Saturday, 23 January 2010

Why Ulster Unionists should not give in to DUP manipulation

At St Andrews the DUP insisted on an amendment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement that provided that the leader of the largest party at Stormont was to be the First Minister.

This was no gaffe. It was a deliberate ploy to be used in the very situation we now find ourselves.

And we are in danger of falling for it.

The prospect of a Sinn Fein First Minister would be tough for the Unionist electorate. The DUP have used this spectre in the past to blackmail the electorate into voting for them.
Now that their star is waning, and Unionism may be split three ways, they are using the same argument to try and do a deal with us so that they can hold on to something.

It is against this background that we should look at the private Hatfield House talks last weekend.

A week ago the Ulster Unionists were on a roll; the DUP in disarray over Robinsonsgate and a decisive by-election win with 64% of the vote in Lurgan, following on from a great result in the European poll earlier in the year.

Now there is angst amongst some in our party that if we fight an Assembly election and beat the DUP we will be a smaller party than Sinn Fein. The prospect of being deputy to Martin McGuinness is not palatable.

The DUP are in big trouble; they want to save their skins by destabilising our deal with the Conservatives. Shoring up their own supporters with talks of electoral pacts to save Robinson's skin is how they hope to survive intact.

But when have the DUP ever shown any concern for the common good; their tactics over the years have always been to predict doom and gloom if the electorate follows us, and then, when they achieve power to steal our clothes. They are at the same game today - remember how they wanted to do a deal with Cameron - but he wouldn't have them.

If, in an Assembly election, we were to end up the largest unionist party, with Sinn Fein as the largest party overall, what might happen? If we were unable to form an executive, another election would be triggered. The electorate’s minds might be concentrated by that; and a second Assembly election in short order would give unionist voters the chance to sort things out.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Lessons from the Craigavon By-Election

Ulster Unionists won this seat with a vote of 64% on a turnout of just under 24%. By by-election standards, and considering the poll was in mid-January after a protracted period of bad weather, the turnout was reasonable.

The TUV got 19%. The DUP did not stand.

Jo-Anne Dobson is a local resident, well known and well regarded in the area. Also well known in the area is that she and her family have for many years been very supportive ‘Trimble Unionists’.

I campaigned every day with her, and David campaigned every day he was available, including the Mourneview and grey estates in Lurgan, both traditionally ‘hard’ areas, where our previous experience had been that we were frequently given a hard time on the doorsteps. In the past, these estates, particularly the grey estate, were by and large areas of significant DUP support. Our reception on the doors in this area was very good - the DUP vote is collapsing.

The TUV vote in the European election was 13.5%. At 19% Allister will be satisfied with the outcome.

But our vote at 64% is higher than we have had for many years in any election. The warmth of the personal reception for David and me indicates that the electorate now can acknowledge that the UUP did a better job than the DUP are now doing – and are coming back to us.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Campaigning in Craigavon Council by-election

After spending the last few days canvassing our old stomping ground of Lurgan in support of Jo-Anne Dobson running for Council in the by-election due on 13 January, it is clear that the mood of the electorate has changed.

The last time I canvassed here was 2005, perhaps the low point for the UUP over the last number of years, and while most people were polite on the doorstep, they were not welcoming. It was interesting that we were not then met with the venom we had received in earlier, successful, campaigns from DUP supporters.

In the European election earlier this year, I canvassed widely around Lisburn. The single biggest issue on the doorstep was MPs’ expenses, but overall people were mostly welcoming and responded positively to the link up with the Conservatives.

This time I feel there is a greater change in our favour. A good many people expressed their delight at seeing David on their doorstep again. Expenses still get a mention, but it is not as raw an issue as earlier this year. Some people raised genuine council issues, e.g. swimming pools, but quite a number greeted us with ‘At least you are not the DUP’.

There remains a less than clear understanding of the implications of the UUP/Conservative link, but all comments I received about it are wholly favourable.

Our canvassing team has been very upbeat, turning up in substantial numbers, despite treacherous conditions underfoot.

Turn-out will be very low, as always in a by-election, but particularly if the snow remains until polling day, as weather forecasters are predicting. I am confident we will repeat the success of the Dromore by-election. This will be a great morale booster to lead us in to our next election campaign.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Human Rights Consortium is wrong

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium has firmly rejected the government’s proposals for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, describing them as ‘pitifully limited’, unacceptable’ and ‘disrespectful’.

They want widespread new rights, including socio-economic rights, including ‘effective enforcement mechanisms’.

But the Consortium fails to look at the big picture.

Our society, irrespective of who is in government, wants its people to be able to live their lives to their full potential. Broadly there are three planks to how this is achieved:

Firstly the democratic process – the right for the electorate to tell a government to be gone, the right to peaceful regime change, if you like, and through the choice of a governing party, also to choose between the respective policies offered by the parties.

Secondly, the pursuit of broad social goals that are shared in society and which form the core of any government’s agenda and policy, whether it be Labour or Conservative. Striving to achieve freedom from hunger, freedom to have shelter, freedom to seek employment, health provision, etc. is the aim of policy formulated by the freely elected government.

And thirdly, the legally enforceable universal rights and freedoms guaranteed internationally by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and in Europe by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Consortium and others are trying to bring the justiciability that rightly attaches to these universal human rights in to the proposed ‘socio-economic rights’ and thus fetter government’s ability to implement policy and to allocate resources.

If democracy means anything, it means that government is accountable directly to the electorate. The ‘effective enforcement mechanisms’ that the Consortium proposes would mean that government was accountable in court to the judiciary, at the call of the person bringing the case, who, under the current proposals could be an unaccountable body such as the Consortium.

New Blog

2010 promises to be a busy year. 

I have (rashly?) decided to join the select band of bloggers, with what will be occasional thoughts and musings on matters political, particularly with regard to Northern Ireland, for whoever wants to read them.