Congratulations to Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny

Whilst I have followed the Irish General Election in detail, I have thus far avoided commenting upon it.  The result was never in doubt.  Only the exact distribution of seats.  

With the Election now over, it is time to congratulate the new Taoiseach-in-waiting, Mr. Enda Kenny on a great and decisive victory.   Mr. Kenny heads Fine Gael, a political party which is the nearest thing to a centre-right party in the Irish Republic.  With that affinity in mind, those of us with similar political values can share in the pleasure of his victory. 

How the change of Government will affect Ireland’s economic prospects is difficult to tell.  Much will depend upon the programme for Government agreed with the Irish Labour Party, their likely coalition partners.  Together, the two parties can and should put political rivalry to one side in the National interest.   Their common purpose will be to create and follow road map which will deliver Ireland back its freedom from overwhelming national debt.  It is understood that the new Government will be allowing some, but not all, of the banks to fail.   That will probably be the easiest measure they take in dealing with the crisis.  They will still have to tackle their budget deficit.  That almost certainly means making swinging cuts in public spending.  They will face resistance from their civil service.  This will create tension within the Irish Labour Party.    

Negotiations with the other European leaders could prove to be their most difficult task of all.  The New Government will not be without options despite the EU bailout package negotiated by their predecessors.  The problem with their negotiating position is that their leverage is more like a ‘nuclear option’ than a genuine “Plan B.”  However, leaving Ireland in a state where it is weighed down by interest on debt for generations to come is not an option.  They must find a way of renegotiating the debt and, at the same time, hold on to their fiscal freedom.

Posted in Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Republic of Ireland, Ireland, Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, Irish Labour Party | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Earthquake – We are rather lucky not to be facing likely natural danger

Christchurch Cathedral loses its spire in the Earthquake

At the moment, people in and near Christchurch, New Zealand are surviving and recovering from an earthquake which appears to have taken about 200 lives. 

Natural disasters have always been around.  They vary in size and magnitude.  Indeed, this disaster is minute compared to the Tsunami of December 31, 2004 let alone bigger natural disasters which pre-date living memory.

I said “natural” disasters.  That must incorporate diseases like the Black Death in the mid 14th Century.  In this post, the discussion is about those natural disasters that are concerned with the physical Earth.

Around the world, much geological destruction occurs as a result of earthquakes or volcanoes.  Most of these natural phenomena occur near tectonic plate boundaries.  New Zealand itself straddles tectonic plate boundaries and will see much more destruction in the future. 

There are many areas around the world where people live close to where these disasters are likely to occur.  This includes parts of Europe.

Along South Western Italy and Northern Sicily is a chain of volcanoes adjacent to where the African and Eurasian plates clash.  One of those volcanoes is Mount Vesuvius. 

Mount Vesuvius. 3 Million living around the Mountain

This mountain has a very violent history.  In AD 79, it wiped out two cities, Pompei and Herculaneum.  It is certain to erupt again.  The scary thing is that nearly 3 million live in an area around the mountain.  The Italians have the capability to evacuate the population, provided that the scale of the eruption is not too high.  It could not cope with an eruption on the scale of the one in AD79.

What about us in the British Isles?   

There are some geological faults and fissures which do occasionally cause tremors and may do so again.  Some experts have predicted that a fault under the straights of Dover could cause a large scale disaster in London.  Ireland is understood to have some active geological faults but there is no record of any significant damage.

There was a time (about 60 million years ago) when the area of nearly all of, what is now, County Antrim was a hotbed of volcanic activity on the edge of a divergent tectonic boundary.  This tectonic boundary was the mid-Atlantic ridge.  In 60 million years, our lands have been pushed about 1000 miles away from that boundary.  The Volcanoes of Iceland, which today straddle that boundary, are the descendents of extinct volcanoes in Britain and Ireland including those on the Isle of Skye and the Giant’s Causeway.

Something might happen in Britain.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that our lands are very far away from a tectonic plate boundary and, in all likelihood, very far away from the world’s most destructive geological activity.  That is always worth bearing that in mind when we consider the plight of the victims of natural disasters abroad.

