Monday, 31 May 2010
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
"Anyone who tries to peddle the myth of a problem with garden centre prods should be taken to such a centre and introduced to a large shovel until they recognise the evidence of box turnout and voter registration shows a working class problem. The core reason the UUP has been unsuccessful in tapping this vote for the past decade or more is because it isn’t there."
In this blog I will try to demonstrate in more detail why it is a myth. The theory of the 'Garden Centre Pod' is sound. It is essentially an Ulster version of 'Mondeo Man'. This is the ability to profile social categories based on their brand preferences and connect that with their voting patterns. This data from the likes of Experian can then be used to target such groups with a tailored political message. However, this is were the GCP theory falls down. It was a term created by a group of people close to the NIO and Ulster Unionists around the time of the referendum of a perceived social group. So unlike Mondeo Man, it had no statistical basis and owed more to a small group imagining their own predispositions were very widespread.
The second reason is classism. The idea of spending lots of time with 'nice' middle class people rather than in working class estates that appealed to the social prejudices of some and the laziness of others. There were some of these 'social-climber' undertones in the Tory link-up as well. Although, it would be wrong to portray these as the motivation of many in the UUP but certainly of some. Beyond the UUP, it appealed to the media tyes who live in the 'North Down' bubble.
If we presume I am mistaken on this and the GCP theory has validity there is a simple reason why UUP appeals have not worked. The GCP theory was central in shaping Blair's five pledges:
- No change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people
- The power to take decisions to be returned from London to Northern Ireland, with accountable North-South co-operation
- Fairness and equality for all
- Those who use or threaten violence to be excluded from the government of Northern Ireland
- Prisoners to be kept in prison unless violence is given up for good
Monday, 24 May 2010
"...a particular form of illusion. It's an illusion that tells a truth about the audience's desires, and it requires mystery and distance."
This illusion and projection of individual desires leads to a dangerous tendency as regards lying:
"Lying is usually a bad thing, but they would would project onto him that he was lying about his positions because he secretly agreed with them: "Anyone that smart has got to be a free trader at heart. He's just saying this to pander to those idiots. He can't really mean it.""
"You've seen, as he's taken office and tried to govern, this back and forth where he is consciously or unconsciously trying to maintain his glamour - which requires a kind of distance from the political process so that people can continue to see him as representing them."
Second, is the flip side of a person who fell for the glamour:
"...there is always this capacity for disillusionment. People have projected so much of what they think, including things that are sort of impossible, onto a glamourous figure, that when any flaw shows up the glamour is dispelled and suddenly he becomes terrible."
Postrel's blog which examines the role of glamour in society is here.
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Opponents of the idea have been keen to portray a United Unionism as some sort of monster. This is premature considering there had not been anything approaching serious discussion let alone any formal proposals or agreement. They will argue that they are warning of the possible dangers in such a process. However, the dirty rush and negativity seems more to kill the debate at birth.
Others have advocated Unity under a model they personally prefer. However, this approach will hamper the discussion as well. Any examination needs to be as open to a breadth of ideas not bog-downed in an individual model. So what is the basis of the United Unionist debate? What form should the debate take?The Westminster Mathematics
Any debate must be based on honesty and the Assembly projections for both the DUP and UUP based on the Westminster results are reasonable. The DUP are well-placed to retain largest party status and the UUP should maintain their present size with scope for modest growth. Therefore, there is no short-term electoral necessity for it. However, this is not an argument not for trying rather it is an argument for it.
In any negotiation you need a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). This gives each negotiator something to assess any proposed deal against. A negotiation is healthiest when the respective parties have a good BATNA and both the DUP and UUP do. Although, the longer-term strategic benefits of Unionist Unity should prove better than their BATNAs.
Furthermore, a Unionist Unity borne out of short-term necessity could be quite possibly the worst form. It would be a shot-gun marriage most likely destined for a bitter and early divorce.
Beyond the BATNAs there needs to be recognition of the strength of a known brands. The fact the DUP was able to come through the testing times it did in a strong position is a demonstration of the endurance of brand loyalty. Similarly, despite the multiple somersaults and Janus like approach of the UUP in recent years, tens of thousands still go out and vote for them regardless.
