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Geese and Ganders… or the forward march of Fianna Fáil (in the North). Halted. July 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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Hard not to see yet a further example of the lack of substance of the Ahern years when one reads two entirely distinct but interlocking articles on the North in the Phoenix and the Irish Times.

In the Phoenix one reads that “Soldiers of Destiny Retreat from North” and it continues by pointing out that:

Following Ahern’s surprise announcement last September that Fianna Fáil were considering organising in the North, the party signed up a clutch of new members in the North’s third level insitutions. They then formally registered as a political party in Norn Iron in December and set up a northern strategy committee chaired by Dermot Ahern. It looked as if was only a matter of time before Fianna Fáil gobbled up what’s left of the SDLP and challenged Sinn Féin for the northern nationalist vote.

Hmmmm. Well, after the not entirely resounding success of the Lisbon campaign one might wonder what the ‘strategy committee’ were at. And indeed the Phoenix notes that:

A series of statements that have gone unnoticed in the Republic indicate a retreat of Russian winter proportions (pedant alert – do Russian winters retreat in quite the way implied here?). Visiting Belfast a fortnight ago the Taoiseach was asked what progress his marching column had made. Standing beside Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP’s only minister in the northern assembly, he told the media, ‘There is no imminent possibility of Fianna Fáil organising in the North’.

Which will as the Phoenix also records come as cold comfort to those within the SDLP who have seen the ‘Republican Party’ as the vehicle for their salvation in the context of their slow demise in the face of Sinn Féin.

And the reasons for this are obvious. The Phoenix points to the upcoming Euro-elections and asks ‘could Fianna Fáil get their act together in the North in time?’. The answer is probably not. But a more interesting and fundamental aspect of this is also suggested by the Phoenix. ‘Dermot Ahern has already said that Fianna Fáil would not stand for Westminster elections’, and the upshot of this would be entirely predictable. ‘That would automatically hand Sinn Féin seven nationalist seats in 2010 if Fianna Fáil did not allow the SDLP’s three MPs to stand. is that really conceivable?’

No, it clearly isn’t. But the result of such a ‘strategy’, if implemented, would be to further embed Sinn Féin as the de facto governing party of Northern nationalism. And even were we to see a Jesuitical division worthy of de Valera between the posited union of SDLP and FF during Westminster elections it would still leave political advantage with a Sinn Féin willing to go half the distance (to Westminster, while abstaining) and reap all the spoils in terms of political and public profile.

So where then would the supposed lustre added by FF shine? Local elections? Assembly elections? The former would be an irrelevance to Dublin, the latter, well now, that might be an equal prize. But… in the context of their unwillingness to stand up and be counted in the communalist headcount that Westminster elections tend to represent they would be continually somewhat less than fully engaged. And let’s not ignore the power of communalist thinking in all this. The support of a sponsor from the South – particularly as a means of cementing the current structures – would be a powerful political tool.

So, what’s left? The Phoenix suggests that ‘the alternative is to develop the SDLP more brazenly as Fianna Fáil’s northern wing… it’s second best but…it’s a link with Fianna Fáil which gives the SDLP the all-island dimension it craves’.

Thinking about that last sentence it is true that for the SDLP there is an increasing necessity to be able to project themselves as a more significant entity than a ‘regional’ party. In the past when Sinn Féin were beyond the pale that was easy. We all recall the procession of the great and the good North (for those of us based in Dublin) to assist the SDLP in their electoral ventures. And indeed that dynamic may have, in retrospect, turned out to be a somewhat mixed blessing, since the SDLP can point to a very mixed set of family connections with at various points FF, Labour and even Fine Gael links. Untangling them has proven difficult – and indeed impossible in terms of one obvious lash-up between the SDLP and the Irish Labour Party.

But consider another implicit aspect of the last sentence in the Phoenix. Why is it that Fianna Fáil doesn’t crave an all-island dimension? Does this not tell us some intriguing things about that party and how perception and reality are more than slightly detached from each other?

