Saturday, 28 May 2011

Baby P, Sharon Shoesmith & Ed Balls mistake.

The death of Baby P was a tragedy and it rightly horrified the public at large. Whenever any child dies from abuse it is sickening but the levels of abuse that the poor baby in this case suffered seemed particularly worse because of the failure of systems and procedures that allowed it to happen when it's clear the authorises were aware that abuse was most likely taking place.

When a case like this occurs it is natural to look for someone to blame. In this instance, that person was Sharon Shoesmith. After an internal audit was deemed inadequate, an external inquiry was commissioned and this inquiry delivered a damning verdict on the management of Child Services at Harringey Council, of which Shoesmith was Director in charge. It's fair to assume from that Shoesmith was in danger of losing her job and she duly did. Unfortunately, the then Secretary of State, Ed Balls fired her summarily and, as has now been proven, without affording Shoesmith her right to due process.

This allowed Shoesmith a footing on the moral high-ground which she never really should have had. No matter the 'crime' everyone in this country is entitled to the full protection of the law and Shoesmith was perfectly entitled to fight her case.

The real problem though is that by sacking her in this way, Ed Balls gave the story another perspective that it didn't need and could ill afford. When the focus of this case should have been on the failure to protect Baby P it was drawn away somewhat to what is essentially an employment law case. I imagine Ed Balls thought what he was doing was the right thing, and in many ways it was, but I also imagine he had one eye fixed on the clamour for a scapegoat.

Therein lies the danger of wanting someone's head on a platter. In their eagerness to give us that, our leaders will overlook the long term dangers of doing so.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Big challenge for Stephen Farry as Agnew's Greens look over his shoulder.

The new Minister for Employment & Learning will no doubt be pouring over his budget right now to examine what movement he has, if any, in the way of student fees. Apart from the rather obvious financial implications on students and their families, any rise in fees will have serious political implications for Alliance and the Green Party in particular can apply significant pressure.

Alliance have, up to now, enjoyed the benefits of being the smaller party, fighting the noble fight against the might of the bigger parties (the Ulster Unionist party in particular). Alliance were well positioned to receive dissatisfied voters safe in the knowledge that their own voters were unlikely to go anywhere. Alliance voters tend to be some of the most loyal and for many, the idea of leaving for a party rooted in Unionism or Nationalism is unthinkable.

However, Steven Agnew has given The Green Party new life. Where Alliance's ideology is often perceived to be mostly about being non sectarian and non tribal with The Green Party their left wing, green, social justice ideology is clear for all to see. That they are also non sectarian and non tribal is accepted without question but there's no danger of anyone thinking that is what they are all about. For the first time, an important section of Alliance's voters have a feasible and attractive alternative. 

The importance of students to Alliance should not be underestimated. They are crucial to the continued survival of the party.  The students going through our universities over the next few years will be the last ones to have any first hand knowledge at all of the conflict that shaped much of our politics. The arguments of old are, for the most part irrelevant for them. It is natural that young, educated people, empowered to make their own Political choices will turn to a party that offers progressive, non tribal politics. The party that recruits them can reasonably expect that in 20 & 30 years time, they will still count them as members and supporters. That is surely the long term strategy for Alliance. It most certainly is for The Green Party. The battle for student votes will be fought between those two parties and Alliance may well be about to burden that population with even more debt.

If that is the case, expect to see even more support for The Green Party at the next election. Agnew is incredibly popular amongst young people and as the profile of both he and his party grows, their policy will be examined in more detail and it may well be that people realise it is not simply a party of 'tree huggers' as it has been unfairly labelled in the past.

I trust that whatever decision Stephen Farry makes, it will be what he believes is necessary but i'm sure it will be hard for him to set aside political concerns when he is making it.

Ruth Patterson's behaviour; an embarrassment to us all.

No matter her reason or excuse, there is no justification for the behaviour of the DUP councillor Ruth Patterson.

