fun at Slugger awards 2009

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I had the great pleasure to be at the Slugger Awards 2009. It was really packed in the Black Box, Belfast and the atmosphere was fairly buzzing.

This was the first one i had been at and i was not entirely sure what to expect.

Though it was a wet night, there was recreational rioting, Bob the Builder switching on the Christmas lights, and something going on in the Reform club.

I did not mind the rain getting there to Black Box, recreational rioting is too much like exercise, I prefer Songebob Squarepants, and I wasn't invited to the Reform Club. So Sluggers is was for me!!

Tim McGarry was in fine fettle as compère for the evening and the place was quite packed.

We were all given an electronic voting pad thing that, as with all things technological that you really depend upon to make a good impression, fails miserably! Ah well.

I did really enjoy the night as it was full of bumping into friends and colleagues, but mostly political anoraks. It was a good night all round and many congratulations to Mick fealty and his team.

I see there has been a lot of banter on the issue of who was nominated, shortlisted and who won. But then all awards ceremonies like this can only have one winner in each category and it would probably be a bit silly to apply the D'Hondt system to the Slugger Awards. But then again that would be a bit of fun. Looking at the winners though the DUP, the UUP, and Sinn Fein picked up 'gongs' whilst Dawn Purvis MLA of the PUP picked up the MLA of the Year.

Overall an interesting mix, and it was good to see 'Alan in Belfast' winning Blogger of the Year. Well done Alan!

Looking forward to next years awards already.

Below you will see the list of winners for 2009
  • Up-and-Coming Politician of the Year: Simon Hamilton MLA
  • Local Newspaper of the Year: Dungannon News & Tyrone Courier
  • Local Council of the Year: Down District Council
  • Local Councillor of the Year: Cllr Cara McShane
  • MLA of the Year: Dawn Purvis MLA
  • Campaign of the Year: Employers for Childcare Vouchers campaign
  • Participation and Involvement Award: Public Achievement
  • Journalist of the Year: Julia Paul
  • Political Blogger of the Year: Alan Meban (Alan in Belfast)
  • Committee Chair of the Year: Fred Cobain MLA
  • Politician of the Year: Martin McGuinness MP MLA

Alan in Belfast picking up his award


Dawn Purvis - MLA of the Year

UK Government's priority coming from Queen's speech - Northern Ireland

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Below are only some of the legislative plans coming from the Queen's speech. I have only included the ones that would have some impact on Northern Ireland.

The focus, strangely enough, is on the economy.

Interestingly there is the Digital Economy Bill which will 'deliver' universal broadband access by 2012, a review of communications infrastructure every two years and the much talked about regulation to tackle illegal file sharing.

There is also a proposed bill to ban cluster munitions (Cluster munitions are large weapons deployed from the air and from the ground releasing dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions, referred to as “bomblets” or “grenades.”)

I find the Bill on Bribery interesting, introducing a new range of bribery offences, including bribery of foreign officials to retain business. Hmmm, so will this affect government bodies set up to bank roll inward investment?? Are 'incentives' not a type of bribery? Not that i don't mind incentivising inward investment, but the Bill will have to be very clear on what it does.

What do you think?


JOBS (UK)

People under 25 unemployed for a year will be guaranteed the offer of a job or training. In return they will face having their benefits cut or taken away if those offers are refused. £150m innovation fund to invest and create jobs in bio-technology, life sciences and high-tech manufacturing.

CONSTITUTIONAL RENEWAL BILL (UK)

Legislation to remove remaining hereditary peers in Lords. Powers to disqualify peers guilty of misconduct. Repeals ban on protests around Parliament. Separate draft proposal to reduce size of Lords and to "democratically constitute" the chamber.

ENERGY BILL (UK)

New market incentives to support carbon capture storage technology projects.

DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL (UK)

Universal broadband access by 2012. Review of communications infrastructure every two years. Regulation to tackle illegal file sharing. Statutory age-based classification system for computer games.

FINANCIAL SERVICES AND BUSINESS BILL (UK)

Strengthening financial regulation, including new powers for the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to ensure financial stability. Ban on unsolicited credit card cheques. New national money guidance service.

CLUSTER MUNITIONS BILL (UK)

Ban the production, development, sale, use and transfer of cluster munitions in line with treaty obligations.

CHILD POVERTY BILL (UK)

Make the government's pledge to end child poverty by 2020 a legal obligation. New targets to define progress towards goal with a three-year policy update.

BRIBERY BILL (ENGLAND, WALES AND NORTHERN IRELAND)

New range of bribery offences, including bribery of foreign officials to retain business.

DRAFT BILLS FOR IMPLEMENTATION AFTER ELECTION

House of Lords Reform Bill: reducing size of second chamber and introducing democratic element

Immigration Simplification Bill: streamlining existing immigration legislation

Civil Law Reform Bill: updating existing laws

Animal Health and Responsibility and Cost Sharing Bill: cost-sharing for animal disease control

the value of sharing

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I have found blogspot to be very versatile.

While i see a lot of people out there using wordpress, my first blogging tool is still favourite. I do remember having a wordpress account somwhere and remembering getting very bored with it very quickly as once i became familiar with the features i found i could not change them. Or at least i could if i paid for the service - but being the stingy person that i am i dropped it.

