Posted by Jason O on Nov 23, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
Listening to the Islamophobia spewing out of some US GOP candidates, and others in Europe makes my blood boil. As an Irish Republican and a European, I find the idea of any person being categorised and pigeonholed by their religion to be repugnant. That’s why my teeth go on edge when people talk about problems with Muslims and Islam. I don’t see that problem: I see groups of individuals who have made a twisted assessment of a religion and hijacked it for their own vicious fascist ends.
Having said that, even liberals such as I can’t ignore the fact that Islam seems to be capable of acting as a peculiarly effective breeding ground for extremism.
The role mosques and madrassas play in this can’t be ignored. Many are moderate places that preach tolerance and respect for other faiths. But some aren’t, and we cannot tolerate any place, regardless of how holy or revered it be, being used as a base to plot against western liberal values.
How do we balance our values of religious freedom with the need to exterminate extremism?
One possible solution could be, as happens in Turkey and the UK, for certain religions to be brought under direct state control. At present, the British prime minister appoints the head of the Church of England. It’s a nominal appointment at the moment, but establishes a precedent. Given the unique position of Islam, is it time for European governments to take direct control of its institutions?
Let me be clear: we are not talking about turning Islam into a state religion. Many of our countries, my own included, would have a serious problem now with any state religion. But the possibility of the state taking direct control of the training and appointment of Imams and the running of Islamic schools and mosques, and yes, their funding, should be considered. Better us running them than some fanatic funded by the Saudis.
In many instances, the existing Imams will remain in place, and nothing on the surface will change. There are downsides, of course. Will radicals flee the “official” mosques and set up radical secret ones? Possibly. But they’ll be illegal and will be hunted down. Let’s be clear that those who regard an Imam who cooperates with the state as a traitor are exactly the people we need to be targeting. Let’s also be clear that we are not talking about the state imposing a Christianised or liberal form of Islam. That will be the business of the communities running the mosques under the Imam’s guidance. The state’s only interest is that mosques not be abused to preach against broad western democratic values. They should have the same freedom as any Christian church.
Yes, it’ll be messy and controversial, and maybe it won’t work. And I do find the idea of the state interfering in the private religious practices of its Muslim citizens to be pretty repugnant.
But these are the times we live in, and unusual compromises to defend European values must be considered.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 21, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
It’s a curious thing watching the reactions of UK eurosceptics to the current difficulties the Schengen area is going through. They sure loving queuing, those guys.
The concept they’re pushing is straightforward enough: if we bring back rigorous border controls we can catch terrorists at the borders. But even that logic is shaky. Won’t we have to stop and search every vehicle, every truck for secret compartments, to make that work?
Good luck with that.
Actually, the anti-Schengen people seem to be relying on a)luck, b)the idea that all terrorists are essentially foreigners, and c)we’ll be able to determine whether someone is an Islamist through some sort of non-intelligence based test. I look forward to seeing what that could be: maybe make them French kiss another man and judge their reaction? Ask them to tell us their favourite Woody Allen film? See if they can dance to YMCA?
UK opponents of Schengen just can’t see beyond the blue flag, as usual. If we called it the Dad’s Army Zone and put up pictures of Gene Hunt on the border maybe that would help?
The way they tell it, Schengen is some sort of rogue self-controlling entity, as opposed to a tool for member states. Schengen can be temporarily suspended (rightly) by a sovereign member state. It also allows the sharing of information, the most effective way of tracking and determining would-be terrorists. Yet ask UKIP about sharing information with Frontex or Europol and they go all Chief Inspector Dreyfus on you.
But, after Brexit who do they think they’ll be dealing with? Do they think they can phone up President Obama, inform him that they refuse to deal with the FBI, and demand that all 50 state police forces deal directly with them? If the rest of Europe decides that Europol or Frontex is to be our central clearing house, then so be it.
Of course, if they really believe that random checkpoints are the solution, then surely they should be implemented inside member states too, along with national ID cards to allow security forces to identify the illegals, right? Checkpoints outside supermarkets, on the tube, train stations, on the street.
There’ll be another irony: eurosceptics bringing in that most continental of devices, one’s “papiers” after leaving the EU.
Here’s an awkward reality: if we can stop relatively small contained terror cells before they strike, it’ll be through intelligence, and that means mass surveillance of phones, social media, gaming sites. That’s how we catch them, not randomly hoping they turn up at our borders in “I love IS” tee-shirts. That’s the debate we need to have. How to do that but prevent abuse of that information.
