Friday, 15 October 2010

Polling day fun

ON 5 May 2011, Northern Ireland will go to the polls – three polls to be precise!

We will get a chance to put our 1-2-3 beside the names of hopeful MLAs, our 1-2-3 beside names of hopeful councillors and a yes or no for the Alternative Voting system.

Of course, we’re now voting for 26 councils, as opposed to the 11 that there was meant to be under the Review of Public Administration here.

This started the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots thinking... You see each council nominated to a Transition Committee to ease the path to reducing the number of local government bodies.

There were 11 such committees, costing about £150,000 each.

By the stroke of a pen they have now been abolished, saving a healthy £1.65m. And, of course with no prospect of there being a reduction in council numbers over the next four or so years, there’s really no need for the committees anyway.

But, we hope that the Minister makes sure his officials keep all the work of the committees on file, so that in a couple of years time they won’t need to start all over again…

In the meantime the councils say that it is the minister’s fault that the reforms haven’t happened and the Minister is saying that the Executive remains committed to reform of local government.

Sure it’s not like the Assembly to have a row…

BACK in the mists of time – well about a year or so ago - there was a media furore about double-jobbing; that practice whereby a politician can be an MLA and an MP. Some even treble jobbed, as councillors, MLAs and MPs.

The mood of the electorate was crystal clear as evidenced by almost unanimous polling, irate callers to radio shows and countless letters to various editors - not to mention volumes of comment in the blogosphere.

So, one would have hoped, that after the temperature of the electorate was gauged to be red hot over this issue, the politicians in the Big House would have rushed to step down from posts. Some have…and some have not.

And so it came to pass that Independent Unionist MLA, Dawn Purvis, brought a Private Member’s Bill to be debated in the chamber that would bar MLAs from being councillors.

An eminently sensible piece of legislation, one would have thought. It did not strike at the parties that held both Westminster and Stormont seats, and could potentially lead to some new blood beginning their political ascent through the electoral ranks.

While the Bill passed with a minor amendment, it resulted in a heated and, at times acrimonious debate in the chamber.

Such was the mud-slinging in the chamber there is now serious consideration by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure that it should nominate the 100-yard political acrimony as a future Commonwealth Games event. As well as our boxers bringing back gold medals, the Northern Ireland MLAs would sweep the boards, catapulting us to the top of the medal league table.

The Bill itself now passes to the Further Consideration Stage when MLA can table more changes, if they wish. And we sincerely hope that as MLAs continue to consider the Bill, they will consider asking their constituents the following question:

“In this time of economic hardship do you consider it right and proper that I have two jobs and you have no job at all?”

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shuffling the deck chairs gets everyone in a spin

YOU can shuffle the deck chairs as the ship lists hard, but ultimately there comes a time when such shuffling only serves to emphasise that all the mixed messages are getting everyone in a spin…and that’s without the spin doctors stepping into the fray!

To review so far:

“The economy is doomed.”

“Oh, no it isn’t!”

“We must fight the cuts.”

“We must take action now to stave off….”

This week saw a media flurry of waffle about a decision that hasn’t been taken yet and no-one will know about until October 20th.

We have the First Minister and deputy First Minister clocking up more air miles to convince the Government that ‘Norn Iron’ is a special case.

We have Peter saying that we need money on capital projects, Martin saying the Brits made a promise to cough up extra cash and the Tories and Lib Dems reneging on that promise.

We have the three devolved administrations issuing a statement that is akin to holding out a begging bowl while turning their tear streaked faces towards the cold Dickensian demeanour of Treasury accountants.

And then we have Nick “Hi, I’m the deputy” Clegg dropping in to hear our politicians’ concerns and promise that the rug will not be pulled out from the Northern Ireland’s economy.

Better still we got a lecture – well seeing as he is a now a mongrel Tory, Lib Dem man, it was more a gentle chiding – that our economy must diversify (sounds suspiciously like what the industry bodies have been saying, but in nicer language).

All this is beginning to get wearisome ahead of what will no doubt be blanket BBC coverage of the Chancellor’s October 20th Spending Review announcement.

But, do not despair! We’ve seen through the motivations! The Sinners want to publicly fight the cuts while privately agreeing them. The DUP want to paint a picture of Northern Ireland driven to the brink, before saying their powerful lobbying saved the day. The Tory and Lib Dem coalition want to say that they have been kinder than they might have been, and then we’ll all realise that whatever way you shuffle the deckchairs we’re all screwed anyway – man the lifeboats!

Analysing a quotation

FORENSIC spin analysis time… On BBC Radio Ulster’s flagship morning news programme Nick Clegg said the following which was later repeated on the Beeb’s news website:

"Over time we clearly need to try and create a NI economy which is more diverse in which you have more people employed in the private sector," he said.

"That's not something you can just wave a magic wand and do overnight.

"We're very aware of that and we're also aware that these are exactly the kind of things we need to consider when we make these decisions about how to deal with the deficit."

First paragraph – sounds quite Conservative, but might be libertarian in a weird sort of way.

Second paragraph – common sense breaks out, but may just be a political aberration, as most people in Government have had their common sense functon permanently removed.

Third paragraph – Nick knows “exactly the kind of things” the Government needs to consider. Well we should bloody well hope so, or he really hasn’t been paying attention. But then comes the “when” word – as in the re-emergence of the blame game…

For those of you who can remember beyond the latest rambling about dire times, the Government offered a deferment of the budgetary slash and burn clearance.

So, when ‘Norn Iron’ and its Celtic cousins reel with fright after October 20th, the Con-Lib Dem coalition can say, well we did try and soften the blow…

In summary – sort your economy out, we have no magic pixie dust, and it’s all your fault anyway, is the essence of the quotation. Thanks Nick. We all fell so much better now!