Patterson was elected Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast last night and was offered congratulations by the newly elected Lord Mayor, Niall Ó Donnghaile of Sinn Fein. Patterson ignored the Lord Mayor refusing to acknowledge his gracious gesture.

The basis of this insult (for that is what it is) appears to be that Niall is from Sinn Fein. Patterson has form for being disrespectful - in the past she has made a show of coughing loudly when Irish is spoken in the chamber.

The DUP have, inexplicably, decided to defend her. It's inexplicable because her party are fully in bed with Sinn Fein in govt. What they should be doing is reprimanding her for displaying such appalling behaviour.

I imagine this is no skin of the new Lord Mayor's nose but then it wasn't just he who was insulted. Patterson has shown massive disrespect to the people of Belfast who elected Niall to council and to the chamber itself who have chosen to elevate him to the Lord Mayor position.

Democracy means not always getting the result you want but it also means you have to respect the result regardless, for it is the will of the people.

The DUP have moaned about there being a change of rules in the chamber designed to deny them and their Unionist pact partners from getting the Mayoral posts they feel they're entitled to. To some extent this is true but quite how they feel they can moan about it is beyond me. The DUP have no problem using whatever means they can to maintain or gain advantage - the petition of concern to defeat Dawn Purvis' double jobbing bill a prime example of this.

What is really embarrassing for Northern Ireland though is that we still have people in senior political positions who refuse to acknowledge the validity of other peoples political beliefs.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

McArdle appointment. What it says about Sinn Fein.

No matter which way you look at it, the appointment of Mary McArdle as a Special Advisor to the new Culture Minister is offensive and incredibly disappointing.

Sinn Fein will make all their usual arguments about her being a former political prisoner, a prisoner of war and how she was engaged on a mission against a legitimate target. They will reference the Good Friday Agreement and point out that other ex prisoners sit in Stormont.

On the Unionist side, there will be outrage. There will be much stomping of feet and the strongest condemnation of the appointment. 

After all that, she will still be the Special Advisor and life on the hill will continue albeit, Mr Allister will no doubt continue to raise his objections long after any DUP/UUP objections have died down.

What is really the issue at hand though is the shocking and continued hypocrisy of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein are happy to bleat on about disrespect and lack of consideration for the opinions of Nationalists and Republicans when an RUC memorial is planned in Lisburn or when Unionists want the RIR to have a homecoming parade. Odd then, that they are happy to disrespect the family of Mary Travers (McArdle's victim) and pay no consideration the opinions of Unionists through this appointment. Sinn Fein, of course, have form for this. Gerry Kelly is a particular bitter pill for Unionists to swallow but swallow they do, in the name of peace. 

Were Sinn Fein serious about showing respect to all sides of the community they would never have made this appointment and would already be trying to bring new blood through, untainted by past crimes, to replace the more divisive figures in their party. Only then, could they truly claim they wanted to govern for all. I'm not trying to comment on the validity or lack thereof of any past crimes. I understand Sinn Fein's argument, but it doesn't change the fact that they have been completely neglectful of their duty to represent all the people in this country, not just the ones that agree with them.

Reducing benefits not the answer.

When the subject of state benefits comes up, it's not long before someone will come out with something along the lines of 'people get far too much on benefits' and it's usually followed by 'you're better off not working'. Well, the fact is that only the latter is anywhere close to the truth.

When we talk about what people receive from the state in the form of benefits, you have to remember to deal with the issue without emotion or, more importantly, without prejudice. The first thing that must be considered is the poverty line. All poverty is relative and what is poverty in this country is not poverty in India. So we must set the poverty line at a rate that we feel is correct for a rich country for, despite right wing hyperbole claiming otherwise, we still are a very rich country.

Now, this is where prejudice often creeps in and it usually presents itself along side jealousy, resentment & bitterness because it's understandable that people want to see a marked difference in the lives led by those on benefits and those who work. Otherwise, what's the point of working?