But that’s not the biggest single reason why we should be wary of scrapping Schengen. Schengen is part of the European way of life, and if we are going to scrap it, let us scrap it for a definite guaranteed result.
But to get rid of it just to do something is to accept that a handful of hateful fanatics in Daesh get to shape our society. Al Qaeda got to change the United States: are Americans living in a better country having permitted waterboarding? Do Americans feel safer? Have you listened to the leading candidates for the GOP nomination?
Of course we must examine every option to make Europe safer. But we should be very reluctant to casually toss away one of the things that makes Europe the freest place on Earth.
I was recently at a Halloween party (dressed, incidentally, as that figure of terror to all right-thinking middle classes, Jeremy Corbyn) when a very robust debate broke out over the future of the EU. My gracious host and others not uncomfortable on the libertarian right (he was dressed as Dracula, by the way. Insert left-wing metaphor as appropriate) raised a very valid point about the rise of euroscepticism. In short, they claimed that the obvious and very visible rise of euroscepticism across the EU is pretty much a rejection of what we refer to as The European Project.
It’s a fair point, and one made by eurosceptics across Europe. It’s also fair to say that it is not broadly incorrect. If there is one thing that unites eurosceptics, it is that the finger points squarely at Brussels and at those of us elsewhere who continue to advocate European integration.
My host then laid down a challenge at the feet of pro-integrationists. Call a referendum across the union and ask the ordinary peoples of Europe do they want a United States of Europe? He predicted, correctly, I suspect, that such a proposition would be rejected by the great majority of European voters. In short, he said, there is no mandate for further integration.
It’s a powerful argument, and led to heated but good natured exchanges, and I left with plenty to think about.
As with so much to do with Europe, it’s the details that do you in. Is euroscepticism on the rise across Europe. Undoubtedly. But is it the same euroscepticism across the continent? Do eurosceptics want the same thing? Does the word even mean the same thing?
That’s where the wheels come off, because unlike centre-right, centrist or centre-left pro-Europeans, who can compromise, the problem with eurosceptics is that they are often diametrically opposed to what defines euroscepticism.
Poland, for example, has recently elected a Law and Justice party nominally eurosceptic government. Cue cheers in Tory gentlemen’s clubs across London and much despatching of Mr.Carsons to break out the good brandy. “Three cheers for the Poles who will now support us in, eh, banning Poles working in the UK, or, eh, getting welfare even if they live and pay taxes in Britain, or, um, getting rid of the Common Agricultural Policy…”
See the problem? Think all Irish eurosceptics agree with Tory free-marketeers that the CAP is too generous and needs to be cut back, if not abolished? Think French eurosceptics agree with the same Tories that the EU gives too many rights to workers? Think those Tories agree with French eurosceptics on CAP or that the single market is too open to cross-border competition? Think Greek or Italian eurosceptics think that dealing with the Mediterranean refugee crisis is purely an internal national sovereignty matter and not any other countries’ problems?
The truth is, there is as much unity on the hard detail between eurosceptics as there is amongst the Irish Alphabet Left. This is People’s Front of Judea stuff.
Even the wording of the issue gets you into trouble. Take the aforementioned United States of Europe referendum. What would be the wording? “Do you want a United States of Europe?” Grand. So if we don’t call it the USofE we can carry on? Or “Do you want any more European integration?” Fine. So does further co-operation on, say, child trafficking count as further integration? Is it now illegal? How about “Should federalism be banned in Europe?” Again, a lovely day out. How do you define federalism? The centralising of all power to a non-directly elected body with weak to non-existent lower authorities? Great. You’ve just abolished Ireland. This thing could run and run.
Oh, it’s true that the EU is now the irritating political itch of the day, the piñata to be waved about and clobbered by every politician desperately trying to distract attention from their over-promising and under-delivery.
May be it might even work. Maybe a common consensus might be arrived at that a majority of Europeans can’t agree on why they hate the EU but just do, and if that’s the case, it’s farewell EU.
But it still remains a false solution, because the problems will still be there, and the interdependence that a globalised society and economy creates will still be there the day after the “For Rent” sign is put up in the window of the Berlaymont. Products manufactured in Poland will still have to meet Portuguese and Finnish standards. Irish paedophiles who assault a Greek child and then flee to Slovakia will still have to be tracked, arrested and tried. China will still have to be negotiated with. Syrians will still wash up in Italy and try to get to Calais or Stockholm.
