Meanwhile in Norn Iron…

So General Election.

I am not tempted to say that this is eighteen different elections.

At best it is maybe 50% elections and 50% coronations. The usual suspects…analysts and number crunchers on Slugger O’Toole will tell us that if these results are replicated in an Assembly Election… but of course these “First Past The Post” results will not be replicated in a “Proportional” election.

In other words, Sinn Féin supporters too cold and wet to vote on the Antrim Coast Road are not signalling that SF will lose their Assembly seat. Likewise indifferent SDLP supporters on the Glenshane Pass are not signalling the loss of the seat at Stormont. Meanwhile Alliance are on a roll, they will be better motivated, even in places where their representation is not good.

They did well in the local and Euro elections earlier this year and strutting about like roosters. Yet they end the year slithering about on their bellies like snakes in the grass.

Alliance do better out of Tribalism than any other political party. We will look at that in another post.

But where is Unionism today?

Well Unionism is up when Nationalism is down and vice versa.

And Unionism has been “down” before. The Fall of Stormont in 1972, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement.

But I don’t think I have ever seen them more down than in the last month. Is it terminal? Is it the Fall of Unionist Berlin? The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down? The US Embassy in Saigon? Or the Ceasescu Moment?

It depends. Will Unionism nearly drown next month? Or will Unionism nearly be saved? It depends on a few hundred votes in very few places.

Thanx to what everybody knew already and what Journalism has recently chosen to confirm, it is now a simply a fact that loyalist paramilitaries and some elements of the “Security Services” were on the same side. “Collusion” is really the wrong word as it suggests an overlap of interests. It is much more than Collusion. It is not about “bad apples”.

But the interests of some elements in RUC, UDR extended into loyal orders, church halls, “big” houses in rural areas of Norn Iron. The loyalist paramilitaries in Armagh for example were very different from the more obvious thugs in the backstreets of Belfast.

For years now, mainstream unionism has presented itself as “respectable”. Even when a vicious party, the DUP became the market leader, the DUP form of unionism was presented as mainstream by people who really should know better. When a mainstream party moves to the right, it loses the right to be considered acceptable…eg The American Republican Party has lost its right to be considered mainstream.

But after making far too much of their accidental brush with Power, after supporting the Tories in 2017, the DUP have been sold out by Boris Johnson. Do I feel sorry for them? No.

So DUP, the front line of unionism is in retreat and moves back towards the UUP and the UUP retreat in disarray and move towards the third line of unionism, the Alliance Party. “Liberal unionists” look to Alliance for rescue.

The Alliance Party was always a coalition. If you look at the three Alliance ministers in the first Stormont power-sharing government in 1973, the clues are there. Oliver Napier was what we considered to be a “Castle Catholic” (American readers will be familiar with the term “Uncle Tom”), Bob Cooper was a liberal unionist and Basil Glass was a churchy (Methodist I think) nice guy.

The Alliance Party personifies “letsgetalongerism” but they can only be understood thru this coalition. LetsGetAlongerism is not, as it might appear benign nice people just getting along. Rather it is an acceptance of doing nothing to rock the political boat, an acceptance of the status quo. And the status quo is unionist.

Despite protestations that the Alliance Party is “agnostic” on the position of Norn Iron, it is unionist. That is the bottom line.

“Liberal” unionist voters deserting UUP and rushing to Alliance is a mixed blessing because it distorts the carefully crafted ambiguity.

LetsGetAlongerism is the last refuge of unionists.

Short term gain as in the local elections and Euros. But a “liberal” unionist  (Paula Bradshaw) defecting to Alliance is good for Alliance. But five Bradshaws or ten Bradshaws…now that is a problem.

Coalition is at once a strength and yet a potential weakness. So that a coalition of liberal unionists, castle Catholics and churchy nice men and women is already joined by a fourth member …self-styled “progressives” who actually want to see some change in Norn Iron and even beyond.

The great success of the Alliance Party has been to persuade people, including of course a friendly media that they are above the tribal politics of Norn Iron.

But the truth is that they are the third tribe.

