Monday, 26 October 2009

Peter's u-turn moment

The news that the DUP have reneged on their promise to end double-jobbing comes as no surprise given their record of misleading people in previous elections. The rationale for the u-turn has raised a few eyebrows. Peter Robinson has put his decision down to considering “the extent to which the party organisation is able to provide us with the additional personalities to stand.” Peter, your party has never had a problem finding personalities, finding politicians, now that is another matter. To put the decision in context lets consider the case of Councillor Rev William McCrea MP MLA. No doubt with the news that he can continue to hold multiple jobs William is scouring the auction houses for walnut bookcases to match his walnut desk. Cllr Rev William McCrea MP MLA tells us that he spends 250 hours per month on Assembly business, given that an MP serving in a national Parliament should spend at least as much time as those in a devolved assembly on Parliamentary business, lets say he should be spending another 250 hours per month as MP. That’s 500 hours over 25 days giving him Sundays and two other days a month off (in Williams case he has another job for Sundays so he is not actually off). So that’s 20 hours a day William should be working (leaving out the fact that he also has to cover his role as Councillor). The truth is that it can’t be done and for unionism the sad fact is that it is the representation of the people of Northern Ireland in the national parliament that is suffering. Peter thinks it’s about the money, he is only partially right, greed is a factor. But it’s not the only issue. Many people across Northern Ireland are denied representation in national politics by abstentionist republican MPs. Many more are denied proper representation by almost abstentionist DUP MPs. At the time when republicans avoid Parliament then those elected for other parties by the people of Northern Ireland have a responsibility to be at Westminster more to ensure their voice is heard. The big issues of concern to the people of Northern Ireland such as taxation, pensions, Europe and the Barnett formula amongst others will be debated come the next Government. For the lack of a few “personalities” Peter Robinson will deny the people of Northern Ireland a voice. Where DUP candidates have double, triple or quadruple jobs lets make it clear there shall be no election of abstentionist DUP MP’s. The people have an opportunity to end this nonsense, it’s time for change.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

conference time

Only a few weeks ago I was listening to William Hague at the Conservative conference and on Saturday I had the opportunity to listen to him again at the Ulster Unionist Party conference. A seasoned performer Hague perhaps took on the leadership too early in his career but he will provide the backbone of Conservative Governments for many years. His attendance on Saturday continued the process of developing the partnership between the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists despite the attempts of other parties to introduce friction.
Like all major conferences the Ulster Unionist Party conference has become a carefully choreographed media event. Journalists attend because they have too but know that if they come away with a scoop it will be by accident more than design. By convention other constitutional parties are invited to send along observers, not every member is aware of this which can give rise to some interesting moments. The members of the DUP were easily spotted, obviously concerned at the large turnout and confident mood. Pauline Armitage was also there though members were not quite sure if she was back in the fold or at the conference representing someone else. The local Conservatives were much in evidence with their prospective candidates engaging widely with Ulster Unionists from across the country.
Amongst the positives, beyond the attendance and positive atmosphere, was the large number of young talented unionists actively engaged in the background. It is they who will carry the party forward for the next twenty or thirty years and many of them should be seeking opportunities to represent unionism in the next Assembly and Council elections. In terms of public relations and policy we have pulled together the best teams in Northern Ireland politics though no doubt their collective blood pressure was elevated over the weekend.
While the conference delivered all that we could have expected there are a few areas where we can try and make things better.
Ø The Ramada is a better venue in that it keeps the delegates closer to those organisations attending in order to inform or lobby them.
Ø Given the rise in social media the introduction of a video booth to record delegate’s views of speeches and issues would create another outlet for grassroots views.
Ø The need to keep to schedule foreshortened some of the debates and perhaps future conference organisers will consider whether conferences should be themed to provide the opportunity for more in depth debate.
When the biggest negative issue raised by the press was that Fred Cobain left early to see Crusaders (ignoring those who left early to see the blues and the Glens) then all in all a good days work.
This post also appears over at the Open Unionism blog.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Now for change

Last week was taken up with an excursion to the Conservative Party conference. Over the four days I had the pleasure of hearing from politicians with a real sense of how to govern and who understood how society works. It was clear that this is a party who expect to govern and rather than gloating accept the responsibility with a determination to meet the issues that face society head on. There is no expectation that the next 5 years will be easy, rather the opposite.
For Ulster Unionists the reception was warm and there was a real sense of being part of a wider UK movement. The challenge over the next 6mths is to spread the message and bring real politics to Northern Ireland.