And then the victorious eurosceptics, sitting in their national ministries, will order their officials to solve X. And their officials will tell them that they’ll need the cooperation of countries Z and Y to do that. But countries Z and Y are looking for something else, and so negotiations on some form of European cooperation will probably be needed…
Still, you can’t beat watching JR Ewing, Jeremy Corbyn, Dracula and a Roman Centurion debate the future of Europe. That’s a sitcom right there, surely?
Posted by Jason O on Oct 28, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
For a short period, they were almost vilified as traitors. In that period after Britain voted to leave the EU, those politicians who had campaigned to remain found inside themselves being demonised as not quite British. Many quietly retired at the next election, indeed some forced to after being told firmly that their constituency parties would not be renominating them as they sided with “a foreign power”. Everybody was a eurosceptic now.
The populist eurosceptic press weren’t sure what to do with themselves. Having spent 30 years blaming a city in Belgium for all Britain’s woes, the sudden departure caused quite a psychological blow. The departure negotiations had been a source of great material, of course, but even they turned out to be less dramatic than expected. Despite some very nasty speeches in the French National Assembly, cooler heads prevailed, and an amicable trading relationship was found between Britain and the EU.
To great irony, it was the Irish, led by Sinn Fein’s minister for foreign affairs MaryLou McDonald, who put up the stoutest defence of a good deal for Britain, the Irish well aware of the importance of British trade. Indeed, the quiet but nevertheless public decision to beef up Britain’s Dublin embassy with a special EU affairs unit, to allow for the Irish to keep the British in the loop on issues of common interest, was noted by many. Opposition wags in the Dail were quick to remark that it wasn’t the first time Sinn Fein kept British intelligence in the picture.
The great liberation caused by British exit never happened. There were some savings from now defunct contributions to the EU budget, but when marked against EU regional spending in Britain, and the British contribution for access to the single market, as per Norway, the savings were modest, and certainly not the windfall eurosceptics had hinted at.
Likewise with the much ballyhooed end to Brussels redtape. When British civil servants attempted to strip out all the “unnecessary” EU regulation, they kept stumbling across laws on labelling poisons in the workplace or maternity rights that were too politically awkward to start abolishing. In short, many of the EU regulations were in fact the regulations the population of a modern industrialised state demanded of their politicians anyway. The horse, as they say, had bolted on that issue.
When British companies started finding themselves being targetted, particularly by the Irish enterprise development agencies, Whitehall got quite upset. The fact that there was now an Irish cabinet minister who made it her business to sit down with British business leaders to discuss upcoming Commission legislation within the single market, provided those companies invested in Ireland, raised hackles. It was the same with the City of London. In a joint press conference between Prime Minister Cooper and President Lagarde of France, the Frenchwoman delicately but firmly pointed out that the EU proposal to tax European pension and investment funds that went to London was, “with all due respect, none of Britain’s business. How we regulate EU capital flows is the business of EUmembers. If those decisions happen to impact non-members…”
A Gallic shrug sealed the comment.
Likewise with the inflow of immigrants which had done so much to aggravate the Tory right and its UKIP offshoot. With Britain out, the logistics of ending the freedom to work and travel proved to be much more challenging. The City of London was adamant about not loosing the cream of continental talent it attracted. Likewise, France, Spain and Ireland all had significant British populations that needed to be accomodated, and the Poles and rest of central Europe were willing to play hardball over the issue, refusing to tolerate the mass expulsion of large numbers of their citizens working in the UK. The possibility of large numbers of ex-pats living for years in France and Spain (Britain and Ireland worked out a side deal) suddenly being required to pay hefty residency and visa fees because they were no longer EU citizens became a front page issue in The Daily Mail, with that paper demanding some form of “special European passport for ex-pats”.
The Foreign Secretary, Mr Milliband, ordered by parliament to seek Britain’s fortune away from “decaying” Europe and instead in the glistening cities of Asia, found certain realities. Britain did still matter in the world, even outside the EU, but certainly not as an equal partner. Both India and China were of course eager to do business, but insisted upon the right of their citizens to travel to Britain to study, work and sell. The Chinese in particular were very firm, and so just as Britain moved to deny the Polish plumber entry, young Chinese and Indian men and women began to arrive in their hundreds of thousands to conduct business, study, inter-marry, pay taxes, require housing and healthcare and begin familes. Just as the Poles had. Within a few years, the Chinese government had begun to decry the unfairness of her citizens contributing to the UK’s coffers but not being able to vote on how they were spent. Mr Milliband vowed to give the issue serious consideration.
