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.