Here's the problem. What do we, in this country, believe is a luxury and what do think is a necessity? It's reasonable to argue that a TV is a necessity, but what kind of TV? Anyone who has looked for a job knows that it's easier and far more likely to be successful if you have regular access to a computer and a broadband connection so surely that is a necessity too? Obviously, this is not an easy problem to solve but the important thing is to approach it in the right way, and for me, that approach should be to provide as high a living standard as is possible within budget and not aim to just provide enough to get by. Why would we not want to be a country where even our poorest live very well?

The problem is compounded by low wages and high taxes. For the vast majority of people, a weeks wage is only just above that of a weeks benefits and for some, the added costs of working actually do leave them worse off. This is clearly unsustainable and we need to look at ways of ensuring that work provides a significant monetary benefit over and above that of not working but that must not be the easy answer of reducing benefits. It should involve lifting the take home pay of those who choose to work.

What's need for all of this is a simpler and fairer welfare system. It's crazy that our tax code, which is so complex, creates a situation where parents pay out taxes only to receive it back in the form of tax credits or where a couple with one parent working and one at home have half the tax free allowance of a couple that both work. Is it not a fair assumption that the cost of cutting tax altogether for our lowest earners can be offset against the reduction in those forced to claim state help?

If we are to reform Welfare in this country it should be with the objective of lifting the benefit of working, not making the lives of those on benefits harder.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Politicians & Money

Quite often, when keen to criticise a politician, or for that matter any public servant, the press, and by extension the public, like to raise the issue of how much the individual is paid from the public purse.

This morning, on Good Morning Ulster, this happened when the issue of Policing Board membership was discussed. As it stands Independent members of the Policing Board are paid roughly £19,000 a year. The work requires a minimum commitment of 4 days a month.

Taken at first glance it's easy to see why this would cause some consternation. However, the reality is that an effective member of the policing board contributed far more than 4 days a month just clocking in and the role carries considerable responsibility.

Our Members of Parliament are paid upwards of £65,000 a year and our MLA's receive, I believe, somewhere around £45,000. There is actually NO minimum requirement of attendance for these roles and nor should there be.

As in Private Enterprise, salaries & rewards for public servants need to be commensurate with the role as well as acting as an incentive to attract the right candidates. In addition, they need to reflect the unique position of trust & integrity placed on the holder of the role.

Politicians are often in positions where they can bring to bear enormous influence. There are no shortage of people happy to pay to see that that influence is in their favour. A well rewarded and financially secure individual is harder to corrupt.

There is no doubt that in many cases the public do not get value for money but you don't address the issue by lowering the monetary value of the position, you do it by increasing the calibre of the candidate filling the role.

Putting the focus solely on how much someone gets paid only serves to distract from the real problem with a significant number of our politicians - that of capability.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Unionism can start to show it's teeth.

For many in Unionism, the Good Friday Agreement involved significantly more compromise for Unionists than it did for Nationalists, not least because for them, concessions usually meant giving something up they already had and for Nationalists it meant giving up on things they only aspired to have. This feeling has never really gone away and many still feel that it is just one concession after another with nothing coming the other way.

Those on the Nationalist side will argue, with some justification, that it was about achieving a balance where Nationalists had, at the least, a proportional say in running the country and that perceived and real injustices were corrected.

Now though, as things stand, any argument for further concessions boil down almost solely to ideology rather than injustice. The Northern Ireland of today is largely a fair and just state. Discrimination based on faith is not just outlawed, but abhorred by the majority of it's people. We have completely free and fair elections. Our Police force is supported wholeheartedly across the community as is our Justice Department.

For Unionists, this means that they can fight their ideological corner free from the shackles of the past.