The fear campaign that suggested that Britain was economically doomed outside the EU proved to be nonsense. But British ministers found themselves outside the room constantly at major economic events. The EU/US Free Trade Area, and the EU/China trade pact both were conducted without British representation, but with British companies already bound to meet EU regulations with the single market now having to comply with more joint EU/US regulations for access to the Atlantic Free Trade Area. Indeed, when footage leaked from the EU/US talks of the Irish Taoiseach, Ms Power, briefing (and noting concerns from) a half dozen major British industrial and business leaders, all of whose firms had recently announced major job investments in Ireland, the British media was quick to cry foul. The Irish Department of Enterprise, on the other hand, reported a sharp spike in enquiries from major UK and US businesses to discuss the perceived Access-For-Jobs scheme.
Ten years out, it wasn’t the end of the world. Britain was still trading with the rest of Europe and the world. But the much suggested radical departure into a new British “Golden Age” just didn’t happen. Britain still had to pay attention to what commissioners and the European Parliament did, because that was the world Britain lived in. Globalisation was irreversible, and whether it was Brussels or Beijing, it wasn’t a matter of not letting other countries affect you. It was a question of shaping that effect, and that was going to happen whether inside the EU or not. Britain chose to go it alone.
Posted by Jason O on Oct 21, 2015 in British Politics
, European Union
There’s a lot of hysteria in the British debate on leaving the EU. The Outers paint an image of a glorious new Elizabethan age where a nuclear armed swashbuckling free trade New Switzerland can be towed off the coast of Hong Kong without consequence. The Stayers paint a scenario of utter economic collapse if Britain leaves.
What’s the truth? The truth is that neither will happen. Britain will save some money, although less than they think. After all, the rest of us aren’t running the European Single Market for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s exporters will still have to play by rules set in Brussels, as they currently do with those in Washington and Beijing. If a Britain outside the EU takes serious measures to undercut European workers by imposing less employment protection there’s nothing to stop the EU putting tariffs on British goods in response, and happily spending a few years in the WTO debating it. That’s the thing about not being at the table where decisions are made. It takes longer to change them.
Chances are, it won’t come to that, because as every person who becomes the prime minister of a European country (including Britain) knows, solving problems becomes the obsession. Deals will be done, just not openly at EU summits. Britain, even out, will still be parked beside 450m of the richest consumers on Earth. Eurosceptics keep trying to suggest that Europe is somehow going to die off. The same people, by the way, who claim Europe is being swamped by new arrivals. The truth is, if a country of 450m people arrived beside Britain and announced it was going to leave in 20 years, would the Brits refuse to trade with it? They would in their eye.
Instead, British civil servants will continue to use draft EU product regulations as the basis for draft UK regulations. It’s just easier and suits exporters better.
There’ll be no more EU flags in Britain, but the substance will remain broadly the same. Britain will still maintain a presence in Brussels (as the US does) and that’ll be the de facto permanent representative to the EU.
Britain will of course be able to represent itself in global trade talks, which is a big deal to the eurosceptics. Although you have to ask: if Britain thinks it can’t get a good deal within the EU negotiating with comparable-sized nations (UK is second largest country in the EU) how on Earth will it get a better deal with China, a country 20 times bigger than Britain? will that be the headline on The Daily Mail when Prime Minister Boris comes back from Beijing having been thoroughly rogered in trade talks? “At least it wasn’t the French?” No, Britain will negotiate with the 450m EU as well, only this time from the outside and without rights. Bizarre.
What Brexit means is that Britain goes from having some of its key relationships in the openness of the EU moved into the behind closed doors style of the WTO, Commonwealth and NATO. Fair enough. Because let’s not forget: the British tabloids get to bitch endlessly about “mad” EU proposals because the EU actually makes and debates its proposals in public, unlike the aforementioned bodies. The WTO and NATO would pale at EU levels of openness. The Commonwealth is too busying trying to ignore some of its members kicking homosexuals to death.
When it comes down to it, Brexit is based on the belief that you can have more influence over a room by not being in it, but in reality standing outside a half open window and trying to slip notes through the gap, hoping your own people don’t see you doing it.
