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.
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 latest PoliticalOD podcast is a week behind our initial schedule. Waiting a week was a good idea to see how the electoral contests would like up. Though of course there is a risk that until all nomination papers are submitted and the campaigns are fully on ‘go’ some of the comments may quickly fall out of date.
That said, the broad sweep here should stand up. Even if the opening comment on Upper Bann might quickly age, the proposition that this is likely a DUP hold would need a political earthquake to shake.
Neither the SDLP nor UUP have made decisions that reflect well on their respective leaderships, with strategies that are neither coherent or face up to the political realities. The most they should have done is set out a stall for a future Assembly election (whenever), avoid the dangers a First Past The Post election brings for smaller parties, and been brave enough to stick to their own Party interests. Brexit was so 2017, they should have been looking ahead, not backwards.
Many of the seats where Greens and SDLP and Sinn Fein are nobly standing down are little more than a gesture, a willingness to beat the DUP, and a hope to be more transfer friendly among each other when it comes to the Assembly.
The announcement by the Greens not to stand any candidates in Belfast would seem to be a calculation that few Unionists would transfer to them anyway – or that such votes are worth discounting in the future. It marks an unwelcome point where virtually the entire political landscape can be painted green or orange. Not quite what the Good Friday Agreement anticipated, and not entirely clear what that means for the future.
Whatever is happening locally, the likelihood of influence on the Brexit debate nationally is notional should Boris win, and irrelevant if Corbyn wins. Whatever happens the Commons timetable before the 31st January is tight, and we’ll either have an unscrutinised Withdrawal Bill rushed through Parliament, or at least a year of more Brexit dither although that might be the least of the country’s worries at that stage.
if a week is a long time in politics, the next five weeks may feel like a lifetime…
We’re learning that it is hard to update a podcast so check @thedissenter and @3000Versts for comments on stuff before our next podcast.
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… »
Enough of Brexit. Avoid thinking about the UK participating in European Elections towards the end of May – might or might not happen.
What do we know with certainty? Only thing we know for certain in UK politics at this moment is that there will be Local Elections, to be held on 2 May, for 270 local councils and six directly elected Mayors in England, and the 11 local councils in Northern Ireland.
It is highly likely national politics will dominate commentary on the local elections in England, particularly on the results and what they will be believed to mean (in the Brexit context, no doubt). Read more… »
There’s been a Brexit post planned for ages, but things seem to change and each piece in time seems no longer relevant. So . . . time for a recap and quick look at where we are, which might seem not that much further on . . .
There are a sequence of events that create a mystery in the whole Brexit process to date, and is important to solve going forward. In January 2017 the Lancaster House speech set out what sort of trade and wider relationships the UK might have with the EU and the world.
Read more… »
The outcry over the attendance of Jamie Bryson at the House of Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee (NIAC) misses the point. This is a hearing as part of the Committee’s look at “Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland – dealing with the deficit.” in Northern Ireland.
The NIAC look at “dealing with the deficit” in Northern Ireland has most probably been considered timely given the seemingly on-going impasse in discussions through 2017 (and into 2018) towards restoring devolution: or not, as at present. Presumptive or with great foresight, the Review now seems of greater interest in looking forward – notwithstanding the attendance of Mr Bryson and the subsequent Alliance Party hissy fit in that regard.
Read more… »
United Ireland, inevitability and Brexit.
In his excellent study of Ideology and the Irish Question, Paul Bew quoted a Ballymoney Free Press editorial of May 1912 at the height of the Irish Home Rule crisis. ‘The statement of Unionist Ulster’, it announced, ‘is that it merely wants to be let alone’. Unfortunately, ‘since Satan entered the Garden of Eden good people will not be let alone’.
This editorial captured a universal truth of Ulster Unionism – the desire to be ‘let alone’ – a truth with ambivalent consequences.
Read more… »
The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition has been established as part of commitments made under the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements.
Given experience, and the political background to the Commission, there must be deep reservations about any final Report; and more specifically the use of that Report beyond what any might imagine or intend.
Read more… »
What’s the alternative? What’s the choice?
There have been a number of social media spaces that have been playing with numbers each Party might lose/gain in the upcoming elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Plenty of predictions elsewhere.
Read more… »