There seems to be lots you can do to blogger - either go with a log with the ready made template to get you started, to adding drag and drop widgets to being able to completely rewrite the CSS.

I have now noticed that there is tumblr on the scene, and of course i duely signed up to see what the fuss is about. Mine is at http://iwhitten.tumblr.com/ - but it is very bare at the moment. It seems to be slick but versatile. Kind of a blog version of twitter. Its nice but i really need to take it for a good test run.

Of course twitter is big on the scene at the moment and growing, though i think it will plateau very soon. I have found this to be extremely useful as i have been able to link it up to my Facebook account, so twitter will update my status on Facebook as well. I have a delicious setup now as well which i am slowly populating. I have also joined FriendFeed which i am still getting my head around and use twitterfeed for my blog as well. And you will see the add this button at the bottom of the post

The big thing here is sharing. Its all about passing it around - like a free newspaper that you find yourself reading, without knowing really why, when in the barber shop waiting for the next available slot for a hair cut. But instead of just leaving it back on the chair for the next unsuspecting customer to feel the urge to read, this way it comes with a recommendation. 'here, read this. I did and i liked it'.

So, if you like it, share it.

Virtual word of mouth.

A very powerful sharing tool.

Running fast to stand still

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Just read Mark Devenport's article on the victims mess that is currently running this week.

And it continues today with the messing around with the cohesion strategy that was supposed to have been published almost a year ago. Adding this to the SPED fiasco from last week, the new term for the NI Executive has not gotten off to a good start.

No matter who is to blame or who is holding things up - it does not fill the populace with a huge amount of confidence in the ability of the Executive to actually work.

What really seems to be stopping things from working is the parties, especially the DUP and Sinn Fein, looking forward to the next two years. Northern Ireland seems to love going to the polls, although actual voting figures may begin to show we are getting a bit fed up with it all. From this year we have

2009 European Election

2010 General Election (Westminster)

2011 Assembly Election
Local Government Election

With the damage the TUV did to the DUP during the EU election, and the questions being raised over Gerry's ability to lead and renew Sinn Fein who are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their foot hold in the mother country and indeed lost an MEP, there is a natural move to 'pull back and sound out the troops' mentality.

Simply doing good for society, therefore, is not enough. In a way i can see the political point of view on this, one we all need to rememebr, you only get to implement your policies if you win - ipso facto you must concentrate on winning. This can entail limiting anything that may dampen enthusiasm from the party faithful.

So we have many 'iffy' pieces of work from the Executive that, if rubber stamped in the next two years, could dissuade political party voting stalwarts to reconsider those ever important votes.

When i say 'iffy' i mean issues that are not all that ideologically comfortable but might be doable if there was a long enough period for staunch voters to forget about the issues that have been passed. Unfortunately looking at the timetable this is not a viable prospect.

But we live in hope.

But only just.

Facebook loses the fat and becomes Facebook Lite

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Well - it has been a long time coming and has been disucssed to death on the likes of Mashable. Facebook lite has landed. And it looks nice.


Here you can see on the left hand side my normal profile page and on the right my Facebooklite page. Cleaner, uncluttered and smooth.

I am still getting used to 1% fat new site and still undecided as to whether it better, worse or the same. I might update the blog on my own opinions - once I have some.

But I have to say I am excited to have a shiney new toy!!

Try it out - what do you think of it?

Quick reaction to Peter's speech on devolution

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Peter Robinson’s speech has been received by many political commentators as evidence that the Northern Ireland Executive isn’t working. And the growing list of 'Things -to-do' on the Executive agenda would probably bear this out.

'Oor Peter' had apparently been invited to make the speech as First Minister at the Evolve NI event in the Ulster Hall (who says i would not give John Hart a plug) but delivered it at the last minute as leader of the DUP. The original speech that he was to have given and that had been agreed by the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was dumped in favour of the 'new and improved version'.

The reaction from Martin McGuinness could have been easily predicted as he accused Peter of indecisive leadership - going so far as to say that he believed the First Minister had returned from his Florida holiday suffering from sunstroke and that he had spent "too much time at Disneyland".

Clearly the DUP would like to see a removal of the unionist and nationalist vetoes and the requirement to have cross community support for certain votes in the in the Assembly. Sinn Féin understandably feels that if this were to happen, the other political parties would ‘gang up’ on it and push through decisions that would be unpalatable to its constituency. However, this is all academic as any changes to the current arrangements would need Sinn Féin to agree to these changes in the first place.

Most commentators agree that the DUP is feeling the heat from former MEP Jim Allister’s Traditionalist Unionist Voice. The TUV, which rejects the power sharing arrangements, performed well in the recent the Euro elections, at the expense of the DUP. Though, i think the Alliance Party may not be that unwelcoming to this new direction as many important votes that have required cross community voting essentially made 'other' designation parties (The Alliance Party) an irrelevance.

I think the speech, while interesting in its own way and obviously along a party political line, was not the speech that Peter should have gone with - it was more a party conference speech. Its delivery at the Evolve NI event will raise questions, as to who actually made the speech, the First Minister or the Leader of the DUP? Did he travel there as the First Minister? How will the two 'Heid Yins' now trust each other to deliver agreed speeches?

Interesting days ahead.

