Tuesday, 22 February 2011


I have had some dealings with the No2AV campaign and must admit to be decidingly underwhelmed by their organisation nor that impressed by their campaign thus far.  In purely local terms they do not seem to have given Northern Ireland a moment's thought and the national campaign seems to have been given about five minutes consideration.

The WSJ 's Iain Martin takes up the theme:

" far the No campaign has looked confused and rudderless...Their launch this week was widely criticised, and the focus on the cost of new voting machines for AV seemed completely beside the point."

Elliott seems to be duplicating what he did at the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) to the referendum campaign but a pressure group working on a single issue over a sustained period is a different beast to a referendum campiagn.  Also the impact of the TPA is over-rated - its 'success' was largely based on its ability to give good headline.  Something it achieved by simply doing the research (sometimes questionable) that these hollowed out nationals couldn't do anymore. 

NO2AV also seems to have allowed itself to get too distracted by the battle in parliament around the Bill.  These parliamentary games were always going to be more about making government work for its supper rather than a serious prospect of delaying the referendum.  Meanwhile the Yes campaign has simply got on with it.

Martin's claims that Cameron is now taking it more seriously I don't buy (partially because of Martin's role of seeming sceptical but providing ultimately soothing messages from the Cameroons to the Conservative party).  Cameron's recent address was no flight of great oratory or conviction.  However, he does report unease among the Labour backers of No2AV:

"The Labour board members of the No campaign are stirring. Bruisers such as Lord Prescott and Lord Reid..."

They certainly need to stir and the sooner the better.

Friday, 18 February 2011


The UUP negotiated our present system and as late as 2007 remained fully supportive of it.  Its 2007 manifesto was the keenest in getting the present system up and running again:

"We are the only Party prepared to pledge to you, the voters, that we will take our seats in government and govern for the good of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom."

So while the UUP has come late to the need to reform the system the fact they have turned up at all should be welcomed.  The one new idea in Tom Elliott's address was about agreeing the Programme for Government (PfG) before D'hondt is run.  The idea has an attraction in terms of its basic principle.  However, there are tactical and practical considerations in any assessment.  

Tactically, do we focus on getting directly to the goal of Voluntary Coalition or tinker with the present system of Mandatory Coalition?  This proposal is tinkering with the present Mandatory Coalition system not changing it to Voluntary Coalition.

Practically there are a number of issues:
Time Limits - There are time limits on the formation of an Executive.  Therefore, it is a recipe for hothouse negotiations something Northern Ireland has experience of but something the intention had been to move away from.
Coalition Model - Tom's answer to this is the national government's coalition agreement.  If they can do it in five days why can't we? Spend a while reading the Coalition Agreement.  Tally up how many issues within it were sent to reviews, panels, commissions, decided later and a co-opt.  List the issues that it does not cover. Is it the model of full agreement and consensus it was presented as?
The PfG - The PfG is actually a document that requires the full participation of the Civil Service and is subject to public consultation, EQIAs etc.  The role of the NICS pre-formation of the Executive could only be limited.  Add in the time limits and how significant a document would the parties produce?

However, all of this misses the bigger picture.  The fundamental problem for people who believe in VC is the extreme hostility to any change from nationalist parties.  Simply challenging the weakness of the nationalist position won't work.  Hence why Nigel Dodds argued in his DUP conference speech:

"It is the DUP that sets the agenda on moving Stormont towards a voluntary coalition. On voluntary coalition I add this: there are fears of what such a system would mean. It is our job to identify them and address them. We must become the persuaders for change not just its advocates." 

Believers in VC having a debate amongst ourselves about tactics and details doesn't address that real barrier to change.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


Today Eamonn Mallie believed he had a scoop when Martin McGuinness made claims of the UUP seeking funding for an opposition from the Government.  Problem is Devenport Diaries had the story yesterday from an NIO source. The same NIO source said the request had been turned down.

