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New Executive promises “omnicrisis”

“Omnishambles” was a word popularised by The Thick of It, and now we have the looming threat in Northern Ireland of the “omnicrisis” after the Executive appointments.

As with the election itself, the DUP was the undoubted winner. It may feel it lost the Finance Ministry (no doubt that was pre-agreed), but it got that Chair and otherwise all the Ministries and Chairs it would have wanted.

For Sinn Féin, this will be a rocky road. It has shown no interest in government at all, preferring still to moan about those making the decisions than make any itself. It will be able to reduce corporation tax, raise rates and close hospitals; it will not be able to mitigate welfare reform, support Irish language schools or acts, or oversee Casement or Magee expansions – and it has yielded all planning and development policy in return for Infrastructure, a department in which almost everything is already decided years in advance. On top of that, it has put its star player in as Minister for Austerity. This is the worst piece of negotiation since the Dutch swapped New York for Suriname.

Neither is it a good thing that the average age of Ministers is 41. Some would not even have the experience to get an interview for a quango appointment. Seriously. Running a government department is a tough job, requiring budgetary knowledge, people management skills and policy development experience. People aged 41 (I am 39) have not even had half their professional career yet. When it comes to such roles, experience needs to be respected.

Throw in a Minister with responsibility for the arts who believes in creationism, a Minister with responsibility for the environment whose party generally denies climate change, and a Minister with responsibility for Health whose record in office consists of doing things directly contrary to the business case, and it is already an alarming picture.

Justice was perhaps most ridiculous of all. Any prospective Justice Minister would have been wise to agree a five-year budget, legislative programme and set of reforms in advance, in the knowledge that any of these is in practice now subject to DUP approval (given it has the numbers to petition anything and has both the Chair and Vice Chair). It appears Independent Claire Sugden did not do any of this. Thus addressing paramilitarism, bringing down peace walls and reforming prisons falls to someone who rarely attended the Assembly during the last mandate and has no leeway even if she had experience – a DUP delegate, in other words. And when budgets get tight over the coming five years, as we already know they will, whose budget does she think they will cut first…?

The crises are already obvious. Health will run out of money and require it from Justice leaving the police further underfunded; the DUP will act spitefully towards everything from shared housing to the Irish language; Sinn Féin will in response block the reduction in Corporation Tax; past inquiries (e.g. NAMA, Kincora) will be pushed to one side; all while moves to introduce marriage equality and liberalise abortion law will be blocked. The Executive will be utterly incoherent.

Hence, the promise of the “omnicrisis”.

By the way, folks, remember: you voted for this. Other candidates were available…

 

NI Tories/Labour need allies

I wrote on the morning of the count that the NI Conservatives and the Labour Representation Committee would receive only a handful of votes between them. So it proved.

There are no longer any excuses. The Conservatives had a funded office, the Prime Minister at their conference reception, the London Mayor visiting in the run-up to the election, a cabinet minister on the campaign trail with them, a proper canvassing operation and a complete set of posters and mobile billboards. The Labour Representation Committee also had a significant media profile and (apparently) a huge local membership from which to draw campaign support.

This is not to be disrespectful. On the contrary, it is hugely admirable that people would put such time and effort into a cause in which they clearly strongly believe. However, just look at the outcome. They are offering something no one in Northern Ireland wants.

It is time, once and for all, to accept Northern Ireland is not the English Midlands. People who would naturally be drawn to the Conservatives and Labour in England (a markedly declining number even there compared to a generation ago) already have a political home here.

For a long time, Conservative and Labour members have criticised the arrangement, insofar as one exists, between the Liberal Democrats and the Alliance Party. However, they should now consider seriously if this is not the precise model they should be following.

Because late on polling day, a Conservative was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. His name was Philip Smith and he was elected in Strangford. He was, of course, labelled “Ulster Unionist”. He had recognised, quite sensibly, that if you want actual influence over health, education and infrastructure policy in Northern Ireland, the Conservatives here simply do not offer a vehicle. He was, of course, far from the only one – most Ulster Unionists elected earlier this month would be Conservatives in England.

The Alliance/Liberal model is quite simple. Both parties are independent, but are members of the same European umbrella group and agree not to contest elections against each other. On that basis, it is permissible while being a member of one also to be a member of the other – but not compulsory. Thus Alliance Party members may, if they wish, seek to influence the direction of the Liberal Democrats at UK level by joining them; likewise, some Liberal Democrats with an interest in Northern Ireland join the Alliance Party’s external association. The parties are fully separate, but individuals may choose membership of both.