Posted in Earthquakes, Natural disasters, New Zealand Earthquake, Volcanoes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

If the UUP dont like that, they can do their worst

Mark Cosgrove, UUP treasurer, has written a comment accusing me of lying, in relation to my previous post setting out the UUP’s failure to pay £50,000 into a joint fund.

My source did not come out of “thin air.”  I will not mention any name, since anonymity was requested when the information was fed to me.  I respect that.  I also strongly believe the story to be genuine.  It came from a Conservative party official.

If a libel action did take place, I would use the opportunity to discover all of the UUP’s relevant books and bank accounts, as well similar documents from the Conservatives.  Furthermore, I would subpoena my sources and other people that have been quoted to me as being directly involved in these funding arrangements.  I have no reason to suppose that those people would deny, on oath, that the UUP had failed to pay the £50,000 that it owes.

So, Mr. Cosgrove, here is the challenge to you and your party colleagues.  Show me reliable evidence, which will satisfy me that you did pay your £50,000 share.  To make that easier for you, I will undertake to keep any material used to make that proof confidential, if you consider it to be particularly sensitive.  If you succeed in delivering that proof, you and your party will get an unreserved apology. 

Until the UUP do that, these posts will not be withdrawn.  If they dont like that, they can do their worst.

Posted in Conservative Party, Conservativism, Mark Cosgrove, UCUNF, UUP | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

UUPs financial weaknesses make it completely untrustworthy

Last week, it was reported by Mark Devenport and subsequently confirmed by other bloggers, including Chekov that the UUP is now asking the Government to provide finance to enable it to go into opposition.

At the moment, there are two UUP MLAs with ministerial posts on the Executive, which they were allocated under the D’hondt system. From the way this request is being made, it looks as though the party has become partially economically dependent on the salaries of the two Ministers. There is, of course, an election looming and that has to be funded. So how much has this request to do with finance and how much has it to do with political principle?

Jeffrey Peel has already illustrated here and here some of the incidents which appear to have arisen as a result of the UUP’s internal financial difficulties. At the time of his resignation from the Joint Committee two years ago, he made explicit reference to the UUP’s financial problems stating it as a prime reason for going into partnership with the Conservatives:

“… I have come to the conclusion that the UUP does not have the interests of Conservatism at heart.  Rather, as the UUP is facing a severe financial crisis, it sees the Conservatives as a means out of its financial and electoral woes.”

That puts into context a story that I was told recently about a financial incident between the Conservatives and the UUP regarding UCUNF.

It had been agreed between the Conservatives and the UUP that they would set up a joint fund of £100,000. The Conservatives put in their initial £50,000. The UUP did not come up with its share. In the end, senior Conservatives withdrew money held by Northern Ireland Conservatives. It was a sort of “i.o.u.” except that the money has never been repaid by the UUP to the Conservatives.

This brings me to an important point. The credibility of any political party depends, to a certain extent, upon the degree to which it sticks to its principles. Now I appreciate that it is very hard, these days, to find any political party that has a polished halo. Nevertheless, how can anybody trust a political party whose policies and political actions are primarily driven by the need to raise money?

Update

Following Mark Cosgrove’s comment below, I have written a follow-up post here

Posted in Assembly Elections, Conservative Party, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland politics, Stormont, UUP | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why regional identity is a much bigger problem for the Conservatives than Labour

We tend to think that within the UK, it is only Northern Ireland which has identity politics. Putting that conventional thought another way, Northern Ireland’s politics would be identity politics along a Unionist / Nationalist axis, whilst the rest of the UK is purely left-right politics. If only it were that simple. In the UK, there is actually a mixture of left- right and identity politics across the board. This post is about the interplay between left-right ideology politics and the politics of identity.

Firstly, I compare crucial traits of left and right ideology.  Within the ideologies of the political parties that make up the left and the right, it is the approach to selfishness and greed which forms the visible dividing line. To the left, selfishness and greed is an abomination. To the right, selfishness and greed is not intrinsically evil. Instead, it is a feature of human nature which makes an essential contribution towards a successful, wealth-creating economy.

