The only way forward to achieve normal politics in Northern Ireland

Last week, Owen Polley wrote an article in the Belfast Telegraph entitled “The Old baggage that came with the New Force must go.” In the article, he discussed options for the Conservative Party, including my proposal for a new non-designated Centre-Right party.

As one would expect from an opponent, there was a distortion in his presentation of what the proposal is about. However, it is his attack on the proposal which I would wish to answer. He said this:

“In a devolved UK, constitutional issues are part of everyday debate and, by ducking the border issue entirely, a neutral centre-right group here could not offer either equal citizenship or normal politics.”

This statement is disingenuous for a number of reasons.

The “border issue,” as Mr. Polley calls it, is the question of whether Northern Ireland should become part of a united Ireland. It is not the only constitutional issue.  The proposed new party, whilst taking no position on Northern Ireland’s sovereign future, would not “duck” a discussion about it.  The proposed new party would not be required to take a neutral position on any other constitutional issue.  It would also not be required to take a neutral position on any other which might be indirectly connected with Northern Ireland’s sovereign future.   For example, tomorrow, I will be providing comment upon some aspects of the Saville enquiry, which is due to be published by the Government on Tuesday.

The key point is that the power, to decide whether Northern Ireland remains as part of the United Kingdom or becomes part of the Republic of Ireland, does not lie with the elected politicians. It lies with the people in a future referendum.  For that reason alone, it is not necessary, in Northern Ireland’s best interests, to take a position on it.

Mr. Polley’s reference to “equal citizenship” is a reference to participation in the union with the United Kingdom by voting for or against the next Government in a General Election. He is suggesting that if you can not put on a ballot paper your “X” (or your 1 or 2 or 3 when AV arrives) next to the name of a party which can govern the United Kingdom, you can not achieve equal citizenship.

Under my proposal, equal citizenship would still be achieved. It is merely the vehicle for achieving it that would be different. A Northern Ireland voter would still be able to vote for or against the party which forms the Government of the United Kingdom because there would be an alliance of the new party with the Conservatives in Parliament.

I am at a loss to understand why Mr. Polley says that a neutral centre-right party could not offer normal politics. Perhaps he is saying that politics are not normal without incessant discussion about the future of the union, yet he also says that unionists should stop defending it.

Normal politics would not be attained in Northern Ireland without both communities participating in a choice of politics which is based upon shared values, rather than identity or sovereignty.   Having strong political parties which promote policies for effective government but which are also neutral on Northern Ireland’s future sovereignty is not just a means to achieving normal politics.  It is the only way forward to achieve normal politics in Northern Ireland.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Good Friday Agreement, Nationalism, New Party, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland politics, Unionism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The only way forward to achieve normal politics in Northern Ireland

  1. Seymour Major says:

    All right Paul, you have expressed your point of view.

    I have been making a case on this blog for more than a week and I have introduced many arguments to support that case. There are more to come. Apart from repeating “it has not chance” or “it will get nowhere” do you have any couter-argument to make in answer to any of the points that I have been making?

  2. Chekov says:

    It’s really rather simple Seymour. If a party is to offer normal politics it has to have a positive connection to the polity it wants to participate in. The reason that Cameron’s approach to Northern Ireland makes sense is because it actually hangs together conceptually. Without making a song and dance about the Union, if a party wants Northern Ireland to participate in UK government, if it is seeking votes here, then of course it is not neutral. Whichever way you dress it up, you’re saying that, because of our particular circumstances, we have to be treated differently. Otherwise there would be no need to form a separate party.

    It’s an interesting idea, but the more people I speak to, the more I realise that you are way out on a limb on this one. Plenty of Conservatives here want to emphasise centre right politics and park the issue of the Union. That’s fair enough. But there’s no appetite I can detect for the type of semi-detached approach you describe.

    • Seymour Major says:

      “If a party is to offer normal politics it has to have a positive connection to the polity it wants to participate in.”

      I beg to disagree with you Owen. The polity under my proposal is Northern Ireland, rather than the State. That is still consistent with normal politics.

      “The reason that Cameron’s approach to Northern Ireland makes sense is because it actually hangs together conceptually.”

      Not good enough. It has to be capable of working in practice. I really wish that I could accept that David Cameron’s approach would deliver normal politics. You are entitled to have more faith than I do but mine is that the Conservative Party, with or without the UUP is simply not capable – ever – of attracting enough votes from the Catholic community to prevent tribal headcount politics from maintaining a stranglehold.

      “Whichever way you dress it up, you’re saying that, because of our particular circumstances, we have to be treated differently.”

      Not only here but probably in Scotland too. That stems from the conclusion that I have reached aforesaid. If the primary idea is doomed to failure, it is absolutely right to look for an alternative way of bringing centre-right politics on a cross-community basis.

      “It’s an interesting idea, but the more people I speak to, the more I realise that you are way out on a limb on this one.”

      I dont want to dismiss local opinion. The party on the ground has to be listened to but there is much more to political analysis than sounding out opinion. Moreover, if nine out of ten cats prefer Whiskas that does not make 90% of them right or 10% of them wrong.

      The real decision makers are not here. They are in London. The Conservatives have the financial resources to make such a scheme work. Those resources merely need to be properly deployed with the right people in charge of them and the right plan.

      The Conservative Party had a blinkered approach to the Union right up until they lost the election in 1997. Since then, the Conservatives have accepted the principal of devolution in Scotland. The current generation of Conservative leaders is far more forward-thinking and open to persuasive argument on ways to gain power. The pact with the UUP and the coalition with the Liberal Democrats demonstrate considerable flexibility.

      If those leaders reach a conclusion that forming alliances through a sort of “CSU” option, as proposed by me, is the only way to attain some political strength from Northern Ireland, I can assure you that they will take it, whatever people here locally might think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s