Tag Archives: proportional representation

Northern Irish Politics And Britain’s Wilful Ignorance

Northern Ireland is a bit of a mystery for Tories and many people on the so-called mainland. So it comes as no surprise to The Cat that the historic gains for Sinn Féin and the collapse of the Democratic Unionist Party’s share of the vote in last Thursday’s snap election went under-reported by the British media. More about that later.

For many British people, it’s as if the ‘Troubles’ (I hate that euphemism) never ended and the Good Friday Agreement never took place.  For the Tories, especially, time in Northern Ireland stands still in the year 1984. This is often revealed in the ‘Corbyn and McDonnell appease IRA terrorists’ slur, which is repeated by Tory, UKIP and Lib Dem politicians and the trolls that gather on the ‘below the line’ threads on newspaper websites and blogs like this one.  Centuries of history are simply swept aside along with evidence.

The mainstream media, too, selectively recalls the ‘Troubles’ as a symmetrical conflict between Catholics and Protestants, with the former group often depicted as wild-eyed Fenian bomb-throwers and the latter as oppressed victims of sectarian hatred.  Nationalism, too,  is often conflated with Republicanism. So it comes as a surprise to many that there were Protestant members of the IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army and Catholic Unionists; while Loyalism is a peculiarly Protestant phenomenon and predates Unionism as a political movement. Unsurprisingly, there is  little, if any, mention in the British media of the strong fraternal (sic) ties between the various Loyalist paramilitaries and extreme right parties like Britain First and the British National Party.  The mainstream media’s simplistic narratives deliberately ignore the complexity of Northern Ireland’s politics and gloss over the history of the centuries old occupation of Ireland by the British.

The gerrymandering of Northern Ireland by the Unionists from the inception of the semi-state in 1920 until the 1970s is also ignored by mainstream media commentators. This video from the 1970s describes how Unionists controlled Derry City Council by rigging the wards.

In the years following partition, Stormont was a mostly Unionist institution with nationalists represented by the Nationalist Party, a continuation of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The dominant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which monopolized the Protestant vote, has close ties to the Conservative and Unionist Party on the mainland.

In the first Northern Ireland House of Commons election of 1921, James Craig’s Unionists polled 60 seats with Sinn Féin and the Nationalists receiving 6 seats each. Both parties abstained from taking their seats. This remained the case until 1925, when the Northern Ireland Labour Party gained 3 seats and Independent Unionists took 4 seats from the UUP. This would be the last election to be held using proportional representation. There are no prizes for guessing why PR was abolished in favour of First Past The Post. Single seat constituencies were also created, thus making it doubly difficult for small parties and independents to gain seats. The UUP held onto its unfair advantage until 1973 when direct rule was imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster. Even so, the UUP’s hegemony remained intact until the Northern Ireland Assembly elections of 2003, when it was overtaken by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin.

Success for the DUP at Stormont would translate into success at Westminster, where it eclipsed the UUP. Now part of a power-sharing executive with with its old foe, Sinn Féin, the DUP believed it could keep the Unionist political hegemony alive forever. How wrong they were.

In spite of their historical differences, the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness appeared to get along well as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The press even dubbed them ‘The Chuckle Brothers’.  When Paisley retired due to ill health in 2008, his place as FM was taken by Peter Robinson, who immediately adopted a hardline approach to the Shinners. Robinson would eventually be brought down 8 years later by no less a figure than his wife, Iris, who was involved in an extramarital affair with a man who was nearly 20 years her junior. She also arranged £50,000 of loans for her lover to open a restaurant.

Under Robinson and his successor, the hapless Arlene Foster , the DUP  blocked socially progressive legislation and supported Brexit (they have always been anti-EU), while most voters in the Six Counties supported Remain. The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) or ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, began to drag Foster under.  RHI had been introduced while Foster was Minister for Enterprise and Trade and she was accused by a “senior member” in her own party of withholding evidence from the Assembly.  In response to Foster’s stubborn refusal to resign while investigations took place, Martin McGuinness, who was already extremely ill, resigned as Deputy FM, thus precipitating the election. The DUP has lost 10 seats, while the UUP continues its descent into obscurity having lost one of its six seats. Other smaller parties, like the Loyalist-orientated Traditional Unionist Voice, are static. Only  Sinn Féin and the SDLP made significant gains, while Profit Before People lost one seat.

