireland and recognisethat households are on average paying £160 per year servicing water charges through their rates. Wetherefore call upon the Minister for Regional Development to lay out the facts and options open to theNorthern Ireland Executive with regards to water charges – focusing on the potential increase in costto the average household in Northern Ireland if they were to be introduced. The Ulster Unionist Partyfirmly believes that an informed and time-bound debate must take place and that if water charges are

"...the Ulster Unionist Party recognises the serious financial difficulties families are facing across Northern Ireland and recognise that households are on average paying £160 per year servicing water charges through their rates. We therefore call upon the Minister for Regional Development to lay out the facts and options open to the Northern Ireland Executive with regards to water charges – focusing on the potential increase in cost to the average household in Northern Ireland if they were to be introduced. The Ulster Unionist Party firmly believes that an informed and time-bound debate must take place and that if water charges are to be introduced the most vulnerable in society must be protected, any charges must be phased in over a period of years and all revenue must be hypothecated to frontline health and education services."

Meanwhile John McCallister's comments led to UUP Councillor Ronnie Crawford to call for  his Deputy Leader to be:
"sacked or hanged"

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


While the draft budget will grab the headlines locally, Labour tried to block the tuition fees hike in the Lords last night.  They failed with at least two Unionist Northern Ireland Lords backing the Coalition proposals, Lord Trimble and Lord Maginnis.  Trimble is a full blown member of the Conservatives so his vote is not that much of a surprise but why did Maginnis join him? Is it the first outworkings of Tom Elliott's latest deal with the Tories?


With Trimblesque skill McNarry's prediction that a draft budget was pie in sky has been disproved within 48 hours with it now on the table for people to inspect.  Beyond providing a lesson in the dangers of political predictions the big politics of this should be recognised, the Executive has passed another major test. 

The obvious test at the start of this term was the devolution of Policing and Justice and this was achieved.  Circumstances then created budget issues for it to handle.  The NI Executive was the only devolved administration to implement the emergency budget cuts in this budget year (which helped created some breathing space in the next financial year).  

The Comprehensive Spending Review gave it a much bigger task.  The easy option would have been to cut a one year deal and a number of commentators predicted just that.  It didn't.  It went for the four year package.  While this draft budget will invariably involve pain when it is finalised it will mitigate it to some degree by providing people will have a degree of certainty of how much pain, when it will come and for how long.

The consultation process on the draft is a test for our broader civic society to see if they can behave as responsibly and where the seek changes to cuts that they provide credible alternatives of where else they should fall.

Today it should be acknowledged that Stormont and how it operates may not always be quick or pretty but it is functioning.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Plan B

While the media will be predictably fixated on Finucane.  Buried in the US cables is confirmation that a unpalatable Plan B did exist if the attempts to restore devolution had failed.  In a released US diplomatic cable the then Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern explained that:

"..."Plan B" (indefinite suspension of the Assembly and joint UK/Irish stewardship of the Northern political process) would take effect..."

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Queen

Hat tip Iain Dale - very nice arrangement of the National Anthem.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Back pocket

It appears that asset sales have not been included in the Treasury's projections for public finances.  How much these will be is hard to predict (particularly as the sale of bank shares will play a part in it) but the Treasury Committee Chairman expects the revenues to be substantial: 

"My best guess is that you’re going to find yourself not wanting to hypothecate it, in which case you’re going to have quite a bit in your back pocket as the years go by."

What is to be done with these extra revenues?  Apparently not just deficit reduction:

"Proceeds would go to a number of purposes, Osborne said, such as capitalising the government’s planned Green Investment Bank...I’m not wedded to all proceeds from asset sales or privatisation going into deficit reduction...Just because I’m open to discussion does not mean it’s open season. "

Although it may have to be used as contingency if the reliance on welfare cuts to deliver spending reductions proves as illusive as it has in the past.


There will be an event or image that brings out the authoritarian in each of us and I must admit that this one manages it for me. 

It brought to mind the PJ O'Rourke chapter on the issue of anti-flag burning laws.  When such laws were rightly ruled unconstitutional he found the response of one state amusing.  It passed a law stating anyone assaulting someone burning a flag would be subject to a small fine - the legislative equivalent of a 'kick me' sign.

No doubt my anger will subside but the stupidity of the yesterday's behaviour  will only grow.

Quote of the day

"I’ve just got an email from “The Conservative Party” asking me to “Help Win the Tuition Fees Debate”.
Should that not have been directed to Danny Kennedy?!"

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Quote of the day

"Oh dear that ackward moment when you realise you've been done over by Tom Elliott."

One wag's comment on the doing over of the local Tories by Tom Elliott (and of course Owen Patterson).