Speech by First Minister, Rt Hon Peter Robinson on 'Making devolution work'

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Rt. Hon. Peter Robinson MP
LEADER OF THE DUP

MAKING DEVOLUTION WORK
Speech at the Ulster Hall, Belfast on Tuesday 8th September 2009

“As a unionist, the opportunity to come to the Ulster Hall is generally too good to turn down though this is a rather different gathering to some previous events I have attended here!

It is good to be with you for the first seminar of this new group and I want to congratulate Tom Kelly and Stakeholder for establishing what will, no doubt become a useful forum to consider and discuss the implications of devolution.

I am also delighted that Tom has been able to secure the attendance of the former First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell. I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say and I’m quite sure that we have much to learn from the experience in Scotland.

I thought that as this is the start of a new term it might be a good opportunity to take stock of where devolution stands in Northern Ireland. I also want to highlight some of the difficulties with how it has operated and make a few suggestions as to how we might move forward.

It’s over two years since powers were restored to Stormont and while, as we publicly pointed out at St Andrews, it’s far from perfect, we knew that as a staging post the new arrangements made a sensible and positive starting point. We have nonetheless come a long way in a short period of time. Let us reflect on the fact that Northern Ireland is enjoying its longest period of continuous devolution for almost forty years. Today, devolution is supported by the vast majority of the people right across the community.

Support for the principle of devolution is so widespread that we often forget why this is the case. As a life-long committed devolutionist, I have no doubt that devolution offers the best way forward for Northern Ireland. It gives local people a significant role in a whole range of issues which affect our everyday lives.

Decisions and priorities are set in Northern Ireland and for the people of Northern Ireland. Indeed, when I delivered my first budget in 2007 I indicated that for the first time in a generation it was ‘Made in Northern Ireland’. It set a very different direction than had been followed under Direct Rule.

But there are still some unionists who would rather have Direct Rule than see Sinn Fein in an Executive in Northern Ireland, and some republicans who have not yet realised that whatever they do, a united-Ireland cannot be delivered against the will of a majority of the people here. At an emotional level I can understand those unionists who do not support devolution which involves Sinn Fein in an Executive, but we must not make perfection the enemy of improvement.

Any considered analysis demonstrates that Direct Rule is not and never has been in the long-term interests of unionism. But there is undoubtedly an important job to be done to persuade people of the real benefits of devolution and the dangers of Direct Rule. Those who are opposed to devolution seek to exploit the imperfections of the present system. They are content to curse the darkness and offer no alternative achievable strategy. They would take us back to the days of division and conflict. What kind of prospect does that offer? But that is not our approach.

As they say in Texas –
"If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got."

I don't believe the people of Northern Ireland want to return to the bad old days. Over the past forty years I have witnessed UK Governments of every political complexion taking decisions which were not in the interests of unionism. Unionists still remember the Anglo Irish Agreement, even though it is now almost a quarter of a century ago.

As a unionist I want control over my own destiny. Devolution gives me that, but I also think that it is in the interests of nationalists and republicans that devolution works. I don’t imagine the prospect of a Tory Government will be something that Sinn Fein would look forward to. While some unionists may see the prospect of Direct Rule with a Conservative administration as an easy alternative to the present form of devolution, the lessons of history would not justify such an analysis, nor is it in our long-term interests.

But most fundamentally, devolution is the one form of Government for Northern Ireland that can work and can command cross-community support. It can provide constitutional stability and allow us to be seen to be working again.

While republican aims for a united-Ireland are little more than fantasy today and their campaign for it is unlikely to deliver much other than Air Miles for Gerry Adams, unionists must also realise that having a government which only commands a bare majority of people is no recipe for stability either.

That is why a form of devolution where both unionists and nationalists can participate is important for stability and prosperity.

If unionists are not in the business of making Northern Ireland work then who will be? Devolution is good in theory but it has also been good in practice. However, I concede that the one area where we have failed has been in selling the benefits of devolution.

Significantly, devolution provides the foundation for peace and prosperity, but it also has allowed us to make a real difference to people’s everyday lives. I could name a whole range of initiatives that we have taken which would not have happened under Direct Rule.

• We have frozen, in real terms, the domestic Regional Rates for three years and have deferred the introduction of Water Charges.

• As a result of these two measures a householder who lives in a house with the average capital value of £112,000 is over £500 better off next year alone than would have been the case under Direct Rule. At the same time we have spent more than ever before in infrastructure investment on roads, schools and hospitals – almost £1.7billion last year.

• The Executive has agreed to abolish prescription charges for everyone in Northern Ireland.

• We have also extended our free public transport scheme to everyone over 60 years of age.

• We have introduced changes in planning to assist rural dwellers and we are taking forward proposals to expedite the planning decision making process.

• And this Executive has ensured that the poorest in our society got an additional £150 to deal with the fuel price increases last year.

I can say with certainty, none of those policies would have happened under Direct Rule.

Devolution has been a success for Northern Ireland but I believe that we can achieve so much more. Against that positive overall picture we should not be blind to the failings of the present form of devolution. I have spoken many times before about the need to reduce the size of government bureaucracy in Northern Ireland, but we must also attend to many of the other institutional aspects of the present structures which are holding us back.

We face two significant challenges in the period ahead. One is to complete the devolution of policing and justice and the other is to further reform the institutions to deliver better government.