Brand development, innovation and amalgamation are perfectly possible. Also neither the DUP nor UUP brand is perfect but any new United Unionist brand has to be clear on how it can be at least as strong as the existing ones and preferably even stronger.
Moving Forward and Reaching Out
The discussion must also examine the two long-term strategic challenges for Unionism – the fall in turn-out and the need to expand beyond its traditional community. It will need to be clear that the fall in turn-out is in working class areas and turning it round will involve serious and sustained work on the ground. Anyone who tries to peddle the myth of a problem with garden centre prods should be taken to such a centre and introduced to a large shovel until they recognise the evidence of box turnout and voter registration shows a working class problem. The core reason the UUP has been unsuccessful in tapping this vote for the past decade or more is because it isn’t there.
The assumption of critics is that the consolidation of unity would take the form of circling the wagons. However, it could equally be a consolidation to create the space and organisational capacity for growth beyond Unionism’s traditional community. Such work must be on a realistic basis. Minority ethnic groups need to be considered as much as the Roman Catholic community. Growth will be limited and slow. The work needs to be through direct engagement with such voters, not using civic society groups as ciphers.
It will also give the opportunity to examine the role of identity politics and whether it is possible to provide credible and compatible messages to different audiences. To suddenly pretend that there isn’t a relationship simply isn’t credible but neither should it be the sole basis of Unionism.
The Value of the Debate
The debate is worth having as Unionism does not do enough internal debate about itself. The debate is worth having at tackling some of the mutual myths about the parties that develop as false barriers. It gives an opportunity to get Unionism beyond than the ‘who did what when and why’ during the peace process. The debate is worth having because regardless of overall success, it should create better and more productive working relationships. The debate would facilitate people to move beyond a guttural reaction to the idea towards something more considered.
The debate needs to be structured so that it includes the party officers and representatives, memberships and general public. This is to ensure that any progress is built upon a meeting of minds at all levels. The debate needs to examine the benefits of Unionist Unity, its risks (and potential means to manage them), the different levels of intensity it could take and the organisational options. This should involve the production of public consultation papers, debates and town hall meetings.
The debate also needs to be time-bound. The party conferences in October and November seem to provide a natural and obvious end date. This would enable any new entity the lead-in time it would need before the Assembly election or if it fails sufficient time for their parties to make the necessary preparations for the Assembly.
It would be helpful if a local newspaper would be interested in facilitating such a debate – although that would have some problems. The News Letter’s reach is not as wide is as needed and the Belfast Telegraph is sceptical of the idea. Although possibly its scepticism could prove healthy and if it proved ultimately persuaded by the debate a worthwhile boon to any developments.
A properly managed debate would reduce the risk that of any failure leading to renewed bitterness and finger-pointing.
The difficulties in such a process should not be under-estimated with many seeking to undermine it throughout and many a bear trap of personality clashes to avoid. However, a thorough, intense and constructive debate threatens no section of Unionism and would be good for Unionism overall.
Friday, 21 May 2010
"In Northern Ireland politics has been scarred by the number of ‘double jobbing’ MPs attempting to carry out dual mandates in Westminster and Stormont. The public is rightly opposed to this. Conservative and Unionist pressure at Westminster has already resulted in ‘double jobbing’ MPs no longer being able to claim two salaries. If elected, a Conservative and Unionist Government will go further and ban double jobbing outright."
Now that they are in government and their commitment to the Union becomes a policy of 'Don't annoy the shinners' they are now according to the News Letter making the case for them:
"If your voters think that you are capable of doing all of the jobs, then there is a serious question over what right legislators have to block that decision."
Thursday, 20 May 2010
It had been interesting to see how many would rebel against the proposal and it seems 118 have. However, what is more interesting is that the majority may have been gained through unentitled voters. This is a Westminster village fight but it is one that will ensure bad internal relationships in the Conservatives from the outset.
"We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties."
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
"I had the misfortune of meeting Owen Paterson and I've no faith in him whatsoever. This is the man who told me, with no hint of irony, that he was eminently qualified to have an opinion on Northern Ireland politics becuase he'd read 22 books on the subject. Armed with that, he made it clear when it comes to life here he reckons he knows what's best for us."