And in a way this is what I mean when I suggest that this mess, and what is it other than a mess, is entirely symbolic of the Ahern years. Because it underlines the gulf between the lofty rhetoric and the reality of having to seriously engage as an all-island, all-Ireland party. Or – to put it another way – the sort of cant that goes down well at an Ard Fhéis, and maybe gives a small fillip to poll ratings, and the real work that has to be done beyond those four walls. Now, in fairness one might say that Fianna Fáil may well be looking at the more than mixed experience of Sinn Féin, which remains stunted in the South in contrast to its buoyant performance in the North and that hard-headed pragmatism may make that particular example a source of thoughtful reflection and ultimately a decision that there is no purpose to be served by expending political capital on a project with no clear positive outcomes. I can’t help but think that that too is very telling about the realities of the contemporary North/South dispensation. And also about what is achievable in the short term.

But, as if to underline that, here comes another small piece of information that explicates another reality, that of the North/East axis. For while Fianna Fáil near-silently pulls back (and that silence is understandable – I know I’d keep pretty silent if I was them under these circumstances) other political links are being forged. As the Irish Times noted on Friday:

[David] Cameron and UUP leader Sir Reg Empey announced the formation of a working group to examine possible benefits of greater co-operation between the two parties.

“What I would like to see is the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party actually come together and create a new force in Northern Irish politics,” Mr Cameron said yesterday.

“I think it would be good for Northern Ireland politics. Politics in Northern Ireland should not be just about Orange or Green and constitutional issues; it should be about national politics as well. And I’d like to give people in Northern Ireland a chance to take part in a party and politics that are about all of the issues that we care about,” added Mr Cameron.

And this wasn’t just whistling in the wind. For the leadership of both parties were both involved at a high level in proceedings (unlike the Fianna Fáil machinations).

While it will take months before the working party reports, Mr Paterson and Sir Reg were well disposed to the proposal. Were it to get the go-ahead, it is likely that the first election contested on a joint Conservative-UUP ticket would be next year’s European Elections, with UUP MEP Jim Nicholson running, Sir Reg suggested. Mr Nicholson is linked with the Conservative group in the European Parliament.

Now, early days yet. But, while I have no liking at all for this proposal and tend to think that the protestations by Cameron and the UUP that “We want the very best possible relations with the Irish Government . . . I can’t see how this could but strengthen relations.” is entertaining only because it is so clearly incorrect, at least one can say that this is the way to do things.

And here’s a few other thoughts.

[Owen] Paterson [Conservative Party spokesman - and someone worth watching I'd suspect] said “absolutely”, when asked whether it was possible that an Ulster Unionist MP or Ulster Unionist member of the House of Lords would be in David Cameron’s government, should the Conservative Party win the next general election.

“We are the only national party offering access to voters in Northern Ireland to have a real say in getting members elected, not just to Westminster but to actually getting them in a Westminster government,” he said.

For the DUP this is far from the happiest news possible. They may well claim that ‘this posed no threat to the DUP’, but on a political level even the hint that the UUP may have the option of some degree of governance at a UK national level should provide some small boost to their declining fortunes. And while it tends against the devolutionary approach of the UUP over the past decade or so it makes entirely coherent political sense. Moreover for Cameron it assists in his project by presenting him as a man of the Union – in the broader sense, a fit with the UUP that, for its many flaws, is not entirely divorced from both his supposed social liberalism and his conservatism.

And to return to the South, could one deny Reg Empey his moment in the sun and perhaps – and I assume he’s better informed on these matters than most – a little schadenfreude?

Sir Reg said the UUP also enjoyed good relations with the [Irish] Government but referred to how Fianna Fáil was considering setting up in Northern Ireland, possibly in a link-up with the SDLP. “The principal Irish Government party has decided to organise in Northern Ireland. So ‘shock horror’ we decide to look at the possibility of working together with a national party here,” said Sir Reg.

And, to add a little salt – I mean of course sauce – into the wound…

“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I don’t see any possibility of this affecting relationships at all,” he added.

It sure is. Assuming the goose is interested. Which it isn’t.

