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NI’s media has as much to prove as its politicians…

By St Etienne

Having a read through of various responses to the Barnett report (all Unionist parties conspicuous by their lack of opinion btw). A disparate range of issues seemed to be targeting various interest groups.

One report caught the eye – from a young entrepreneur in the form of Liam McGarry, he of McGarryConsult and Wee Man Studios – one of these new fangled iPhone gaming startups.

Anyway, a notable section to take in:

NI Political & Media Leadership

  • NI has 11 Government Departments, 26 Councils and over 80 Quangos
  • NI Government has 92 press officers and more advisors than the White House
  • NI has more community, voluntary, advocacy NGOs per capita than anywhere else in the World

Getting anything done within NI often requires significant political and political skills matched by bucket loads of persuasion and patience. Our government central and locally are devised not on economic or governance principles but on political lines. The recent employment of not one but four victim’s commissioners on full pay provides open evidence of political expediency winning over economic efficiency.

Our politicians and departments are well versed in generating strategies, grand visions and using buzzwords but behind the gloss – what are the leading political parties’ economic policies? How do they suggest we improve our productivity and economic sustainability?

The unwillingness to make hard choices over water rates (revenues £400 – £900m) haunt us now that £370m needs to be found, providing further evidence of playing popular politics over unpopular budget balancing. Is anyone willing to bet that we will get a single Department of the Economy?

Which politicians can ideologically or publicly support wealth creation (e.g. serial entrepreneurs) in the few as opposed to short-term mass job creation (with limited long term prospects)? Can our politicians really win over conglomerates willing to move where the labour cost, tax incentive, grant inducing host country wind takes them?

What of our media – surely they will hold NI to account on economics? Yet with more press officers (ex-journalists?) than existing journalists and with many hacks looking towards the future (newspaper industry trends v potential lucrative govt press officer post plus pension) who will stick their head above the parapet?

But what of editors, publishers and printers surely they will push the economic argument… given the massive public advertising (jobs, notices, adverts) and lucrative publishing (how many updates, newsletters or annual reports are not on full colour gloss), who with one eye on their very own balance sheet won’t pick personal economics over national economics every time?
Liam McGarry, McGarryConsult opinion on Barnett Report

The limited insight I have into the world of the NI political hack has given me few ideas on how their obsession with towing the NIO thought-stream has come about. In the Belfast Telegraph’s case it is generally assumed they wish to keep a tight hold of civil servant job adverts and the like, when in reality they are an expensive luxury that is already accommodated by catering to the two tribes’ News Letter and Irish News.

The local BBC, who have come under scrutiny recently from all sides for their handling of the Adams scandal vis-à-vis “Irisgate” (maybe it’s the rotten secular core speaking here, but was it really that big a deal?) – and that’s not counting the rumours circulating regarding a politically imposed blackout on Beeb reporters going after Adams stories – are in a similar position. But they don’t get advertising so apart from ‘for the cause’, what gives? I’ll repeat the most prescient line above for effect:

with many hacks looking towards the future (Newspaper industry trends v potential lucrative govt press officer post plus pension) who will stick their head above the parapet?

In the cosy world of local politics/media, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to agree with this thinking. Even those allegedly impartial observers are funded by the taxpayer, as well as more forthright abominations. It is difficult to ascertain who is on the take and who is ‘republican or otherwise, has his or her part to play’.

What is certain is no matter how much faux lamenting our hacks do over that predictably drawn out charade at Hillsborough, they themselves have just as much to prove as the politicians to the Northern Irish public.

Filed under: devolution, power sharing, Robinson affair

A UUP playbook on P&J…

[From Bobballs]

There’s a lot of back and forward within the UUP on whether they should back the DUP’s deal on devolving Policing and Justice. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and offer a few reasons why the UUP needs to suck it up and support their bitter rivals.

The UUP have got great leverage
This is still a negotiation and the UUP have a strong hand to play. The government are putting enormous pressure on all parties to deliver – the UUP can translate this into genuine leverage. What side deal could the UUP extract from the government for signing up? Could they find a big win (eg on PPWs; pensions for security force personnel; FTR?) and make it part of their election campaign?

Quid pro quo 
Peter Robinson may need some cover from the UUP, but they will need some cover from him. The UUP have not been involved in negotiations to date – they must make their support conditional. The UUP can ask the DUP to sign a memorandum of understanding on P&J negotiations (ie. a simple set of written guarantees). This could be published if necessary to show the conditions under which support was given. This would remove a major obstacle for the UUP and protect their position in the longer term.

It will be more uncomfortable for the DUP to be pushed over the line
Willie McCrea and the rest of the 12 Angry Men would surely go bananas (see Willie’s contribution to the Crisis in the Executive debate last night. Strong stuff). For the DUP to go for P&J is to commit a policy u-turn.* A somersault of this kind would cause more internal turmoil and division in the DUP, which in turns leads to loss of trust among DUP support. This not only assists the UUP but it also helps the TUV eat into DUP core support.

Don’t let the DUP pass the buck
If devolution falls, and the DUP do not sign up to P&J, they can blame the Provos and the UUP for screwing it all up. That sort of rhetoric goes down well with DUP supporters. The better play for the UUP is to let P&J happen and block all the exits.