"An NIO source told me this has been raised by the UUP. But there are no plans to include it in the "Normalisation Bill" due to deal with political donations and double jobbing. That bill is currently expected in 2013. Of course any party can choose not to take seats in the Executive. However, in contrast to Westminster, there is no funding or official recognition for a Stormont "opposition". My source suggests the question of funding might be one for the Assembly Commission, which manages Stormont, rather than the NIO."

The saleability of the demand for money isn't easy in good times never mind the difficult times we are in and it undermines the claim to a principled stance - we believe in X but only if there is cash for doing X.


Leave aside the moment why there are two such bodies but why does the larger Equality Commission only require a part-time Chief Commissioner but the smaller Human Rights Commission's is a full-time role?


Romance is not dead but it can manage to be threatening.  (I must dig out Football Factory this evening).

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Note to UUP:  Catching up with the position of others doesn't change the game.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


This is one for the communication and branding nerds - Chrysler's super bowl effort to promote their new car the 200.

Visually it is good (although some shots are the standard issue car ad) but the script is very good (I'd suggest just listening to the narration alone).  It is a fine example of how a brand in trouble tries to reinvent itself and following Chrysler's near collapse and massive government bail-out it was certainly in trouble.  It co-opts the narrative of the city of Detroit.  This is far from an untroubled place but it is used to provide a parallel story of decline and return - been through hell but came out stronger based on good values.  In broader terms of appeal it tries to link in with the strength of American identification with "city".  

As all advertising tries to connect at an emotional level, the claims that some viewers were in tears would indicate it has been successful in those terms (although whether they can afford a luxury car in the present climate is a different matter).


McGimpsey's comments yesterday on the Nolan Show where interpreted this morning by Nolan as a threat to resign.  As this blog has charted the UUP have been all over the place on the issue of health spending.  McGimpsey has ploughed his own furrow on the health budget. How much support he got from the UUP changed from day to day or who'd been asked.   If McGimpsey has continued in doing what he wants rather than an agreed party approach then this threat leaves poor Tom Elliott with another hand grenade in his lap.

However, beyond the budget is McGimpsey on political manoeuvres?  Sam McBride in the News Letter recently chronicled the febrile internal state of the Ulster Unionist Party with it fearful of what will happen to it at the Assembly polls.  Tom Elliott has not succeeded in steadying the ship (although that is as much the fault if not more of others in the UUP).  The debate about whether it should stay in or out of the Executive continues to rumble on with no conclusion in sight. If the UUP fears come to fruition and it does have a poor election what would its future direction be and under whom?

Basil McCrea's defeat in the leadership election was two fold.  He lost but he also damaged himself with his own supporters that he is not considered a future option either.  So if a leadership vacancy arose who would step into the a possible breach?  

McGimpsey delivered a crowd pleaser of a speech to the party conference.  He has enough a sufficient liberal track record to please some but sufficiently dialed down in the past few years that it wouldn't scare the conservative horses now.  He ticks the box for visceral dislike of the DUP.  A dramatic pre-election resignation would increase his profile.  It would also be a easy set up for him to then lead the UUP into opposition post-election.


Nolan this morning is building its attack on Treasury figures (pdf file).  However, the figures don't provide the backing that is claimed. Table 9.16 shows the difference in spending is minimal.  With 100 in 2009-2010 the baseline spending was:

England   99
Scotland 108
Wales     102
NI              98

Nolan is also ignoring the significant regional variation within England:

North East         109
North West        107
Y'shire & Hum     98
East Mids            91
West Mids           99
East                   112
South East          92
South West         94 

Table 9.15 sets out per head expenditure, in 2009-2010 the English average was £1,896 while Northern Ireland it was at £1,881.  In terms of at regional level, the following English regions spent the same or less:

Y'shire & Hum £1882
East Midlands £1744
East £1711
South East £1759
South West £1807

What this all means is that to present the situation as plenty in England and famine in Northern Ireland is a misrepresentation.

