Sunday, 26 September 2010

Could the Tories get away with it?

Let's take a hypothetical leadership election in the Conservative party. There are five candidates - four are white males, two are brothers and one asked his wife to stand aside. The winning candidate loses the party membership and its elected representatives, but squeaks through on the back of votes from the CBI, Countryside Alliance, Chambers of Commerce and other affiliiated organisations.

Would the blues get treated with the same (relative) equanimity that Labour enjoyed? Not on your life.

Labour and Swing Voters

A bit of light relief. It was such a joy to come across this line, when trawling through Lord Ashcroft's research on Labour's relationship with the electorate, that I burst out laughing and struggled to stop.

The joke probably won't travel unless you go and read the whole thing, but in the words of one swing voter, asked whether Labour should return to its core values to appeal to the middle classes:

“Aren’t their core values aimed at people climbing chimneys?”

Friday, 24 September 2010

Ed Miliband on Labour in Northern Ireland

Firstly, I must apologise for my recent, thankfully short-lived quiet spell - I've been moving into a new house. Nonetheless I'm back and I spent this evening at a Labour event: "In Conversation with Ed Miliband", chaired by Tony Lloyd MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It was filled with students, and largely full of the usual student questions - pro-Graduate Tax, Green vs. Growth, Electoral Reform. But yours truly got to spring a question on Northern Ireland:

Dil: "Andy Burnham and David have both issued statements indicated a change of attitude towards Northern Ireland, with Mr. Burnham going so far as to state that under his leadership Labour would start to contest elections in the province. Do you support this position?"

Sadly, the answer was a lot less interesting than what one might have hoped for - essentially a lot of stonewalling, talk of being 'open minded' and reference as to how we mustn't disturb the Peace Process. If nothing else, it's evidence that Labour has not yet made up its mind.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Inclusiveness of 'Britishness'

The Spectator carries an excellent article on the subject. I might do a post about how this relates to liberal unionism if I can do so without simply retreading old ground, but this post is just pointing it out for those who aren't regular Coffee House readers.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Shadow of Ergenekon

New-Right has a post about the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan - is pushing for the reforms apparently to bring Turkey in line with the requirements of the European Union. Although the AKP has a slightly more Islamic character than the opposition" Kemalist" Republican People's Party, it nonetheless appears to be the centre-right, pro-western option (I only hesitate because The Economist sometimes appears to treat the respective policy positions of the main parties as reversed, but I can't find something to back that up right now).

Opinion polls show that the majority of the Turkish electorate is ready to vote for the proposed changes, which is good for both Turkey and the West. But it is worth remembering how fragile Turkish democracy can be. The "deep state", elements of the Turkish state that support nationalist secularism over democracy, have cooperated with the military to successfully overthrow elected governments four times since 1950. The Ergenekon trial, described as the 'trial of the century', is the government's confrontation with these counter-democratic elements. And this plebiscite is their attempt to secure these advances with a popular mandate. There are now civilian organs of state, like the Constitutional Court, which can take over the role of safeguarding secularism that was once the preserve of the army. We have to hope they succeed.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A flag for Northern Ireland?

Sad confession: I'm a bit of a flag geek. So the lack of a flag for Northern Ireland bugs me. This post is basically an excuse for me to share this design I did in a fit of 'putting-off-work' a couple of years ago, but I'll also ask: what do other people think a flag of Northern Ireland should be? If not my design below I'd personally support the plain St. Patrick Saltire - it lacks potentially sectarian imagery like the hand and crown whilst expressing positive unionism via being the flag that represents Ireland on the union jack.

However, combining elements of the old Ulster Banner and the saltire looks quite good, IMO.

EDIT: I submitted this design to a facebook group about the NI flag a couple of years ago, and they made a slightly different version.

What flag for the Queen's Irish visit?

The Times today carried an article by Mary Kenny over the Queen's planned official visit to the Republic. It was an interesting article all round, discussing the attitudes of the Irish to the royal family and ending on the cheery note that there is a 'traditional' fear amongst the harder nationalists that the public might like the Queen more than is good for them.

Once question that came up, though, was what flag the Queen should use. The Union Jack is out, in part due to being linked in the Irish consciousness to hardline loyalism, according to Kenny. On previous visits even the 'popular' Edward VII used his 'racing colours' for his official visit there. So what should our Queen use?

I've always been a fan of St. Patrick's Saltire. It's still used by the Church of Ireland, doesn't have the red-white-blue colour scheme that may cause offence to the more sensitive nationalists in the south. Nonetheless, whilst it might make an excellent flag for Northern Ireland, it nonetheless probably isn't suitable for official use by the Queen.

The Royal Standard? Again, as with the saltire, it bears an explicit acknowledgement of the Queen's Irish territories (the harp). It does have the advantage of being relatively obscure and not in any way a part of the Union flag.

I'd really like to hear if people have better suggestions - and have a newfound sympathy for the poor folk who have to manage the protocol of official visits like these.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

What can one say?