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
"They talk about Armagh snipers. There was definitely a sniper at work there because I didn't see any contact."
Available on BBC iplayer - comment is made 1 hour 13 minutes 50 seconds in.
Monday, 17 May 2010
Friday, 14 May 2010
The core problem with the proposal is it could create the circumstances of absolute paralysis. The proposal is not helped by the fact that where the figure 55% appears to have come from. The answer seems to be found in the mathematics of the present parliament. If the coalition fell a Tory minority government could continue under this rule. However, it is not a good idea to shape constitutional practice on the basis of a single and rare election result.
On the positive for the DUP it maintained 8 of its 9 seats despite apocalyptic predictions. The overall Unionist Nationalist split remained stable. There were no nationalist gains. Sinn Fein's vote remained relatively static and Ruane received some well-deserved electoral punishment for her failure at education.
On the negative, the principal architect of the party's strategy and its leader, Peter Robinson, lost his seat in East Belfast. In that constituency the party's core vote of 11,500 stayed loyal but a rainbow coalition of Alliance, UUP, PUP, SDLP and SF votes proved enough to unseat him.
This result has not precipitated a leadership crisis because that is not the DUP’s nature. Its many years as Unionism’s second party taught it to react carefully to public opinion. Some shifts are temporary others permanent, identifying which is which is the key. The UUP’s decades of dominance means that skill is lacking and failure tends to lead to a sense of crisis.
Beyond East Belfast, Fermanagh and South Tyrone remained in Sinn Fein's hands by the cruellest of margins and in South Belfast faced with another split ticket, about 3,000 Unionist voters chose to stay at home. The projections for the Assembly election based on last Friday's result show it will be a fight but the DUP is in pole position.
Last week will undoubtedly lead to a re-examination of the idea of greater Unionist Unity and whatever its outcome, it is a discussion well worth having. Such a debate could contribute to defining 21st century Unionism, thinking about the organisational structures needed and how to build the traditional voter base and a realistic vision for expanding beyond it.
Whatever the details of the result, there is still a strong temptation for the most successful party to celebrate. To boast of how well-crafted the message was. To crow about how strong the campaign was. To heap derision on your opponents for the mistakes they had made. However, for the DUP to achieve the result it did there needed to be something deeper than a good billboard or slogan.
The European election result did contribute but was not crucial. The Unionist electorate gave the DUP a clear shot across its bows. Sensibly, the DUP examination of it identified the correct lessons and its campaign dealt with many of their voters concerns. The result also gave the Unionist electorate a glance into what a three way split in Unionism meant. Amidst all the public anger and perceived unimportance of Europe, this had not been foremost in many minds. Afterwards, it did not look a wise option for the future.
However, the deeper reasoning was how do we shape the Union? Unionists here tend to talk about the Union as if it has a singular meaning but the Union adapts in small and major ways. This is how the internal relationships of the UK change to deal with political, social and economic shifts. This has been its inherent strength. In this election the Unionist electorate were faced with a three way choice of approach to managing those relationships – supplicant, dictator and battler.
The underlying tone of the Ulster Unionist message was that the Union exists on the forbearance of others. For the Union to be maintained we must supplicate ourselves to a ‘national interest’ (aka whatever the government wants). The Conservative link-up reinforced this tone. This is not a new phenomenon in Ulster Unionism with it being the ethos of Trimbleism throughout his leadership.
The TUV had the simple message that Unionism should be the sole determinant of what happens here. The regional interest is supreme. However, 40 years of bitter experience has taught Ulster’s Unionists that is no longer achievable. It is also built on the perception of an Ulster that owes more to 1960 than 2010.
The DUP’s message was the middle path. While we cannot dictate, our interests are not served by rolling over either. In the ongoing process that is the Union, to maintain the cohesion of the whole by battling for a balance between the regional and national.
In their good sense the Unionist electorate recognised that the middle path of seeking balance between the regional and the national is the best approach for the Union and Northern Ireland.
Thursday, 13 May 2010
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
“In the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it’s not the way to run a modern, sophisticated society.”
Ken obviously has problems with Ulstermen, did one bully him at school?
UPDATE Ken's went for the hat-trick:
"The idea of negotiations with Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, Ulstermen and so on fills me with horror."