Category: Dissenting

Ambiguity breeds uncertainty, and muddle.

Episode 16 looks at the destructive effect of ambiguity on effective messaging around two major aspects of policy – Brexit and Covid19. Also available on principle podcast services for subscription/download – quick links at end of post.

The UK Government has got itself into a muddle over its response to the outworking of the Northern Ireland Protocol in respect of the internal market of the UK. Maybe it is obvious the deep contradiction between the EU Single Market demanding some aspect of ‘customs’ to function and the  UK believing the Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement means that Northern Ireland remains within the UK Customs territory and there should be no barriers to trade within the UK or UK Free Trade partners as deals (such as Japan) come on line.

That ambiguity was well explained in a recent The Critic article which wondered whether the wording of the Protocol was by accident or design; the podcast explores some more. Owen certainly has had plenty to say recently on the muddle that the Government has managed to create for itself, talking about how the proposed Internal Market Bill is a necessary step to minimising impact on Northern Ireland business by ‘clarifying’ and noting the hysteria around the Bill has little to with practicalities:

There is one thing for sure — the people who are defending the Withdrawal Agreement most adamantly, as opposed to those worried purely by the possibility that the UK may knowingly break international law, are not interested in protecting the Belfast Agreement. They are concerned only with maximising the protocol’s potential to damage Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. And, for them, that’s always what an Irish Sea border has been about.

We pick up on another aspect of the reaction to the Internal Market Bill that Owen also challenges; that of “Irish America”. Noting that the loudest voices are of a generation that still thinks ‘Irish America” is a meaningful voting constituency outside Congress, the bigger question is why the British Government has been so poor at explaining itself – Pelosi’s Office gives impression that the only voices it ever hears are those of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Sinn Fein.

Efforts, however, would be of little value in the USA if the UK Government remains so hapless at home as discussed in the previous post on this site. Brandon Lewis’s answers on matters relating to the IMB in the House of Commons seems only to have generated more questions, and a hostage to fortune in respect of future policy in any field.

That same ambiguity, uncertainty and discontinuity seems to be prevalent across all aspects of Government communications at present – though admittedly there is little but Brexit and Covid19 breaking into the news cycles. Northern Ireland has its own particular challenges on messaging.

The podcast was recorded at the end of last week, and before the scenes of pitch invasions

 

and street parties arising from a Gaelic Athletic match over the weekend

Though we did record following a week of reports from the Holylands area of Belfast

where the lack of leadership and ‘never apologise’ attitude of Sinn Fein makes the attitudes of nationalist youth unsurprising – rules are something others are expected to follow…

Clear messaging is needed in actions and not just words. But ambiguity avoiding honest practical steps based on a realistic and clear assessment of the situation seems to be absent from just about all Governments’ communication. A reset is needed, sooner rather than later. Muddled messaging is only the outworking of muddle thinking.

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Was Government messaging wrong, or just rubbish?

It is reasonable to presume that Brandon Lewis’s response to the ‘Urgent Question’ from Sir Bob Neill in the House of Commons was pre-prepared. It used a very specific phraseology, and an example of something done before was even on hand. It may not be a good example, but it was there and hardly an off-the-cuff recollection.

A planted question is a common means for governments to gain an opportunity to make a pre-prepared response. It is hard to believe this particular government would cue-up Sir Bob, viewed as an arch pro-EU lawyer, to ask a question on the EU. That the minister’s response was on hand does, however, raise a number of questions, not least “why”?

Read more… »

All in the message; future, present, past

Four topics in the latest episode of Political OD, in conversation with @3000Versts episode, with the common thread of messaging running through each topic.

First mixed messaging of Covid in NI. At the end of last week the morning Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster entertained the listeners with the message of doom from the Health Minister on an uptick in positive tests for Covid-19. Without downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic is the unchanged message imbuing a sense of panic from the Health Minister what we need while the Education Minster is trying to reassure parents of the safety of young people attending school? Especially when at the start of this week we have the more measured approach from the Health Department:

A health service source said peaks and troughs in the figures are “not unexpected” and demonstrate that Northern Ireland’s Test Trace Protect system is working efficiently.

Then there is the messaging on exam results which appears to have largely tripped up Education Ministers nationally and regionally. Perhaps more to do with a lack of political decision making in the mistaken believe that arms-length bodies somehow shift the blame of lack of political foresight onto bureaucrats? How did that work out?

Moving from matters of day to day Government we looked at the recent article by @3000Versts in the News Letter on what is needed to support a positive message for the Union. We discuss the three basic points he suggests as guidelines for thought and action going forward;

1. to strengthen the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And to maintain and consolidate Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

2. To ensure that Northern Ireland plays as full a role as possible in the social, political and economic life of the (British) nation.

3. To encourage positive relationships with our neighbours across the island of Ireland. And to make Northern Ireland a happy and prosperous home for people of all backgrounds.

