Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Angry Political Rant

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

I suppose an angry rant about politics is something we all do once in a while. This has been prompted by the current debate around the failed Haass talks.
I’ve decided that Northern Ireland has been brought to this situation by a minority of people, who insist on trying to changing the status quo, by any means necessary. They have little or no electoral mandate, but they still insist on voicing their opinions at every opportunity, welcome or not. But the people of Northern Ireland are not behind them. So why don’t political moderates give up, and let society move on?
The Haass talks were all about a bit of appeasement, a bit of a show to pretend that politicians care about peaceful coexistence, but we all know that they never have, and they don’t now. Politics progressed in Northern Ireland when 2 moderate parties worked together, and the electorate has punished their crime by destroying the SDLP and UUP in every election since. The UUP don’t even count as a moderate party any more!
Fundamentally, Northern Ireland politicians can’t work together because their electorates don’t want them to work together. Politicians can’t work together because our society doesn’t work together.
Unpleasant truth – there won’t be political progress until politicians see that as being a good strategy for re-election. We, the people of Northern Ireland need to change first. We have to value peace instead of victory. We have to value co-operation instead of competition.
And that will be a long time coming.

John Pilger at the CQAF

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Alan in Belfast, and write on a political event at a local arts festival.

It was an interview of crusading journalist John Pilger, by BBC NI’s William Crawley, which was meant to happen a few weeks ago but was delayed because he had a bout of pneumonia. St George’s Parish church was well filled, with a pretty enthusiastic audience. The acoustics weren’t fantastic, but I was near the front, so it wasn’t a problem for me.

Pilger has been writing and making documentaries for a long time (about 50 years), so he has a wealth of experiences from all over the world, and the evening reflected that. His view on Barack Obama was perhaps the most interesting of the evening. To paraphrase, he felt that

Barack Obama is a brand… American foreign policy, like British foreign policy, has continued in a straight line since 1945… Going by the first 250 days, Obama is continuing what Bush had done before…

I thought that was quite interesting. Also interesting, though I guess not surprising, were his views on Israel. He stated that because Israel is a special case in so many elements of international law (nuclear weapons, the continued occupation of Palestine), that resolving that one single issue is a precondition to the resolution of conflicts all over the world, because until justice is seen to be done there, there will be an excuse for it in other places. When challenged on how this could happen, he advocated boycotts, but acknowledged that the UN as it is now wouldn’t do that.

There was also a fascinating question from one member of the audience who asked “How can you, an Australian, sit here in Northern Ireland, and talk about ‘we the British people'”. I don’t think anyone was entirely sure whether he was being funny or provocative.

Pilger is scathing on the modern media, which he believes simply reports whatever is in the best interests of the news corporations and governments which own them. He believes that the kind of journalism that made his name just doesn’t happen in the mainstream media any more.

But he does have hope for the future. Not necessarily in the western governments (especially our MPs with their snouts in the trough), but he sees the people-led movements in South America as being a sign of progress.

It was an interesting evening. He is someone who is very well-informed about the world, and although some of his views are challenging, they can’t be dismissed.

Election thoughts

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Although there’s still some counting going on at the edges, the American election is over. I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about it, because personally I favoured Barack Obama, but I know that my American Republican friends are very disappointed by the result.

The first, and probably most important thing about the election, is the incredible turnout. For this to be the biggest voter numbers in American election history indicates that people have really engaged with their system, and that can only be a good thing. I also think that it’s a real challenge to us in the UK, where democratic engagement has been on the slide for a long time. What can we do to energise ordinary people the way that the two American parties have other the last few months?

The second thing that I think is very interesting is the odd effects of their particular electoral system. All voting systems raise their own peculiar effects (for example, here in Northern Ireland, we mainly only vote for idiots or gits, with the challenge being to identify which category any particular politican falls into. But I digress). One peculiarity of the American system is the cascade effect which amplified a small difference in the actual votes cast into a very large majority in the electoral college. On the electoral college votes Obama has roughly a 2:1 majority. But on the ground, he had only 52% of the actual votes cast. That means that behind those headline figures, this election was really close. While that won’t bring much comfort to Republican supporters right now, I think in time that it will, because it means that as a party they are not actually down and out.