This is not a million miles from the SDLP/Labour arrangement. Again, they have a common European designation and indeed SDLP MPs take the Labour whip (a step beyond the Alliance/LibDem relationship). Presumably, again, individuals may be members of both as they do not contest elections against each other.

The Conservatives and Ulster Unionists have a historically complex relationship of course, culminating in many people’s minds in the “UCUNF debacle” (a debacle which, by the way, yielded 12,000 more votes than the combined Conservative-UUP vote this month). Nevertheless, even a cursory glance at their voting record would tell you that Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan are, to almost every intent and purpose, Conservative MPs. There is simply no point in another Conservative (for “another Conservative” is what it would be) standing against them, potentially nicking a couple of hundred votes and handing the seat to someone else. Jim Nicholson, of course, remains a part of the Conservative group in the European Parliament. For a Conservative in Northern Ireland, the route to elected office – at any level – is already via the Ulster Unionist Party.

Disallowing NI Conservatives from running for election in Northern Ireland would appear harsh, but actually it would be advantageous to them because the likes of Philip Smith would not have to give up their membership in order to run for office electably as an Ulster Unionist. Allowing Ulster Unionist members, if they so chose, also to be members of the Conservative Party would allow them to participate in UK-wide policy making, strategy and vote in leadership elections. Indeed, there would be no need for Conservative Associations in Northern Ireland to disband – they would continue to play a role within the UK-wide party. Objectively, the advantages of such an arrangement clearly outweigh the disadvantages – indeed, it is almost certain that the outcome would be members of the Conservative Party becoming MLAs in Northern Ireland, something which is currently an impossibility.

Nor is such an arrangement even particular to Northern Ireland. Across Great Britain, the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party have a not dissimilar arrangement, enabling the latter representation it otherwise would lack, while saving the former campaign expenses it would otherwise incur.

I do not expect either the local Conservatives or Labour representatives will listen to a word of this. They would do well to note, however, that the national party in each case is probably having thoughts not dissimilar to those outlined above. Politics is the art of the possible. Those striving for the impossible generally get ignored. It’s a brutal game.

Why NI’s future must lie in Europe

It is no surprise that the referendum campaign has been uninspiring, negative and often ludicrous. They generally are.

What about some positivity?

I think one case for Northern Ireland’s place in Europe is simply this:

image

The photo is important, because it shows clearly something often referred to, would you believe, as the “Blue Banana” (no laughing at the back, Boris!)

The colours on the map broadly indicate rising population density (red), falling (blue) and stable (gold) over the turn of the century, and the “Blue Banana” matches the latter.

The “Blue Banana” is a corridor which runs northward from the Milan-Turin area in Italy, past Munich, through Frankfurt, up to the Ruhrgebiet (Dortmund-Essen-Duisburg etc, also touching Cologne and Düsseldorf), on to Holland (Amsterdam-Rotterdam) via the Channel Ports to London and arguably now further to Dublin.

In this corridor, income (no matter how defined) is considerably above even the Western European average (often double); thus, economic opportunities in Europe are concentrated within it; transport flows are planned to go along it; investment is attracted to it; and it is therefore a magnet for skilled labour (and ambitious people generally).

The corridor explains why London has advanced so quickly economically compared to Paris or Berlin (which fall outside it); why relatively conservative Bavaria has become Germany’s richest state; why northern Italy is so much more prosperous than the south; and so on. It is an upwards spiral – skills are attracted to the corridor which means governments invest in it which means skills are attracted to it which means…

At the very northwestern tip of the corridor, assuming (as I would) that you know include the Dublin Region within it, lies Greater Belfast.

I have written before about how the focus of all efforts on our island, North and South, should be in the Eastern Corridor. In terms of ground transport, we should be planning higher density road and rail structures even than we have (and certainly no more gap junctions); in terms of aviation, Dublin and Belfast Airports should be cooperating perhaps under a single authority; in terms of investment hubs each jurisdiction should deliberately harmonise tax arrangements to maximise investment flow into and along the Belfast-Dublin axis; in terms of planning, a jobs creation and skills strategy focus aimed at growing global industries should apply across the area regardless of jurisdiction; noting all the time that investors may in fact be attracted by a choice of jurisdictions in which to locate (other Euroregions, such as Copenhagen-Malmo or Vienna-Bratislava, already do this). Externally, it means both Dublin and Belfast have an interest in encouraging the English “Northern Powerhouse” to ensure the “Blue Banana” extends through Manchester-Merseyside via Birkenhead Port and Manchester Airport to Ireland’s East Coast.