Conclusion
It’s more awkward for the DUP to stay the course, commit the P&J u-turn, feel the pressure of managing the misfiring Executive, managing deteriorating SF / NIO relationships, managing their internal politics (12 Angry Men – hi guys!), AND manage the numerous, er, personal matters being (or soon to be) discussed in the media.

With devolution still operating, the comparison between the UUP and DUP is stark. Without devolution, everyone looks and sounds the same. The UUP are in a much stronger position for the election with P&J (and devolution) in place than if they do t’other and opt for the ‘never, never, never, never’ routine.

The longer the DUP stay in power, the less and less they look like a party of government. The UUP should give Peter what he wants and just go for it. Wholeheartedly, go for it.

*NB. The DUP are already breaching a policy priority. Their policy priorities doc says that ‘Policing and Justice powers will only be transferred to Stormont on DUP terms, when the DUP decides, and after all our conditions have been met’. Well, no. The DUP leader says the when is now up to the UUP.

Filed under: devolution, DUP, power sharing, Robinson affair, unionist unity?

Peter must survive… for the DUP’s sake

[I just put this up at Bobballs, thought it would be useful to cross-post here too.]

It’s in the DUP’s best interests to keep PR where he is. If the DUP are not careful, they could take a story of personal weakness (which can yet be quarantined around Iris) and turn it into a Party-wide political and policy maelstrom.

Yes, the DUP are facing considerable problems. But they must ensure that their reaction does not make things worse for the Party.

1. If PR is forced out without having had the chance to clear his name the public will assume guilt. The Party should not connive in promoting that impression. PR has denied any wrongdoing – the Party cannot act prior to the conclusion of due process. If they do it will seem injudicious and somewhat insensitive to the position of a man who at present is the primary victim in this scandal.

2. What is the alternative to Peter? If PR resigns from the FM job, his replacement must be agreed upon by both SF and the DUP (due to the joint nature of that office). As Gerry Moriarty correctly points out, it is likely that SF would only accept the DUP nomination for FM if they in turn agree a date for P&J.

This would be intolerable. The test was always community confidence – to agree to P&J under any other circumstance is to be seen to be rolled over by republicans. The TUV would have a field day. So how do you actually replace PR?

3. Consider that PR’s replacement at FM and as leader (could be an individual or a Wilson / Foster combo). Given the likely SF quid pro quo on P&J, who among the DUP’s senior people would really like the first act of their leadership to be signing up to P&J / acquiescence to SF? How would this be ‘leadership that’s working’?

As we stand now, it would seem reasonable to expect the voting public to punish the DUP over Iris Robinson’s personal conduct. If P&J is agreed early, the DUP may also face a backlash over its political conduct.

4. The problem identified by Spotlight must be contained around Iris. Peter seems happy to allow for that to continue. If the DUP take PR out, they lose the best possible guarantee that the crisis around Iris can be controlled.

For example, who’s is the most sellable story in NI at the moment? Erm, Iris Robinson’s. A woman who has shown such an interest in, ahem, entrepreneurialism, will no doubt appreciate the value of her story to newspapers. Right now, it is in PR’s best interest to control his wife. If PR is dumped he will neither control his wife nor defend the interests of the Party with quite the same vigour.

With Peter outside the Party, who’s to say how and in what direction the scandal could develop?

5. If Peter goes, the next tier of DUP people beneath him are not strong devolutionists. The widespread fear is that if PR goes, then Dodds, Campbell, Simpson, McCrea etc will let devolution fizzle out and instead opt for Westminster.

If the DUP allow Direct Rule to emerge they will allow the UUP to play their best card. If Direct Rule emerges after May (and after a Tory win), the UUP will likely be able to claim that they are a coalition partner in the administration of government in NI. If the DUP turns their back on devolution, the UCUNF deal ensures that the leadership of Unionism passes from the DUP back to the Ulster Unionist Party.

Having invested so much in achieving their present position, it would seem implausible to voluntarily hand the UUP (and TUV) electoral pay dirt. Why work to marginalise the UUP and then unilaterally make them relevant again?

6. Yes, there is a cost to keeping PR where he is. This notoriously strong figure has been diminished by all this new information. Being led by someone so diminished damages the DUP’s reputation for strong leadership. This has been a desperate blow to the party. But that blow has been delivered, it cannot be undone by anyone. Peter’s ability, and the abilities of his reputedly excellent press and political advisers, can mitigate this problem. If they are all removed by some precipitous act then the DUP will lose the best crisis management people they have.

7. With PR in place the DUP can begin to clear this mess up. The effect of taking PR out could transform the personal misadventure of Iris Robinson into a broader political conflagration. Sammy Wilson is about the only face I’ve seen out backing Robinson – more of his colleagues need to get out there as it may be in their own best interest to do so.

Peter, like Gordon Brown, needs the maximum amount of time to sort out his leadership and his party before the election. I doubt the situation would be improved if there were a coup / resignation now – the result would be not a clean, new, united party. Without PR tying all the disparate elements together, the Party would become disordered and disunited – policy on fundamentals like devolution would be less clear. The outcome of all that would be a less electable Party than is there at the minute. There isn’t the time to build afresh before May. Peter must survive… for the DUP’s sake.

Filed under: devolution, DUP, Robinson affair

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