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Comments»

1. skidmarx - July 29, 2008

“A series of statements that have gone unnoticed in the Republic indicate a retreat of Russian winter proportions (pedant alert – do Russian winters retreat in quite the way implied here?). ”

Sive you’ve opened the door the pedantry, can I point out that what seems to be meant here is a retreat in the face of the approaching Russian winter, as might be practised by invaders from the West.Quite what the seasonal variation is like in Russia I don’t know, I’m not a geographer. Kropotkin was, perhaps he wrote something on the subject.

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2. splinteredsunrise - July 29, 2008

Then again, there are people in the SDLP who would probably be happier in FG or Labour, hence Eamonn McCann’s old quip that there were three persons in John Hume.

The restoration of the Tory-UU link keeps on being mooted, and it might be worthwhile for the entertainment value of David Trimble becoming northern secretary. Although I still think it would make as much sense for the UU’s to merge with Fine Gael.

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3. Michael - July 29, 2008

This is an interesting development and is timely for me as I was considering this matter only yesterday.

I am not surprised and feel that for FF, the SDLP and the people of the six counties this might be for the best. FF would simply offer an alternative to SF as a populist party for Nationalists – this may appeal to some, and it may not necessarily be any bad thing, but it will not advance politics in a very meaningful way in the North. Furthermore the UUP-Tory linkup (or rather restating of a relationship that already exists) is indicative of what may be an alternative for the SDLP.

Everyone is focussing on the SDLP looking for a southern partner – however as with the UUP, a more obvious answer may be to restate its ties with its British sister party, the Labour Party. In addition to strengthening ties with them however we may also see the Irish Labour Party joining in with this – a sort of coming together of the three parties. Yes it would be a coming together of the Irish Labour Party and the SDLP but with MPs taking the Labour whip at Westminster and possibly becoming Cabinet Ministers in a Labour government. This would be a logical centre-left counter to the coming together of the UUP and Tories as a centre-right grouping.

As you correctly imply Westminster elections in the North have largely become sectarian headcounts. The result is that the North, which is largely governed from Westminster (I appreciate there is now an Assembly in recent times but broadly the point stands) has become detached from it. Much as it may stick in the craw, people in Crossmaglen are Subjects of the Queen and are entitled to the same treatment as her Subjects in Manchester. The laws are passed in Westminster yet it’s difficult to argue that the peole engage meaningful in any debate, firstly because the elections are a sectarian headcount and secondly because their MPs either have little influence or in the case of SF don’t show up on principle. Hence you end up with a scenario such as the UK abortion laws that don’t apply in the 6 counties and which – according to Diane Abbott MP who is leading a campaign to have these laws extended there – leads to women in the north having even less rights in this area than women in the 26 counties.

Now coming back to the idea of a 3-way alliance, it is best to consider this from the perspective of a Protestant/Unionist perspective rather than from the Nationalist perspective that may come more naturally. If you are someone from this background currently your choice is between a populist party but with a very reactionary right-wing tendency and the Tory Party. Now if you are a conservative minded Unionist that’s fine – one can vote for the party that is likely to form the next UK government. Or alternatively the DUP. However is it fair to argue that every Protestant in the six counties is conservative/right wing? Of course not. However for historic reasons unfortunately these people cannot bring themselves to support a party with nationalist links. In the event that a party broadly representative of the main opposition in the UK were in the mix however that could change.

The involvement of a southern Labour Party would act as a balance to appeal to the Nationalist voter.Then there would be an alternative available to those Nationalist voters of a left-leaning disposition (in spite of the rhetoric SF, particularly in the north, are a populist party). Over time conservative Nationalists – and no more than the case with not all Protestants being conservative, not all Catholics/Nationalists are left-leaning – would probably bring themselves to support the Tories.

This may sound fanciful but it is worth looking at Scotland, a country that sadly has a sectarian problem too. While indeed there have been traditional sectarian-based voting patterns in Scotland over the years, the fact that Labour dominates would indicate that people of all backgrounds have given them a reasonable level of support. The Tories have produced Catholic MPs from Scotland – Michael Ancram for instance – and latterly the SNP, a party that once upon a time not so long ago led a ‘keep Scotland Protestant’ campaign has discovered a broader sense of Scottishness and last week won a by-election in the heart of Glasgow Celtic territory!