That discussion is particularly important going into 2021 and consideration of events around the 100th Anniversary of Northern Ireland becoming a distinct part of the United Kingdom as the 26 Counties of the Free State descended into civil war and separation from the Union. A second article by @3000Versts in the News Letter is useful to read alongside the first. 

Concluding the podcast is a discussion around the new publishing site Dissenting Voices which has launched with a look at the the current debate around ‘rewriting’ history, and whether that is actually a thing at all. Using the issue of Legacy in Northern Ireland the first paper on Dissenting Voices reviews the impact of recent history becoming what is described as a ‘Black Taxi tour’ of events, people and places; where mostly nationalist slogans have become received truth and accepted ‘narrative’ (story-telling) over and above established fact.

Bit longer than usual, big issues.

PS. A bit of “you heard it here first” with this mornings BBC report on infrastructure:

Just a reminder of the earlier post on thedissenter that points out the risk to economic development on a number of different issues awaiting political decisions…. and discussed on Political OD Episode 14 which is still available on download from Podbean, iTunes, Spotify etc.

 

 

History is complex. Legacy matters.

A newly published paper takes a look at the issue of ‘rewriting history’reformulating the past to present political agendas, and concludes that in respect of matters of Legacy in Northern Ireland this has resulted in a scandalous sanctioning of a narrative that ignores the entire purpose of which murder and bombing was a part, but not the whole story.

The paper suggests that the issue of the moment is not that ‘history’ is being ‘rewritten’. It is that the past (the recent past a nebulous idea of ‘memory’, the distant past a story of ‘oppression’) is being recruited to serve an agenda and historical thinking dismissed if it prevents one – and only one – moralising political whippet winning the race and becoming the undisputed champion.

Read more… »

‘big picture’ and politicking

Yes to infrastructure, but foundations first before grand schemes…

In recent days the News Letter has picked up on a small piece of legislation being rushed through the Northern Ireland Assembly. The bit that has peaked interest is what seems a modest change that will have the effect of placing more power in the hands of Ministers to take action unilaterally, without reference to the Executive.

Read more… »

Health status, Executive stasis, and Boris’s strategic manoeuvres on Brexit.

Despite many ‘Reports’ on Health reform (2011, 2014, 2016) Northern Ireland has seen little critical or  cultural change in frontline delivery of services. While the easy option for politicians is to demand and even offer more money, the current situation has arisen because of budgetary decisions taken in 2014. If it was pay or XX in 2014 it will still be pay or XX in 2019. Though our politicians are reluctant to talk about XX.

While it might seen that a new Executive is a possibility in the New Year, there doesn’t appear to be any public confidence that an Executive would have the will (or ability) to undertake difficult decisions that will be required on Health, or any of the other issues piled up on Ministerial in-trays. Last time there were major and difficult decisions to be made, Sinn Fein insisted they be sent back to Westminster.

It is Welfare Reform and the consequential impact on welfare recipients that might mean Sinn Fein needs an Assembly far more than any other Party. Yet despite the pressures on Sinn Fein there is a worrying trend in Stormont “negotiations” that enough is agreed to keep the show on the road while setting the path for the next crisis. Everyone does everything to keep Sinn Fein on board, while it does everything it can to wreck the train.

Finally, Boris’s plans for trade arrangements between GB and NI are an enigma – somewhere between what people read in the Withdrawal Agreement pages and believe to be likely, and then Boris’s view that that is all tosh. No idea, and all to some extent subject to what is decided between now and probably July in respect of a trade agreement between the UK and EU. With NI inside the UK customs union (the major difference between backstop and frontstop) there has been a shift in the dynamic of negotiation that isn’t much discussed.

All this in a handy 20 minutes or so, on this latest PoliticalOD podcast.

Back in the New Year. Have a great break. Merry Christmas.

The numbers matter

Recent days has seen analysis of the recent Local Elections in Northern Ireland almost exclusively in outlined in terms of percentages. Statistical summaries. These focused on percentage shares of the vote, and the number of seats gained/lost by the parties.

The general view is that this was an election where the centre ‘broke through’. This was the ‘Other’ face of Northern Ireland politics.

Looking at the numbers and that isn’t quite the whole story. Read more… »

Border control

“Let’s get some perspective on that 0.001% risk to the EU single market collapsing in chaos.”

A while back, in January, on the Clare Byrne show a guest who was ex Irish Military made a not often heard point on the Irish Border that so obsesses the EU and virtually every commentator on Brexit.

His point, that there are three types of border. Read more… »

Coddle-wallop

The electorate seems ungrateful. Political leaders embracing the mainstream political presumptions of the later part of the 20th Century seem less sure of themselves beyond the set-piece photo-ops. 

Trump has been a shock to the American system, but a shock that was some time in coming and not altogether impossible even if a little unexpected. Everyone could see it, few believed it. Brexit too, in the UK. 

Read more… »