Monday, 31 January 2011

A Collective of Center Right Unionist Opinion...

All has been very quiet with Progressive Unionist Voice lately, but I have started a new website for the blog.

Keep your eyes peeled for the launch, but if you really can't wait, here are some preview pictures to wet your appetite.

Expect some big names for February!


Sunday, 28 November 2010


I am taking a stand for the possibility of a new positive and participatory approach to politics. I want more ‘new’ people (especially young people and women) to get actively involved in politics.
I believe that politics in Northern Ireland needs VISION. 
The same old, same old, negative politics of division, attack and blame continues to fail us. In a time of economic crisis, we cannot afford NOT to change.
Politicians need to demonstrate and promote a ‘can do’ attitude. 
Here are just a few initiatives I believe we can do:
We can support the transformation of our private sector to increase employment and living standards across Northern Ireland. We can work with the government to make Northern Ireland an Enterprise Zone with incentives such as rate relief in zoned manufacturing areas, tax reductions on reinvestment of profits and networks to develop capacity to secure borrowing for start-up capital or project expansions.      
We can fulfil our tourism potential. Tourism has already been a success story in recent years with considerable growth in the area. However, tourism contributes only 1.9% to the Northern Ireland economy, compared to the UK average of 3.2% and 3.3% in the Republic of Ireland. The North Coast, where I live, is an area of outstanding natural beauty with enormous potential for tourism development. Tourism is the biggest industry in the East Londonderry constituency and with the right ambition and entrepreneurship we can transform one of the most beautiful places in the world into a world-class tourist destination, that creates more jobs for local people.
We can improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable people and disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland. We have an excellent voluntary and community sector that makes a huge difference in peoples’ lives. I have worked with hundreds of community/voluntary groups throughout Northern Ireland for the past 25 years. It is the work of volunteers that often holds our communities together. The Executive can develop a much stronger working relationship with the voluntary and community sector on a whole range of issues.
We can offer our young people hope for the future. We can give all of our children the best education and training to prepare them for the work place. For example, we can introduce a cross-departmental Early Years Strategy, with a centralized Executive fund, to tackle problems of health, education, youth justice and regeneration. 
We can create a truly shared future and a genuinely pluralist society, at ease with itself, which then attracts investment. We can move beyond the failed, ‘separate but equal’ aspirations of the current draft CSI policy and rewrite an ambitious CSI strategy with a detailed action plan for change. 
We can make all of these things happen. The only thing stopping us is a lack of vision. 
I believe that with vision and a new ‘can do’ culture we can create a vibrant and successful Northern Ireland PLC.
Lesley Macaulay

Sunday, 14 November 2010

RE: Real Unionism

I was lying on the sofa the other night when a link popped up on my screen to the “Real Unionism” blog. I did enjoy a good chuckle at its expense. Mr “Real Unionism” conveys that ‘back to the 50s’ Tom Elliott made John McCallister his deputy to make the UUP a vote winning party. Most naive of all that it was a gesture of good will to the ‘liberals’ within the party. Indeed, I believe that Tom Elliott made John McCallister deputy leader of the MLAs as a cynical ploy to keep quiet certain parts of the party, ie the ‘liberal wing’. I see this move as a facade towards isolating the Basilites by trying to entice John closer to the leadership. You know the saying, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

I quote Real Unionism;
“This sudden acceptance of party leadership by John will only speed up the demise of the rebellious progressive element.”
How wrong are you, indeed I’m not going anywhere. I don’t see myself being part of any rebellion anytime soon, Tom deserves a good year at least before any judgement can be cast, I am sure that John will be putting forward the views of this “progressive element” to Tom.

Basil McCrea lost the leadership contest. Tom Elliott is the leader of my party now. I fail to understand were these ‘waistcoat wearing’ Queen’s students are, and surely we should be thankful to have any youth interested in the UUP. The Basilites, those at Queens and all across our province, are waiting like myself to see where (or when) our new leader leads us. It has been 6 weeks now since Tom Elliott was elected yet not a peep from him has been heard, a very worrying fact. You would think that the party would use the election of a new leader to appeal to the electorate, to send out a positive message about our the UUPs future and simply just be in the media for the public to see. Oh wait, I forgot, this is the UUP. We make the same mistakes in the same ways we always do, wouldn’t you think we’d learn?

