21st Century Boys

I have to say that I like Basil McCrea and I like John McCallister more. But I am still not sure that the Party they founded (NI21) can make any impact.
Being “liked” is not enough.
And Basil and John …the McUnionists…they dont seem to take themselves seriously. The Twitter parody account is almost more credible than the genuine one.
Funny people can only go so far in politics. They stay on the “fringe”.
Lembit Opik, Giles Brandreth, Austin Mitchell, Barry McElduff. You see my point.
In an interview with Slugger O’Toole earlier this week, Chris Lyttle, the Alliance MLA for East Belfast opined that he had looked at NI21 policies and did not see much difference to Alliance. And thats the point…Alliance are scared of NI21.
The Alliance Party have had it too easy for too long as the LetsGetAlongerist market leader in Norn Iron.
Their attachment and dependence on DUP and Sinn Fein is a complete sell out of their founding principles so the arrival on the scene of a new letsgetalongerist and liberal unionist party…which actually has principles …is bound to affect the Alliance vote.
A popular visitor at the SDLP Youth Conference in March 2012, John McCallister appealed to the audience to give him a preference, which he feels he will need at the next Assembly Election. Indeed my recollection is that he said he gave Alliance his EIGHTH preference.
So if Chris Lyttle thinks NI21 is not very different from Alliance, then clearly John McCallister disagrees.
NI21 speeches of course contained sideswipes at UUP and SDLP and it was stated that both have Sectarianism in their DNA. As a SDLP member, I resent this but it is hardly serious and just a matter of giving the speech some artificial balance.
The thing is Basil and John got elected on the ticket of a Party that they believe to be sectarian.
Aguably the UUP is less sectarian today than it was when they joined the Party and stood for election and were elected under its banner.
Reference was made to opinion polls which show NI21 doing well and Basil McCrea noting (a tad optimistically) that they are not far behind UUP and Alliance is an indication that they are looking for votes from those voters.
They are hoping that “liberal unionists” will switch to them.
They are hoping that “letsgetalongerists” switch to them.

As a SDLP voter and member, I have nothing to fear from NI21. Indeed I encourage them.
In 2011, I told anyone who would listen that the Alliance Party is a dangerous undemocratic party who if they got a single extra Assembly seat, would get two Executive seats.
I wish I had been wrong about that.
The SDLP MUST of course increase its own number of seats in 2016. I certainly believe it to be possible but it is just as important that the Alliance Party is pinned back and some manners put on them.
I am not sure that the SDLP outside Belfast really gets this.
In ALL constituencies, SDLP and Sinn Fein are rivals for the nationalist vote….but in some constituencies eg Lagan Valley, South Belfast, South Antrim….Alliance are also rivals.

Does the SDLP in West Tyrone, Fermanagh-South Tyrone and West Belfast really get that?
And more importantly do the policy makers at the heart of the SDLP get it?

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18 Responses to 21st Century Boys

  1. Political Tourist says:

    Can’t but think the SDLP are the political wing of the Catholic Church in the six counties.
    Have the leadership of the SDLP ever criticized the Catholic Church, well ever.

  2. tenniselbow says:

    Good to have you back on the typewriter Mr Horse.
    A couple of thoughts, I think that Basil anyway joined the UUP around or just after the GFA as he was impressed by their at that time trying to move away from unionist dogma, and was then put off by their abandonment of progressive principles/losing their way/ trying to mimick DUP…and then left.
    I think DUP, UUP and Alliance are all wary of NI21, they are just being pubically dismissive. If at the very least NI21’s very presence on the scene makes ALL parties rethink and moderate were they are going thats a good thing. I agree NI21 are likely to find things dificult and I’m sure DUP will have a few dirty tricks up their sleeve, but I do think there is room for them, relatively speaking. They are very refreshing.
    Genuine question; do you think there is ANY possibility of NI21 taking a small amount of votes or potential votes off SDLP?? I guess I am in the territory of the unicorn etc etc. and also/including possibly young people from a Catholic background who don’t feel nationalist or unionist??

    • On the first point, I would not entirely agree about Basil.
      After all he only left UUP earlier this year and at any time over the previous fourteen years, he could or should have realised that the UUP was not going to change. He was happy enough to appear on posters with a great big British flag (and I am not suggesting that any flag is IN ITSELF sectarian) but to come from that background and suggest SDLP has the same sectarian DNA as UUP is just plain wrong.
      At heart NI21 is a unionist party…they take their unionism for granted and dont make a song and dance of it (literally) but they are a threat to unionist votes much more than nationalist votes.
      I wouldn’t go so far as to say DUP will be threatened.
      But certainly they will take liberal unionist votes off UUP.
      But Id suggest that they are doubly a threat to Allance. Theres unionist votes within Alliance but also that “letsgetalongerist” vote….and with the pragmatic aggressive Alliance types (see Slugger) in favour of coalition and the churchy types a bit concerned that Alliance are joined at the hip with DUP and SF…then thats an area.
      Id say some “unicorns” are already voting Alliance and it doesn’t change the dynamic outside Belfast suburbs.
      Possibly John McCallister could hang on in South Down but at here’s nowhere that NI21 would be a direct threat to SDLP…except South Belfast where the sixth seat is up for grabs.
      More likely a good NI21 candidate will take Alliance votes in South Belfast and be a threat in East Elfast to APs second seat.
      And Strangford?
      Its a fair point that NI21 might energise the people who have no identity or think they are defined by Age, Gender, Sexuality, etc rather than nationality but this is a small number, and again confined to Allance heartlands.
      Is that really the case in West Tyrone?
      What is a concern is that NI21 remain a two an band.
      No Defections announced today.
      No Celebrity Endorsement.
      The 2016 Assembly chances will be defined by council elections next year.