With the student fees vote looming Nigel Dodds at PMQ drew a comparison between Lib Dems and FIFA.  Cameron sensibly tried to deal with it by a joke in response, but ended up making his deputy, Nick Clegg,  the butt of it:


Considering the difficult position the Northern Ireland economy finds itself in both in terms of recovery and the  budget issues, particularly on capital, there are a number of things could be sought from the Conservatives. However, it takes breathtaking levels of navel-gazing and warped priorities to make closing down the NI Conservatives the key demand in discussions rather than something that would benefit the people of Northern Ireland. 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Whatever the curiosity value of the thrashing about in the ever decreasing pond of the UUP there is a supplemental to Terry Wright's question for the UUP asking why people are leaving.  The supplemental is not for the UUP but for the DUP, why have those who are leaving the UUP not opted for it?

To a degree those who would opt for the DUP from the UUP's ranks made the shift years ago - it landed the fish it could from that pond.  What remained, of various hues, had one thing in common a dislike for the DUP.  This commonality became a self-reinforcing truism within its ranks.  The outmoded nature of many of these perceptions of the DUP is immaterial.  It is why being anti or not the DUP became so central to the UUP's message.    Anyone within that culture is unlikely to opt for the DUP on leaving or risk even greater levels of opprobrium heaped upon them - the visceral hatred many UUP activists retain for Jeffrey Donaldson the best example of this.

There is the type of person who has left.  They are from the more liberal end of the spectrum so Alliance is a more natural switch or they gravitated from the Tories to the UUP and are now gravitating back again.  Some are also ambitious and how many vacancies there will be in the DUP in the immediate future is probably a consideration.

There is also how much the DUP has been able to embark on broadening itself.  Problems with grassroots preparation in 2005-07 and and narrative in the immediate post devolution periods created a series of problems for the DUP.  They had to spend time on solving those whilst being hit with the whammy of expenses et al.  

Although the likes of Ian Parlsey and Geoff McGimpsey had picked on the DUP moves to broaden itself before the party conference it seemed to pass many others by.  However, the recent DUP conference made that direction plain for all to see with the future focus of Dodds's second century Unionism and the the focus of relevance in Robinson's peacetime Unionism.


The Nolan show was in full frenzy whipping mode about salting of paths at Stormont.  When I heard the report I was surprised by the claim that all the paths were salted having had to negotiate them the day previously.  Their reporter on the spot repeatedly described the paths clear.  Now Ian McCrea MLA has provided some pics from Stormont providing images directly contradicting the claims.

Dedicated Redux

The UUP Deputy Chairman, Terry Wright, one of the men charged with the post Westminster review of the party, has added his tuppence worth to the Conference fall-out:

"...has said he would not have attacked former candidates in the way David Campbell did on Saturday."

He went on to clarify that his comments should not be viewed as criticism of the Chairman David Campbell.  On the resignations he commented:

"...when people leave - and this is always likely to happen - you have to address the issues which prompted the decision."

Quote of the day

"I mean, no slight to Mr Elliott's politics or personal integrity, but in terms of presentation, he and his party are still rubbing sticks together hoping to stumble on the secret of fire."

Gail Walker in particularly acerbic form about the UUP conference (not yet online).

Monday, 6 December 2010

Dedicated... (Updated) wash dirty linen in public.  Flash Harry walked on Friday.  On Saturday it was revealed John K Lund had been suspended for comments on the Nolan show (only one of a number of members who participated in that sorry affair) with the result he was quitting and predicting others would follow (UPDATE a correct prediction judging by 3000 versts latest post).  Now on Monday a Lisburn UUP councillor, Ronnie Crawford, asserts on Flash Harry's facebook page:

"When will the UUP get a grip of itself?  We are a total shambles."

Before attacking the Party Chairman for his negative comments about those who had quit (scroll down), David Campbell:

"Following today's conference it was confirmed we need more Flash Harry's and fewer rash Campbell's."

Campbell attacking those Westminster candidates who had subsequently left the party which made at least one of their Assembly candidates, Lesley Macauley, uncomfortable.  As mentioned before disciplinary action doesn't necessarily create a culture of discipline it needs a membership that grasps the basic common sense of it.

Jpeg of facebook comments below the fold


So Tom has delivered his first speech as leader.  I was doing some facilitation work on Saturday so missed it all so will examine the official version of his speech.

First the re-arranging of speeches on the day was a necessity built on an error.  With the TV coverage due to end at 1pm the idea the party leader would deliver a speech from 12.40-1.00pm was bad planning.  It needed to be re-arranged and it was on the day.  However, a message of dedicated to delivery isn't helped by last minute re-jigging.  This also necessitated the bumping of the women's slot as it was no doubt originally intended to overcome previous negative comment, the shift ended up provided evidence for it.