Indeed, when I was at Stormont on Monday the rumours in the corridors were rife about the UUP. The media was interested to suggest that David McClarty might be re-selected by head quarters after he was de-selected by his constituency. However the more dangerous rumour suggested through the walls was that all is not well at the top and is in fact unravelling. The deals struck to put Tom Elliot where he is are beginning to crumble and the puppet masters are now all arguing among themselves as the puppet sits hapless to lead or control the MLAs. Word on the street is that it’s all falling down, and that’s without any so called ‘Basilite’ involvement.

At the minute in the world of politics I have more to worry about than trying to bring down the leadership (they’re doing that by themselves!). As an Ulster Unionist I’m more interested in convincing people to firstly come out and vote and secondly come out and vote for the UUP. As a member of this party I worry about the lack of urgency among those at the top, the lack of action and indeed reform that is needed. With not just one but two elections just 6 months away we should be forming strategies, getting a timescale set out and organising election material, but oh wait, we still have to select our candidates. However arguing at the top takes much more priority. No URGENCY people! It’s not like the candidates would ever want to know either if they can start campaigning and raising their profile...again.  UUP headquarters seem hell-bent on slowing down any attempt at trying to win votes.

This Basilite has a busy few months ahead. Like every other member, I will be knocking on doors for Tom Elliot.  I will have no problem campaigning for Tom, because that’s party loyalty!  Now is not a time for internal arguments or any rebellion.  I feel that now is the time we started to come across as comprehensive and positive, because I feel that the party doesn't realize the extent of the ground lost in the East of the province. As a member of the UUP and with Tom Elliott as my leader, I will be busy over the next few months, not taking Tom down, but trying to prop him up!

Mark my words…if things aren’t soon turned around up at the top, no matter how much campaigning the members do, the UUP are in for a battering.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What is Truly Needed!

Interesting article by Alan McFarland in September's Fortnight magazine (written just prior to Tom Elliott's election as UUP leader).
You can see the full doc on this link, or by downloading it from the widget at Open Unionism.
Briefly, in assessing the state of the UUP and its future positioning Alan makes the following points (I've paraphrased):
  1. The UUP is like an alcoholic in need of treatment – there is a need to admit there is a problem. The UUP remains in denial that it has fallen out of favour with the electorate (as demonstrated by the UCUNF fiasco).
  2. The DUP is now the traditional UUP, at one level it makes sense for the UUP and the DUP to join together. That would recreate the UUP of 50 years ago, and a very powerful unionist entity that would be more than a match for a single large nationalist party – Sinn Féin.
  3. However, such polarisation could be politically unhealthy and remove choice from the electorate.
  4. The other alternative is for the UUP to resume its trail-blazing role on behalf of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
  5. The UUP needs a new vision of where it wants to be in 10 years and a strategy that will take it there.
  6. The party has an ageing membership; it needs to build up a new team of activists in each constituency.
  7. The Party must engage with business, voluntary organisations and community groups throughout each constituency.
  8. The Party needs to find bright, young, intelligent, charismatic candidates – half of which should be women.
  9. The UUP leader will need to decide between joining in common cause with the DUP or seeking a new mission for the Party.
  10. The answers to the UUP’s problems cannot be implemented before May 2011.
The crux of this article - and the future for the UUP - lies in the second and third bullet points.
But to my mind, the leap that Alan makes between Bulletpoint 2 and Bulletpoint 3 contains something of the fatal problem afflicting the UUP.
In Bulletpoint 2, Alan correctly asserts that the DUP is now a traditional UUP. The St Andrews Agreement is a GFA for slow learners (with apologies to Seamus Mallon). The DUP have indeed signed up to what Durkan liked to call the architecture of the GFA.
The DUP is now capable of filling the space traditionally occupied (since 1921) by the Ulster Unionists ie. it is the establishment party / the mouthpiece of mainstream Unionism.
Bulletpoint 2 is a real world, practical requirement for a strong DUP.
Bulletpoint 3 is the defence for the UUP – and it is an abstract concept.
Abstract concepts are usually considered axiomatic by UUP strategists but that largely is the source of their delusional decision-making.
Real people are largely interested in Bulletpoint 2. Comparatively, Unionists couldn’t really give a damn about Bulletpoint 3.
Will unionist voters dilute the single, settled voice of mainstream unionism (as agreed at various elections) while Sinn Fein continues to gain ground? Or do they disperse their power and authority so as to defend supposed philosophical benefits of healthy choice?
In practical terms, the benefit of choice in Unionist politics is unproven. Greater choice has often simply generated more strident enmity. Alan assumes that ‘choice’ is always healthy. I wonder if he’s right?
For example, I think he’s wrong to suppose that the presence of multifarious Unionist parties is the only true (healthy) form which ‘choice’ can take.
There was an explosion of choice (micro-parties) in 1998, and the electorate has slowly but surely rationalised this variety down to two main choices. And very soon it may simply return one Unionist Party. Alan is saying that Northern Ireland will have an unhealthy democracy at that point.
He needs to be careful that a lame, sick and poorly performing UUP doesn’t hasten towards its doom implying the first 50 years of Northern Ireland’s life was deeply unhealthy and antithetical to the noble concept of democracy.
If the UUP is going to exist it must go back to the simple stuff. The UUP must redefine healthy democracy as one which claims the presence of numerous ideas. The UUP must produce ideas.
Until now, the party has seemed more interested in blocking and frustrating. But opposition for its own sake is wrong. The UUP must go further and if it cannot produce initiatives in a certain area then it must support strong ideas wherever they emerge. For example, the UUP must respond positively to excellent statements like this.
The UUP has not been able to produce a grand idea / great narrative in quite some time. The result of all this has been the emergence of sort of zombified party sloping around aimlessly without any greater purpose in life than to find the comfort of the grave.
Alan is right to say that the UUP will not be able to find a complete answer to its problems before May next year. But it must start to produce ideas and challenge people. If it does not, then the Unionist electorate will continue to do what it has always done –that is, find certainty and comfort in a single, large, monolithic Unionist party. But let’s not blame them for it – after all, we’ve been there before.
Abstract notions of choice (in Alan’s healthy democracy) only gain credence when realistic, practical, sensible, constructive ideas start emerging from the UUP. If choice is removed from the Unionist electorate, then the UUP will only have themselves to blame.
Geoff McGimpsey

