Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Twelve months on....

This is my 600th post and today is the first year birthday of this blog and to celebrate, this is probably my most unwieldy post yet!

When I first set up this site, I got help from a number of fellow-Unionist bloggers, one of whom was a member of the Ulster Unionist Party. At the time, as several of my views tied in with several aspects of their policy (and possibly because of my pretty hard anti-DUP line), he broached the subject of perhaps joining the party. However, I felt now and still do so, that it would be dishonest to join as my core anti-devolutionist philosophy runs counter to their acceptance of the set-up at Stormont.

Long preamble to two pieces I've read this morning; first one from Alex Kane in The Newsletter on the continuing internal debate, changes and hopefully modernisation within the UUP:
The key to survival and recovery lies in being regarded as a modern, effective, reliable and relevant political party, capable of winning back former voters and winning over new ones. The Ulster Unionist Party faces huge challenges at the coming Euro, general, council and Assembly elections: but it is better placed to meet and conquer those challenges than it has been for a very considerable time.

I can almost guarantee that even with that modernization, I would still disagree with the UUP on a number of their policies, especially those concerning social issues. On the other hand, I think it is essential for our long-term place within the Union, that the Ulster nationalism, sectarianism and social illiberalism of the DUP are challenged vigorously by other strands within Unionism. To a large extent, how successful such a challenge is at the ballot box is not that important; we need to prove the arguments of the Union to the largely apathetic middle-ground, not cement the message with the 30-35% who vote Unionist come rain, hail or shine.Put bluntly, the worse scenario presently being painted by the alarmists, that of Sinn Fein becoming the largest polling party in Northern Ireland is less important than a majority of people voting for the Union at the next Border Referendum; it (SF becoming the biggest party), given their recent antics in Limavady and elsewhere, may even work to our advantage

I apologise if this all is coming across as a bit disjointed, but the other piece I was referring to does connect indirectly with what I;m thinking about here. It’s a question posed in a short post by Beano highlighting the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland’s decision to recruit a "Party Development Officer" to "oversee the development of the Party in Northern Ireland".
“So is this” (i.e. utilizing the internet to build up a political base)
“an indication of an organisation being put together artificially rather than organically, does it matter and are there lessons here for the more established (here) local parties?”

“An indication of an organization being put together artificially” or a time and cost-efficient way for a small number of activists to promote their political ideas to the widest possible audience?

My ultimate political aim is the continuance and development of the Union; whether that’s achieved by means of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal-Democrats, UUP or even Sinn Fein and the DUP, I really don’t care. The crunch question I’d like to ask (for anyone still reading!) is:

In the United Kingdom today can a small-time activist like me achieve more by working on the ground for my primary aim within a party (compromising many of my other political beliefs by doing so,) or by continuing with a no-holds barred blog which is read, at most, by 100 people a day?


Anonymous said...

Work at both, O'Neill ;) Why should you choose between one or the other?

wildgoose said...

My personal opinion for what it's worth: Do you want to be "above" the party fray?

The established major parties queuing for their turn at the trough are the problem, not the solution - and that includes the UUP.

I respect your point of view, in fact it chimes with my own thinking until around a couple of years ago when I'd finally had enough of the anti-English bigotry amongst so-called "Unionists".

But what do you think is the answer?

Scrap Stormont and return to a single Union Parliament? Is that even the declared policy of any Northern Ireland political party?

Is it even likely?

Would the more violent elements in the nationalist community just accept such an outcome?

And if devolution isn't reversed along with a return to a more traditional genuine local power for local people in their local town/city/rural county then what do you propose?

Is there really any mileage or interest within Northern Ireland for an English Parliament and the explicit creation of a federal Union? I realise as an Englishman that I can only speak for my fellows, but from my viewpoint there is zero interest outside of England for the concerns of the ordinary English.

And leaving Devolution as it is means as Tam Dalyell has said: "It is in the nature of politicians to go on claiming additional powers and status for the institutions in which they find themselves", and [they] would not be satisfied until they reached a position "indistinguishable" from a separate state.


Chekov said...

The thing I'm interested in O'Neill is whether you believe there's a realistic chance of rolling back devolution within Northern Ireland? I'm a member of the UUP and actually I share a degree of your cynicism as regards devolution. Ideally I would have had no problem with the concept of integration, other than successive British governments have made it perfectly clear that it is not an option. Obviously now devolution is even more deeply entrenched with the situation in Scotland and Wales.

I believe that any lasting solution for Northern Ireland will necessarily be shaped around the Belfast Agreement. Therefore my feeling is that it is best to work within those constraints to strengthen the Union as best as we can. That's not to say that by joining a party which supports those institutions that you are bound to argue that they are wholly beneficial.

In short - join the UUP, but don't compromise your anti-devolutionist instincts.

Chekov said...

Oh and well done on the year milestone btw. APOUL is an essential piece of my daily reading.