Ultimately the point is this: the “Blue Banana” corridor has nothing to do with sovereignty and everything to do with cities cooperating for maximum mutual benefit to attract skilled labour and attract new jobs to deliver perhaps the highest standard of living in the world. It is a cooperative as much as a competitive thing.

Far from making ourselves peripheral to that reality, we should be embracing it and becoming more and more part of it. Remaining in the EU to maximise cross-border potential in all our interests is just the start.

Quick note on Austria

I wrote this about Austria two weeks ago, and today has seen an astonishingly close Presidential Election watched with interest across Europe.

A few points.

  1. Austrian Presidential Elections use a run-off system, whereby if no candidate receives over 50% of the vote in the election, the top two proceed to a second round (this is similar to France).
  2. Typically the second round, historically, has been between the centre-left Social Democrats and centre-right People’s Party. For the first time ever, neither qualified this time, finishing behind two independents (one of whom, van der Bellen, qualified) and the populist rightist Freedom Party candidate (Hofer, who finished first).
  3. 14% of the Austrian electorate registered for postal votes.
  4. Of the vote cast on the day, Hofer received 51.9% and van der Bellen 48.1%, a lead of 144,006.
  5. However, most projections have postal voters slightly more likely to cast their vote than those unregistered; there are 885,000 of them, and all projections assume just under 700,000 have been validly returned – they are counted tomorrow (and, assuming that is right, would constitute 15% of the total).
  6. Projections, based on the last round and previous elections, can give a profile of who the postal voters are (their age, residence, gender etc) and use that versus the profile of those who actually voted to establish roughly which way the postal votes were cast – notably, it is assumed disproportionately many come from Vienna, where van der Bellen won comfortably, because on-the-day turnout was markedly lower there even than would be expected.
  7. These projections give van der Bellen around 60% of the postal vote, bringing the vote totals almost exactly level!
  8. Main State Broadcaster ÖRF has van der Bellen ahead after postal votes by 2900; but private ATV sees Hofer still ahead after postal votes by 19800.
  9. All we know for certain is it is incredibly close – we should know the final count around 5pm UK/Irish time tomorrow.

 

 

NI negotiations almost normal…

It was put to me by one correspondent that the Alliance Party had no mandate even to enter negotiations around the formation of the next Executive with only 7% of the vote.

Which was odd, because as a Nationalist you would think he would have known that the Independent Alliance had just entered government in Dublin with just 4% of the vote.

The confusion? Northern Ireland politics is almost becoming “normal”. This is indeed quite disorientating!

It is quite “normal” for a coalition which wants either to boost its numbers in the legislature or indeed to resolve an internal dispute to seek additional Ministers from smaller parties (or even outside the legislature altogether in many cases). It is also quite “normal” for smaller parties or even individuals to suggest that, if they are to enter government, that government should follow at least some of their policies – getting your policies implemented is the whole point, after all. It is also “normal” for larger parties to speak to a range of smaller parties to establish the best fit, if any. Such is the “normal” flow of any coalition negotiation. (Note that the Executive is now bound by the principles of collective cabinet responsibility, which was not previously the case.)

Some of the talk around Northern Ireland’s process, therefore, has been bizarre. The Ulster Unionists were perfectly entitled, judging that they would not attain the Ministry they wanted as part of the negotiation and that their interests would be better served regrouping and offering a clearer alternative, to announce early that they had no interest in participating. The Alliance Party was perfectly entitled to respond to an invitation, optionally, to join the Executive, and to propose what any Executive it joined might do. The SDLP was perfectly entitled to participate in the policy part of the negotiation and then come to a judgement that it lacked sufficient detail for them to participate and more fully. The DUP and Sinn Féin were perfectly entitled to talk to non-qualifying parties to check if there was enough common ground to justify ceding a bit in return for a larger, more stable coalition.

No one “flounced off”, no one “made demands”, no one “backed out”.

