“Equal citizenship” must not ignore voter choice

One of the discussions arising in the Blogosphere from the recent Platform for Change AGM was the notion of what is frequently referred to by its supporters as “normal politics”.

They need to define “normal”.

For Northern Ireland, in fact, what we have is “normal politics”. Parties compete in a communal carve-up, producing manifestos, policy positions and public statements designed to appeal to “their” bloc.

This isn’t a million miles from what happens in Great Britain. People there “are” Conservative, “are” Labour, “are” Liberal (or “are” Nationalist); positions are set out broadly to appeal to those blocs, with adaptations to broaden the base from time to time.

You cannot force Northern Ireland’s voters to adopt the English party system, which is the inherent logic of what most of those advocating “normal politics” are suggesting. Identity plays a part across the board, and we should not be too surprised that it is Northern Ireland identity which determined the Northern Ireland party line-up. If we wish to change that, we have to work at it – including through seeking and achieving acceptance of broad Shared Future policies (not something which can happen from parties with no influence to deliver them within the devolved set-up).

What is different, perhaps, about the framework in Great Britain is that, in addition to communal appeal, parties also come forward with new ideas. The real difference between the party politics of Northern Ireland and Great Britain lies in the fact that the former seriously lacks ideas – based as it is on populist communal appeal rather than responsible governance.

Perhaps, therefore, that is what the gap for organisations such as Platform for Change exists. It should come up with ideas – which may or may not be adopted. However, it will also have to face the fact that think tanks in Great Britain, while often nominally independent, are in practice aligned with particular political parties. If it really wishes to succeed, Platform for Change will have to choose its party alignment.

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4 thoughts on ““Equal citizenship” must not ignore voter choice

  1. Máire Zepf says:

    Well said, Ian. I’ve often thought it unfair to characterise our political choices here as only ‘tribal’ as if its anything else in england or in republic where people vote as their parents/areas have for generations.
    And yes, we definitely need ideas. And a bit of self-confidence maybe in order to help that process along?

  2. Seymour Major says:

    Much ink has been spilt by me on the subject of “normal politics” yet I had not identified the deficit in ideas feature of a political system which is not normal, so I take my hat off to you for making that excellent observation.

    There might be an exception in one sense. That is the Alliance Party. There is certainly an effort going in towards generating ideas. They did produce a manifesto running into 150 odd pages. Now I admit that I did not read all of it properly. I skimmed though it. There were some genuinely new ideas. However,some of the policies did look like “throw away” populist statements of intent which had no chance of being implemented in the foreseeable future

    Also, some of the ideas do not appear to have been properly thought through. I wont go into detail here.

    What we need is for all of parties here to have new ideas. Once that happens, the other parties will look for fault and when they generate their own ideas, they will think them through to ensure that they anticipate criticisms from their opponents.

  3. […] other day on his blog Ian Parsley looked at what being considered “normal” is for Northern Irish politics, following on from Platform for Change’s AGM. One of his […]

  4. […] other day on his blog Ian Parsley looked at what being considered “normal” is for Northern Irish politics, following on from Platform for Change’s AGM. One of his […]

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