Monday, 1 February 2010

The Waiting Game

ONE of the advantages of writing articles for email and internet columns is that it is not driven by deadlines. No need for an on-the-spot analysis for the 6.30 news, no need to guess outcomes before the presses roll, and no need to try to interpret mood music.

Instead, as we trundle through talks about talks on the devolution of policing and justice, one can wait to see whether the mythical ‘deal’ can be struck.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

Throughout these past several days we’ve waited.

There have been swings of optimism, there have been prime ministers, and there has been the constant presence of deal cheerleader-in-chief Shaun Woodward. There have been harbingers of sorrow and smiling faces all round; depending on the time of day, the quality of lunch… or hunger pangs through late night sessions.

When initial talks on Monday of last week collapsed with nary a deal in sight, Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen flew in like erstwhile heroes of old, (Blair and co) ready to bang some heads together, cosy up to fragile egos and try to find that perpetual sweet saviour of democracy, fudge.

After two days and nights, Gordon headed off to try and sort out an easier task, Afghanistan, and Brian to tackle the mere ticking irritation of a ruined economy.

But, with barely suppressed irritation, the premiers said sort it out in 48 hours or we’ll publish our proposals.

Come Thursday happy faces. Come Friday gloomy faces.

And we waited.

Deal – everybody’s happy? No deal the twitterers and bloggers announced.

Come Saturday we we’re still waiting.

But as snow flurries flicked the lens of waiting cameras outside Hillsborough Castle dusk brought another change of soundbite tone.

Now the DUP, through Edwin Poots were saying there had been ‘advancement’ and Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said he and his party colleagues were ‘optimistic.’

But the biggest sign of progress was that Shaun Woodward had moved from cheerleader to the tone of a cautious coach for a team heading inexorably towards league victory. He said there was still ‘work to be done’, as all good coaches say when their team needs to dampen down hyperbole and focus on the oft-quoted ‘task at hand’.

So, what can we expect come the start of a new week in the devolution waiting game.

The parties speak to their Assembly groupings, get a cautious thumbs up and proceed to Hillsborough for a nice meal and the final dotting of the ‘Is’ and crossing of the ‘Ts’?

A weekend of reflection makes all the parties realise that the food is quite nice in Hillsborough Castle and maybe they could string it out for another few days to sample more fine cuisine?

It all goes to hell in a hand basket again; Gordon washes his hands of the lot of them malingering MLAs and we get an Assembly election that no-one wants, needs or at very least can delay until the Westminster poll date in May?

Which, of course is an election that will be described by some as a referendum on the deal on the devolution of policing and justice, but all concerned may wish that it wasn’t.

Reading the runes from elections past and present is a risky game trying to make predictions, especially when the vast majority of the electorate, apart from the people who ring into morning talkshows, are thoroughly bored with what passes for politics here.

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