As to the speech itself, opening platitudes dealt with in the customary and acceptable manner.  The idea of using the speech as a platform to define himself was obvious and sensible but the manner in which he did so was a mistake.  Political animals underestimate how little attention is paid to a) news and b) those parts of the news they appear on.  Tom's low profile since becoming leader was thus of an advantage - if people hadn't really noticed he was leader (as UTV cruelly pointed out) then they wouldn't have noticed the negative things said about him.  The speech should have been solely the positive defintion of what his politics are. 

However, he listed all the negative things said about him which for some in the TV audience will have been the first time they'd heard them.  This error was summed up by the dinosaur line:

"So let no-one try and say that Tom Elliott is some sort of political dinosaur: for I am not"

This line was a gift to the negative media narrative and it was picked up by both BBC and UTV on the day.


Some feel good for a cold Monday morning courtesy of Susan Hill on the Coffee House blog.

Friday, 3 December 2010


The UUP PPB broadcast is now available over on iplayer (but not yet on the party site as far as I can see).  

Visually it has some comparisons with the DUP broadcast - bright skies Belfast skyline - although it has something of a softer vibe to the music and overall feel.  The use of the list about 30 seconds in didn't fit with the rest of it. Also there was a key emphasis point about 2.30s in that would made a better end point but they chose to  tack on another 30 secs that didn't add especially much and could have easily come before.  

What really hampered it was some wooden delivery from the party leader and some (but not all of the candidates).  


In terms of pre-conference build up it was a bit of a mixed media bag for Tom Elliott.  A message clash with his BT interview claims, a reasonable performance on Hearts and Minds with no balls dropped (helped by Noel going easy), a rather cruel report by UTV (young people asking Who is Tom Elliott?).  

However, throughout all of them there is a negative media narrative that the UUP is trapped within - no good at politics, not  modern, not  united, not relevant - with Tom placed in the position of trying to deny that but not persuasive enough to convince them otherwise.  Events have not helped and the loss of another Westminster candidate, Harry Hamilton, will reinforce that pattern of unhelpful events.  This will most likely the prism through which the UUP conference will be viewed.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


In today's Belfast Telegraph Tom Elliott declared that:

"I want to show people that we are a party of delivery.  You only have to look at our ministries, particularly health..."

Also today the BBC highlighted new data showing that those seeking outpatient appointments are facing increased waits.  The official figures show that:

"The total number of people waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of September 2010 was 128,835.
This represented an increase of 18,615 (+16.9%) on the number waiting at the end of June 2010 (110,220) and an increase of 55,128 (+74.8%) on the number waiting at the same time last year (73,707)."

It's not simply more waiting but they are waiting longer:

"At the end of September 2010, there were 52,326 (40.6%) patients waiting more than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, of which 35,969 were waiting more than 13 weeks. The number of patients waiting longer than nine weeks represented an increase of 23,177 on the figure for the previous quarter (29,149), and was up 47,767 on the corresponding quarter in 2009 (4,559).

The proportion of people waiting more than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment has increased from 6.2% in September 2009 to 26.4% in June 2010, and increased further to 40.6% in September 2010."

As the BBC pointed out that is a 1048% increase in those waiting more than 9 weeks in the last year.


If Australia gets the 2022 World Cup after this, then money must have changed hands. UPDATE Well Australia failed (as did England).  England will no doubt blame the BBC if I was the Aussies I'd blame the promo.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Tom Elliott has made at best ill-judged at worst hysterical response to Peter Robinson's speech at the DUP conference.  His response to 45 minutes setting out a vision for Northern Ireland's second century was essentially conspiracy theory.  It was all about the UUP apparently, even though the UUP wasn't mentioned in the speech:

“Let us be clear, Peter Robinson wants to destroy the Ulster Unionist Party, that is what he has always been out to achieve.”

Here was me thinking it was voters who decided whether or not a party lived or died.  This was not the only griping from the UUP about the DUP work at the week-end.  Tom's Deputy, John McCallister, complained about the DUP's:

"Expensive leaflets and slick broadcasts..."

It is terrible when another party knows what it is doing isn't it.  However, both are symbolic of how much the UUP has let the DUP get into their heads.  This impairs their thinking and thus actions.  They have become wrapped up in denial, knee-jerks and counter-strategy.

In Tom's defence perhaps the source of his paranoia is a bout of pre-conference nerves.  He has kept a relatively low media profile since he became UUP leader but that will have to change this week.  He will face his first Hearts and Minds interview and Conference speech as Leader.  Will he be able to match the vision in his 20 minute address?