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British General Election 2019

So we had a British General Election in 2015. And 2017. And now 2019.

So much for Fixed Term Parliaments. And of course this winter election (surely it tempts fate) will be mostly about BREXIT.

I have always believed that a General Election is really 650 different elections. And I think it is more so this year.

Party Politics, certainly as we have known it is broken. And in so far that this makes the “United Kingdom” more unstable, then it is a case of “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”.

The English, the Brexiteers who have bemoaned “Great” Britain losing it’s place as a world leader have decided to accelerate the decline and fall.

Too early for predictions of course but some observations.

As Parliament breaks up, it is obvious that there is more talent on the Conservative government back benches than on the front bench. It is an inevitable conquest of the blood-letting since 2015 that there is a lot of mutual animosity. Ken Clarke, Theresa May, Dominic Grieve, Justine Greening to name a few on the back benches. And the likes of Steve Barclay, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and James Cleverley on the front bench…it says it all.

And it does not look any better on the Opposition benches. Bloodletting and mass sulking means Hillary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Ed Miliband and Liz Kendall are on the back benches. Now of course I don’t have to like Ms Kendall to see that she has a degree of seniority (if not obvious talent) to play a bigger role. And while it is obvious Stephen Kinnock has an exaggerated sense of his worth and seemingly a sense of entitlement, he has enough supporters around him who think he has a more senior role to play.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn surrounds himself with old London cronies like John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. Clearly there are so called senior Labour MPs who will suddenly be elevated when Corbyn loses the leadership.

This seems like a proxy war between advisors Dominic Cummings behind Boris Johnson and Seamus Milne behind Corbyn.

Arguably the case for Remain Alliance (Lib Dem, Green, Plaid Cymru) is strengthened by the defection of ex-Conservative MPs and even occasional ex-Labour MPs but conversely it weakens the Liberal Democrat brand.

Meanwhile the most coherent party in Westminster is the Scottish National Party.

And (maybe) waiting in the wings but more likely hurling on the ditch is the Brexit Party. They may not win seats but can certainly affect results.

Going into this election as a minority government, the Tories first reality check is that they will lose most of their handful of seats in Scotland. The Tories, always a coalition of landowners, farmers, city bankers and the just plain greedy are targeting northern working class constituencies (traditionally Labour seats) and hoping that the xenophobic Brexit Party can drain away enough votes so that Tories pick up seats.

Meanwhile, the City of London bankers and suburban voters are not impressed with the economic reality of BREXIT and might defect to the Lib Dems.

The key in most constituencies is First Past the Post. If say Tories get 30% of the vote, Labour 29%, Lib Dem 20% , Brexit 15% then the Tories take the seat. And there are I feel going to be a lot of MPs from all parties elected who are well short of being supported by the majority of the voters in the constituency.

This of course will lead to tactical voting, for example a Labour supporter voting for the Lib Dems to keep out the Tories and so on.

But two things…already around sixty MPs have declared they will retire from politics. Add in the attrition from a “normal” Election and the attrition from this Election, it looks like the new Parliament will be more inexperienced than usual.

Over the past two years, we have got to know more MPs than usual. Tom Brake, Andrew Bridgen, Philip Lee, Richard Burgon, Tobias Ellwood, Heidi Allen, Mark Francois, Joanna Cherry. And so on.

We “know” these people because they jump up in the Commons to say things like “will the honourable member give way?” and hang around the lobby, hoping to get interviewd live by Vicky Young, Beth Rigby and the rest.

Sometimes we cant remember the names. “yer man that had the affair with…”, “the woman who is always crying”, “the one with the glasses”, “the one that I cant stand the sight of…” and so on. Almost as an afterthought, we say “Lib Dem”, “Labour”, “Tory”.

Every election night…..and most results will be declared on Friday 13th December has its share of “moments”. Did you stay up for…Michael Portillo? Nick Clegg? Peter Robinson?

Who will we say that about on Friday 13th December?

Who will be the memorable loser?

“Did you stay up for….?”

Anna Soubrey? Chukka Ummana? Yvette Cooper? Nigel Dodds? Emma Little Pengelley?

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BREXIT Broke Britain But…

BREXIT broke Britain but… will it break the “United Kingdom”?

In June 2016, I voted for the “UK” to leave the European Union. Actually, I voted in a perverse way for England to be expelled from the European Union.

Many reasons but I am old enough to recall that my father said that the Common Market (Luxembourg, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Germany) should not let Britain join. His reasoning was that Britain could not join any club without wishing to take it over.

Of course Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined in 1973,

I am one of those socialists who believed that the Common Market was a rich mans club. But I have tolerated it (I am sure they are glad) on the basis that Ireland has done rather well out of it. The Common Market and its successors brought former fascist nations (Greece, Spain and Portugal) into mainstream European democracy.

And Ireland as the sole neutral nation was joined by Finland, Sweden and Austria.

I never liked the loss of national sovereignty and the putative United States of Europe. And it has to be said that the EU over-reached itself when it expanded to take in ten mostly Eastern European nations.

“Hubris” as the Greeks might say. “Schedenfeude” as the Germans and Austrians might say and “Karma” as everyone else might say. It was as much bad timing as anything…banks collapsing and austerity but free movement of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and later Croats, Bulgarians and Romanians all fed into British (specifically English) xenophobia and the mass migration of Afghans, Somalis, Iraqis and others across Europe (largely as a consequence of wars that Britain supported) fed into British (specifically English) racism.

So when David Cameron put a EU “stay or leave” referendum into the Conservative manifesto in 2015, he assumed the answer would be Remain but it was alreday against a background of people losing faith in the European dream.

The bottom line is that people actually love their own nation states whether it is Portugal, Slovenia, Ireland or Britain and the further you travel from Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, few people really love Europe. At best and in pragmatic terms, Europeans like Europe but do not really love it.

So really with ham-fisted re-negotiation to present to the British public as a victory, Cameron was shocked at the Leave victory in the Referendum of 2016. The only people more shocked were the Leavers who actually won. I am convinced the Brexiteer leaders (Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg and the rest) only wanted a sizeable vote of 40% to use for their own ambitions and permenant discontent.

The past three years of Indecision seems to confirm that this is a result that nobody really wanted.

I voted to LEAVE.

If I have any regret it is that leaving EU will adversely affect people economically but I believe in the long run, it will work out ok on this island. And frankly every vote in every election affects somebody in an adverse way. Thatcher’s election victories affected mining communities, steel communities and shipbuilding communities. And Scotland and Wales.

So why did I vote to LEAVE?

Well, I had one vote. But it was counted twice. Once in the Norn Iron total. And once in the “UK” total. Safe in the knowledge that Norn Iron would vote REMAIN, I wanted my vote to count as LEAVE in the UK total. I knew that result would be close and I knew that this would provoke some kinda constitutional crisis.

And the Good Friday Agreement? Well it brought Peace. But it has been on Life Support and being allowed to die, thru Starvation. BREXIT has allowed nationalists/republicans to re-think the position. The Agreement is plainly not the Holy Grail. The Creative Ambiguity that we thought was so clever is just a load of lies. The additional benefit is that allows LetsGetAlongerists to re-think their position.

Of course, BREXIT itself and the Proposals, Deals and Agreements will be very different from the promises. More Creative Ambiguity. More Perfidious Albion.

And Scotland? Well we get a border down the Irish Sea. But the Scots wont get a border running from Gretna Green to Berwick, unless and until they get that Second Referendum. And they will.

As I wrote above, nobody except a few Eurofanatics really love Europe and stand to attention for “Ode to Joy”.It is pragmatic. Few except a few fanatics in the English Home Counties, Tandragee and Carrickfergus really care about another Union…the United Kingdom. It is just about pragmatism. Little Englanders would happily ditch Inverness and Crossmaglen and Glasgow and Coleraine.

I never really thought of myself as Irish and European. I resented that little maroon passport. But as Seamus Heaney might put it “be advised, my passport’s maroon” and good luck to those who choose the new British blue passport. But you choose a different nationality to mine.

 

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The Slugger Shilling

As many of you will have noticed, I have written three or four posts on Slugger O’Toole in the past three months. This does not mean that I have taken the Slugger O’Toole Shilling or gone over to the Dark Side.

Far from it. I am not part of the Slugger “Team”. I am not a “moderator”. In fact I have blocked so many Slugger “commenters” (sic) and moderators that I could not bring myself to read what they say out of some sense of Duty.

The posts written for Slugger were I think specific to that site and I needed an outlet as much of what I write is an attempt at “Nostalgia”.

But importantly I am not part of the Slugger agenda that they say that they dont have. Writing for Slugger makes me feel like Tom Driberg, the Labour MP (and probably spy for USSR) who wrote for and was tolerated by right-wing Beaverbrook Newspapers.

This Blog “the Czar” is amateur and amateurish. I don’t even use Spell Check and I have no idea what most of the apps, functions and tools on this site do.

This is a FREE WORDPRESS platform. It is so good that I have never been tempted to use the premium version. I highly recommend WORDPRESS. So all this costs me nothing.

Slugger is of course a professional message board. The dynamic is much different. It rightly provides a source of income. And this means that it has to raise revenue.

Although I have contributed to Slugger funds at Slugger events, probably no more than £15-£20 over a total of eight years, I have never been tempted to press the “donate” button on the Slugger site.

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that I am a free-loading parasite. The second interpretation is that donating to Slugger would feel like buying access and a sense of entitlement. I suppose that both are true.

One thing for sure. Contributing posts to Slugger O’Toole will never buy me the respect of some of the key people on the site. I will always be an outsider.

No, I have not taken the Slugger Shilling. At worst, I have taken the Slugger Sixpence.

 

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FitzjamesHorse Rides Again…Again

I have not blogged since July. One of the things that always surprises me is signing into “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” is the stats …people really do read this Blog.

I find this literally awesome …a Blog which started over eight years ago as an”anti-Blog”, a satire with zero views for weeks grew into a blog which has had hundreds of thousands of hits. Even as it lies dormant, it gets a lot of views.

From a position in August 2011, when I believed that Bloggers were pathetic non-entities who took themselves and their influence far too seriously, I had Seriousness thrust upon me. When Blogs are actually read, they have to be “responsible”.

I am 67 years old and that is too old to be responsible.

When I retire from Blogging…and I retire more often than Frank Sinatra and Nigel Farage, there is a sense that there is nothing left to be said.

But with Brexit and an upcoming Election, History has not yet ended.

We live in interesting times. The market leader in Norn Iron blogging, Slugger O’Toole seems baffled by the speed at which events are moving. Their leading writers are rabbits caught in the headlights of change.

The brand of LetsGetAlongerism propogated by Slugger is sooooo 2018.

So FitzjamesHorse rides again….again. At worst it will be a journal, on which I can look back on The Brexit Election. At best, people will read it and contribute.

Thats actually the secrer of a successful Blog….50% “original post” and 50% “comment”.

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Berlin 1936…Portrush 2019

Back in 1936 the Olympic Games were intended to showcase Hitler’s regime.

Since the Good Friday Agreement, there have been attempts to showcase Norn Iron and how wonderfully well we get on together.

Remember Derry as the City of Culture? Tall Ships Race? Remember the MTV Awards from Belfast? Titanic? Game of Thrones? The Giro d’Italia Cycle Race?  But showcasing Norn Iron is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.

It seems that staging the “British” Open Golf Championship at “Royal” Portrush is another showcase event. The added bonus being that the North’s Rory McIlroy is one of the leading golfers in the world.

What could possibly go wrong?

I am with Mark Twain on the subject of Golf. A good walk ruined. But I am a general sports fan and any Irish success from Athletics to Show Jumping to Boxing to Water Polo is a good thing.

Grinning BBC and Ulster TV anchors and presenters went to Portrush to play their part in the showcase.

Mostly this consisted of interviewing locals who were looking forward to a week of big profits. When someone says “good for the economy” this actually means “good for rich people” and a trickle down to others….including waitresses and barmen. I hope those golf bores are big tippers.

Putting a microphone under the nose of a golf journalist from England or United States and asking “what do you think of the people of Norn Iron”?………..well what do you think the reply might be?

Is it…..”the people are so friendly, this scenery is so amazing. I love Norn Iron. So wonderful how it has changed since…..”?

Or is the reply ………”Norn Iron is a squalid sectarian hell-hole, the people are terrible and just look at the Twelfth of July and burning the Irish National Flag, nationalist election posters and Catholic symbols on bonfires”.

Well you guessed it. It was all positive.

What went wrong for Hitler’s Olympics in 1936 was a man called Jesse Owens and the undermining of his racist nonsense. But two years later in Berlin in 1938, the English football team were under (Foreign Office) orders giving a Nazi salute.

And Portrush….

Best case scenario for conflict resolutionists was Rory McIlroy winning. We all love Rory and there is a degree of ambiguity about his nationality. He plays under the Norn Iron flag but (he tells us) will play for Ireland in the 2020 Olympics.

Another scenario…a British win……Fleetwood, Rose….also good.

Another scenario……an American or European or other win and the release of chauvinism and USA or Swedish or South African flags . Cue post-18th hole interviews “best fans in the world, lovely golf course……blah blah blah.

And worst case scenario…..an unambiguous Irish win.

And in Portrush in North Antrim (Paisley territory) and East Derry (Gregory Campbell’s constituency)

And so Shane Lowry from County Offaly. And …wasnt it great. Our very own Jesse Owens.

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SDLP: Leave Everyone Behind?

Over the last two days, I have written about Sinn Féin…how seemingly difficult it is to join and how they use patronage to keep everyone onside…and quite a few people on the (perhaps mythical) average industrial wage.

As far as I know it is easy to join SDLP. Simply fill in a form and hand over £20 (£10 if you’re a senior citizen) and you’re a member.

A comment at the weekend on the Blog suggested that SDLP search out people who are solicitors, doctors, and other talented people. On the face of it this makes perfect sense.

In the 1970s, SDLP had the reputation of being the “teachers party”. People who saw limited opportunities for the children they taught and decided to do something about it. At a conference a few years ago Dr Joe Hendron said that his brother (Jim) was an accountant in South Belfast and joined the Alliance Party while he (Joe) was a doctor in West Belfast and joined SDLP.

Therein lies the difference.

Of course before Sinn Féin started wearing suits and getting nice haircuts, they charged SDLP with being “middle class”. I always found that a strange charge to make. The history of Socialism shows a lot of very middle class people sought to do good things for disadvantaged people. Tony Benn was once a hereditary peer of the English realm…Viscount Stansgate. Michael Foot was not working class. Jeremy Corbyn is as middle class as any man brought up in a 18th century manor house in Shropshire or was it Wiltshire.

Even Che Guevara was a doctor. Karl Marx did not work in a coal mine.

And no doubt if any leading Sinn Féin member needed a good solicitor, he/she would be getting the very best advice from a good working class solicitor working for the average industrial wage. And I am sure any Sinn Féin-supporting solicitor would only ask for the average insustrial wage when he is filling in a form to get legal aid for his client.

But Sinn Féin have a lot of people on the payroll. SDLP do not. And that in itself can cause tension.

I suppose each of the twelve SDLP MLAs has a staff of (I assume) two people, earning I think the same rate as a clerical officer in the civil service. There are maybe four or five staff at SDLP HQ. It is unlikely that SDLP has a payroll of more than fifty people. The nature of employment at a political party is that the staff are supporters.

There are also about sixty councillors elected as SDLP. I think the annual stipend is around £15,000. It is hardly a fortune but for many a nice supplement.

So allowing for the fact that some constituency staff are also councillors, there are less than a hundred people who “earn” something thru connexion to SDLP and several hundred who hand over £10 or £20 per annum for membership. Or buy a raffle ticket or attend a fund-raising event like a table quiz or a “Night at the Races”.

Of course a MLA or councillor is at the mercy of the electorate. But so too are staff. If a MLA loses her/his job, then the constituency worker is on the dole queue. Indeed if a MLA loses out to a running mate in another part of the constituency, the assistant might have to re-apply for her/his job.

This not only makes positions competitive in a party but is bound to create tensions. Unlike Sinn Féin re-assignment to another job in the party is not an option.

Yet I am left with three thoughts. My own negative experience with SDLP. The campaign for Locals and Euros which is generally accepted as being a success. And that recent comment on this Blog about attracting talented new blood.

I dont want to be arrogant but this blog “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” is broadly supportive of SDLP and maybe I even have some kinda talent. I have been supported, patronised and “played” by SDLP people but nobody has really encouraged me.

Is “Talent” actually an asset when you join SDLP? Or is it a threat to others? Is the cosy local structure of MLA, councillor team, staff actually afraid of new blood?

Was the recent Local and Euro campaign successful?

In retrospect, I think the local campaign was defensive? The Party largely defended its own seats and made little attempt to advance. I can understand that in places where there was a sitting councillor and around 0.8 of a quota, then logic dictates that there is one candidate. When there is maybe 1.4 quotas and a sitting councillor then there is an acceptable risk in running two candidates. There might just be a seat gained. The worst case scenario (allowing for bad vote management) is that the party retains one seat. Of course, the sitting councillor with twenty years experience may not see it that way if he/she loses out to a running mate.

Understandably SDLP HQ can get involved when a local party is too ambitious and nominates more candidates than is realistic but HQ should not be telling a local branch that there will be one candidate AND that the candidate is a sitting councillor.

There has to be a selection convention and transparency. Yet I hear stories where selection conventions did not take place. And even local meetings do not take place. There were occasions when members only found out on social media that Colum Eastwoods “campaign bus” was in town.

There cannot be a situation where the Party appeals for new members on the basis that the member will have an input into policy etc and then simply hand over the running of a branch to a few insiders.

Interestingly one of the party members who left SDLP over the Fianna Fáil connexion complained about lack of transparency and procedural problems. It rings true.

There are many young people who have left SDLP. Many have taken their “portfolio of skills” (as an Alliance MLA might say) into other sectors, occasionally with SDLP on their CV and a reference from a MLA. But as they step away from a public profile in politics, the connexion to SDLP is broken. In some cases it looks like they were disappointed by SDLP. In other cases, it looks like they used the SDLP.

For me, the starting gun for an Election is when the Electoral Office publishes the list of candidates and their ten supporters who have signed nomination papers. For a political nerd, there is a lot of information in there.

Traditionally nomination papers are signed by family members, a proud wife or husband and a proud mammy and daddy. And often other leading party members including ex-MLAs. It is a kinda laying on of hands…a blessing.

Curiously I did not notice so many big name backers in April 2019. Now this might be for a wide variety of reasons…unavailability, illness, simply not  being asked by a candidate but it seems odd.

So who are SDLP members…or activists?

Well clearly almost 80,000 people voted for Colum Eastwood two weeks ago. Some of those voters are fully committed people who have been voting in their own areas for John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Bríd Rodgers etc for the best part of five decades. Some are not overly committed.

But there is a hard core. Now Party membership is not an option for everyone. Meetings can be good but the nitty gritty of leafleting, canvassing and standing on ladders putting up and taking down posters is not for everyone.

A lot of the people leafleting, canvassing and standing on ladders seem to be family members of those who are candidates. At one level, it is good that there are good hearted families who serve communities. On the other hand a family can actually dominate local politics to the extent that it becomes a family business.

But as for rank and file SDLP members, you can bet that the young leafleter who goes home is told by her parents that she wont get anywhere in the Party as it is “jobs for the boys and girls” and the woman who goes home after canvassing will be told by her hubby that the local chairperson will never select her as a candidate and that when the guy up the ladder goes home to his wife, she will tell him that nobody in the local party would risk breaking his neck for him.

There are even “SDLP gene-pool bloggers” who are told by their wives…”why do you do it?  ………they dont appreciate it and they wont even short list you if you want a job”.

And here is the odd thing. At 7am on polling day, all of those who have been hurt, will travel to a polling station to vote SDLP.

 

 

 

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