Sinn Fein have for years campaigned as a party dedicated to the reunification of Ireland as a republic but their strength always came from their drive to fight injustices for a community that felt it was treated as second class. Now that that is no longer the case Sinn Fein have to put the case for a United Ireland not as a moral issue, as it has been in the past, but as the correct ideology. For Unionists, this is good news. Sinn Fein raised the issue of Unification again in their manifesto and Unionists should not be afraid to take them to task on it.

It will be interesting to see what Sinn Fein do when Unionism finally turns around and says: no more.

Privacy - Every one is entitled to it

Depending on the publication you are reading, the issue at hand with super-injunctions is one of either Press Freedom or Invasion of Privacy with almost all of the traditional tabloids opining the former and most of the (former) broadsheets; the latter. In truth, it is about both.

There has been tremendous zeal on Twitter to name Ryan Giggs as the footballer who took out an injunction to prevent the media from naming him as the player who had an affair with Imogen Thomas, the former Miss Wales and Big Brother contestant. There's also been an equivalent amount of people tweeting their apathy toward the whole affair but of course, even that adds numbers to those taking some kind of interest in the case even if is expressed disinterest.

However, what is forgotten about throughout all of this is the very real, very human damage that has occurred and is continuing to occur to Giggs family. Giggs had an affair. That's all. He did not cheat on me, you or any of the papers so keen to splash his discrepancy over their pages. He owes an apology only to his family, the ones he has hurt. It should also be remembered that it was just an affair. He has committed no crime unlike, somewhat ironically, the media that are now happy to publish his name.

I am aware that Ryan Giggs is held up as a role model but I've long believed that holding footballers up as role models is not just foolish but wholly unfair. Yes, they should demonstrate exemplary behaviour on the pitch and when on official public duties but when in private, their business is their own. I will also not hold any chuck with those who say that footballers chose this career and they should know the downsides of fame. Rubbish. Every premiership footballer began his career before he was 10. Should his parents have sat him down at that point and warned him of the pitfalls that awaits a career in football?

People make mistakes and they make them often. That we expect those who are in the public eye to not, is utterly ridiculous.

Friday, 20 May 2011

International Aid, Benefits, Service Cuts

I have been put in a mind to write something about this after seeing Melanie Philips on BBC's Question Time last night. As ever, she was on her usual form, making statements of certainty backed up by anecdotal evidence. This time, she was absolutely sure that Overseas Aid was not actually doing any good, rather it was only serving to  make matters worse. Her solution to this was simple - stop all overseas aid immediately. 

Now, lets consider things reasonably for a second and give Melanie the benefit of the doubt. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that there may well be some cases where financial aid ends up in the hands of those who will actually use it to cause suffering. No matter what measures we put in place to prevent this, it will happen and it's plainly wrong to suggest it won't. However, if you want to suggest, as Philips did, that this happens as a rule rather than as an exception, then you better have hard evidence to back it up. Philips did not. Some may argue that Philips didn't actually say that it was commonplace but if so, why call for all overseas aid to be stopped? There is some corruption in the Police so should we stop funding the police force altogether? 

I made a joke on Twitter last night that it wouldn't be long before Melanie Philips claimed that those who receive our aid spend it all on Fags & Plasma TV's. This was a reference to the long held belief of many on the right that those who receive aid in our own country - in the form of benefits - somehow misspend it. 

This attitude is not one of concern that people are suffering because of aid and not one of concern that the money could be better spent, it is one of bitterness. It is an attitude borne from resentment at the State giving 'their hard earned tax' to others who haven't 'earned' it. That's not an entirely abhorrent attitude to take, but lets please be honest about it. Instead of trying to make out that you have the best interests of those who receive aid at heart, please frame your argument properly and along the right line so those of us who wish to argue against it, know where you are coming from.

Finally, I want to address the issue of what happens to our tax money if we do. Those who want all aid cut now have to answer what they want the money spent on instead. This will be interesting as that group tend to have been arguing that the program of cuts the government is pursuing is not only needed but not actually affecting front line services and that the only people losing their jobs are those who hold the mythical 'non jobs'. You can't very well argue it can go into Healthcare when you have been supporting massive cuts to that service. You can't say it can go to University fees when you've been arguing it's right that students should pay their own. You can't say that it can go back into the public sector at all when you've been arguing that it is far too big in the first place.