Nolan is also following McGimpsey's failure to finish the sentence even when he talks about "priorities". The same Treasury figures point to the answer Nolan and McGimpsey don't want to discuss. The following would face savage cuts to bring NI in line with England:

1. Housing and community amenities
2. General Public services
3. Recreation, culture and religion
4. Economic affairs
5. Public order and safety 

The following would face significant cuts

6. Social Protection

The following would face cuts:

7. Education

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


According to the Health Minister there was enough money sent over by the Treasury to give him the money he wants.  
1.  There are at least 4 billion reasons why that is incorrect.
2. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland has different responsibilities to the Department of Health in England.  The clues are in the names.  Thus their budgets are not directly comparable. The same degree of protection given to health budget lines in England and Wales has been given here but not ever budget line under the DHSSPS fits the English and Welsh model.  According to the David Cameron this protection has safeguarded health but here McGimpsey predicts calamity.  How can the same policy have such radically different outcomes? 
3.  Today the DHSPSS was criticised in an independent report (pdf file) for withholding public information about its budget. If the financial case is so clear cut, why is McGimpsey hiding it? 


As fashion disasters go these really are truly in a class all of their own.  Do check out the older posts they just keep getting worse. (Hat tip G)

Friday, 4 February 2011


When appointed as Secretary of State the UUP considered Owen Paterson a top bloke:
"Owen's sterling commitment to Northern Ireland has been amply demonstrated during his time as shadow secretary of state," he said."And, in stark contrast to his Labour predecessor, Owen will have no ambiguity in stating his support for the Union. We can be certain that he will be a strong, positive voice for Northern Ireland at the cabinet table."
It doesn't seem to be the view today.

Thursday, 3 February 2011


Jim Allister has came out against varying corporation tax rates in Northern Ireland:

"A common fiscal regime is inextricably linked to the maintenance and purpose of the Union, which is why devolved institutions in Northern Ireland have never had tax-raising powers. The matters reserved to Westminster are the common bond that binds the UK together and warrants our representation in Parliament. Reduce those reserved matters and you further detach from the rest of the UK."  

This possibly means that Jim's ability to oppose has achieved its zenith.  He now stands in opposition not only to the other parties in Northern Ireland but himself.  In 2005 in a speech to the European Parliament Jim Allister said:

"In this context, the DUP MEP called for a reduction in Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland, as was recently recommended by an economic task force under Sir George Quigley... "For economic growth, independence and freedom of action is essential, with more not less national flexibility.  For example, corporation tax in an area likeNorthern Ireland should be radically reduced as a means of stimulating investment and thereby moving us away from over-dependence on the public sector."

He has also been a strong advocate of differential treatment for Northern Ireland as he set out in 2006:

"I welcome the fact that the present Regional Aid Guidelines, as they affect Northern Ireland, are a marked improvement from earlier drafts and that the Commission listened to representations from myself and others.  The new draft Guidelines provide for continued distinctive treatment of Northern Ireland as an economic development region and therefore allow ongoing aid to attract inward foreign investment, though on a reducing scale until 2011."

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


A couple of would you believe its this morning.  Lord Wei, the Big Society Tsar has had to cut back his hours so he can:

"see his family more and to take on other jobs to pay the bills."

Meanwhile at Belfast City Council last night there was a motion on integrated education:

“This Council calls for the establishment of a Commission to bring forward recommendations for the introduction of a staged process to integrate the education system in Northern Ireland.  The Council believes that the development of a new education system is both an economic and a moral imperative for the City of Belfast and for the whole of Northern Ireland.

The Commission’s task would be twofold; firstly to identify the strategic issues which such changes will involve and secondly, and equally as importantly, to identify and suggest solutions to address areas of public concern around the creation of an integrated education system, such as identity, religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum.”

The motion was blocked by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and....the Alliance Party.