Significant progress has been made towards the devolution of policing and justice in the last year. When the institutional arrangements have been resolved the two outstanding issues will be the financial arrangements and ensuring that community confidence exists. The proper funding of policing and justice is a necessary precondition to the powers being devolved. If the Government maintains its present position on funding then it will find itself responsible for further delay. The people of Northern Ireland would not thank us if we took on functions which are not properly funded and then be forced to divert funds from health and education to meet the short-fall.

While the devolution of policing and justice is symbolically important we should not lose sight of the fact that the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the independence of the judiciary mean that any Minister of Justice will have in practice a relatively limited role.

It is hard to ignore the irony that republicans who are so keen to have the powers devolved from London were content to appoint an Officer from an English force to the most important job of all, that of the Chief Constable or that those unionists who object to the prospect of an Alliance Minister say little about the more important role that Sinn Fein already play on the Policing Board and in appointing the Chief Constable.

But while the issue of the devolution of policing and justice receives considerable media attention we must address equally important structural issues. There are a whole range of changes to the operation of Government that would be of considerable benefit but I believe that we need to start with how the political side of the institutions operates.

The St Andrews Agreement provides for a review of arrangements by 2015 but we should address problems when they exist and not await an arbitrary date. Coasting along is not an option for those who want good governance. I would hope by 2015 we would be in a position to move to a more normal form of government in terms of a freely formed coalition but even before then we can make important improvements to the existing arrangements.

Ulster people will be acutely aware of the difficulties and challenges that are faced in our present arrangements. Multi-party coalitions are never easy and especially those with four parties - particularly when two of the parties are in denial about being a part of that coalition.

I don't pretend there are not difficulties. Far from it. I think we are better to face any problems and seek to resolve them.

Let’s be honest. Sinn Fein and the DUP in government was never going to be easy. Two Ministers in a department with certain decisions requiring joint approval is not easy either. Quite apart from all of the issues that are a legacy from the Troubles the political outlook of each is markedly different. In his judgment on the appointment of the Victims Commissioners Mr Justice Gillen demonstrated a telling insight when he commented,

“The process of joint decision-making which will command public trust and confidence is a fragile flower which requires careful tending. Sharing of power by leaders who straddle the political divide albeit with potentially diametrically opposed standpoints is never going to be easy to sustain. ...”

I can confirm that it is not always easy to reach agreement notwithstanding good faith efforts on both sides. It is fantasy to pretend that all would be well if the SDLP and Ulster Unionists were the two largest parties in the coalition. We know from experience that that was not the case. Indeed this Executive has operated much more smoothly than its predecessor, and from a unionist perspective the choice is not between the DUP and Sinn Fein on the one side, or the UUP and the SDLP on the other, but whether it is the DUP or the UUP who will be dealing with Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein's decision to block the Executive from meeting for five months in 2008 signalled some potential long-term difficulties with its operation and received considerable public criticism. However, the regular business of the Executive has often proved to be problematic on an ongoing basis. Business in OFMDFM has faced challenges which have either slowed down delivery or resulted in complete deadlock. We should not feel embarrassed about such an outcome. If you were to legally compel diverse parties to form an Executive anywhere in the world the very same problems would surface - though I suspect we have probably reached more agreement than would be the case elsewhere.

Of course I am frustrated by delays with a range of issues - the CSI Strategy included. The Lord Mayor expressed her frustration at the continuing delay to the publication of the strategy. I agree, and especially so as we believed, having approved in OFMDFM last autumn to share a document worked up by officials with key stakeholders that we were 99% agreed on the strategy only to find Sinn Fein resiling from this position and wanting to start again from scratch. I'm not suggesting that it is only the DUP who are frustrated by delays we know Sinn Fein has expressed disappointment at the pace of devolving policing and justice functions.

In light of the difficulties faced by this Executive and indeed the last one, I think it is reasonable to ask the question whether the arrangements can be improved to better meet the challenges we face. Having operated them for over two years I believe they can.

Parties that are ideologically opposed on a whole range of issues are always going to have issues where they have fundamental differences. It is not always going to be possible to reach an accommodation and as a result of our voting system a failure to agree means deadlock. This has been the case on a number of issues.

Modest changes to the arrangements could make significant improvements and help to normalise politics in Northern Ireland.

Later this month my party will publish detailed proposals for developing devolution, but today I want to give you a preview. Learning from experience, our proposals offer a simple and sensible step forward which could significantly enhance the operation of the Executive and Assembly without prejudice to long-term or permanent arrangements. They are about making government work better and should not be a cause for concern for any democrat who believes good decision making and delivering for the community is a priority.

At the heart of our proposals will be the abolition of community designation in the Assembly. As a consequence of this, new voting arrangements for the Assembly and the Executive will be required.

As a moral and practical matter community designation is fundamentally flawed. It is deeply undemocratic, it entrenches community division and hinders the development of normal politics in Northern Ireland and in practice means that the votes of all Assembly Members are not equal. While in its initial months the designation provision was seen as a way of safeguarding either section of our community against harmful decisions promoted by the other it is clear there are other ways to provide community protection without being faced with the negative off-spin.