It’s certainly a novel concept.
Posted by Jason O on May 14, 2015 in British Politics
There’s an odd fact to be remembered when one is pondering the outcome of British general elections, a fact that needs not be heeded in almost every other democracy. It is the fact that how the British people actually vote is not the same as what parliament looks like in the end. Thus a clear victory for almost every party in every election since the mid 1970s has inevitably not been reflected in how voters cast their ballots.
The giant electoral brain that is Gerry Lynch recently pointed out that under many PR systems, the Tories and UKIP between them would probably have won a majority anyway. It’s a fair point often ignored by many on the left who just can’t countenance that the British people might actually want a centre-right government.
However, and there is a big however…supposing such an occurrence had happened, and a Cameron/Farage coalition had been formed. It would have implemented a load of hard right social welfare reforms, correct?
Is it? Suddenly, a cluster of UKIP MPs representing former Labour strongholds would happily sit by as their new constituents beat a path to their door to furiously object? Really? I doubt it very much. I think the faultline between the UKIP’s golfclub colonel voters and its former Labour voters would become very clear in the parliamentary party, and Farage would be doing a Nick Clegg with the handbrake to try to keep his new internal party coalition together. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that PR would mean Tory MPs in areas that traditionally don’t elect them under First Past the Post. Tory MPs who again might have constituents who rely more on public services.
It’s all speculation, of course, but my point is this. A voting system that represented all the voters would force any government to have to ensure at least the pacific consent of the majority of voters, something which neither Thatcher nor Blair ever had to worry about.
Labour, the party which bitches about the Tories dividing the nation, has had the opportunity on two occasions, under Wilson and then under Blair, to introduce Proportional Representation. Within Labour there has always been opposition to PR on the basis that it would cost the party seats and thus restrict the party’s ability to implement its agenda without compromising with coalition partners.
Looking at that stance now, it sounds frankly either ludicrous or downright dishonest. There are people in the Labour Party now who, despite rending their garments and wailing at the evils of the Cameron governments, will choose letting the Tories rule with 37% of the vote over having to share power with other parties. Given a choice between inflicting the bedroom tax or welfare cuts or food banks or any of the things they denounce as immoral, and introducing proportional representation, a system which will make those policies much harder to implement, it’s f**k the poor as far as many in Labour are concerned.
So please, spare us the histrionics, Labour. Between 1997 and 2010 you could have changed the electoral system. You didn’t. And now the Tories are going to change the boundaries making it even harder to get them out. Well done.
Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2015 in British Politics
Here we go again.
Bloody hell. Didn’t see that coming. A few ponderings…
1. What on Earth happened to the polls? Are people lying to pollsters, or was there a shift at a very late stage that wasn’t picked up?
2. The vote/seat disparity with regard to UKIP is scandalous. Regardless of whether you agree with them, millions of people voted for them and they got a single seat. The fact that 50% of Scots didn’t vote for the SNP and got 3 MPs for their trouble adds to that scandal, and falsifies the mandate of the SNP.
3. The challenges for the Lib Dems are interesting. The party has an expertise in campaigning, and a pretty solid campaigning infrastructure. It also has a significant number of constituencies where, even in the recent firestorm, there is still has a substantial vote to build on. The big task is carving out a need to vote liberal over Green or Labour.
4. It’s game on for the European referendum so. Would be funny if Cameron traps Boris by putting him in charge of coming back with the much ballyhooed new deal on the EU. Or as we call it in Ireland, “doing a Michael Collins”.
5. By the way, I’ve no doubt that only the Tories can keep Britain in the EU.
6. Finally, a prediction. All this tosh about Cameron now being master of all he surveys is just that. I’m old enough to remember John Major winning a greater majority in the unwinnable election of 1992, and the shine came off the ball within months (caused by the ERM crisis, admittedly) but the reality is that a chunk of the Tory party will never be happy with what deal comes back from Brussels, and when that happens, the fun will really begin.
Posted by Jason O on May 5, 2015 in British Politics
, Irish Politics
As someone who left Northern Ireland to go to university nearly 19 years ago, I can neither vote nor can I contribute, nor am I directly affected by decisions of the Assembly, and so I have avoided commenting on or getting involved in its politics. But like many others who love the province in which I was born and raised, I hope that at this election its people continue to tell the world that Northern Ireland chooses for itself a shared future for all its people.