So, now you have all this extra tax money and now that perfectly valid and much needed cuts are being made, where will you spend it? A tax cut maybe? 

When you get down to it, is that what this argument is really all about?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sinn Fein are right to oppose Queens visit (but not for the reasons you think)

Now, before you report me to whoever is in charge of Unionism for letting the side down, let me explain. Sinn Fein are right to oppose the Queens visit because it is, ultimately, very bad for Sinn Fein.

Firstly, whilst the worlds media are now overly fond of using words like historic, significant, unprecedented and the like, it has to be said that this visit is worthy of all such words. As such, Sinn Fein have been placed in a very difficult situation. As the party that likes to talk of progress it would be very difficult to object to this visit in too strong terms when it is overwhelmingly being played in the press as a sign of real progression. However, they cannot allow themselves to be involved in the visit because, after all, they are technically at odds with Her Majesty and her government. All they're left with is sniping from the sidelines with a series of press releases which, try as they, might fail to come across as anything other than sorely bitter.

Another problem for Sinn Fein is that this visit makes their argument for Unification just that little bit more difficult to sell. All through this visit, Sinn Fein have been careful not to make too many references to their one-time favourite line of the Queen still occupying the 6 counties or of her forces still being in control because they know that it is not the case any more. The status of Northern Ireland lays in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland and it is up to the government of Northern Ireland to force a referendum on the issue, not Westminster or Dublin. Now, how can Sinn Fein play that card when they ARE the government of Northern Ireland. Unity may not be entirely up to Sinn Fein (thank the Lord) but it is certainly absolutely nothing to do with the Queen.

The biggest problem for Sinn Fein now though is the fact that because this visit is so historical and significant, the next one won't be. The people of Ireland, after this week, will object even less when the Queen next visits because that is the nature of people. Once you've tasted something you always thought was awful and realised that actually, it's not quite as bad as you think, you are less inclined to object as strongly next time.

Sinn Fein know this and no that for them, as republicans opposed to British intervention in the affairs of Ireland (as they see it) public support is vital and that support needs to be fervent because, as those who just thought an AV campaign can testify, people have to really, really want change for it to actually happen. As each year passes, and more and more barriers to progress such as this are broken down, that support will become less and less passionate and will dwindle to nothing more than a pipe dream.

That is why Sinn Fein are right to object to this visit - not because it is wrong but because it represents a threat to their argument.

The problem with Iris.

Iris Robinson has made her first public appearance since the scandal that brought an end to her political career and saw her remove herself completely from public life to deal with both the ramifications of her affair and also the mental illness that plagued her.

I'm sure that Peter Robinson is pleased that Iris is on the right road to recovery from her illness and he clearly deserves credit for being able to work through some truly horrible times and keep his marriage and family together.

What is of concern to me though, is that the public in Northern Ireland take Iris 'back' into public life without question. I don't feel we, as the public have the right to judge Iris Robinson for her affair and it is right that people are shown compassion and forgiveness when they make mistakes because, after all, every one makes them. For Iris however, the affair isn't my problem with her being welcomed back with open arms. It is her opinion on homosexuality.

Be under no illusions; Iris is homophobic. This cannot be disputed because it is fact.

Iris Robinson's comments on homosexuality are a matter of public record and she has, as yet, never sought to apologise for them so one can fairly assume she still holds them. Even Ian Paisley Jnr has said he has matured on the issue, which while not a full apology and acceptance he was wrong, does at least show he is heading in the right direction.

The public should be cautious about accepting back, without question, a woman who was so keen to judge and condemn others for committing sins proscribed in her Bible whilst she herself was busy committing them herself.

The real problem with Ken Clarke's words.