What we saw and are seeing is, of course, very odd. It is called normal politics…

Time running out for reform of Irish Presidential elections

I am not sure it is my place to suggest why the Nationalist vote has now fallen from 41-42% to 36-38% for an entire electoral cycle now, so I am wary of committing an entire blog to the subject. The total of 36.5% of first preference votes and just 40 seats was by far the lowest post-Agreement Nationalist total, despite apparently favourable demographics.

One suggestion I would make is that Nationalist politicians simply are not very good at delivery. An obvious example of this is on votes for President of Ireland.

I note with interest a Bill submitted by Sinn Féin to Seanad Éireann on this subject. However, mere “extension of voting rights” will probably not prove a practical solution given the President’s role within the State.

The Irish Presidential Election is in fact now barely two years away. What will happen is predictable – about two months in advance Northern Nationalists will suddenly notice it is nigh and start moping about how ridiculous it is that they can stand for President but not vote. But what practically will they have done about it since the last time? It requires a little imagination.

My own proposal, which I have shared here and directly with Nationalist representatives (including in Sinn Féin), is for an electoral college system to be introduced. For example, an Electoral College of 17 (elected by STV from European parliamentary constituencies across the island of Ireland plus another three for Irish citizens elsewhere) could itself elect the President by STV. Voting outside the Republic itself would be entirely by post, with ballot papers provided upon production of a valid current Irish passport. There would perhaps even be a Vice President, elected solely by the 11 Electoral College members elected from within the Republic, to carry out specific State functions.

This system would allow all Irish citizens to participate in the Presidential Election if they wished (as is normal in other republics); it would allow interested Northerners to participate directly, but would also incur no cost or obligation to disinterested Northerners; and it would ensure that voters within the Republic itself still had the major say (with the potential introduction of a Vice President ensuring no interference  on State functions from citizens not residing within the State). Costs of the election outside the Republic would be met from passport fees. What’s not to like?!

I do not expect anyone to pick up this ball and run with it. One frustrating feature of Northern politicians is they prefer to complain than deliver. However, I do wonder if voters are beginning to tire of this trait…

A nation once again? Don’t put too much money on it…

I am a big fan of David McWilliams, partly because he is a brilliant writer on global affairs, and partly because I view him as something of a role model when it comes to Devil’s Advocacy! From his latest example of both, he rightly earned a place on BBC NI Talkback yesterday.

Mr McWilliams is of course right to say that the UK’s departure from the EU would set in train a domino effect. He is right then to use the word “could” about the outcome of that domino effect, but certainly it makes Scotland’s departure from the UK likelier; in turn, a UK of “England, Wales, and, er, Northern Ireland”, especially outside the EU while Scotland and Ireland were in it, would be a simply ludicrous as well as incoherent construction.

However, there are a few aspects of his Devil’s Advocacy which need challenged (that is the point, after all!)

Let us start with the contention that “income” per head in the Republic of Ireland is €40,000 versus €24,000 in Northern Ireland. Actually, this is GDP per capita, which (as Mr McWilliams knows well) cannot be meaningfully conflated with actual income and (still more importantly) real spending power. Start from wages rather than productivity and then take into account housing costs, and suddenly the picture can differ remarkably. Apparently “poorer” Northerners in fact spend 20% more – on everything from fashion to fancy cars – than their fellow islanders. Far from looking South and saying “Look how much they earn”, they actually look and say “That costs how much?!”

Addendum: the clear discrepancy between Ireland’s GDP and AIC (consumption) figures can be seen here, via Eurostat.

(Let us leave aside that even GDP/head has been higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic for the majority of the post-partition period, making a mockery of any contention that Northern Ireland’s apparent economic woes are due to the “Union”. They are in fact primarily to do with de-industrialisation in common with much of the northern UK, a situation hardly helped by decades of civil strife )

None of this is an argument in favour of Northern Ireland’s economic model (Northern Ireland is dependent on a £7-£10 billion present from the south of England every year, so there is scarcely an “economic model” to speak of at all); it is an argument that the two economies have now diverged so completely that it will be extraordinarily difficult ever to put them together again.