      • factual says:

        I found today interesting, because you got to see a little more of what they are going to be like.

        Some of the policies announced, and some of the comments in the speeches, give an idea.

        They invited a FG person to speak – shows two things: they are perhaps rather like FG in politics, and they want to show that they are a different sort of unionist party, mature enough to have southern people speak as the main speakers.

        They are very devolutionist; they want more powers in the assembly. They are reformist: they want to change the titles of the first ministers so there is no “Deputy” and they are both just the First Ministers; a move that aims to reduce the pull to DUP and SF.

        They are oppositionalist; they have no appetite for carving up the Executive posts. They said “Prepare for Opposition”.

        They don’t have cultural fear/insecutiry. John began his speech in Irish, which prompted applause in the audience; a sign of a certain cultural self confidence both in John and in the type of people who went along.

        The people who spoke – in the “why I joined” and the “why I want to be an officer” – had the theme of “I was apathetic but enough is enough”. I get the impression this is the mobilisation of a whole group of people who previosuly thought politics (including Alliance) was too childish and petty and too defined round religion culture and flags and not enough defined round the economy and schools.

        I think the difference with Alliance is that Alliance say that they are all about agnosticism on the union and trying to cut a line half way between unionism and nationalism. Whereas in NI21 their unionism is sort of taken for granted and not talked about as a major issue – they are people who perhaps see Northern Ireland being more of a self governing place within the union. That sets them apart from Alliance who are all about not being unionist or nationalist.

        I don’t see SDLP or SF losing vote to NI21. The big question is if some apathetic voters will start to come out for them. Energising the apathetic isn’t easy.

        I think this seems to be going better than it would have if Basil/John had joined the Conservatives. They have more scope to do their own thing.

      • factual says:

        Oh and Tina McKenzie is rather likeable and sensible. She has an IRA father, it was revealed recently. So again, something that wouldn’t happen in other unionist parties.

    • tenniselbow says:

      Factual, I think your analysis of where NI21 are coming from is perceptive, on the money
      I think the flag protests were the line in the sand where a reaction against DUP/UUP took off in the quiet, apathetic parts of NI society.
      The amount of anger and exasperation I heard from nominal unionists or statusquo-ers about what went on was pretty very noticeable. Imo protests and riots as engineered by DUP and UUP were the catalyst for an awakening of sorts.
      Hope it takes hold

    • tenniselbow says:

      I also think it of note that NI21 do not seem to be touting for defectors from other parties.
      There seem to be a decent amount of new talent, of different ages, floating around NI21, and this is what they are looking for.
      It suits the narrative – NI has been failed by tired old politicians, so reject them, we need a new crop of talent with the fresh ideas.
      Its kind of difficult to think of potential defectors from other parties??

      • factual says:

        The Woman Coalition is a cautionary tale.

        Hard to imagine now, but they had 2 MLAs *elected as Woman Coalition* so they were ahead of where NI21 is.

        They didn’t make an impact that lasted, and I don’t think their representatives went elsewhere when they folded. Though they might argue they made a point about women in politics.

        The odds are always against new parties, especially when they are so personality driven as NI21.

        NI21 could last a while, and I hope they make a difference, but I think the UUP will outlast them.

      • Oh I dont know.
        Monica McWilliams did ok. So did Felicity McCormick- Houston.
        But it damaged the Alliance Party. It had been assumed that Lord AllTooNice would get a Ministry in 1998 and that Seamus Close would get the Speakers job.
        As it turned out not enough MLA s got elected and AllTooNice shafted Close….
        And amusing to see Alliance turn on each other.

      • They need “names” …especially at local level with upcoming elections for Councils.
        If they could persuade a local TV journo to get on board, especially in North Down, South Belfast, East Belfast, Strangford….that would be a big plus.

  3. factual says:

    “Funny people can only go so far in politics. They stay on the “fringe”.
    Lembit Opik, Giles Brandreth, Austin Mitchell, Barry McElduff. ”

    But………….Boris Johnston.

  4. tenniselbow says:

    I think the DUP might be threatened. I can’t believe that all 200,000 of their voters last election are happy with the flag protests or generally with the way things are up inStormont. Even losing 5% of that total can make a wee difference.
    I suppose a lot depends on how the broad tent of unionists see the flag protests generally, sickened/bewildered, or rally to the tribal call?
    Who knows?
    I take your point about outside the Greater Belfast urban area, perhaps with exception of North Coast.

  5. Political Tourist says:

    Unionists moving into the liberal camp.
    You mean like when a few thousand in East Belfast moved to Alliance to payback Peter and his missus.
    And/or the DUP for joining up with the provos.

  6. If one were of an uncharitable mind one might suggest that NI1921’s positioning of itself as the party of liberal Unionists has as much to do with electoral pragmatism as progressive values. Their need for the “loan” of Nationalist (or culturally Catholic but Unionist) votes to carve out a space for themselves in competition with the Alliance and SDLP is obvious.

    They won’t survive on just the votes of the “PUL” community (awful term) especially if they are fighting in that ballot box space where the Alliance and SDLP vote overlaps.

    • They can only fight in a handful of constituencies. having met John McCallister, I credit him with sincerity but I dont think he has much political nous as Basil. In one half of NI1921 (I love that term…I wish I had thought of it)…there is no real pragmatism.
      Indeed my biggest worry about the McUnionists is that they are still a double act.
      And too early to tell if they are star quality like Morcambe and Wise….or if they are Little and Large.

      I actually think they need to grow a little…thats good for nationalism as it puts a wedge into the Alliance coalition…and divides the churchy from the ruthless real politic that has taken over Alliance.
      I can tolerate SINCERE liberal unionists.
      But its always been my belief that the biggest danger to nationalists is NOT unionism. The biggest danger is….letsgetalongerism.

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