In place of community designation we propose the introduction of weighted majority voting. Where a cross-community vote is required by legislation or triggered by a petition of concern a proposal would require the support of 65% of Assembly Members present and voting to pass.

65% of Assembly Members present and voting would mean that to be passed any proposal would need to have widespread support across the community, but would not permit a small minority to frustrate the will of what would be a strong cross-community majority. It would mean that no single political party would have the capacity to block proposals which otherwise could command widespread support.

And crucially 65% would allow various combinations of parties to form a coalition to pass a particular proposal. This would increase the relevance of all Assembly Members and would encourage co-operation and compromise between the parties. No single party could then hold others to ransom as their approval was not required for a proposal to pass.

Different coalitions could be formed on different issues to provide the required majority. Neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP alone would have a veto but support from both sections of the community would still be required.

In the Executive where a cross-community vote is required parties would vote on the basis of their strength in the Assembly.

An associated amendment to the Ministerial Code would require the First Minister and deputy First Minister, within a reasonable period, to table and permit a vote at the Executive on any matter proposed by any Minister. Consequential amendments would also be required to other matters which are predicated on community designation or cross-community voting to bring them into line with the new arrangements.

Changing the voting system cannot be done overnight but I would like to see a different approach taken to decision-making at the Executive as soon as possible. For some time the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP have complained about how Executive business has been handled and that they have been marginalized. At the same time Ulster Unionist and SDLP Ministers have been less than responsible in how they have approached Executive business. But rather than apportioning blame I want to find solutions. That is why pending the introduction of any new measures and as a gesture to the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP I believe we should consider requiring unanimity at the Executive in order to pass decisions.

While no party would be allowed to frustrate the commitments the Executive has made in the Assembly approved Programme for Government, in circumstances where the UUP and SDLP make a good faith effort to work constructively on matters in the Executive DUP Ministers would insist that all decisions will only be taken by consensus and we will not use our votes to override their opposition.

Indeed to make this participation really meaningful, I will ensure that SDLP and Ulster Unionist Ministers have a greater role in relation to Executive business. I cannot speak for the deputy First Minister but I am prepared, if they wish, to meet with UUP and SDLP Ministers in advance of each Executive meeting and to make arrangements so that their Special Advisors are fully consulted and involved in the process. The success of this approach will depend on the resolve of Ministers but I want to give everyone the opportunity to play the fullest possible role in the Executive.

Some have argued that the SDLP and UUP's present "opposition mode" in the Executive is tactical and cynical. However, both parties say they want to make a full contribution to the Executive's work. Time will tell.

Plenty of challenges lie ahead for us all in the years to come but I believe that Northern Ireland has changed unalterably for the better in the last few years and the challenges that we face in the future will be different than those of the past.

In the last few weeks the world has been focusing on the life and times of the Kennedy family. It was Robert Kennedy who said,

“We will not find answers in old dogmas, by repeating outworn slogans, or fighting on ancient battlegrounds against fading enemies long after the real struggle has moved on. We ourselves must change to master change. We must rethink all our old ideas and beliefs before they capture and destroy us.”

When considering how we govern ourselves in Northern Ireland I think that we should remember those words, but we should never lose sight of the fact that today, despite all our difficulties we have a more peaceful society than in decades. That is an achievement that none of us will want to give up.”


Your comments?

Should there be an end to elected representatives having more than one role?

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Guido wants more open lobbying

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A recent PRWeek article perked my interest where they talked to the man behind the political blog Guido Fawkes, Paul Staines who is quoted as saying "What I would like to see is much more above-the-counter lobbying". He went on to say "There is a legitimate role for lobbying, but I don't want it to be over coffee and cigars after a meal. I want it to be up-front and out in the open - like a political campaign."

I agree there is a legitimate role for lobbying, and that everyone within the lobbying industry should act with decorum, ethically and with goodness. Of course we are all human, and while the likes of Buddhism teaches that everyone is intrinsically good, I fall into the group that believes humans have too much of a capacity to breach acceptable behaviour. I am a natural born cynic.

And I don't believe for one moment that a political campaign is up front and out in the open. And I have seen enough politics to know that a lot of business is conducted outside of the lime light, both for the common good and not.

Guido's moral crusade is interesting, coming as it does on the back of political shinnanigins that have undermined our confidence in the politicians' ability to abide by their own code of conduct. Lobbying is an easy target as it smacks of brown envelopes and full of 'Mad Men', and is another thing for people to feel aggrieved at.

However, lobbying happens everyday. When a constituent goes to an elected representative with an issue, or when a voluntary/community organisation wants a policy changed or shifted, or a piece of legislation implemented. If the organisation is a private company, does this make lobbying bad then?

The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) sets out one of its three main roles as "To ensure transparency and openness by maintaining a register of political consultants". Its two others are "To enforce high standards by requiring members to adhere to a code of conduct" and "To promote understanding of the public affairs sector, and the contribution made by political consultants to a properly functioning democracy, amongst politicians, the media and others".

Maybe it needs to do more in these roles to create better understanding about public affairs and what it all encompasses.

Westminster has also been looking at this issue through the Public Administration Committee with its 'First Report - Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall'. I think a debate is healthy and should help to clarify what actually is lobbying. I suspect the debate will continue.