A simple example of left-right ideology in political action is the attitude of the political parties towards large bonuses paid to senior banking employees.

Politicians on the left were naturally inclined, as Vince Cable was, towards forcing the Banks to “take a haircut.” Those on the right were more inclined to leave things as they were in order to allow the banking industry to maintain its competitive edge. The Conservative Party were determined to allow the banks their freedom. The Labour Party, knowing that most of the population view large bank bonuses to be repugnant, were determined to put the Coalition under pressure and called for an extension of the bonus tax.

George Osborne - took pragmatic decision on Bank tax levy

The Conservatives were not going to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” as they regarded it. However, they saw the force of the political attack from the left. To pacify that attack, George Osborne announced an increased levy against the Banks amounting to an extra £800m. This was nothing like what the left wanted and was little more than tokenism. However, it conveyed the message that the Government was wagging a finger at the banks. The media analysts did the rest for the Government by explaining why the Government did not take a more substantial levy.

The Conservative view that selfishness and greed have to flourish is not unqualified. There has to be something in it which benefits the nation. The National boundary is important in this respect. If a businessman is taking a risk which will have no impact on the national interest, the conservatives will not be concerned that he succeeds or fails. Similarly, if a conservative political party is riding high in another country, we do not care. What do we care, for example, whether the Centre – Right party in Germany (the CDU) is successful? The point I make here is that the nation state is a crucially important part of conservative ideology. Taking that point further, Conservatism in its purer form is a type of centre-right nationalism.

Left wing ideology is different in that sense. It is a much simpler, more morality-based ideology. It is much more universal in the sense that it crosses international boundaries. The left is much more likely to be in sympathy with its counterparts in other countries.

But the left is underpinned by another political dimension – that of the working class identity. Most of the time, there is no difficulty advancing the ideology of the left and the working class identity together. Occasionally, however, there is a clash. It happens when working class nationalism surfaces. Working class nationalism is a space occupied by what is termed “the far right” (to call these groups ‘right wing’ is technically incorrect). These political groups set out to exploit racial and jingoistic prejudice which happens to be much more prevalent within the working class population. That is why the Labour Party regularly expresses its concerns about the threat of the BNP. To combat that pressure, the left has to make its own compromises. An example of that occurred two years ago when Gordon Brown was forced to pledge ‘British jobs for British workers

That, however, is as difficult as it gets for the left. The fault lines which affect the politics of the right tend to occur when there are conflicts of National (and polity) identities.  Conversely, the working – class identity is a cross-border one and tends to insulate the left from similar problems.   That is why I believe that Labour have not suffered as much by the rise of Scottish Nationalism as have the Conservatives.

The failure to recognise and respond to the potency of polity / National identities has been a cause of Conservative Party policy failure in Ireland a century ago and in Scotland more recently.  In 1955, the Scottish Unionist Party, previously the Conservative ally in Scotland, secured most of the parliamentary seats in the general election of that year. Today, the Conservatives hold only one seat.

It is not just regional identity which is a problem for the Conservatives. As the EU has played a larger part in politics, the pan-European super-identity is being viewed increasingly by the UK electorate as an unwanted imposition. The problem for the Conservative Party is that when they are obliged to adopt positions on policy which are favourable to the hardcore Europhile nations like France, they are seen to be Europhiles themselves.

Worse still, for the Conservatives, they used to be the sole occupiers of nationalist centre-right political space. After serious divisions over Maastricht in the 1990s, UKIP was formed. In the 1997 General Election, it was reckoned that the presence of UKIP alone lost the Conservatives about 14 seats. Today, UKIP are a permanent presence on the European political scene. They have not yet won a seat in the UK Parliament but they were omnipresent at the 2010 General Election. After the Lisbon treaty was ratified, the Conservatives were forced to ditch their promise to hold a referendum on the treaty. Consequently, UKIP withdrew their support from the Conservatives. It has been suggested that turn of events cost the Conservatives an outright majority in the 2010 General Election.