Yet Foster still refuses to stand down. Even Mike Nesbitt, the leader of the UUP, resigned. The normally Unionist-friendly Belfast Telegraph has urged her to stand aside.

Unionists of all shades – mainstream, moderate and hardline – need to engage in a soul-searching inquest. The fact that Mike Nesbitt so swiftly relinquished his leadership of the Ulster Unionists should not mean that Foster can ignore a similar fate in the DUP.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin is refusing to work with the DUP if they insist on keeping Foster as FM.

There is nothing particularly modern or forward-looking about the Unionist parties and they have held the Six Counties back for far too long. Could this be the beginning of the end for Unionism? I hope so.

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Filed under 2017, Government & politics, Northern Ireland Assembly elections

The Blair-Murdoch Axis And The Lack Of Choice For Voters

We know that the dewy-eyed romantics, collectively known as Blairites (whether they like it or not), will stop at nothing to wrest the leadership of the Labour Party from Jeremy Corbyn and place it in the hands of one their own. They will destroy their party in the misguided belief that they are trying to ‘save’ it.

When Blairites, Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt resigned, they did so knowing that the seats they occupied were marginal. Thus began the latest attempts to remove Corbyn as party leader. The Blairites and assorted plotters have a good deal of financial and moral support from wealthy individuals and hedge funds to the Murdoch propaganda empire and a compliant BBC.

Since last Thursday’s by-election defeat in Copeland (the count itself was conducted unlawfully according to the Skwawkbox blog), the Blairites had been out in force before, during and after, each of them issuing dark threats and repeating the by now familiar canards and logical fallacies.

Whenever you get into an argument with a Blairite, they never hesitate to repeat the claim that “Tony Blair won three elections in a row”. These words are used to ward off any criticism of Blair, but are also deployed as a discussion-killer whenever a Corbyn supporter reminds them of Nu Labour’s  shortcomings.  These words are also detached from reality and presented free of any association from the Murdoch empire and, indeed, history itself. As I have said in previous blogs, that Nu Labour won three consecutive elections isn’t in doubt, but so what? His government did nothing to address structural issues and kept the Thatcher project alive.

Over the course of 13 years, close to 5 million voters abandoned Labour. These voters either voted for another party or didn’t bother to vote at all. Yet, the Blairites and others insist that the only way for Labour to win a General Election that takes place in three year’s time, is not to reach out to these missing voters but to attract Tory voters instead. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this is a winning strategy. Moreover, it suggests to The Cat that this pathetic strategy is merely another ploy to create a situation in which the choices for voters are limited to various shades of right-wing parties, leading to a de facto one-party state. This must not be allowed to happen. Even Thatcher herself admitted that her “greatest achievement” was “New Labour”. Could there be a more clearer indication of how voters are being stitched up?

It’s useful to look at the socio- political climate before the Nu Labour landslide of 1997.  After 18 years of Tory government, first under Thatcher and then Major, people were so fed up that they would have voted for a pig wearing a red rosette. They didn’t vote because Blair promised them anything; all he did was to offer a fresh appearance. For behind the brightly-coloured shop front laid bare shelves. In the postmodern world of politics, what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

Let’s remember that in July 1995, Tony Blair flew half way around the world to meet Rupert Murdoch on an island off the east coast of Australia.  What took place in that meeting is open to speculation but it resulted in Murdoch giving Nu Labour his support.

Only a year earlier, Alistair Darling, the Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, tabled a Commons motion condemning Murdoch’s newspaper price-cutting.

“The newspaper industry is not only an important business but also a vital organ of the democratic process … predatory pricing, with the intention of forcing rivals out of the market, will reduce choice and undermine competition,”

The motion was supported, among others, by Peter Mandelson, then the MP for Hartlepool and a friend of Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupe’s daughter.

If we go back two years earlier to 1992, The S*n produced these front pages.  The one on the left appeared on election day, the one on the right appeared the day after.

The page on the right is supported by the claim in the bottom right-hand corner that the “Truth” had been “hailed by the Tories”.