My only reservation about the whole debate is that attention is being placed on a profession that is about communicating policy changing messages to the right people at the right time and missing the wider context. Lobbying also covers community groups and voluntary groups right up to the big public affairs companies that have any number of different clients.

Democracy functions because of the ability to lobby, and public affairs is a vital part of the whole policy formation process.

I hope Guido realises the irony of his position, as he lobbys for greater transparency in lobbying.

Report just in - Fight on top of train not going well for villian

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Barry and the bull - caption please

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Go on. You know you want to. Leave a caption in the comments. Go on. Gon on, go on, go on, go on, ye will, ye will, ye will.

Shuffling the DUP pack

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With the Minister for Finance and Personnel being touted to leave his ministry to focus on his Westminster duties i feel a full DUP shuffle on the agenda.


The DUP ministeries are Enterprise, Trade & Investment; Culture, Arts & Leisure; Environment; and Finance & Personnel. They also have a Junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

So who will be where in the next few weeks?  Peter Robinson, our First Minister, will not go anywhere. However, Nigel Dodds is moving out to concentrate on his duties as an MP. Does this also set a precedent for the DUP Junior Minister, Jeffery Donaldson MP? and we all know that Sammy Wilson is biding his time before he leaves DOE.

This would leave three places without 'demoting' anyone as such.

I have heard the name Simon Hamilton,  DUP MLA for Strangford, being touted for a ministry and that Arlene Foster, currently Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment, will be moved up to the Ministery of Finance and Personnel.

I also expect Edwin Poots, who had been Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure before the Maze Stadium fiasco, to be offered a ministry in the reshuffle.  The is also a possibility of Peter Weir, MLA from North Down, getting a ministry as well.

So card son the table. Who will be in or moved in the great DUP reshuffle?

First Minister - Peter Robinson
Junior Minister - Peter Weir
DFP - Arlene Foster
DETI - Maybe Jeffery Donaldson but think more Edwin Poots
DCAL - Nelson McCausland
DOE - Simon Hamilton

I wonder if i should put a bet on? Never been any good at predicting the lotto, so I would not take my stab at who will go where as an absolute. But I think i may be close.

Only time will tell how close i came, but it is always fun speculating. 

New cabinet for Number 10

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Direct from Number 10 website

What's your take?? Will this make any difference to Gordon's hold on power? I see Darling still holds the purse strings. Hmmmmm.


Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service
The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP

Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal; Minister for Women and Equality (and deputising for the Prime Minister at PMQs)
The Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP

First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council
The Rt Hon Lord Mandelson

Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon David Miliband MP

Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP

Secretary of State for the Home Department
The Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP

Secretary of State for International Development
The Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
The Rt Hon John Denham MP

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
The Rt Hon Ed Balls MP

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
The Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP

Secretary of State for Health
The Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
The Rt Hon Shaun Woodward MP * and #

Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Rt Hon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Minister for the Cabinet Office, and for the Olympics and Paymaster General
The Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP

Secretary of State for Scotland
The Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
The Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP

Chief Secretary to the Treasury
The Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

Secretary of State for Wales
The Rt Hon Peter Hain MP

Secretary of State for Defence
The Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP

Secretary of State for Transport
Lord Adonis

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Ben Bradshaw MP

Other Cabinet attendees
Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
The Rt Hon Nick Brown MP
Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown
Minister of State (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government
The Rt Hon John Healey MP
Minister of State (Business), Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
The Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP
Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
The Rt Hon Lord Drayson*
Attend Cabinet when their Ministerial responsibilities are on the agenda
Attorney General
The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC
Minister of State (Children), Department for Children, Schools and Families
The Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP
Minister of State (Employment), Department for Work and Pensions
The Rt Hon Jim Knight MP
Minister of State (Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
The Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP

The Queen has accepted the following resignations:
Cabinet resignations
The Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP
The Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP
The Rt Hon John Hutton MP
The Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP
The Rt Hon James Purnell MP
The Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP
Other resignations
The Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP**
The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP**
The Rt Hon Beverley Hughes MP**

* unpaid ** attended Cabinet
# Provides Ministerial support to the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office on the coordination of Government Policy and Strategy

Why should i vote today in the EU elections??

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Today, 4th June 2009, is the 20th anniversary of Tianamen Square. Even if you are disgusted or disaffected with the political process here and just could not be bothered, remember that ordinary citizens in China were imprisoned, beaten, and killed for the simple act of asking for democratic reform. Something we are so blasé about here in the West.

All round the world people are beaten, imprisoned, and killed for merely speaking out about the idea of having the right to vote.
Voting in the UK is voluntary. You don't have to vote if you don't want to, but then that is an abdication of your civic responsibility of partaking in the system of democracy you live in.

We take this process for granted. Strangely, i think we were more aware of the need to vote during the darker times in Northern Ireland's history, but as we move into a more stable society where ideologies are fought over the debating chambers and not the hedge rows we begin to relax and feel a lesser need to take part.

This is a real danger. People who do not vote will begin to feel cut off from the decision making process and further alienate themselves from democratic activities. Elected politicians have shareholders who they must give a good account to, but to strengthen that accountability process the shareholders (voters) must participate.

Political parties and elected representatives also has a responsibility to engage with their constituents and voters to maintain a connection. Just like web 2.0 is about a two way communication process, rather than web 1.0 which was about a one way movement of information, so too we must move away from Politics 1.0 and into a more discursive Politics 2.0 where there is more of a two way relationship between the elected representative and the constituent. But that can be a debate for another day.