It is perhaps this more than anything which also explains why Mr McWilliams’ point about demographics is not working out politically as expected, something he chooses to overlook. The Nationalist vote in the electoral cycle to the start of this decade was typically around 41-42%; it has now fallen for an entire cycle to 37-38% and most recently was just 36%. In fact, far from looking South and eagerly awaiting unification, those predisposed to an all-island world view are turning away from Nationalism (and indeed in many cases to leftist parties which would make Northern Ireland even more different from the comparatively much more economically liberal and centre-right Republic).

Thus, it is not just Unionists who are ignoring the claimed “economic incentive” to join up with the Republic, but many of Nationalist background too. That is most obviously because an “economic incentive” does not always correspond to a financial incentive; and also because the two economies are now just unrecognisable from each other and becoming ever more so.

Nor indeed do I believe that (those who are currently) Unionists would ignore such a financial incentive, were one to become obvious – even the Covenant refers to “material well-being”, after all! The issue is that no such incentive is apparent (and if we move beyond assessing income and indeed general wellbeing merely by GDP, it is clear why it is not).

To be clear, absolutely none of this is good news in the case of “Brexit”. Indeed, it only serves to make a chain of events leading to Northern Ireland’s unmanaged and unplanned ejection from the EU and then potentially from a disintegrating UK even less palatable than Mr McWilliams suggests.

This is why no one in Northern Ireland should be taking the “leave” risk – Unionist or Nationalist, financially or economically.

Scotland and NI move closer politically…

As predicted on these very pages beforehand, Scots went to the polls last week and rejected the most courageous manifesto on offer – that from the Scottish Labour Party.

The blow delivered to that party is quite possibly terminal, insofar as anything can be in politics.

Where once Labour dominated urban Scotland, leaving the SNP and Conservatives to fight exclusively over rural areas, the SNP has now taken over that urban role completely, winning every urban constituency seat except in Edinburgh both last year and this. The SNP did suffer rural reverses, as if vacating rural areas to take over the urban ones – thus where it once left urban Scotland to Labour, it is now ceding rural Scotland to the Conservatives.

This rural/urban divide was apparent in Northern Ireland too. In urban areas, social liberal stances were rewarded – with leftist parties scoring well while Unionists and SDLP shredded votes. However, rural areas were the reverse – there, the DUP did particularly well, as did SDLP social conservatives, but liberals (like John McCallister or most Alliance candidates) suffered. Turnout in more typically Nationalist rural areas was markedly comparatively low.

Pundits, usually from urban or suburban areas, often miss such subtleties. Of course Scotland is not divided fundamentally communally the way Northern Ireland is and it is markedly more socially liberal even in rural areas; but, in its lurch towards overtly constitutional politics and widening distinction between urban and rural, Scotland is becoming more like Northern Ireland than the other way around. That may prove to be unfortunate!

 

Mistake to make abortion a “wedge” issue

One of the prime issues of the recent Assembly election – although I am not sure it really affected the result – was abortion. The Greens and assorted leftist candidates took an absolute “pro-choice” stance (and specifically pro-extension of the law as applies in the UK); the DUP and SDLP took a resolute “pro-life” stance opposed to any change in the law (although the latter did suggest decriminalisation – an odd position for a “pro-life” party, as abortion is not decriminalised anywhere else).

Yet it was in fact an SDLP candidate, Claire Hanna, who perhaps gave the most honest response to the question, on BBC Talkback, by noting she was in a pro-life party but was “conflicted”.

It is an odd thing that when a politician openly admits to doubt, as any thinking person should, they immediately get savaged by absolutists on either side of the debate. This is known as making something a “wedge issue” – you have to be for or against; with us or against us (and woe betide you if you are against).

It is unhealthy.

image

Life does not consist of “wedge issues”. As I noted in a letter to the Irish News in March, the fact I have arrived at essentially “pro-choice” position (taking the definition from the audience at the same debate in which Claire Hanna declared herself “conflicted”) does not somehow make me “anti-life”. The very terminology is ludicrous.

The abortion debate is taking place primarily between religious zealots who delight in the ridiculous pretence that the issue is simple (“You are killing babies”) on one hand, and social liberal hardliners who demand specifically a piece of legislation very few of them have ever read on the other. Anyone falling in between – suggesting that perhaps a 14-year-old victim of incest and rape should not have to have the resulting child, or that perhaps a poorly drafted piece of legislation which ended up reliant on interpretation in the courts with unintended consequences is not the best thing to copy on such an emotive and complex issue – is instantly dismissed by both sides as a weasel belonging to the other.