We’ve even seen in the Assembly elections in the North the Greens win an Assembly seat in North Down. There is scope for normal politics to emerge in the six counties. Granted for a reasonable time to come we probably will see the two populist parties win the biggest votes – much as we see FF and FG do in the 26 counties – but there will be support for both the ‘Tory’ and ‘Labour’ parties.

Will this happen? Well probably not you would think on current trends. But maybe Labour will see this opportunity, particularly as the mooted FF link-up, which some were seeing as close to a done deal, may not now happen.

Finally on a related matter, the possibility of David Trimble becoming a Cabinet Minister in a Tory government. I think you can take this as a given – it was reported in either the Telegraph/Guardian that he (and specifically he) will be a Cabinet Minister in the Cameron government, although a post was not stipulated.

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4. WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2008

skidmarx (interesting username btw :) )… I know, I know. It is indeed the retreat from Moscow, but… it’s just the way it was phrased in the Phoenix article that made me look askance at it.

Splintered. It’s a new world, and no mistake. Still, if this had legs it would be both entertaining and perhaps worrying.

Michael that’s an interesting idea – and a very comprehensive comment as well – and one I haven’t heard before, a tripartite arrangement with Labour UK and RoI. It sort of makes sense and certainly makes sense particularly in the context of ideology. That said, how would it work. Already they’re all three members of the SI. But I guess it could be a bit like the Green Party lash up which is North/South but fairly autonomous in its constituent parts. Difficult though to know whether that would ‘normalise’ politics in the North. What I wonder is normal in that context?

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5. Michael - July 29, 2008

Well the Greens are in an easier position in a sense in that they’re a ‘niche’ party and there is no need for them to define themselves – the name itself tends to be sufficient to explain their position.

It’s worth noting that politicians from the North have made an impression in UK politics in the very recent past. For instance Kate Hoey – who is from a Unionist background – was a Junior Minister in the first Blair government. Brian Mawhinney held senior positions in the Major cabinet (including a spell as party chairman). Clare Short, although English born and bred, has strong family links with Crossmaglen. Granted these politicians got those positions from a base in English constituencies – and bar Kate Hoey I don’t think any of them had a background in Irish parties. Still it shows there is a potential for politicians in the North to play a role in what we might term ‘normal’ politics.

In terms of what I mean when I talk about normal politics, I mean where the issues at stake are health, education, economics, environment etc as opposed to the ‘constitutional’ issue or the sectarian headcount. I firmly believe that there is a desire in the 6 counties for such a normal politics to emerge and that it will over time. This may be more complex however than FF simply moving onto the scene. The ultimate aim would have to be where people from both tribes can vote for a particular party – be that a centre-right, a centre-left or a centrist or populist party.

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6. WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2008

Yeah, I take your point about the Green Party.

Kate Hoey was closish to the WP, or perhaps the truth was that WP members saw her as a like mind. Of course wasn’t Carson involved at Cabinet level way back when?

I’d agree that normal politics as you describe it probably will emerge and clearly it will do so in the absence of FF. I really do like your joint linkages idea for parties to both the UK and RoI. It sort of fits with splintereds – I presume joking – point about UUP/FG. Still, that has interesting ramifications too. I can’t see FG being too keen to be linked directly to the Conservatives, although is it my imagination or do they sit in the same group in the EP?

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7. Michael - July 29, 2008

Indeed FG do sit in the same group as the Tories – although Cameron is supposedly planning to have them leave and set up a new ‘Eurosceptic’ grouping. Of course FF have had some ‘colourful’ partners in Europe over the years. Although traditionally FF used to link up with the French Gaullists, but now Sarkozy’s party (and I appreciate the Gaullists in France are spread over different parties) are in the same group as FG. The European alliances tend to be very loose, and are often (certainly as far as Irish MEPs go) drawn together with practical as much as ideological reasons.