Thank you. By some unusual twist of electoral good fortune, this blog has somehow made it into the top 100 Conservative blogs in the Total Politics 2010 Blog Awards (actually its the top 50, but there's no image for that). No. 41...

Given that this blog has not been going long, and took a whole month of that time off after the General Election, it feels rather strange to be receiving this sort of accolade, and especially to be breaking into the top half of the ranking. Now I'll have to shoot for no. 1 next year.

Also, a shoutout to O'Neill over at Unionist Lite, who in spite of consistently telling me he's 'unaligned' is still listed as a top-20 Conservative blog, where be belongs. ;)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Wall Street Journal on the Big Society

For those who don't read American websites very often, I thought I'd link to this short piece on the WSJ website. It's fascinating seeing the sort of solutions to British problems that can be proposed in an American publication - a real prism for seeing the political differences between the UK and the USA.

Anyway, the WSJ takes a wonderfully Liberal (although they'd not use that word) attitude to the Big Society, and I certainly appreciated the fresh perspective on it: I had not previously understoodthe scale of the potential clash between market liberalism and the big society, for a start. I hope this gets a few more people interested in reading foreign political output if they don't already - it can be truly fascinating stuff.


Nothing new to add on my part, just officially registering my delight at the apparent defeat of the 'graduate contribution (tax)'. I wrote to parliament on the issue and published the letter on here back in July, so I'm happy to let all my legions of readers share in my sense of happy closure. ;)

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Labour and Northern Ireland

The Labour Party in Northern Ireland
Ian Parsley recently posted about the changing attitudes of the Labour Party to Northern Ireland. The focus of his piece was on how this demonstrated that it is time for Northern Irish politicians to move on, but it set me thinking about the potential for a transformed and actively unionist Labour relationship to Northern Ireland. Please note, to spare myself the effort of endless equivocation later in the post I will state here that there is of course the option that Labour will simply be ignored or rejected by the NI electorate and get nowhere. I'm not unaware of this when pondering their potential.

The most obvious plus is it would serve as an extension of the Conservative & Unionist attempt to normalise politics in the province by having mainland parties compete there. In the wake of its lack of success elements of the UUP are thoroughly disenfranchised with the project, but for those of us who remain 'integrationist' the aspiration to see the principle parties of the United Kingdom gradually break through in NI remains dear to our hearts, and I for one would be happy to see this come from the left as well as the right.

What would Labour's chances be like? I confess to not being entirely sure. The most obvious potential gain for an electorally active Labour Party in Northern Ireland would be the formal annexation of Lady Sylvia Hermon. Her voting record (back when she attended Parliament, of course) is apparently that of a loyal Labour MP in any case, and holding an MP could give NI Labour a real electoral and profile boost.

Correction: Thankyou to Ian Parsley for pointing out that - whilst Labour sympathetic and voting for them in a confidence motion - Hermon does not have a pro-government voting record from the Labour years.

Beyond that, I can only hazard guesses at how Labour might do. Their relationship with the SDLP will be quite important. Polls suggest that there is a significantly larger proportion of the Catholic electorate that support the union (roughly 25-33% depending on the poll) than actually vote for unionist parties (7%). Two possible factors that could explain this are the overwhelmingly right-of-centre positions of the official unionist parties, and the anti-Catholic (perceived or otherwise) baggage they all carry from earlier times. The Labour Party should suffer from neither of these problems, and could potentially expand the unionist electorate by attracting SDLP-voting Catholic unionists. This in turn could have an important effect in SDLP-contested marginals like South Belfast. On the other side of the coin, that very likelihood could serve to dissuade potential left-of-centre supporters voting Labour if it could lead to a right-of-centre Unionist candidate gaining a seat.

The other potential area of growth for Labour NI is working-class unionists. In the debates in unionist circles over an apparently shrinking electorate, there is a challenge to the 'Garden-Centre Prod' (middle class apathy) theory by those who believe that it is in fact working-class disillusion that is weakening the unionist electoral base. Left-of-centre unionist parties are pretty thin on the ground, with the unattractive Progressive Unionist Party being the only apparent option. Labour could also benefit from the legacy of the peace process, which was delivered during Tony Blair's reign.

But nice as these theoretical advances are, are they or even an actively unionist Labour Party likely? In terms of advances, it would really constitute a test of how far Northern Ireland had moved past sectarianism onto 'bread and butter' issues. On the mainland, the alliance of the working classes and the left-of-centre middle classes is the basis of Labour support, but for such a coalition to work in NI Labour would have to appeal both to working class unionist communities and SDLP-voting Catholics, which might be a tough balance to strike.

Beyond that, taking the Labour Party all the way from Reunification by Consent to outright unionism (by consent, of course) would be a major shift, which may be difficult to implement. Old-school Labour attitudes are still well represented in the party, and not just amongst the old. At my university, the Labour Students and 'Sinners' were practically coterminous. So whilst the likes of John Reid might describe themselves as 'unionist', I doubt it will become an easy label for the wider party to bear any time soon.

Nonetheless, Burnham and Miliband are demonstrating a new attitude to Northern Ireland by at least part of the Labour Party. This blog wishes them the best of luck.