What i would really love to see on the ballot papers would be an option, clearly marked, at the bottom of the paper as 'None of the above'. At least then we would give those disaffected people an option to actively give their views in a way that can be quantified whilst getting them into the way of going to vote.

All i can do is ask you all to go and vote, remember those who have given their all for the right to vote, and be an active citizen holding our elected representatives to account.

Oh, and bring your photographic identification as well.

Pi Camp and rate you politican - new ways to engage with politics

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Check out the Political Innovations Camp initiative as well as the Rate Your Politician social platform. I was unable to get to this being in sunny Castlerock at the time. Gutted i missed it but hope it happens again.



Check out the PiCamp and the R8yourpolitician websites

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is about to be incommunicado again - lack of internet driving me mental.

Away for a week

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Just to let any body to happens to find themselves landing on the blog - i will be away until 1st June on holidays.


Sunny Castlerock!

So i will be incommunicado for this period though i might still be twittering. (@iwhitten)

I will be back and hopefully with a few new ideas on the layout and content of the blog.

Many thanks for visiting.

Ivor

And they thought was all over... Well, not quite

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Expenses, expenses, expenses. That's the name of the game.

According to the Parliament website, a backbench MP has a basic pay of £64,766 as of 1 April 2009. Not bad if you can get it in the first place. Many of the UK's 2.1 million (7.1%) unemployed would probably be very happy with this.

Northern Ireland has an unemployment percentage of around 5.7% with almost 43,900 unemployed. Not too bad in the wider scheme of things and much lower than the UK wide figure.
Now it should be pointed out that these figures are only for those able to be employed are are currently not employed. This means that a lot of the population is not working because they are house mothers or fathers, retired people, children, those too disabled to be taken on in employment.

You should also think about the context of actual employment. Of the 756,000 people who are employed how many are only part time? How many are on temporary or short term contracts? The average median gross weekly salary in Northern Ireland is £418. An MPs salary, after tax, is £1204 per week. Food for thought.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an MP, without expenses and only drawing on their basic pay of £64,766, would have a higher income than around 92% of the population - equivalent to about 55.1 million individuals in the UK. I calculated this under the parameters of the MP being married, the only earner, council tax of £2,000 and with 2 children under 13 years of age.

Now I don't begrudge the MPs, or indeed any elected representative, earning a good wage. It is a career, much like a doctor, a lawyer, a nurse, or any other profession. I think it actually is a good enough wage for an MP. I also don't have a huge angst against expenses either. It is always a perk of any job many of us enjoy. Not all, but many.

So, where did it all go wrong?? The soon to be ex-speaker of the house seems to have tried to cover up, and failed in the high court, the release of expenses into the public domain. This is possibly the biggest indictment on the Rt Hon Michael Martin MP. MPs are paid, just like the civil servants they are trying to make redundant, from the public purse.

I wonder what George Orwell would have made of all of this? Animal Farm 2: Napoleon's expenses?
According to the Member of Parliaments Code of Conduct, MPs must observe the general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life as applying to holders of public office. These are,

Selflessness
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Integrity
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

Objectivity
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Honesty
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Leadership
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
MPs must base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.

Hmmmm. How many can truly stand up and say they have adhered to these Snowball like commandments?

We shall see how this sorry saga ends up and hopefully we will not cave in to pure cynicism that could undermine our democratic society.

MPs have a lot to do to win back our trust - but i am hopeful this will be sooner rather than later.

the best one for the job

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I have been mostly working on my garden this weekend, as i have been in previous weekends and i got me thinking about how we do things in our work life.

I have been trying to get a garden for the past number of years, yes that's right years, and kept doing a little here and a little there and trying my best to turn the lump of soil that was Mount Kilimanjaro into a nice flat lawn. One thing after another #happened#.

As ever problems kept occurring - those horrible snags that ruin a well laid plan. I did have quotes from builders from over a year ago now that brought tears to my eyes, and not in laughter. so DIY R us was the apparently the thing for me.

I'm not bad at the old DIY, but not brilliant either as i don't do it every day.

As things went, i messed about, made probably basic mistakes to a professional, and goodness knows how much money i really wasted in trying to save money.

Yesterday, i helped finish off the last of the foundations for the last parts of the wall for my new garden. It felt good, and it is still feeling very very sore. I'm am simply not as fit as i thought i was, nor was i as used to physical labour as i thought i was.

Then the epiphany that brought me to type all these words out. Always get the professional in to do a job that you might be able to do with lots of time to spare and resources.

Yes there is usually lots of teeth sucking once prices and quotes are being discussed, but in the long term you want things done right. A key is building a good relationship with your 'sub-contractor'.  If you don't feel you can work with them, then don't.

The builder i am working with is a wonderful guy and easy enough on the pocket. As soon as i started talking to him i felt i was talking to someone who knew what they were doing and what the job would take. I had of course been chatting to a few other builders, but Raymond, my builder, explained what he would do and why it would have to done that way. He was honest in his talk and his walk. I trust him.

And here is my point, the same goes for public affairs or public relations. Businesses and organisations need to build relationships. Normally this is viewed as building relationships with their customers or clients or whatever. Yet we all work in a legislative context, which is decided upon our government.