For FG to join up with the UUP would be difficult though. In fact it’s hard to see a link-up for FG in the North, bar perhaps the Alliance (John Cushnahan of course moved from Alliance to FG many years ago). Somehow I can’t see the Peter Barry wing of FG taking too kindly to aligning itself at this stage with a Unionist Party. The other difficulty for FG – much as it is for FF – is that they are essentially lacking in ideology and would have to compete with SF for what might broadly be called the ‘polulist’ voters. Added to this is the difficulty of – however unfairly or otherwise – being tarred with a certain brush from the Bruton days that will turn Nationalists off them.

Whether FF and FG do choose to go North is unclear but if they do I suspect they will end up challenging for that populist vote – maybe that appeals to them and they could do very well as they have down south. However the opening for the two Labour Parties and the Tories appears more clearcut and would be far more interesting and far-reaching in its impact. Incidentally the Tories have contested Westminster elections in the past and in 1992 they finished in the runner-up position in North Down but made little impact otherwise. This however was in the context of an election where little effort was made by parties to bring the debate away from the constitutional issues. An election where parties fighting to be in power in Westminster as well as the Assembly and local government might create a very different context.

On the matter of Kate Hoey, she has had quite a colourful journey. She has now taken up an advisory role in Boris Johnson’s London cabinet, while still remaining a Labour MP much to the annoyance of Labour colleagues!

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8. WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2008

That certainly makes sense about populism being the niche for FG/FF. And I think you’re right about this brand of Toryism in a linkup with the UUP being much more effective than the previous one, not least because it wouldn’t be in competition with the UUP. That said couldn’t it lead to the DUP assuming a more populist face – and who knows where that would end? :)

Yeah, that’s true about KH. Can’t help but feel she’s one of politics mavericks. And not necessarily in a good way. But, perhaps consistent by her own lights.

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9. crocodile - July 29, 2008

Wasn’t Kate Hoey a Minister for Sport at one time, until something happened – maybe it was discovered that she actually knew something about it.

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10. WorldbyStorm - July 30, 2008

:)

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11. Dunne and Crescendo - July 30, 2008

‘Although I still think it would make as much sense for the UU’s to merge with Fine Gael.’
I’d say your a Nordie Splintered. Fine Gael is a much more nationalist party at root level than it might seem from Belfast or indeed from John Bruton, who was not the typical FG man ideologically (although being a Meath rancher he was more representative socially). A good number of the FG party would see themselves as descended from the original Sinn Fein and especially from the Michael Collins/Richard Mulcahy wing of the independence movement. Their hatred of the Provos and by implication resentment of northern nationalists should not be taken as a love or understanding of the unionists. Like the other main populist party in this state there are many factions in FG of course but to see them entirely as a west Brit outfit is wrong. Even Garret the good is extremly proud of his family’s background in the revolutionary movement. And unlike Charlie Haughey at least one of Garret’s parents was anti-treaty!

(John Cushnahan of course moved from Alliance to FG many years ago).

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12. Dunne and Crescendo - July 30, 2008

Sorry in reference to Michael’s point and quote above, Austin Currie of the SDLP moved south and stood for FG as well.

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13. Phil - July 30, 2008

A good number of the FG party would see themselves as descended from the original Sinn Fein

A Brit Who Has Read About This Stuff But Remains Confused Writes: is there anyone in Irish politics who doesn’t claim descent from 1916?

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14. ejh - July 30, 2008

I think the PDs claim descent from Voltaire. Or possibly Margaret Thatcher.

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15. Dunne and Crescendo - July 30, 2008

Re PDs, and recognising ejh’s tongue is in cheek; Michael McDowell claims to be a republican and notes his forebears include Eoin McNeill, and relatives on both sides of the Treaty split.

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16. WorldbyStorm - July 30, 2008

Hmm, good question Phil. The PDs didn’t. Democratic Left didn’t. Not sure about the Socialist Party – although the lineage would be confused (or enhanced?) by their period as Militant…

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17. Michael - July 30, 2008

Kate Hoey was indeed Minister for Sport (which is a junior ministry in the UK) for a while in Tony Blair’s first government. She has a big sporting background and her role in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet will be as an advisor on matters relating to the 2012 Olympics. Interesting as well on this matter, and another Irish angle, that when she first won a seat in a by-election in the late 80s the two Irish internationals playing for Spurs at the time Chris Hughton and Tony Galvin were very prominent in her campaign.

