Thursday 20 May 2010

Alliance Party – Little Ulsterists too

The news that "all 13 Northern Ireland MPs are going to be sitting in the opposition benches" is yet another small proof that Northern Ireland is a ‘place apart’ and not really a full part of the UK.

The surprise in this news lies less in the fact that the SDLP – a sister party of the Labour Party – are formally opposing the Tory-led government, or even that the 'Ulster Nationalist' DUP are remaining in splendid isolation, but in the fact that Naomi Long, the Alliance Party’s fresh MP, is joining the SDLP and the DUP in opposition to the Tory-LibDem coalition.

Because the Alliance Party has always portrayed itself as the sister-party of the LibDems – a fellow member of the ELDR group of liberal parties in the EU. This ‘sister party’ status is mentioned in bold on page 36 of their 2010 manifesto and “we are proud to be members of ELDR (the European Liberal Democratic and Reform party) and of Liberal International, in association with the European and international liberal families”, they say on page 44.

And yet, when their sister party gets closer to real power, and when Alliance could have used their sisterhood to exert some small influence over matters that affect them – they actually turned against their sister party and decided to oppose them! And this despite such opposition being futile, as the coalition has a relatively secure majority.

So why did Alliance do it? Why, when closer to power – admittedly twice-removed – than ever believed possible, did they retreat into pointless isolation, choosing as allies the Little Ulsterists of the DUP?

Why did Alliance not choose instead to proudly announce that they, and only they, of the four Northern Irish parties with MPs, actually could influence policy? Why did they not integrate themselves into the ruling coalition, perhaps even gaining a minor role somewhere?

The alignment of the Alliance MP with the DUP and the SDLP is bizarre and counter to all political logic – bar one thing. That thing is that the Alliance Party too sees itself first and foremost as a 'Northern Irish' party and not as a part of the British political mainstream. By joining with the homophobes and bigots of the DUP in order to extract the 'best deal' possible for Northern Ireland, they show themselves to be regionalists who have no great interest in the wider welfare of the UK. This, of course, is music to the ears of (Irish) nationalists, because it demonstrates loudly and publicly that even the internationalist Alliance Party is primarily a Little Ulster party – 'Ulster Nationalists' in the closet, so to speak – though their choice of Westminster seating arrangements on Tuesday shows that they are starting to come out of the closet.

The majority of opinion in Northern Ireland is now clearly on the side of island-based nationalism – Irish in the case of Sinn Féin and the SDLP, 'Ulsterist' in the case of the DUP and now Alliance. This identification with Ireland (in one or other format) rather than with the UK provides an interesting parallel with the situation over 100 years ago when the Irish MPs returned to Westminster also constituted themselves as an 'Irish Party' – concerned primarily with the interests of their country rather than with those of the UK. That situation now appears to be re-establishing itself in a smaller version, with all 13 sitting MPs grouping themselves into a clear Northern Irish block, even in opposition to their own British sister-parties!

The new Northern Irish block demonstrates that the same separatist tendencies exist, even amongst those who proclaim their 'Britishness' most loudly. It tells the world that Northern Ireland is only a semi-detached part of the UK, interested mainly in the hand-outs. It seems that despite the absence of Sinn Féin, sinn féin remains the mantra of the sitting Northern Irish MPs.


hoboroad said...

By Norman Hamill
If it's undesirable for the British to be involved in ruling Ireland (and it is) isn't it also undesirable for the Irish to be involved in ruling Britain? Yet it was a close run thing.
If the deal between Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg had gone ahead the British Government would have also sought or bought support from our motley crew of MPs.

When a cosy deal between Gordon and Nick seemed likely, there was an outpouring of anger iADVERTISEMENT

n England. We'd never seen the likes of it. It was hardly surprising. England voted for the Tories. South of the Scottish border, apart from the big cities, the map of England is solidly blue. Outside England there's hardly a Tory in sight. The map is solidly red. So why should Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland get the government they want and the English get the government they don't want? Life doesn't have to be fair but that would have been spectacularly unfair. The English would have had to pay back the public debt for the rest of us.

Of course, the same notion applies in reverse. Although we have devolution, why should we get the London government we least want? The Tories and the Liberal Democrats didn't win a single seat here.
In the longer run, the answer is Scottish independence and a sovereign united Ireland. I'm not sure what would happen to Wales. Then the English wouldn't have to put up with being bossed by an angry Scotsman or having unsophisticated Ulster people about the place. With self-government we could all make our own mistakes. It would work grand. Sure aren't we all in the European Union?

Mack said...

The only thing is a sovereign united Ireland mightn't neccessarily solve that problem for NI. In the south today support for right-of-centre FF & FG (ignoring any right-of-centre independents) stands at around 60%, compared with support in the north for (economically) right-of-centre at around 16%. And that's only in theory as a good portion of the UCUNF crowd are probably more comfortable with Labour than the Tories economic policies..

Though a counter-argument could be made people aren't really provided with choice on economic policies in the north yet.

Sammy Morse said...

You're tilting at windmills a bit here, Horseman. Your quote from the Alliance manifesto refers to our membership of ELDR and LI. The LibDems are also members of both bodies, and we share many values and get on well, but that doesn't mean that we're subsidiary or subservient to them. It's actually not unusual in jurisdictions where there is more than one LI member party (e.g. Netherlands, Denmark), for one to be in government and one in opposition. That's the sort of diverse, decentralised, ideology that liberalism is.

As for reheating the UCUNF jibes about little Ulsterism, don't make me laugh, you're smarter than that.