In defence of NI politics/government

Quintin Oliver of Stratagem has a very important article here.

It is of even higher significance when we look at the smaller parties and the “Opposition” debate. As I have recited several times on this blog, commonly stated public disgust at politicians should not be mistaken for a widespread discontent – at least, not one which is any greater than elsewhere.

In the last week, for example, it has become evident that DRD’s plans in Belfast City Centre have led to rush-hour chaos – although they had no doubt planned on some disruption to encourage use of public transport and bikes, I don’t believe this level of disruption was intended! There is a degree of incompetence there, for which the Minister and officials need to take some of the blame. This is, surely, evidence at what a useless government we have?

Scarcely. Just look over the Irish Sea – there, the equivalent Department has just tossed away 40 million of money plus over a year of time because they cannot run a fairly straightforward tender process competently. Not one but two Ministers – one who has now become our Secretary of State – failed to ask the right questions; officials made a complete shambles of it; and this is not rare.

Internationally, this is just as obvious. Italy openly had to replace its elected government with bureaucrats; Germany’s entire CDU Leadership was expunged by a mass scandal involving money in briefcases, and its President was forced to resign last year amidst a financial scandal; Belgium went over a year without forming a government; Canada even elected a young MP who had never visited her constituency and spent most of the campaign holidaying in Las Vegas!

To be completely unpartisan about it, the simple fact is that several of our Ministers and senior politicians are master operators at any level – Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness among them, whatever you think of their past or their views. We are also lucky to have some outstanding officials and teams, notably broadly in social care: we have the lowest social security fraud; the highest dementia diagnosis; the best cancer survival rates; among others. We are often lucky with our other public servants too – we have the best exam results in much of the UK, which, regardless of system, would not happen if our teachers weren’t the best too.

Some parties, particularly smaller ones, have set their entire stall out on the apparently self-evident point that our politicians are all (particularly) useless, and our government is (uniquely) inefficient. The obvious problem is, this simply isn’t true.

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8 thoughts on “In defence of NI politics/government

  1. Danny O'Connor says:

    It is good to have capability,it is only useful when you put it to work,the problem is that for all our collective capabilities,they need to be harnessed,we have poverty,lower life expectancy than other regions and more literacy and numeracy issues that are continually left untackled. Stormont is at present just an expensive talking shop ,a legislature that doesnt legislate,it reminds me of the old joke,what do you call a boomerang that doesnt come back – a stick.So much needs doing ,particularly around the issues of how we can build a better future together.

  2. Unfortunately there is widespread discontent as well, you only have to look at the falling turnout. At least disgust suggests you’d actively seek to elect in a replacement. I’ve found myself trying to get disenfranchised people from a number of backgrounds (republican, loyalist, socialist and other) to take part in elections and put their voice up against mainstream politics here.

    I don’t know Danny Kennedy’s side of the story, one of his most early moves was the much needed redevelopment of the Coleraine line in some degree of time for the City of Culture bid … even earlier he removed Connor Murphy from that position, who didn’t seem to feel the need to make as much effort to aid an area that consistently voted in two SF MLA’s, the UUP didn’t even stand in the area, so avoids the least accusations of parish pumping on its part. So Mr Kennedy has earned a degree of leeway with me, these plans were initiated by Murphy after all, and in defense of the both of them inner city congestion is a matter of public behavior … I’ve got the bus from Titanic Quarter in the depths of East Belfast to the Falls Road in the West, buses from the City Centre in the “South” to the Zoo in the North. Goldline/Bus Éireann and other buses from Dublin, Sligo, Derry, Armagh, Newry, Portadown, Antrim, Trains to North Down and Dundalk … public transport is an excellently underused asset. There was talk of introducing congestion charges in the Belfast City Centre from across the political divide I think busy commuters need to access their priorities.

    @Danny there has been a recent move to kill two birds with one stone with regards to literacy, unemployed teaching graduates will be given short term OFMDFM contracts to tackle literacy in deprived areas. It’s an idea I back, the major winners in the short term will be the teaching staff who will at least have better moral and more work experience to fill positions, but perhaps in the long term it will push people from disadvantaged areas to develop the skills they need to improve their quality of life … we can’t be too certain of that, but I think it is a risk worth taking.

    • Kevin – but you’ve missed the point a wee bit.

      There is falling turnout *everywhere*. Never have the two main parties in GB polled fewer votes; we will have a US Presidential Election next month conceivably with turnout dipping *below half* – for a US Presidential Election and Congressional/Senate elections on the same day!!

      Of course there’s disgust and disenfranchised voters looking for new political vehicles – but that is true in England, in the United States, in Germany (where the Pirates Party now scores 7%!!) and so on. None of this is unique to NI.

      • Should be interesting to see where the 3rd parties come in on the US Presidential Election. Perhaps there’s something nice about people not being reliant on politicians any more. Politics tends to be dominated most by those dependent on social security, the old and disabled … they need politics more in general. People wondering why there isn’t new politics like Alex Kane, probably should realize it’s the old generation who are voting and thanks to modern medicine, they’re not dying off so quickly. I believe a lot of the DUP and Sinn Féin’s success does come from their appeal to the elderly.

      • I always though SF’s success was in its ability to mobilise the young.

        The great danger in letting smaller and smaller sections of the electorate run politics is that one day they’ll implement a policy that completely shafts the people who didn’t vote. Disengagement from politics will come back to bite you in the end.

      • ianjamesparsley says:

        Of course. But again, that’s true everywhere.

  3. Mr Ulster says:

    @Kevin “Should be interesting to see where the 3rd parties come in on the US Presidential Election.”

    Answer: poorly. Americans don’t do party politics, especially third-party politics. As ever, it is based on individual appeal. I can’t name you one presidential candidate beyond Obama and Romney.

    Regarding declining turnouts, Ian is correct — it’s a universal phenomenon among developed democracies. That’s actually the curious aspect to Northern Ireland’s declining turnout figures. I suspect those voters turned off by our local offerings would likely be turned off by “ordinary”, lazy, incompetent, corrupt, petty-minded and self-serving candidates (to steal from Quintin Oliver’s article).

  4. Mobilize the young? Have you seen the recent turnouts in young constituencies like Foyle and West Belfast? Over both regions Sinn Fein has a net council seat loss to the SDLP.

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