Following the 5Live interview yesterday, in which Ken Clarke referred to 'serious rapes' thus implying that some rapes were not, there was an absolute explosion of outrage on Twitter from all camps. As is the norm, it wasn't long before a few voices started to question the outrage and those voices became louder and shortly afterwards blog posts started appearing analysing what Ken Clarke had said, picking apart the hyperbole added to his comments by his (now many) detractors.

A good chunk of these posts focused on the facts surrounding the classification of rape and the sentences which as Clarke now knows, is a lot easier when not done live on radio. Some went further and said that those who were outraged were political opportunists or hadn't listened to what Clarke said. It's worthwhile providing the facts of course but opinion remains just that and what follows is mine, for what it's worth.

There are those who have sought and will continue to seek the political win from the situation & Victoria Derbyshire does go for the headline and the sound-bite in much the same way that Stephen Nolan does.

However, Ken Clarke is the Secretary of State for Justice. There is no circumventing that one. Whilst others can try their very best to shape the debate on rape laws, it is only Ken Clarke who is responsible for actually shaping the policy and so it is for him to ensure that he does not put himself in a position where the public, rightly or wrongly, feel his views on rape are not suited to that position. Unfortunately, that is exactly what he has done.

Yes, those that look at the subject objectively can easily see that there is, from a legal point, a difference in the severity of rapes, though the severity for the victim is uniform. But Ken Clarke didn't say that. He referred to 'serious' rapes.

He also appeared to dismiss Date Rape as being in the same category as statutory rape which is quite plainly wrong. One involves consent and one does not. Of course, it is easy to get flustered on the radio and people make mistakes. But again, we must remember that this is the Justice Secretary and he is talking about one of the most serious crimes in our society. Being flippant and speaking without thinking can not be excused.

One final point is that as well as misspeaking, Ken Clarke also misled. When talking about Rape sentences being on average, 5 years, he said that the stats included those cases where the was consensual sex between an 18 year old and a 15 year old. That is completely incorrect. If such cases were indeed in the rape stats it is because a judge has deemed that there was no consent and the charge of rape is as valid in those cases as in any other. Again, this type of flippant attitude to the subject suggest to the public that the Justice Secretary believes that some rapes are just not as bad as others.

Ken Clarke can feel victimised if he wants. His supporters can point to those making political capital or those that just like to be outraged. Others can worry that a sensible debate on rape sentencing is now off the cards, and indeed it may be. But if you're looking for someone to blame for this, the Ken Clarke is your man.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Poots already getting an easy ride?

Last night I finally got round to watching Stormont Today from Monday night. The program featured an interview with the new Minister for Health, Edwin Poots.

It came as no surprise that the issue of Budget was raised quickly. There was no end of arguments between the UUP & it's Minister, Michael McGimpsey and Sinn Fein & the DUP over the budget before the election. As far as the DUP were concerned, the budget given to Health was fair and complaints from McGimpsey that it was inadequate and posed a real risk to the service were invalid and raised for political purposes only.

When asked if he intended to stay within budget, this was Poots chance to state categorically that it wouldn't be a problem. After all, that was the DUP's position 6 weeks ago, why should it have changed. What Poots actually said was that he would aim to work within the budget and that if he needed to ask for more money it would be because he genuinely needed it and not for political purposes.

You would expect that Poots would have been taken to task on this. He had just effectively said that when the UUP say they Health Service needs more money, it's for political gain and yet when the DUP do it, it's genuine. There is no evidence to support this and, ironically, shows that Poots is the one playing politics with health and not McGimpsey. How can he be so sure McGimpsey didn't need any more money before the election, yet after barely a day in the job, he is now not so sure? However, there was no follow up. The interview ended and Poots was able to leave without having to explain his shift in position.