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Impact of Modern Media on (local) Politics

For anyone under 30, it is unimaginable that there was a time when the only music programme on British television was one half-hour per week, called Top of the Pops, broadcast on BBC 1. The good thing about that was that it was hard to miss.

Today, Sky TV gives me access to no fewer than 29 channels dedicated exclusively to music! Some are on air 24/7. So, one modern music channel could fit a whole year’s worth of Top of the Pops into a little over a single day’s output! The bad thing about the new regime is that it is impossible not to miss great chunks of it.

It’s the same with politics. Not that long ago, a politician knew what to keep an eye on: the newspapers, the radio news, the evening tv news, the once-a-week current affairs programmes. It was hard to miss something important.

It was also hard enough to get your opinions aired, with so many politicians competing for such limited media space.

Today, the good news is that any politician can create their own media space, publishing what they want, when they want. The bad news is so can everyone else, so trying to keep tabs on the massive expanse of the modern media is like trying to nail jelly to a tree.

In the new media world, everyone – every citizen – is a journalist, broadcaster, photographer and publisher. Citizen journalists need nothing more than a mobile phone and WiFi access to broadcast to the world – no deadlines, no editors, anyone can just do it!

The positive opportunity is fantastic. I had no real presence in cyberspace until I entered politics. Today, I have a website, a Facebook account and I Twitter. I get great quantitative and qualitative feedback from everything I do, and the bonus that I know the old media monitor my stuff and follow-up in the same way they react to regular news releases.

But it’s not all positive. I got a taste of the dangers one day in early 2010. There was speculation I was leaving the Victims Commission to run for Parliament and I bumped into a friend on Bedford Street in Belfast. “Here’s the guy everyone wants to talk to”, he said, referring to the speculation. I nearly told him it was true, but decided to change the subject instead. I found out later, he Twittered from the very spot we had just spoken that the speculation was not true (BTW, I did not deny it, he just interpreted my words as a denial). But the speed with which he was able to broadcast what I said was frightening.

Another example: someone speaking at an internal UUP meeting made a witty riposte to a comment from another speaker, just to lighten the mood, before giving his substantive answer to the question. But a member of the audience Twittered the joke as a statement of fact, not as a joke, taking the remark so far out of context that could have been very damaging to the individual concerned.