Timothy Belmont said...

Congratulations for a great blog! I hold strong integrationist tendencies myself, especially having witnessed the antics up at Stormont. The tide, however, appears to be running in a different direction I fear.

The advantage of being independent and a free spirit is that you can criticize any political party you choose, irrespective of allegiance. You're probably better off being independent; it's your shot however!


tony said...

Happy birthday!

A good mix of pro-British and er....pro-British sentiment.

Kloot said...


Well done on a year of excellent blogging. What ever your decision, It is to be hoped that you continue your blogging into the future.

In the United Kingdom today can a small-time activist like me achieve more by working on the ground for my primary aim within a party (compromising many of my other political beliefs by doing so,) or by continuing with a no-holds barred blog which is read, at most, by 100 people a day?

Depends on what you hope to achieve within the party. Do you believe that being a member of this party will allow you to effect change ?

Ive often wondered about getting involved in politics and to be honest a number of things put me off it.

1. It will control your life and the lives of your family. Its a 24 hour on the call job with little or no thanks

2. If you are anyway passionate about your cause, which you obviously are, then you have to ask, how will you feel when your views and ideas hit a block wall when faced with the lack of drive of others (often in the leadership positions). Will the slowness of progress eat away at you and frustrate you and indeed will it affect your health eventually.

3. People dont like big change, it can scare them. If your ideas are radical or futuristic (regardless of whether they make sense or not) you will need to carry the people and they might not have the same vision as yourself. Indeed, they may just be looking for double yellow lines outside their house!

4. How will you tackle and deal with the ambivalence most have for politics. All people really want is their own needs satisfied, be it taxes, health etc. They dont tend to engage in the big constitutional debates, which I suspect is the real thing that interests you in politics.

I wonder if you might affect more change through the expansion of your blog. Build it up so that it becomes a platform to represent the views of like minded people. Get a name for yourself in the sphere (as im sure is already occurring). Maybe merge your blog with other like minded people. Provide a place for yours and other peoples ideas to gestitate and to grow into sound options

In this way, you will not have to compromise your views, and indeed it will offer you an opportunity to fine tune them and flex them more then you would ever have within the constrains of any political party.

Political parties are about power, and to gain power you have to suck up to a lot of people and tow the party line. These confines are hardly conducive to allowing a bright spark emerge.

Whatever you choose, good luck with it in the future

O'Neill said...

Thanks for the comments, plenty of stuff to think on there.

Alex Kane (fast joining Billy Bragg as this site's mascot!) said something in a slightly different context last week, about the continual fight between pragmatism and idealism in politics.

The pragmatist in me agrees what Chekov, Wildgoose and Tim says about devolution being here to stay- the pragmatic approach to that would be to ensure that it doesn't damage it any further our Union- pragmatically that could be best achieved by becoming part of the bigger whole and working with a party.

But for the more idealistic/ maverick that means working not only within, but also for a system that I don't agree with and that I think has the definite potential to split my nation apart. For someone who has no personal political ambition, that idealism is much easier to work and live with.

Having said that, there are more people within the UUP than probably any other UK party that I respect and see our part of the world as I do, I'm just waiting for the day that I start to see them having a real influence within the party.

Anonymous said...

O'Neill - you will be aware that many ulster Tories share your scepticism about devolution - but it is here to stay.
Cemeting the Union can now be best down with a UK party such as the Conservatives and by helping to enginneer a 'paradigm shift'

beano said...

Hi O'Neill and congratulations on lasting that first year. It's not always easy to get the motivation to keep writing but yours is definitely a first read each morning. The regularity with which you manage to update the site and your ability to pull in interesting snippets from all across the Kingdom is highly commendable.

Please do keep up the good work!

And as for your quandry about joining a party or working independently, I know exactly how you feel.

I think I'd be compromising too much were I to join the UUP but I'm not sure what good, if any, I could do in the local Tories. I think I'm much more comfortable looking down at all the parties from my own high horse ;)

Finally, sorry I haven't been around much. I'm sure you spotted my post at EU where I mentioned I can't comment on any blogs using the blogger platform while I'm at work :( Rest assured.d I'm still reading though.

O'Neill said...

O'Neill - you will be aware that many ulster Tories share your scepticism about devolution - but it is here to stay.

Many of your fellow Tories in Scotland and wales adopt a more practical scepticism towards devolution; as a UK-wide party I think you should be fighting more along the integration line rather than trying to cement devolution in 3 parts of the UK.

O'Neill said...

Thanks!@ And thanks for tiding up my own post on EU.

Anonymous said...

'I'm not sure what good, if any, I could do in the local Tories.'

Well why dont we meet up - and you too O'Neill?

Neil Johnston
Area Chairman Conservatives

MancUnionist said...

In relation to a comment above, weren't the United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP) an integrationist party?