Following that, there is stories in the media today that Poots is going to review the decision of McGimpsey to put the radiotherapy unit at Altnagevin on hold. This story is played pretty positively for Poots because this again is a shift in position from Poots. Before and during the election, much was played by the DUP of the decision to delay the construction of the unit as a mistake and that there were no valid reasons not to go ahead. Why now, does Poots need to review the decision? Why not just reverse it as was the inference from the DUP over the last 6 weeks?

It will be interesting to see how long Poots is given to make the decisions that, 6 weeks ago, he and his party were so sure were easy to make.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Election Posters: Time for agreement.

Halfway through the election I travelled to Scotland and Northern England, by car, and on the whole journey along hundreds of miles of roads and through Glasgow City Centre, I saw a grand total of 3 election posters. A stark contrast to here where, leaning out of my window, I could see more than a dozen within a  20 metre stretch.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Health. UUP must approach it right.

Yes, I did mean to write UUP & not DUP. Whilst the DUP may now have responsibility for health it does not signal an end of the UUP's concern in that Dept...

Why Jim Allister must be heard, if not listened to.

Well, Jim finally got the chance he's been waiting for; a shot at standing up in the Assembly and 'holding the cosy consensus of Sinn Fein & the DUP to account'...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Alliance Party? Practical Politics over Ideology?

I have, on this blog and in public, been critical of the Alliance Party in the past, mostly over what I perceive to be a weak stance on the Union and recently over self praise which I felt was unwarranted. Now, after the election, I feel it prudent to re-examine that criticism and see if it is still valid...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

What now for the UUP?

I had sat down to write a piece about the Ulster Unionists last night and ended up with 5 drafts, all different, all focusing on a particular problem for the UUP and a solution to the problem. In the end, I couldn't actually finish any of the pieces because each one kept leading onto another problem or required another problem sorted first and I got bored of writing about the problems within that once great party.

This is the challenge facing Tom Elliott: if he is to overhaul the party, where does he start?

As in any organisation there is an issue with resource that limits what Tom can do and when he can do it. Not only does he not have enough people to completely reform the party but he doesn't have the right people. I would write that he also doesn't have the support to make he necessary changes but that is an issue of leadership, not resource, and one Tom, and Tom alone must resolve.

Despite this, he absolutely must press on with a complete review of the party structure and the message. The elections are now over and unless there is a general election, he has another 3 years before the next one comes along. Tom should trust his Minister(s) to the task afforded and likewise, leave his MLA's to do their jobs and focus his attention on reform and appoint a working group with a set of objectives. It is then up to Tom to ensure they follow through on those objectives.

There will doubtless be some controversial decisions to be made and there will be those within the party that resist change - there always are - however, these people are, frankly; expendable. If you agree change has to be made in order to survive and then thrive, then those that resist become a liability and a threat to that objective and any value they may have been perceived to offer is negated by their risk.

This all assumes that Tom stays as Leader, of course, but therein lies yet another problem which he will have to address: the UUP is severely lacking in talent and there is no one around to properly challenge him.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Election thoughts 3: Traditional Media should use Social Media.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions about the post title, let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that the BBC, UTV or the Newspapers learn how to use Twitter or Facebook: they already know how. What I am talking about is Traditional Media viewing those who use Social Media (and use it well) as a resource to be utilised.

For instance, this weekend the BBC had real trouble updating their website with information from the count centres. Yes, we knew who had been elected but what everyone was clamouring for were the details. We needed to know the exact count at each stage. Today, during the count for the council elections, the absence of the media was evident. It is a fair guess that such problems are usually attributed to an issue with resources. Budgets obviously have to be considered and it's clear from turnout figures that most of the public aren't all that fussed about the election. But where does that leave those of use who really are interested?

All credit to UTV for working alongside Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole. They took the right approach and didn't try and reinvent the wheel. Why couldn't other news outlets have done the same. Had the BBC had any foresight they could have contacted some of the leading bloggers well before the election and sought some cooperation whereby the bloggers attended each count & provided the BBC with all the data from the counts and, if needed, analysis of that info. This is a win for both. The BBC can provide excellent info and the blogger gets a profile on the BBC.