In terms of the UUP/Tory linkup one interesting point I’ve seen made (albeit only in passing and not elaborated on) is that David Trimble was always a One-Nation Tory anyway so that it’s only a natural move for him. Leaving aside the issue of what he always was or wasn’t the description of him as a ‘One Nation’ Tory is interesting in a UK context.

The Tories are a complex party and are comprised of a number of different groupings – see today’s article by David Milliband in The Guardian in which he mentions in passing that ‘Mrs. Thatcher was not a conservative, she was a radical’ or as I heard the journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft say recently ‘on balance I don’t think she was a Tory’, meaning ‘Tory’ in the cultural sense. The two competing wings in the modern party (say since the early 1970s) are what are broadly called ‘The Thatcherites’ and ‘The One Nation Tories’. There is a smaller group of social conservatives/traditionalists, although the Tories in the last 40 years don’t have a great history of conservatism on moral issues (for instance they are pro-choice on abortion, partly because they rely heavily on female votes as in Britain women tend to be more favourable to the Tories than men). Hence the tension is typically between the Thatcherites and the One Nation Tories.

The One Nation wing – in simple terms referred to as the left wing of the Tory Party – would not be so dogmatic on economic policy, would be more liberal on social issues, would see the value of public services, would be more open minded on matters of immigration and of course more favourable towards Europe. The Thatcherites would be heavily individualistic on economic matters, favouring private wealth at all costs over public servicesa nd almost exclusively hostile to Europe. There would be mixed views on social issues within this wing, some quite conservative but others more inclined to extend their preference for individualism into this area.

In the 1990s Major government, while Major himself was seen as not belonging to either group specifically (indeed initially people thought he was the Thatcherite candidate and she did make no secret that she wanted him to suceed her) his Cabinet was very biased in favour of the One Nation group, particularly when Norman Lamont resigned as Chancellor in 1993. People like Kenneth Clarke, Michael Hestletine, Douglas Hurd, Michael Howard, Malcom Rifkind, the afforementioned Brian Mawhinney and Stephen Dorrell held the big positions for the bulk of the time. These would broadly (albeit some more so than others) be seen as belonging to the One Nation wing. People may recall that when the Tories were annihilated in 1997 the greatest glee was reserved for the defeat of those from the alternative leadership of the party – Portillo, Lamont, Niall Hamilton (who was a staunch member of the widely perceived racist ‘Monday Club’) – and the removal from office of Peter Lilley, John Redwood etc.

Nevertheless the Tories in the aftermath of 1997 moved to the right, indeed at times they resembled more of a reactionary right-wing think-thank than a plausible alternative government. The result has been that the One Nation wing is quite weak in the Tory Party that may take power in the next two years. Perhaps Dorrell and maybe Rifkind will be in line for Ministries. Otherwise we are likely to see a party that is very Eurosceptic and perhaps isolationist and dominated by that side of the party.

Granted the point has also been made that the Tory policy platform is currently quite centrist – and the point has been made that Britain as a society has changed since 1997. For instance the Shadow Cabinet has two gay members – bear in mind in 1997 the ‘Section 28′ provisions banning schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ were still in place. All parties now accept that the British public values public services. Nevertheless let’s not forget George W. Bush was elected on a ‘compassionate conservatism’ platform but with a pledge to withdraw America from much of its active engagement with the world unless it was in its interests. And look at where his unilateral approach has led to – and indeed how ‘compassionate’ his conservatism has been.

With this in mind if Cameron really is reaching out to alternative views of Conservatism that is a welcome development. Trimble himself may seem an unlikely hero but this is a man who has had to face the reality of negotiating with people whom he believed would have liked to (literally) kill him. He was forced to compromise to an extent that most British MPs will never be forced to. If – and it’s too soon to say – Cameron is prepared to call on a broader church then that has to be a good thing.