The bottom line is this: the new media world both liberates and constrains politicians. It liberates us by breaking the umbilical cord that dictated that we could not publish our views with the aid of the old media outlets; but it constrains by making us mistrustful that there is any context in which you can truly relax, speak you mind, crack a joke, or start to tease out a new policy in public.

Mike Nesbitt

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Does the Government Really Know What It's Doing?

The actions of the previous – and now the current – government are rather concerning. I’m not referring to the colossal, unprecedented borrowing and spending of Labour or the deep cuts planned by the Coalition, but instead to their tinkering with the constitution. I am concerned that either they are playing popular politics at the expense of our system of government, or more worryingly, aren’t aware of the major constitutional impact of their decisions.
Last October Labour created a Supreme Court for the UK. The government in its wisdom decided that the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, which had effectively carried out its responsibilities for one hundred and thirty years, was no longer sufficient. So, at a cost of over £50 million, at a time when we had over £800 billion of debt (it may not seem significant in comparison, but as Tesco keep telling us, every little helps), the government moved the Law Lords across the street to apparently do exactly the same thing they were before. So why bother?
The Ministry of Justice claimed that introducing a Supreme Court would, ‘provide greater clarity in our constitutional arrangements by further separating the judiciary from the legislature’.[1] Therein lies a fundamental problem with the decision - Labour was trying to ensure a separation of powers where none exists. Take for example the anomalous existence of the Lord Chancellor, who as a cabinet minister, head of the judiciary and president of the House of Lords sat in all three branches of government, until this historic high office was abolished by Blair’s government, that is. Under our constitution the executive, legislature and judiciary are deeply intertwined together in Parliament, which is sovereign. While the Law Lords were in the House of Lords, it is therefore arguable that the impact of their rulings on legislation was legitimate, as they were an integral part of the sovereign body. Now they are out of Parliament, the Law Lords, although they have exactly the same role and powers, could potentially undermine parliamentary sovereignty simply by exercising them.
Furthermore, there is the risk a supreme court will assert itself and overstep its powers. The threat of this is more real than you might think when you consider that it is precisely what the U.S. Supreme Court did. Nowhere in the American Constitution is the court given the power to strike down legislation as unconstitutional, yet the justices awarded it to themselves in 1803 with their ruling in the Marbury v. Madison case. There is little chance any Prime Minister would dare to utter President Andrew Jackson's response to the Supreme Court striking down his Indian Removal Act in 1832, ‘the justices have made their decision, now let them enforce it’. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court is still ruling on constitutionality, even Jackson's stand was insufficient to counter the growth of the court's power. One year after its creation ours already asserts that ‘the impact of Supreme Court decisions will extend far beyond the parties involved in any given case, shaping our society, and directly affecting our everyday lives.’[2]
The Coalition Government is just as blasé with the constitution. Last week at the Conservative Party Conference the Foreign Secretary announced that ‘we will introduce a bill to make it the law that if any future government wishes to sign a treaty giving away more areas of power it will be put to the British people in a referendum’.[3] While the decision to prevent the future cession of power away from our government without consent is commendable, I question whether the government recognises the magnitude of enshrining referenda in law. This will substantially undermine the sovereignty of Parliament by in effect dividing sovereignty between it and the people. The supremacy of Parliament has already been curtailed to a large degree by membership of the European Union, with EU regulation taking precedence over British law (for all you Europhiles reading, this is a fact, not anti-European invective).
Requiring a popular vote on an issue under the control of Parliament further diffuses sovereignty in the UK, creating a sort of ‘sovereignty trinity’, where supreme authority is no longer vest solely in Parliament as was traditionally the case, but is shared with the people and the EU. In the modern age popular sovereignty may not be a bad thing (unlike a Supreme Court), but this decision does not relinquish sovereignty outright to the British people. Instead it simply undermines Parliament’s pre-eminence and cedes ultimate authority to the electorate on a single issue. Consequently, a statutory referendum on this issue creates a very peculiar arrangement. It means that Parliament is diminishing its supremacy so that its supremacy can further be diminished in the future. Parliament is granting voters control over whether its sovereignty is diluted and is therefore further limiting that sovereignty in the process.
Two successive governments have now meddled in the delicately balanced and complicated mess that comprises the British constitution. Be it change for the sake of change or in order to ride the tide of popular sentiment, considerable alterations have been made to our system of government without much thought towards the consequences beyond the next day’s headlines.


Stephen Goss