The Alliance Party’s proposals for a Shared Future, launched a fortnight ago, were an excellent starting point. But what has happened to them?
I have spoken to a lot of people over the past three months, and it is clear political affiliations are more fluid than at any stage post-Agreement. As identified last week, the Alliance Party in fact enjoys 44% support for its flags stance – essentially, 44% who endorse its objectives, at least symbolically. But this will only happen at the polling booths in practice if the party is prepared to fight for them.
The Alliance Party has to realise that it is no good demanding others deliver a “Shared Future” – it alone is responsible for its delivery. It is fundamentally not what Unionists and Nationalists stand for; and given the largesse that derives from the DUP/SF carve-up in a society unhealthily dependent on public funding, even people in business and civic society who are sympathetic to a “Shared Future” privately are scarcely going to say so publicly!
The Alliance Party also has to realise that delivery of its objectives is going to require confrontation every step of the way. The DUP and Sinn Fein have built their power bases by suggesting to their own side that the maxim of “Separate But Equal” – again, fundamentally the complete opposite of a “Shared Future” – is as far as they need to go. From those power bases stem influence, funds and control. They are not just going to give all that up!
Instantly, you can see the flow of misinformation being put out by the DUP, again in the Assembly chamber on Monday. The Alliance Party’s response? There wasn’t one. Immediately, there should have been a press statement, a demand for media appearances, social media activism and a word in a few journalists’ ears – a confrontation, in other words.
The Alliance Party also has to realise that it needs to get out more – into Loyalist Estates, Republican Heartlands and Rural Community Halls – to tell its story. It has something to say on flags, parades and so on – and it needs to say it.
However worthy the party’s proposals are, no one is actually going to read them. However worthy its argument about this or that commission or committee is, no one is actually going to pay attention. However worthy its various speeches in the Assembly are, no one is actually going to notice. It is through effective communications and proactive community work that the case will be won.
In short, this isn’t a job for a political party driven to seek consensus; it is a job for a political movement prepared for confrontation. If it hasn’t worked that out after what has happened to its representatives and workers over the past three months, it never will. It’s called “leading change” – no one said it would be easy!