Amidst all the parties, all the candidates and all the issues, elections sometimes boil down to a straight choice between two futures.
In Northern Ireland, this 7th May, 17 races are either pre-determined, or of so little consequence it hardly matters.
Only one battle counts, and only 2 candidates do. They are Alliance’s Naomi Long, the outgoing MP for East Belfast, and her UUP-supported DUP challenger Gavin Robinson.
Make no mistake about it: the people of East Belfast are being offered a clear choice about the future of Northern Ireland.
Their choice will send a message to the province, and to the world, about how Northern Ireland sees itself in 2015.
Is it a province riddled by parties uniting to perpetuate a dated and bigoted sectarian divide, obsessed with imposing the paraphernalia of tribal division upon others, and whose most senior politicians embrace and pander to homophobia?
Or is it a people which have moved on from decades of distrust and division, who wish to elect parties which are committed to a shared Northern Ireland not just for both sides of the divided community, but for all in Northern Ireland, irrespective of nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Northern Ireland’s peace is a peace unlike others. In no other part of these isles has a political party had its offices and the homes of its representatives petrol-bombed. In no other part of these isles have elected representatives been the subject of regular and serious death threats. Other parties in Northern Ireland have suffered this in the past, and to some extent all still do.
But the choice for the people of East Belfast in this election is whether they stand behind Long, a leader who has been the subject of death threats simply because her party adopted a position on the flying of flags from public buildings which didn’t entirely support one community. Or do they support the DUP, a party who led the political assault on Alliance’s policy, and failed at every turn to stand up to those who attacked Alliance, and Naomi?
This is a stark choice. It isn’t enough simply to admire Naomi Long, and either stay at home or continue to vote for your own party because you always have done. In a binary choice between only two realistic outcomes, everything other than a vote for Naomi is to stand against her. Nor is it sufficient to cavil that Alliance’s position on flags was provocative, or their policy on flags wrong or poorly executed. The world doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.
The Alliance Party won’t thank me for throwing this issue into the mix, but for me, the choice is simple. Are the people of East Belfast a people who will vote for a leader who has (with David Ford) bravely led a party under seige, a party struggling to reach accommodation on identity between two divided groups? Or will they support the political representatives of her opponents?
Moreover, these last few weeks have refocused the wider world’s attention on another nasty element in Northern Ireland’s society: the misuse of religion to justify unequal treatment of minorities. This time, the DUP has gained worldwide coverage for its views on and proposed treatment of homosexuals: leaving aside Jim Wells, the First Minister publicly rationalised criminalisation of homosexual acts as a legitimate position for his own public representatives, and even invoked God in the Assembly to justify not allowing homosexuals to marry. That the DUP merrily abused the Assembly’s procedures to designate equal marriage an issue of cross-community concern showed the extent to which the DUP is hell-bent on continuing to manipulate to narrow political advantage the twin levers of Northern Ireland’s historic political and religious divide.
When world leaders, when investors and when potential tourists ask about Northern Ireland, they ask whether it has moved on. That question is not just about political violence. It is a question about whether Northern Ireland is an inclusive society. A good place for multinational companies to recruit. A good place for foreign nationals – and in particular the executives of those multinationals – to come to and work. A good place to visit, whatever your background or sexual preference.
Every time they are given the opportunity, the people of Northern Ireland must seize the moment to say they have moved on. Only by repetition of that message can the investment successes of the last few years be built on, and embedded, and Northern Ireland made a genuinely attractive place to do business and travel to.
Despite the polls, and the predictions of the media, the people of East Belfast have not yet been offered the opportunity to deliver that message: they have it on Thursday.
The choice they have is not about parties’ individual policies. It is not a choice about the candidate best versed in national and provincial policy. It is not a choice about which candidate is the better constituency worker. It is not even a choice about which candidate is the more articulate and impressive leader for East Belfast and Northern Ireland in Westminster and on the world stage.
A UK general election in Northern Ireland is not about jobs, nor taxes, nor policies devolved to the Assembly. It is much more than that. Like all elections, it is about hope.
It is a symbol. It is a stand. It is, beyond all else, a message to the world. And let that message be that – when offered a clear choice – the people of Northern Ireland will resolutely hold to the shared future they have dreamed for their children, and which was denied their parents.