I also worry for the new president. This election victory seems to me to have some parallels with the election of Tony Blair in the Labour landslide of 1997. The UK was a country that was fed up with an unpopular government, desperately wanted change and so chose a young and dynamic new leader. Unfortunately, the New Labour project constantly struggled with the weight of that expectation, because of course it could not live up to all those hopes and dreams. I think it’s fair to say that Barack has even more pressure on him to deliver, and given the current state of the world, even less chance of delivery. He has a unique opporunity, as I think most of the world is behind him right now, but that won’t last long, and isn’t much good if he can’t bring most of America with him.

But most of all, my thoughts are with him right now, as in the next day or two he will have to deal with the funeral of his grandmother, the lady who brought him up for many years. I’m sure in his heart it’s not quite the celebration he was hoping for.

The end of the beginning

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I’m sure we’re all relieved to hear that the selection of the Democratic candidate for the forthcoming American election has now finally finished. What a waste of time, money and effort! It has taken months, and cost millions of dollars to decide which of the candiates gets to be number one, and which one gets to be number two (because let’s face it, it’s inevitable that they would go into the actual election together, one way or another). I admit that if they had decided by tossing a coin, or sitting down months ago and negotiating it, it might have had a different outcome, but set that risk against what all that they’ve gone through, and it starts to look like a reasonable solution to me. I think there’s a number of lessons in it.

  • Never put the word democratic in the name of a political party. Sooner or later there’s a time when it would be better for a group of leaders to make a decision, instead of putting things to a massive vote, but because of the name, the party is left with no choice. I can see the DUP hitting something like this too in the near future.
  • There would seem to be a long tail arrangement in the Democratic primaries – one analysis this morning indicated that the Clinton campagin focused on fewer, bigger states, with the assumption that the smaller ones would come into line. Obama seems to have foxed that strategy by winning a large number of smaller states, which added up to more votes in the end. That’s very Long Tail (which I haven’t finished reading yet, but I’m getting there).
  • I can’t help being depressed that at the end of all this, the actual proper election campaign hasn’t even started yet. It’s always possible that the American people might choose McCain instead. Let’s face it, after all this effort, it’ll be a real disaster if he doesn’t win the actual election, and ends up having to make environmental documentaries.
  • There’s a part of me that is vaguely troubled by the media coverage of American politics in general. The British media has very little good to say about George Bush, ever, and yet his popularity in America has only slumped fairly recently (after all, he did win a second term in office). I think that means that the American media are probably presenting him differently to ours. Is it possible that the truth lies somewhere in between? If that’s the case, do I really understand enough about American politics to have an opinion on any of this?

So long, fairwell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

I guess if I’m going to live in Northern Ireland and have a blog, I’d better say something about the announcement last week of Ian Paisley’s resignation from front-line politics.

It’s a big deal for Northern Ireland. For as long as I have lived (and longer) he has been the single constant fact of local politics. Northern Ireland politics without Ian Paisley is almost unthinkable, as he has been such a feature for such a long time. Having continued until now (at the age of 81) I’d started assuming he’d go on until he died.

And I have to admit that I had reckoned for years that we’d never see progress in Northern Ireland until Paisley died, such was his unremitting opposition to anything that he believed threatened the status of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom.

But I was wrong. Recently Ian did the last thing anyone expected, and changed his mind. He went into government with his political enemies, and has been successfully working with them. I truly never believed that it could happen, and he has earned my respect for doing it. The irony of course is that at the same time he has lost the respect of many of his supporters, but that’s another story.

It’s much too early to say what his legacy will be – after all, he still has a couple of months to go, and anything could happen. But I hope that among everything else, he will be remembered for showing us that the two sides of our divided community really can work together. If Ian Paisley can set aside a long history of enmity and work with former IRA members, then maybe there really is hope for Northern Ireland after all.