We all need to look at how we are doing things in creating and building that constructive relationship with government, with the Departments, and with politicians - from MEPs, to MPs, to MLAs to local councillors. They are creators, facilitators and implementers of legislation- the primary function of governmental structures.

Now if an organisation wants to influence the right people at the right time with the right information they are really going to need to plan in lobbying activities, or, for the more politically correct, political communications.

No organisation is the same. Different issues, different modus operandi, different budgets, different sizes ...... you get the picture.

Many organisations have in-house public affairs teams, many do not. Those that do not either run ad hoc public affairs posts to simply muck through while others engage the services of a public affairs agency.

A public affairs agency will simply do what any organisation can do in the lobbying field. The only difference is that they will do it, in the words of Daft Punk, harder, better, faster, stronger. This also allows the organisation to focus on the thing they do best while still getting their messages through to government. It is that simple.

Yes i could have built my own wall, put in the founds, put up my own fence.  I guarantee though that it would be finished in about 2025 and still not look right. Plus who do i go to if it falls over?

With an outside professional you have peace of mind and are still in control of the overall project. The same is true for beginning a public affairs campaign. A professional has the where-with-all to know what to do if things go right and if things go wrong. they are people that the organisation can call on to fix the situation if it is not the one the organisation was wanting to happen. 

Yes, i work in a public affairs company. Yes, if you are an organisation looking for a public affairs solution i would love your custom. Yes, i would say Chambre PA is the best - but then i would, wouldn't i?

What is really important is that organisations understand what they want to achieve and that they feel the public affairs company gets it. Understanding, clarity and trust, i think are the main points of approval organisations should tick box against.  Price does come into it, and  although it could be said 'you get what you pay for', it does not mean that the most expensive is the best. An organisation should look at the overall package and be happy with it.

I am really happy with my builder and i hope to have the whole thing finished, weather permitting, in a couple of weeks. I brought in a professional to do a professional job.


Tweet Tweet

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This year more than any other i have begun to notice how many politicos, politicians and political parties are using new social media technologies.

I blame Stephen Fry for this. Who would really have heard of twitter if it were not for the unofficial king/president/patron of twitter, Mr Fry himself? Indeed, many celebs are on the thing, helping to create its own viral hype without spending a penny of expensive adverts. Web 2.0+ is here.

Apparently according to Twittercounter the person in the number one spot of followers is Ashton Kutcher with around 1.7 million followers. Maybe all those gossip magazines should be worried. Instead of waiting a week to see what hot juicy bits of infantile gossip there is with shock horror angle, people can actually follow the celeb in question and get it direct instead. This should appeal to many people as it is more immediate and feels more personal.

So are our great and the good using social media to socialise or propagandise?

A few tweeters have had their hackles raised about this as they found that all that happened was politicians were using their twitter accounts to publicise press releases.

I can understand the exasperation, but on reflection why not? Politicians, though i half suspect a number of them do not actually tweet themselves, are beginning to put up not only press release material, but what they are doing  - indeed the actual function of twitter.

Having a twitter account i have also seem swathes of abuse/spam through people asking for retweets [put up better posts!] to people trawling their large number of followers and doing a #followfriday* with them all. 

Also, as someone who likes follow all that really sad political rubbish is it not a good thing that we are informed toot sweet about new online publications??? They are not all going to be new headlines but the flow of information is a politico anorak's lifeblood.

Plus twitter is a new phenomenon for us all - we are all getting to grips with its own etiquette and language codes. Not too long ago I only really sussed the #hashtag thing, though still not totally 100% on this.

The real issue in this and i include not just twitter but blogs, websites, facebook, myspace, flickr, tumblr etc is that they are social media. A new way to interact, discuss and receive feedback.

Politicos and political activists are probably more 'with it' on social media and its potential to connect with the audiences they want to engage with. Potential problems, though, are issues surrounding its geekiness, what target publics are actually accessing social media as a communication  tool and it could just all end up with most just dipping their toes into social media then ignoring it and leaving it to a hardcore bunch who, while getting the issue of social media, because there are so few in the end just talk in circles.

Social media is a tool and we do have to keep up with it but i think in the end what really needs to happen is that each method of communication is assessed is it nice? yes.  Is it cutting edge? yes. Is it on the rise in popularity? yes. Does it reach our target publics? Ahhhh, maybe.

Many organisations selling things see it as a great marketing tool. It could indeed be a real political marketing and discussion tool, and i think it is moving that way. It just really needs properly assessed.  Just because Barak Obama used it does not mean we can use all his methods in our own context.

Many of our politicians in this Euro election for 2009 and all scrabbling to be the most relevant, the most up to date, the most switched on in terms of social media and all of its wonderful shiny gadgets.

Me? I would just like to see them face to face on my door step!

* #followfriday seems to be a twitter cultural phenomenon where followers are essentially given a bit of promotion to reward them for being loyal followers. I have had some experience of looking at a full page of tweets that had nothing but said #followfriday - mostly useless to me. I have however given in to doing this myself, but restricting myself to one #followfriday with no more than five followers included. I think this is more effective and will produce more interest than spamming everyone with hundreds of names. 

I have to put this in, a really nice 'social media in plain English' vid. Enjoy.



 

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