In spite of everything, the Conservative Party, despite not attaining an overall majority in the UK Parliament, did find its way to power, albeit in coalition with the Lib Dems. Nonetheless, the Conservatives are right in the middle of some very serious challenges. They have probably done as much as they can, for the time being, to pacify the threat of UKIP.  However, they still have a massive challenge in adjusting to the reality of devolution.

The Sanderson review on the electoral failure by Scottish Conservatives in the 2010 general election effectively by-passed the key question on whether they should form an independent centre-right party in Scotland. If the Scottish Conservatives show no sign of improvement in the 2011 Assembly elections, I believe it is imperative that this question is re-visited.

My view is similar in relation to Wales. Conservatives in Wales have not yet been adversely affected by the identity problem. Part of the reason for this is simply that the Welsh political identity was, historically, much weaker than that of the Scots. The Conservatives should not be complacent here. The developing Assembly politics in Wales will lead to a stronger political Welsh identity. The trick is to recognise this before it happens.

As for Northern Ireland, my views are well recorded in this blog. In the last couple of weeks, some of my writings elsewhere have been taken with offence by some Conservatives in Northern Ireland. For that, I sincerely apologise but my opinion does not change.

The Conservative Party will not succeed, electorally, in Northern Ireland without the changes that I have proposed. Even ignoring the Nationalist problem, most Northern Irish Unionists still look upon the Conservatives as an English Party. Even with the best financial resources, a new campaign manager, a new office, 18 constituency associations, a lot of hard work by the membership and the slaying of Beelzebub, they will still hit a “brick wall” on the identity problem alone.

Meanwhile, the DUP, which already has the massive advantage of incumbency, also has the advantage of having a regional identity. If Northern Ireland unionism does “morph” into a non-sectarian centre – right ideology, it is they who are most likely to take first possession of it.

Posted in Conservative Party, Conservativism, Euro, Europe, General Election, George Osborne, Identity, Ideology, Labour Party, Nationalism, Northern Ireland politics, Scotland, Scottish Conservative Party, UK Constitution, UK Politics, UKIP, Unionism, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What next for NI Centre Right?

For better or for worse, the Northern Ireland Conservatives have given up their rebellion against CCHQ. They claim to have a package of support from CCHQ which

(a) Apparently increases their internal influence

(b) Apparently allows them to put up candidates in any election beyond the Assembly elections of 2011.

(c) Puts financial resources into it, including funding the employment of a full time agent in a permanent office.

They did not achieve the right to put up candidates in the 2011 Assembly elections. Early last December, CCHQs decision caused the regional Chairman to tender his resignation. This lends serious credence to the proposition that the Northern Ireland conservatives have achieved very little of substance. I am not alone in reaching this view.

The next elections after 2011 are the European Parliamentary Elections of 2014. Presumably, the Northern Ireland Conservatives will be allowed to run an MEP candidate separately from the UUP? Otherwise, the next significant elections are not until 2015. That is a very long time to wait for the Conservatives to seek votes from the Northern Ireland electorate.

I have said before that the interests of the Northern Ireland Conservatives and CCHQ are not the same. That difference is driven by National Party calculation relating to the strength of the Conservatives in the UK parliament.

With the UUP effectively left with no hope of making an impact in future Parliamentary Elections, one is left wondering why CCHQ did not give the Northern Ireland Conservatives their full support. Perhaps they believe that if they avoid antagonising the UUP, they have a greater chance of “scooping up” relict UUP support in the event of a “meltdown” of that party.   This package seems to be designed to enable them to do that.

In the next 3-4 years, Northern Ireland Conservatives will set themselves the task of building up constituency associations capable of generating real support. They will also be expected to generate a significant increase in the number of grass roots members. Having surrendered the right to field candidates in the 2011 elections, Northern Ireland Conservatives will almost be back at “square one.” They will have to overcome the perception that they are not really serious about contesting elections on their own in Northern Ireland.