When Labour lost the 2015 General Election (which is still shrouded in controversy because of the Tory Election Expenses Fraud), the Blairites turned on their leader, Ed Miliband, whom they had been plotting against since he was elected instead of his Blairite brother in 2010. In an article in the Financial Times, George Parker wrote:

Lord Mandelson said Mr Miliband and his supporters had made a “terrible mistake” in abandoning the New Labour centre ground and undertaking “a giant political experiment” that went badly wrong. Asked by the BBC’s John Pienaar what was missing from Mr Miliband’s approach, Lord Mandelson said: “An economic policy.” While many in the Labour party remain stunned by the poll result, Lord Mandelson was one of a number of Blairites who fanned out across the media to try to reclaim the party from the left.

This “centre ground” as the BBC and others like to describe it, is a myth. The centre shifted right under Blair and has continued to do so under successive Tory governments since 2010.  Also quoted in the article is  Blair’s former chief speech writer and now Murdoch hack, Philip Collins.

Philip Collins, a former Blair speech writer and columnist, tweeted that it would take more than five years to repair the damage of the defeat: “That is the price of the Ed vanity project. He lost two elections in one night.”

Collins has also been touring the television and radio studios to issue threats and warnings. The fact that Collins himself shuffled off to join the Murdoch empire so soon after the Blair bandwagon ground to a halt in 2008, speaks volumes and shows us how close the Blairites are to Murdoch.

Yesterday, Collins gleefully tweeted to his followers:

It is partly thanks to the efforts of Murdoch hacks like Collins that Corbyn is 36 points behind May in the personal ratings polls. However, I doubt the people Collins claims are “working class” are anything of the sort.  I mean, how many working class people does he actually know? None, I’d suggest. He’s gaslighting and not for the first time.  Polls are part of a near-perpetual feedback loop that includes negative press coverage. They are a form of confirmation bias that allows Collins and those like him to claim anything he likes.  This, in his mind, is ‘evidence’ that Corbyn must be overthrown.

If today’s coup plotters think that removing Corbyn will magically reverse the party’s poll ratings, then they’re much more naive than they care to admit. If today’s coup plotters think a Blairite or a similar stuffed shirt will make them more ‘electable’, then they are delusional. The fallacious reasoning of the Blairites is only matched by their evident blindness when it comes to the sainted Tony’s failings.

There are times when I think Corbyn and his supporters should split from the rest and form a new Labour Party. This party would be able to move forward, free from the fifth columnists who are more interested in attacking their own party members than the government. Any rump party, regardless of how much money it’s attracted from wealthy donors will soon count for nothing. Why? Because such a party would be deeply unpopular,  and would be forever tainted by its associations with the Iraq War, extraordinary rendition and a disdain for the working class vote that it took for granted for 13 or more years. Corbyn and his team must also embrace proportional representation to give voters a real choice at the ballot box.

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Filed under Government & politics, Labour, Media, propaganda, Tony Blair

So That’s It?

There’s an appalling stench to the election result and it’s one of scaremongering and dirty tricks, but there’s also a faint odour of Labour’s weakness, complacency and drift. Scottish Labour, especially, ran an abysmal catch-up campaign in which they adopted Tory scare tactics to try to frighten voters into returning to them. Labour also made a huge mistake in standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and the Orangemen in the Scottish independence referendum. This, as well as their reluctance to offer a clear alternative vision to voters, cost them dearly not only in Scotland but south of the border too.

The turnout for this election was 66% nationwide.  That’s nothing to crow about.  In French presidential elections, the vote often exceeds 80%. According to the Daily Mirror, in Lucy Powell’s constituency, only 18% bothered to vote in the 2012 by-election.  Yesterday the turnout was 44%. It isn’t great.  That tells us that some voters who would have voted Labour didn’t bother to vote. Then there were the million plus voters who were simply scrubbed from the electoral registers. The Tories were counting on this to carry them over the line. The Greens had around a million voters but only held onto a single seat. Even UKIP’s numbers only gave them one seat.  The Lib Dems apparently got more votes than the Greens. How the hell is this possible? The real issue with this election was the antiquated First Past The Post voting system that favours a two-party system. Times have changed and this is not the 18th century when the only parties in Westminster were the Tories and the Whigs.

Already the BBC’s presenters are doing their best to restrain their joy at the Tory win. Andrew Marr has indicated, in not so many words, that Labour’s salvation depends on a move further to the right. This tells us something else: the range of political and economic discourses permitted in the British media is worryingly narrow. If you have an opposing point of view, it will not get aired either on the BBC or the other channels. If you are allowed on, let’s say, The Daily Politics, you’ll get shouted down, talked over and patronized by the hosts and their right-wing studio guests. You must not question the orthodoxy, for to question it (in the minds of the right) is to spit in the face of God Himself.

