Friday, 12 December 2008

Counting to 32 Slowly or Taking Too Big a Risk?

Fianna Fail have made their first steps towards setting up shop in Northern Ireland. Discussion on Slugger seems to suggest there are some grounds for expecting some kind of rapprochement with the SDLP, even if full merger is probably not currently on the agenda. The Slugger regulars seem to think the calibre of the individuals involved in the FF initiative is quite high.

This follows the formal re-marriage of the Tories and Official Unionists, and the setting up of an all-NI constituency branch of the British Labour Party, which I posted about here and drew Paulie's disapproval in doing so.

I was confused by the Tory move. Now I'm even more confused. What do the locals think?

Well, the only other bloke on Blogger who lists Eurocommunism amongst his interests is up for it,

"The establishment of competing UK-wide and all-island parties in our province would give local politics the shake up it is so badly in need of, move beyond conducting politics on a sectarian basis and offer people here a choice of a better quality than that currently being provided by our hopeless provincial groupings."

Splinty also has a very low opinion of the actual calibre of local politicos in the six counties - and has indicated a deep cultural and political Republicanism, albeit from a far left perspective, which leads him in general to favour Fianna Fail over Fine Gael. So I'd guess he wouldn't object. Garibaldy and South Belfast Diary do a double act on the background to all this, starting from the stand point of a Irish Labour Party which must, surely, be expecting to receive a 'Dear John' letter from the SDLP. That's the very same SDLP which the Democratic Left -nee Workers Party nee Republican Clubs nee Official Sinn Fein aka 'the Stickies' - told its Northern members to join when it merged itself into the Irish Labour Party. (Do keep up). But perhaps all this is by the by.

So what might all this mean? Let me try to structure a paragraph from which I have surgically removed a dozen or so 'ifs' to aid clarity: in a few years, it is possible that the debating chamber at Stormont will be dominated by two big blocs, one including representatives of the governing party of the Republic of Ireland and one including representatives of the governing party of Great Britain. There would also be two sizeable minority parties - Sinn Fein and the DUP - whose formal political position was to be more 'nationalist' than the parties with the links to the two governments, but which increasingly get sidelined into policy positions which made them sound more and more like provincial ( in both senses of the word) parties. The politics of the six counties will have been 'normalised' to acceptable European standards. This, in a sense, is the honourable case for what Cameron has done with the Official Unionists - and it might even open up some space for the election of at least some Labour members to Stormont. (Though, as Garibaldy points out, the prospect of New Labour types getting it together with the old Workers Party folk with their past fondness for North Korea is quite an entertaining thought.)

Alternatively, it could all go horribly wrong. It's one thing the two governments standing guarantor to the Good Friday Agreement – because that is their position in reality – whilst the local parties get on with their dysfunctional 'cold shoulder consociationalism'. It's quite another if the two governing parties are actually locked in direct electoral combat with the local NI parties. That might encourage a bit more grand-standing to the tribal gods by the local parties on both sides - and, in the North, the tribal gods are vengeful and violent as we all know...

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