This could extend in some cases to bloggers/tweeters recording video of announcements/interviews with candidates/speeches and letting the mainstream media utilise that video. CNN have this sort of citizen reporting in the states and it works very well.

These are only 'off the cuff' ideas and I'm sure if those from Traditional Media sat down with those involved with social media based politics many more and vastly improved ideas would form, but the main thrust of my argument is that there is significant resource available to a resource starved industry, they just need to know how to ask for it.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Election thoughts 2: The Online Election?

Dawn Purvis & Conall McDevit both had one thing in common coming into this election; they were incredibly popular online. If facebook friends and twitter followers translated into votes, they both would have romped home comfortably. As it happened, Dawn lost her seat and Conall got in under the quota (yes, I know it's still a  valid seat but lets not pretend he wouldn't have rather topped the poll) and so it's clear that being popular with an online audience is not enough.

Over on arguably Northern Ireland's premier political site, Slugger O'Toole, the activity was steady at best. Similar sites in Scotland however, were flooded with traffic. It's hard to compare like for like of course but I don't think it's overly harsh to say that people weren't exactly desperately refreshing the Slugger home page for more info and opinion.

Where they most certainly were refreshing the home page constantly was the BBC website. Well, they were at first until it became clear that whoever the BBC had left in charge of updating their site had clearly decided to, well, not. They did run a live text feed though which was good of them, however it was mostly devoid of information (at least none that hadn't been posted on twitter 5 mins before) and then when the TV coverage ended at 6pm on Saturday, so did the live feed. Messing about with TV schedules is clearly a big problem. Some chap sitting there keeping a text feed going is not.

An online election? Save for the quite brilliant #ae11 Twitter feed, no. There was no real online engagement from politicians, or at least none that made a difference. The top political site was almost stagnant. The traditional media paid online interaction lip service (UTV, in fairness are getting there). That's not an online election in my book. In the end I found the best election coverage came last week in the Newsletter's election special. Maybe print media still has something to offer.

Election thoughts 1: SF & DUP Transferring to each other?

There's quite a few things I want to write about after the election so instead of one huge post I'll just kick out a few smaller ones on each subject. I'll start with this purely because it's the first thing that came to mind.

There were a few tales over the last few days of several instances of Sinn Fein votes transferring to the DUP on second preferences. There were also tales of it happening the other way around but not in the same quantity. Because of a startling lack of data being made available I haven't yet had the chance to verify the exact numbers but I will at some point. However, if this is the case then it is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of this election.

I had to ask (and indeed did, on twitter) just how such a thing can happen? Put aside for one minute, if you can that Sinn Fein are Nationalists with an enormous capital N and that DUP are Unionists with an even larger sized capital U, the two parties are worlds apart on basic ideology with Sinn Fein being openly socialist and the DUP being to the right of the Conservative Party. Peter Robinson has spoken recently of his belief that many Catholics would identify with the conservative, right wing ideology of the DUP and he's quite right, but where is the consistency?

It was put to me that this was largely about Sinn Fein voters recognising that their best partners in Govt are the DUP and voters sought to ensure that continued. It makes sense to some degree, but thinking about it in more detail none of it adds up. There was no danger of the DUP losing out on top spot and the areas where this has reportedly occurred suggests that these votes were never likely to be of use to the DUP and thus represented, not tactical voting, but genuine follow the heart voting.

So, is Peter Robinson actually right? Were these the transfers of that small band of Sinn Fein voters who actually are conservative right wingers. If so, this could be a real win for the DUP. Not only does it allow them to demonstrate that they can appeal across the community but more importantly, though they'll probably never say so in public, it would suggest that there are those in Sinn Fein who feel the fight for Irish reunification is no longer relevant and so other policy issues take precedent. Of course, that will only be proven if those second prefs actually turn into first prefs in the future.