For over 30 years, we have lived with a neoliberal consensus that says spending is bad and taxation is evil, yet governments that fail to collect enough tax revenues create huge economic problems for themselves. Governments that refuse to spend money will also run into trouble as the nation’s infrastructure crumbles and public services are driven into the ground. We know the rich don’t rely on public services, so they don’t care and they will even say as much. In the early coalition years, many Tories were practically celebrating the closure of public libraries. “If you can’t afford to buy books, that’s tough. Why should we pay for public libraries” was one such comment I’d read on Telegraph blogs.

So that’s five more years of cuts, cruelty, bullying and lies. Or is it? It’s up to you if you want to roll over and let these bastards trample us into the ground. But that isn’t me and I hope that isn’t you. We need to start our fightback by agitating for a fair voting system.

It’s time to take to the streets. See you at the barricades!

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Filed under General Election 2015

The Cat’s Post-Election Demands

Whoever wins on May 7, we will have to take to the streets and demand fundamental changes to how this country is run. There must be no let up. After the last election in 2010, people marched to demand fair voting. Sadly, the momentum was lost on the first day, when marchers went home after listening to Nick Clegg’s impromptu speech on the steps of Lib Dem HQ. They believed his warm words, but I didn’t. The Lib Dems are flim-flam artists, who will do anything to grab power. The march itself was overwhelmingly bourgeois. I wrote about the short-lived Take Back Parliament movement here.

Here are The Cat’s key demands.

  1. A proportional voting system based on either the mixed members proportional system (in Scotland) or the single transferable vote (in Ireland)
  2. The abolition of the House of Lords
  3. The abolition of the monarchy and, by extension, an end to the Union
  4. A new constitutional settlement for the nations of these islands that is equitable to all
  5. An end to landlordism
  6. Rent controls for private and Housing Association tenants
  7. End Right to Buy
  8. Renationalize the railways
  9. Nationalize the banks
  10. Build more social housing
  11. End the influence of the City of London over our legislature
  12. Regional assemblies for England
  13. The creation of a federal republic

Feel free to add your points to the list.

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Filed under General Election 2015, Government & politics

The referendum on the voting system – why I’ll be voting “No”.

It’s a funny old business, this referendum on the voting system. It’s become a bitter battle between those who don’t want a change in the system and those who don’t want the Alternative Vote ( AV) but see it as a sort of halfway house between First Past The Post (FPTP) and the real deal. That’s how simple it is. No one really wants AV but those who are running the Yes campaign aren’t honest enough to tell you that. They’re too wrapped up in their imaginations.

But those who support the No vote aren’t exactly covering themselves in glory either.  Their campaign has relied on emotional blackmail and cheap tricks. The campaign has adopted an ad hominem tone to it. Nick Clegg has become the object of ridicule for a campaign that has been orchestrated from the Tory side of the argument. Clegg apparently thinks that AV is a”miserable little compromise”. But he accepted AV as part of the coalition deal; he wasn’t politically savvy enough to spot a lemon when it was presented to him as a roadworthy vehicle. Clegg loves the high of being in government. It’s intoxicating.

What has really developed is  a phony war between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – both of them in power but engaging in a little mudslinging for the benefit of the cameras. “Look” say the Lib Dems, “We’re a separate party, with our own identity”. But no one wants to hear it. No one is interested hearing how the Lib Dems are playing nice cop to the Tories’ nasty cop. We’ve read the script, seen the film. One cop is kneeing you in the goolies, while the other is offering to get you a cup of tea. They’re the perfect pair.

I’m voting “No”. Not because I want to screw the Lib Dems (they’ve done that to themselves) but because I don’t believe that AV is any better than FPTP. Proportional Representation in the form of real PR, as exists in Ireland with Single Transferable Vote system  (STV) or the Mixed Member Proportional voting system (MMP) as exists in Scotland, are the real ways forward. Even AV+ is a little better than this AV bollocks.

But do we really need a referendum on this issue NOW? My answer to that question is “no”.

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Filed under Alternative Vote system, Government & politics