The electoral penalty is borne by those who, perfectly reasonably, fall between two positions and allow for a degree of doubt. But it is worth noting that the political penalty is actually borne by advocates of change. By insisting that any change must be specifically the change they want and only the change they want, they actually cause a divide among those wanting some form of reform, making life a lot easier for those who do not (who by definition are already united by their commitment to opposing any change). In politics, united beats divided every time.

The practical penalty is borne, appallingly, by the women of Northern Ireland. The promotion specifically of the “’67 Act” as the only acceptable change renders any change impossible – because that change is not available based on the votes of the people last week, and is in any case opposed on perfectly rational grounds by most reformists who have actually read it.

There is no harm in being a passionate advocate of a cause – but the key is to be so in a way which delivers results for the victims of the status quo, not just in a way which makes you feel good (and maybe nicks a few votes on the margins) but achieves nothing practically. Thus far campaigners for reform of Northern Ireland’s disgracefully archaic abortion law have merely delivered confusion and if anything a worse position than existed when regulations were clearly in place. The definition of madness is to repeat the same thing and accept different results. It is time for a different approach.

Creating “wedge issues” never does justice to the complexity of any social issue and rarely helps advocates of change. The identifiable need is to bring people on the journey. That means that all of those who advocate reform must unite around moderate and achievable goals – otherwise we will enter the 2020s having still achieved nothing for the real victims of the status quo.

Austria real cause for alarm

Bist du schwarz oder rot?” (“Are you black or red”) was the first question I was asked upon arrival to stay with a family in the Vienna suburbs in 1993. I have never forgotten it. Now, it really matters. 

For all our parochial concerns about devolved elections and even “Brexit”, perhaps the most significant political event in our lives occurred yesterday, in the form of the resignation of the Chancellor (head of government) of Austria.

Post-War Austria developed a system of “pillarisation” known as “Proporz”, whereby almost everyone was identified politically as “black” (centre-right, a supporter of the People’s Party) or “red” (centre-left, a supporter of the Social Democrats). Those two parties dominated elections, after which they almost invariably formed a Grand Coalition and dished out initiatives, ministries and even appointments in everything from the civil service to banks in proportion to size. (Indeed it was believed that even foreigners fell into one or the other, hence the question above.)

As the generations passed and memories of post-War occupation receded, younger people began to turn away from the two great monoliths and the allocations of appointments associated with them (one man’s “fair apportionment of appointments” is another man’s “corruption”), and parties such as the Liberals and Greens saw their chance. Unfortunately, the party which best grasped the opportunity was the Freedom Party, nominally liberal but really populist-conservative, led by the late Jörg Haider. He developed his own political base in the south of the country and rose from there to come second in the 2000 elections, thus securing a place in government. As Austria is associated in most outsiders’ minds with another right-wing leader of a not dissimilar name, foreign governments were appalled but there was little they could do.

Herr Haider was killed in a single-car crash, and so it was thought his movement would decline. This was another lesson of history not learned. Renewed and reunited, it won the first round of the presidential election last month ahead of an Independent Green, with the two great monoliths placed fourth and fifth behind another centrist independent.

Inevitably, below all this, there is a strong cultural and historical imperative. Austrians celebrate the fact, for example, that Ottoman Muslims made it as far as Vienna in the mid 17th century but no further; thus, the underlying notion that it is a Christian country is strong. There is also, among large sections of the population, an acute sense of loss; Vienna is the capital of a country of only 9 million, but any visitor can see it is obviously designed and built to be an imperial capital (as it was for centuries). Austria also never underwent the process of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” taken on in neighbouring (West) Germany after the War.

Why does this matter to us? By some measures, Austria is the most prosperous country in the EU except tiny Luxembourg. If its democracy is collapsing into crazed anti-immigration populism, no democracy is secure from it. It is also a significant warning to those who believe that collapse of the established political order is necessarily a good thing – in fact, if it is not properly managed and planned (as inevitably it isn’t), it is invariably a recipe for chaos.

For us in Northern Ireland, the post-Agreement generation is finding not that our politics is becoming more like everyone else’s, but that everyone else’s is becoming more like ours. In response to ever more complex issues (such as the refugee crisis), the population is turning for comfort to people offering ever more simplistic answers.

This is a bad time to be a liberal democrat.

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