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A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

And what do we believe? Why? Where are we heading?

At the present moment politics and by extension, political blogging in the US, bores me; not so much the issues, more the black/white, no room for debate, partisanship. There are very few indeed standing back, using critical analysis on their “own” side as well as putting the boot into the “other”, very few prepared to stand out and say “Yes, well, I do believe a), b) and c) but…”

One exception is The Daily Dish, which joined my daily essential reading list several months ago. “Exception” is the perfect description for its editor, Andrew Sullivan, for a whole host of reasons you can read here, but what I have found particularly interesting over the last week or so, is his reiteration of his own personal brand of conservatism (here and here) and how far away that description lies from the Palinist “the only good liberal is a dead’un” loons who are presently dominating the discourse on the American Right.

More below the fold

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to measure my own beliefs and thoughts against that definition of Sullivan’s “conservatism”. I think it is also time that Unionism, both here and in the wider UK, engaged in the same kind of self-analysis and following on from that, long-term strategic planning.

In brief point form, Sullivan believes:

1 “the two deepest impulses in Western political thought – the individualist and the collectivist – need each other to keep our politics coherent.”

I agree, although, like Sullivan, I believe the balance should be much more towards the individualist than the collectivist. I don’t follow the “communal” brand either in N.Ireland or in the wider UK – why? Because by doing so, too many of my own beliefs regarding politics, not to mention social morality and responsibility, would be sacrificed for the “greater” collective “good”. On a parochial level, the whole topic of “Unionist Unity” is a perfect example of the collectivist mindset destroying the right of the individual citizen to decide how best he can express his political opinion at the ballot box.

2. In society and the state – both essential, obviously, but with the tip very much towards society.

Agree 100%; something I wrote, in collaboration with Beano (anyone remember him?!) many moons ago:

The traditional Ulster character was individualistic, non-conformist and suspicious of government interference in their lives. Over the years many (witness for example, the great migrations of the 17th and 18th centuries) left the province because they felt that they would be prevented from achieving their full potential by the ruling government or social/moral climate of the day. We believe that within Northern Ireland there is an over-involvement of government in our everyday lives, evidenced by a number of laws that exist to impose conformity to one standard interpretation of a particular set of beliefs.

The state’s job is merely to delineate the widest of boundaries in terms of social provision and legislation. Within those legal boundaries, it should be up to the society and its individuals to do, spend and believe what they want. The obvious next point then is what happens when there is the inevitable bust-up that will occur on occasions between the wider society norms and those of the individual non-conformist. The state ensures, again within those previously mentioned boundaries, the right of the individual.

3. “Pragmatism: “coherence and balance and practical prudential openness to change and reform”

The one point I fall down on, I suppose, when I’m blogging on here! However, as I’ve mentioned before, one of the books which has influenced me the most over the last year is Karl Popper’s “The Poverty of Historicism”.  Once you accept our (political) future isn’t predetermined, then it’s up to you to think constantly, respond constantly to changing circumstances in order that your beliefs are given the future space to prevail. Unionism, generally in the UK, over the last 10 years has been incoherent. Within N.Irish Unionism there has traditionally existed a knee-jerk approach towards even the discussion of “openess to change and reform”. As Sullivan suggests, such openess doesn’t signify defeat, it’s merely “practical” and “prudential” strategy to deal with the inevitable challenges and threats ahead.

4.”Conservatism, if it means anything, is a resistance to ideology and the world of ideas ideology represents, whether that ideology is a function of the left or right”

Well, yes, sort of. Conservatism, like any other political belief, needs, as already mentioned, the flexibility to cope with changing circumstances. But it does also need strong roots from which the plant can move in response to the changing direction of the sunlight. That’s the problem at the minute with the Conservative Party of Cameron: people don’t really know what they stand for, what makes them different from New Labour. Five core beliefs are all that’s required.

One thing I pull from Sullivan’s writings generally is the thought and self-analysis which have gone into the creation and establishment of his political stance. How many of us have put the same effort in before arriving at our final destination? More pertinently, how many of the political parties that we support know why they are transporting us to that terminus?

Over a year ago, it was suggested by the DUP that a Unionist Academy, purportedly to explore and examine Unionism’s present role and future, should be set up. Due to numerous reasons, it looks very unlikely now to see the light of day – the issues it could have addressed haven’t gone away. I think N.Irish and wider UK Unionism needs this kind of critical thinking employed by Sullivan in order to prosper much more than it is at the minute; whether that would be best achieved through the formality of Academies, think-tanks or through a few like-minded souls hammering out ideas over a coffee, I don’t know…but I’d be interested to hear or read what other Unionists (whatever part of the UK you’re from) think. 

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4 Responses

  1. thedissenter says:

    First, why Unionism as presently considered requires rethinnking or more likely complete even reformation. Principle/Purpose/Presentation. Mind-dumping on this at the moment.

  2. bobballs says:

    Great post, and agree with dissenter.

    For me the starting point is a few like-minded souls should meet over a coffee then quickly produce something more systematic.

    It’s a difficult balance. Party machines are not the place for conversation of this type to occur. But create something too arms length (like Fabians) and you lose touch and influence.

    Where is the next generation leaders within unionism? what do they think? I find it hard to believe that anyone aged 20 & 45 thinks the current leaders of unionism are doing an exemplary job. How would a younger generation improve things? What strategy would they advise?

    But it would be useful to see who wants to engage in an open, honest, self-critical discussion, then setting the format to suit that mix. I think sitting down face to face with a few people in the first instance is the best way to start…??

  3. thedissenter says:

    If you find a selection open to an honest, self-critical discussion then a forum will naturally arise. Before thedissenter would join in that mind dump needs sorted.

  4. oneill says:

    “But it would be useful to see who wants to engage in an open, honest, self-critical discussion, then setting the format to suit that mix”

    As long as the Chatham (as opposed to the Hatfield ;)) House rules apply, I’d be interested.

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