When investors, world leaders and opinion-formers point to the DUP’s homophobia, and to Belfast’s past violence over flags, let those who argue the case for economic investment in and political support of Northern Ireland respond: the people of East Belfast chose inclusion. They chose Naomi Long.
Ciaran Toland is a barrister and former member of Alliance.
Posted by Jason O on May 3, 2015 in British Politics
A few thoughts on next Thursday’s vote in the UK:
1. Unless they can deliver on PR, the Lib Dems should stay out of the next coalition. Coalition is a maturing process that scares off fairweather friends and utopians. The Lib Dem party going into opposition, seasoned with former minister, can rebuild as a pragmatic party of the rational centre.
2. Having said that, the Lib Dems public spending promises this time out have been decidedly left-wing. It needs to be careful about becoming Labour-lite, and not apologise for doing so.
3. It will be an absolute scandal that UKIP, the third party nationally in terms of votes cast by ordinary Brits, will come behind the Lib Dems, SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and possibly even the SDLP in terms of seats. Like them or not, they are the legitimate voice of a substantial section of British voters.
4. British politicians need to get over themselves in terms of “firm government” and banging on about the chaos of coalition or minority government negotiations. Britain is a stable country that will tip along just grand even if its pols take a while to hammer out a deal. Just as the Israelis, Kiwis, Irish, Dutch, Belgians, Swedes, Germans, Italians, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Portuguese and Poles do. Get over yourselves.
5. British politics will be worse off if Naomi Long and Nick Clegg lose their seats, and more boring if Nigel Farage doesn’t win one.
6. (additional point added later) Interesting that of the 10 parties with seats in the Commons, only 4 are led by people with seats actually in Parliament. Shows the impact of regional and European Parliaments in providing voices/platforms. Especially, ironically, for UKIP, which has been given much more assistance representing its voters by the European Parliament than Westminster ever did.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 9, 2015 in British Politics
When I was a member of the Young Progressive Democrats many, many moons ago, I used to attend conferences of our sister party the Liberal Democrats. I found them to be very camp (I was just coming out of my homophobic phrase) and also exceptionally left wing. Yet I still felt very comfortable with them, and knew that if I were British I would have been a Lib Dem.
Why? Because I felt that they had a streak of decency in them. But also because they were not an ideologically straitjacketed party. Whereas the Tories were hounding out Heathite liberals and Labour were still working their way through their leftwing Don Quixote moment, the Lib Dems were the middle party. The party of reason.
It is, of course, easier to be like that when you don’t have to be in government. Contact with government for the Lib Dems was not much different from the Irish Greens entry into government: a form of political anaphylactic shock. The Libs Dems, like the Irish Greens a party built on being nice and pure and offering a berth to pretty much anyone with a grievance about the bigger parties, took a hammering. The reality of budgets and choices in office chased away almost all the purists and the fantasists. The grand promises of opposition, like tuition fees, suddenly turn from a banner into a lump hammer to be beaten with.
We now see the real Liberal Democrats, all 7-10% of them. We see a party that has been hardened by government, hopefully more cautious about what it promises, but above all a party that has had a positive impact.
Lower paid workers keep more of their pay-packets. Overseas aid was protected. ID cards were scrapped.
Yes, there have been compromises. Tuition fees. The Bedroom Tax. Political reform. But isn’t that the reality of modern politics? Cameron gets it in the ear from his right about Lib Dem vetoes. Ed Miliband served under Blair, a man despised by the party’s left. But you know what? If you support Proportional Representation then you have to recognise that politics is about compromise. Too many Lib Dems seems to think that PR will magically turn the whole country into nice happy liberals.
The politics of compromise is here to stay, and with Nick Clegg you get a centre party that speaks for the middle and simple liberal values. British politics without the Lib Dems is not better politics, but a politics of the Tories pandering to UKIP and Labour pandering to the SNP and the Greens. Britain needs a middle party, a party that admits that some solutions come from the right and some from the left. Britain needs the Lib Dems to survive.
Am I disappointed by Nick? Of course. But one party has to stand up, in particular, for Europe and the idea of Europe. I watched him debate Farage on the EU, and Farage clearly won, firing out one witty pub-friendly quip after another. Nick was all facts and boring statistics and the truth. It was boring and not funny. But it was the truth, and someone in British politics has got to stand up to The Daily Mail and The Daily Express and say yes, Europe is worth saving.
That’s why I still agree with Nick.