Even if they overcome the first stage by being relatively successful at building up the membership, there are further potential obstacles. The key question is whether CCHQ turns on them again. Assets on the ground are not the same thing as political assets in an elected forum. The pressure for numbers in Parliament is enormous. The Northern Ireland Conservatives will not be capable of producing an MP in 2015. That leaves CCHQ open to further corruption, perhaps from the direction of the DUP, if not the UUP again. If that makes the difference between winning any losing the next general election, Northern Ireland Conservatives remain liable to be disappointed again.

Unfortunately, the questions will, time and again, be thrown back in Conservative faces. That in turn weakens the estimation of the Northern Ireland electorate. Conservatives will then be forced to retort that they are moving forward. The negativity will not go away. That is another reason why the Conservatives will continue to suffer damage from this decision in 2015.

Unfortunately, their problems do not end there either. Being without resources on the ground and not running campaigns very well only partly explains Conservative electoral failure in Northern Ireland over the last 21 years. If the PUP, Women’s Coalition or the Green Party can win seats in the Assembly, why cant the Conservatives?

Being seen as an “English” party does not work for the Conservatives in Scotland. It will almost certainly not work in Northern Ireland either.

I have continuously argued on this blog, that the Conservatives are not capable of delivering non-communal politics. They only have a very limited chance of electoral success within the unionist voting block.

Those who have followed this blog will know that at the heart of the NI Centre Right campaign is a desire to see normal, non-communal, left-right politics in Northern Ireland and the belief that Conservative supporters were amongst those most likely to aspire to that as a priority. This latest package puts back the progress of that campaign by several years and places me on the horns of a dilemma. The following choices are now before me:

(1) continue a long–term debate within the Conservative party in the hope that a new independent party will “morph” from Northern Ireland Conservatives in the next few years as they come to understand the reasons for their electoral failure.

(2) leave the Conservative party with a view to the formation of a new NI Centre Right political party and try to build it up.

(3) leave the Conservative party and pursue the idea, recently advocated by Ian Parsley, that non-communal, left-right politics, could evolve through a schism in the Alliance Party after it has grown successfully to become Northern Ireland’s biggest party.

(4) Walk off into obscurity by giving up the NI Centre Right campaign altogether and leave it for a later generation to pursue.

Posted in Alliance Party, Assembly Elections, Conservative Party, Conservativism, DUP, Iris Robinson, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland politics, Pluralism, Scotland, UK Politics, Unionism, UUP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

UUP accuses Conservatives about breaking promises

Not promises about not putting up Assembly candidates – yet.  However, for Conservative Yoopyphobes, there is a cheering headline to a report in the Belfast Telegraph today.

David McNarry has called for Owen Paterson’s head following his stated refusal to change the rule, enacted following the St. Andrews Agreement, that the First Minister will be the leader of the largest party – not the leader of the largest party within the largest designation. The rule has made it slightly more likely that Martin McGuinness will become First Minister, following the May Assembly elections.

Nobody here is surprised by what Owen Paterson has said. His position has been consistent for a long time. There will be no changing of any of the rules regulating Stormont without a consensus from both communities.

McNarry has also suggested that there is a difference of position between Owen Paterson and David Cameron. He is quite wrong. David Cameron has spoken out about his personal feelings when dealing with Martin McGuinness.  But he has also made clear the paramountcy of maintaining peace. He said:

”I do find it painful that I now sometimes sit around a table with Martin McGuinness and I think about what that man did.

”But everyone has to come to terms with that because that is the price we are paying for peace, and it is a price that is worth paying, because peace is so much better than the alternative.”

The idea that Conservatives would introduce a measure which would be likely to bring Stormont crashing down is ridiculous. It may be worth recalling the following words of the 2010 election manifesto, which the UUP once bought into

“In Northern Ireland, we strongly support the political institutions established over the past decade and we are committed to making devolution work.”

Posted in Conservative Party, David McNarry, General Election, Good Friday Agreement, Martin McGuinness, Owen Paterson, St. Andrews Agreement, Stormont, Unionism, UUP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment