Alliance Party Conference

Unfortunately I wont be at the Alliance Party Conference. The venue…La Mon Hotel in East Belfast/Castlereagh is not convenient. A pity. It promises to be almost interesting.

In the past few months, things have started to go wrong for the Alliance Party. Frankly I am enjoying their discomfort.

They have had a good couple of years. David Ford became Minister for Justice. No matter that he is pisspoor at it. It allowed Alliance to strut its stuff.

In May 2010 Westminster Elections, Naomi Long took East Belfast from Peter Robinson and the DUP. And crucially in May 2011, the Alliance Party took a second seat in East Belfast Assembly Election. This gave them one seat on the Executive. Of course they actually had a second seat thru David Ford and Justice, a gift from Sinn Féin-DUP.

The party benefitted from a £98,000 donation from Rowntree, who bluntly stated that the money was to assist the Party win more Assembly seats. Rowntree are advised by Stratagem, which of course is a partner of independent website “Slugger O’Toole”.

This gave them even more opportunity to strut around. But it is actually a high point and the only way is down. East Belfast….which may not exist at the next Westminster is unlikely to re-elect Naomi Long, which kinda makes her Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party and unemployed. While they think they might hold on to a seat re-formed as South East Belfast, I think it unlikely. And certainly they will lose seats in any re-vamped Belfast constituencies at Assembly level.

David Ford looked uncomfortable on BBCs “Hearts and Minds” last night. Indeed I cannot ever recall him looking so uncomfortable and angry in a petty way.

Within a month, the Executive is losing one seat. The Department of Employment & Learning is deemed surplus to requirements and its work divided among other Departments. It was always the case that there were too many Departments and with the axing of DEL, the Party which only has eight seats in the Assembly will lose out…….Alliance.

Of course Alliance is screaming that this is unfair……with ironically the Minister of Justice leading the screaming. This is a sordid deal from the Executive, controlled of course by DUP and Sinn Féin. As the work of DEL will be split between Departments with DUP and SF Ministers, it will certainly increase the DUP-SF hold on the Executive.

Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP Leader) recently described the Norn Iron Government this “as a one party state with a green and orange wing”. Yet the Alliance Party will find no support from UUP or SDLP about this “grave injustice”.

With Fords Justice Department and Stephen Farry’s Department of Employment and Learning…it has two seats on the Executive. It only has eight Assembly seats (51,000 votes). The UUP has fifteen seats (88,000 votes) and SDLP has fourteen seats (94,000 votes). But UUP and SDLP are only entitled to one Executive seat each.

So…….Karma as they say….is a bitch. Or what goes round comes round. The Alliance Party got “Justice” a gift from DUP-SF. It was a sordid little deal.

The Alliance Party are considering withdrawing from the Executive. Who knows….another sordid little deal might be in the offing. But hard to feel sorry for the Alliance Party.

A few months ago, I was speaking to a former member of the Alliance Party, who spoke of another former member who would be “turning in his grave” if he knew what the Alliance Party had become.

Yet this is hardly the only cloud in the Alliance Sky. By all accounts…..mostly those of his supporters, Stephen Farry is a very capable Minister. By most accounts….the exceptions being Alliance Party members…….David Ford is a disaster at Justice. Farry is to the right of the Alliance Party. It prides itself.or did pride itself on being centrist and is actually connected to the British Liberal Democrats.

Well more or less connected. Naomi Long, East Belfast MP has decided to sit on the Opposition benches at Westminster, rather than sit with occasional Liberal Democrats on the Coalition benches. As such she is positioning herself to the Party’s Left. But she is isolated at Westminster. Which means that Farry is more obviously a successor to David Ford.

Farry is oft talked up by the Party’s “right” now bolstered by defections from the pathetic NI Conservative Party and “libera”l UUP types. The battle for the soul and future leadership of the Alliance Party is already under way.

Just four months after defecting from UUP-Tory Party, Harry Hamilton stood as an unsuccessful candidate for Upper Bann in the 2011 Assembly Election. Just eighteen months after defecting from UUP-Tory Party , Paula Bradshaw unsuccessful Westminster candidate in South Belfast has been elected to the Alliance Party (ruling) Council. Her husband, Ian Parsley who stood for Alliance in 2009 Euro Elections before defecting to UUP-Tory (Westminster candidate in North Down) recently rejoined Alliance and has found the East Antrim folks rather forgiving and has already elected him to their local Party officer board.

For some Ambition is a Virtue. But most ambitious people have a degree of Talent.

Parsley must surely be lining up an Alliance nomination for East Antrim at the next Assembly Election. He already has a powerful ally in his wife, Paula Bradshaw. Stewart Dickson, the East Antrim MLA is already over 60 years old. Will he stand next time round?  There are presumably long standing AP members in East Antrim who think they are more deserving than Parsley.

Parsley, himself seems to think that the defectors should be treated as equals. Well that might come as a shock to Alliance people who actually campaigned against Parsley, Bradshaw and Hamilton in 2010. The loyalty of the Alliance membership is just as important as the questionable loyalty and perceived talent of the defectors…especially serial defectors. A lot will depend on how much patronage or leverage Stewart Dickson can exercise in East Antrim. A lot will depend on other East Antrim Alliance “loyalists” like Gerardine Mulvenna, Brendan Heading and…..Gerry Lynch,(recently signed up by GOD). Alliance do better in the southern part of the constituency around Carrickfergus.

The loss of an Executive seat would be a major blow to Alliance. With the proviso that there may be boundary changes and a reduction in the number of MLAs  before the next Assembly Election, Alliance face an uphill battle if the threshold for gaining a seat on the Executive is raised from eight to (say) ten. Ten looks beyond them and paradoxically while people like Hamilton, Bradshaw and Parsley are welcomed as strengthening the Party, it actually limits their appeal.

Obviously Hamilton, Bradshaw and Parsley have instincts that are right of centre. But just as importantly they are unionist. They carry baggage. Two bags in fact…conservative and unionist. But to increase its appeal, Alliance needs to think in terms of winning votes in the Nationalist “west”. They are basically a party of South East Belfast and the Belfast suburbs.

It now seems that they have to make a play for western seats…..or become more “unionist” and try for unlikely gains in the East.

Karma. Pride does go before a Fall. All of which might mean that Rowntree will have wasted a lot of money bankrolling the Alliance Party. Back to the drawing board for the Rowntree advisors in Stratagem.

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2 Responses to Alliance Party Conference

  1. bangordub says:

    The party benefitted from a £98,000 donation from Rowntree, who bluntly stated that the money was to assist the Party win more Assembly seats. Rowntree are advised by Stratagem, which of course is a partner of independent website “Slugger O’Toole”.
    FJH, can you explain the problem here?

    • It is a matter of joining the dots.
      Stratagem is a PR/lobbying company.
      It advises Rowntree on Ireland. Rowntree want to dispense money to groups/organisations which broadly comply with the Charitys vision of the world. Among the conditions for donating money to Irish organisations is a committment to a cross-border dimension.
      The Rowntree people state on their website that the reason they gave £98,000 to Alliance since 2007 is to enable AP to win Assembly seats. This has given AP a heck of an advantage over other parties.
      Stratagem is a “partner” of Slugger O’Toole.
      In some views (and no doubt it would be disputed) is that undue weight is given on Slugger to issues that would be broadly part of Stratagems “agenda” including giving the Alliance Party “an easy ride”.
      As always who watches the watchdogs?
      Ive never seen the issue addressed properly on Slugger.
      And I dont think references to the Slugger-Stratagem-Rowntree-Alliance link would go down well.
      Here…..I like to mention it.

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