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18. WorldbyStorm - July 31, 2008

Some very interesting points Michael. Trimble of course crops up in ops like the Henry Jackson Society, so not merely a One Nation Tory, but also an Atlanticist. What though do you make, in view of your point about euroscepticism in the CP, of Cameron’s policy of a referendum on Lisbon only if the Irish situation isn’t – ahem – sorted. In a way I agree with you that a broader Conservative Party would be per se a good thing. But I don’t think given what you say that that extends much beyond social policy spheres. Economically, for all the rhetoric it remains essentially Thatcherite (not least where this overlaps with social policy – such as the role of charities to take up societal slack).

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19. Michael - July 31, 2008

I was very surprised to hear Cameron and Hague pledging so strongly last weekend to hold a referendum on Lisbon if it remains up in the air if and when they take power. From this I would be inclined to suspect that the Tories don’t expect it will be an issue come that time and that it will be sorted one way or another. I just cannot see Cameron and Hague wanting Europe to be a dominant issue. Especially as the next Tory government, whenever it happens, will be the first since the one that got torn apart on Europe. If it spends its time engaged in a row with Brussels, it will leave anyone who wished to argue ‘look, they’ve never changed’ shooting into an open goal.

As regards their overall approach to Europe, I’m reminded of a soundbite from one Eurosceptic Tory grassroots member at the time of the Major/Redwood showdown in 1995- ‘Maggie bless her articulated all our views with all her usual viguour, and then went and signed all the Treaties anyway’. Admittedly in Thatcher’s time she did face a divided Tory Party and one of the issues that helped bring her down was a feeling that her Eurobashing rhetoric had gone too far.

The difference this time is that the party is seen as less divided and should Cameron wish to pursue a sceptical line he is less likely to be challenged in the way she was. However in terms of how this would manifest itself, that is less clearcut. I don’t really see the UK retreating into its shell but they will most likely seek opt-outs in areas of labour law (as they did under Major as regards the Social Charter) and maybe defence.

As regards the ‘special relationship’ with the US, that is an interesting area. It might have been expected, especially with a Republican leadership (and a very assertive one at that) in place in the US that the Tories would have been staunchly pro-American in recent years but they have instead been quite ambiguous. While the party did vote in favour of the Iraq war in 2003, several leading Tories were opposed including Clarke and Rifkind who was apoplectic.

It also has to be remembered that public opinion in the UK has always been very suspicious of the Bush administration – back in 2003 while it was a divided nation, the polls all showed a majority against with the exception of the first few days of the war when public support for the troops rallied – and certainly now the people are very hostile to the administration. One of the biggest criticisms made of Blair for bringing the UK into the war is that no British PM will ever be able to bring the UK into war again, even if it may be in the country’s interests.

In 2004 polls showed the British people favoured Kerry in much the same way as the other European countries (except interestingly Poland). I remember on the night of the election several Tories on BBC saying they wanted a Kerry win.

The fact that the Tories and Republicans are ‘sister parties’ shouldn’t be taken too seriously however in terms of how it may affect US/UK relations. Some of the more proactive relations between the two countries have been Tory/Democrat (Churchill/Roosevelt) and Labour/Republican (Blair/Bush). The nature of the relationship largely depends on how the two leaders get on at the time and this will also be the case with Obama and Cameron.

I think from Ireland’s perspective a very interesting aspect of our international relations over the next few years could be the Ireland/US aspect, in particular if Obama wins and adopts a multilateral approach. I was pleased to hear Brian Cowen promise that relations between the two countries will be a two-way street in future and not a case of Ireland holding out the begging bowl. This would be reflective of Ireland as a confident strong nation and not the depressed country of the past. If Obama wants a strong relationship with Europe then that will also work in our favour.

In that respect I think the US/Europe relationship will in fact have a greater bearing on our fortunes than who takes power in the UK.

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20. WorldbyStorm - July 31, 2008

That’s a very interesting take on it all, particularly on the Cameron/Lisbon aspect. I think you’re right about Conservatives not necessarily buying into the Iraq rhetoric and there is a hesitancy on that side about using force in conflicts (usually ones that they can’t ‘win’).

I also think your point about the US is interesting as well. I guess the volume of US based investment has to see us shift some way towards such a stance, and as you say it works both ways. We need them, but we have stuff they need.

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