Tuesday 15 September 2009

Honour in politics

… or 'A Tale of Two Defections'.

On 3 September (then) Sinn Féin Fermanagh Councillor Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh announced that he was resigning from the party and joining the Socialist Party. Ó Cobhthaigh also resigned his seat on Fermanagh District Council, stating that "it would be indefensible to retain a council seat to which I have not been elected (I was co-opted to the seat in 2007)".

On 11 September (then) Alliance Party North Down Councillor Ian Parsley announced that he was resigning from the party and joining the Conservative Party. Parsley, however, did not resign his seat on North Down Borough Council, saying that 'he planned to stay on as a councillor in North Down and would likely be changing his designation'. He said 'he was mindful he had been elected by Alliance voters and would work closely with the party'.

The there are two differences between Ó Cobhthaigh and Parsley.

One is that Ó Cobhthaigh was co-opted to replace a colleague who resigned, while Parsley was elected on the surplus of a more popular party colleague. Whether Ó Cobhthaigh would have been elected on his own merits we cannot know (unless he stands for election again), but he recognised this and in a spirit of genuine democracy, decided to allow the electorate to have the representation it had shown that it wanted.

In 2005 Parsley received the lowest vote in Holywood (343 votes, less than half a quota) and was elected only because his party colleague David Alderdice received such a high vote and had a large surplus to pass to Parsley. It was Alderdice's popularity that got Parsley elected, not Parsley's.

Parsley defected from the Alliance Party, a party in the liberal democratic tradition, officially neutral on the constitutional question, to the Conservative Party, a right-wing avowedly unionist party. Under no circumstances can this be taken to be what the voters voted for. In 2001, when the voters of Holywood were last offered a Conservative candidate (the late Lindsay Cumming), he got a mere 188 votes (3.1%) – showing the almost complete absence of Tory support in the area at the time.

Yet Parsley considers that it is morally acceptable to retain, and no doubt use to raise his own profile, a council seat won on the strength of another man's popularity and the public support for a different (and often opposing) political tradition.

And that is the second difference between Ó Cobhthaigh and Parsley - Ó Cobhthaigh is an honourable man and Parsley is not.

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