Friday, 21 November 2008

The Invisible Breakthrough

All has become clear. It appears that the 150 day hiatus at the Assembly has not been about policing and justice at all. The DUP and Sinn Féin apparently saw the economic crisis coming and foresaw that Gordon Brown would react by going on a spending spree. They knew that the former Chancellor’s long term friend Prudence would get ditched and that the financial demands that had previously been stone walled by Brown would be granted. All the DUP and Sinn Féin had to do was to create a crisis, drag it out a bit and then present their shopping list to Brown.
Brown’s clever wheeze to fix the crisis, which has been caused by the fact that we all – government and people - have borrowed too much and spent to much, is to borrow huge amounts and to cut taxes. This is in a bid to encourage us to keep on spending. Hence Peter and Marty’s niggling £100m problem about civil servant back-pay was solved at a stroke of Gordon’s pen. And the problem of having to introduce water charges months before an election – removed in an instant with another bung.

With civil servants wondering round the shops with £100m in their back pockets and shoppers pouring over the border from the South and huge tax cuts being promised next week, retailers at least should have a good Christmas. As for next year…well let’s not worry about that now.
In return, the DUP and Sinn Féin have agreed. It is not very clear what they have agreed to – other than that they will take the money. There is a detailed list of the process by which policing and justice would be devolved but there are no dates. It appears the leaderships of both parties answered the questions about how their respective supporters would react to such a development by deciding not to tell them the detail. This method of leadership has a strong record in Northern Ireland.

As a result, the Executive meet and decided some business! The establishment of the Education and Skills Authority will probably be established but not by its original timetable. The controversial planning policy PPS 14 will be radically changed with the 1 beginning replaced by a 2 and the 4 by a 1 – doubtless the devil is in the detail. The abolition of prescription charges will undoubtedly be welcomed by the small minority of the population who actually pay them.
Irish language, Maze Stadium, academic selection? The solution to these issues appears as invisible as the deal on policing.

Overall it is believed that the DUP have blinked and there is a timetable but Sinn Féin have to live with the fact that it will not be made public.

Conservative and Unionist New Force created

The euphoria (read mild relief) of the breakthrough on the Executive had barely subsided and the cheering crowds have barely had time to return to their homes when the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionists, in a clearly premeditated move, announced that they had concluded a deal on their joint way forward.

Both parties agreed a sweeping Memorandum of Understanding under which future MEPs and MPs elected under their banner will become full members of the Conservative Group in Brussels and the Conservative Party at Westminster.

Sir Reg Empey put the splits of the past behind him and convinced his Party Executive to vote virtually unanimously to form a new electoral force with the Conservative Party. David Cameron and the Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson welcomed the move.

It is unclear whether David Cameron is to attend the Ulster Unionist Conference on 6 December but at this stage it is widely anticipated that he will.