My Conservative and Unionist adventures in Magherafelt


I had the privilege of attending a Mid-Ulster Association meeting in Magherafelt on Thursday 1st April. And so i shall report on what happened (within reason, before any of my friends have heart attacks!).

It struck me as I attended the meeting, I have attended many down through the years, most people would view these meetings almost as esoterical as the Masonic. What do they talk about in there when they are meeting? Is it so secret that nothing can be spoken about it? How do the party members interact? Is it all about politics?

Well, here is my (rather muted and probably boring) exposé of an Ulster Unionist Meeting.

I got a call from a friend who is in the Mid Ulster Ulster Unionist Association who asked me if I would like to come along. After checking with the boss (being a married man with kids, I know my place!) and got clearance. So around 7pm I was picked up and chauffeured to the glorious town of Magherafelt. The meeting hall was opposite the Police Station, so MI5 did not have too far to go to spy on our peculiar political shenanigans.

And now, the science (the boring bit that nearly every formal meeting up and down the land has to go through).

The meeting was opened by the Chair, welcoming everyone to the meeting, then apologies were taken. the Minutes of the last meeting were read and passed We then paid our respects to those how had been bereaved and then the Chair introduced the first speaker of the evening.

Billy Armstrong MLA, Mike Nesbitt and Sandra Overend
This was Sandra Overend, Conservative and Unionist Westminster Candidate for Mid Ulster. I have known Sandra for a number of years now and she is a very capable woman, indeed she is the UUP Woman's Development Officer.

In her talk with us she showed us examples of the literature that will be used, or the stuff we get through our letter box only to shove it neatly into the bin/fire/recycle bins. It was pretty impressive and professional, but whether or not it will make much of a difference going into people's homes, I am not so sure. I am really not sure when last I actually read any political party election literature. I am sure different parties down through the years have been constantly questioning the cost effectiveness of this material. But it is something that parties would probably get criticised for not doing. Its a funny old world.

Sandra got of to a running start that gave us all an idea of how she would run her campaign to be the next MP for Mid Ulster, indeed one that would actually represent the voice of Mid Ulster fully at Westminster (the seat is currently held by our deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness MP MLA. Sinn Fein refuse to participate in the House of Commons on the grounds of refusing to take the oath every MP must take before they can take their seat in the House. A bit like our MLAs having to sign in as either Nationalist, Unionist, or Other)

Sandra spoke about how she had a vision for a positive campaign and was confident in the vision for the future of Northern Ireland taking up its full role in National politics. She was particularly proud of the way the UUP Assembly team stuck to its principles during the vote on Policing and Justice by voting no(where the main argument for voting against it was that, while the UUP did want it devolved, this was not the right time with the Executive not able to function properly). She described herself as having a very keen interest in rural issues, coming from a farming background (her dad is Billy Armstrong, UUP MLA for Mid Ulster and seasoned farmer), education in Mid Ulster - she was concerned about a number of local schools under threat of closure in particular and the shambles education is now in at the hands of Sinn Fein Education Minister, Catriona Ruane.

I was impressed that she recognised that it was going to be a difficult task to get people enthused about politics, in light of the number of scandals relating to the DUP and Sinn Fein locally, and the whole of Parliament in more general terms. She wanted people to get involved and own the electoral and democratic process. She wanted to make it real to people outside of the party and to harness the passion of those within the party. Her main issues for the election are the economy, taxation, and safeguarding rural communities.

After Sandra finished, the next speaker was Mike Nesbitt, Conservative and Unionist Westminster candidate for Strangford (the seat held by the DUP's Iris Robinson, before her resignation earlier in the year due to the Irisgate scandal).

Mike was very polished, as one would expect. Though I was more impressed at how he carried himself politically. Many celebs are very polished after all the pre-broadcast preparation, but put them into another forum and they flounder about like fired jellied eels. Mike was potentially one of those. But I was pleasantly surprised as he seemed more of a natural born orator and politician than I had expected.

Mike really grabbed our attention from the start (yes I know I sound sad, or just a sycophant, but i am going to be biased anyway). He strode confidently into his talk with us by telling us it is a great time for the UUP, even though we have no MP now and an MLA has walked out with Sylvia. It is a great time for the UUP because we have a strong attainable vision and the prize is within grasping distance.

He identified quite well the big issue for the UUP, indeed an issue all parties have, that of dealing with difficult issues (and has the UUP had a few 'difficult' issues to deal with over the past few weeks or so.) He identified the one thing all parties prize as much as power, loyalty. It is always something easily talked about, and reputations can be built or destroyed on people's subjective views on what loyalty actually is. Mike did do the subject justice by identifying what many successful businesses engage in, two way loyalty. The employer owes a loyalty to the employee, and at the same time the employee owes loyalty to the employer. I know this rambling does not really do it justice, but i could begin to get a picture of it all in my head.

Mike wants to help the people of Strangford to wake up on 7 May with a renewed sense of purpose. He spoke of adding value to the constituency as its MP, promoting its assets and potential to those in Westminster and beyond. He emphasised that Strangford, as well as the rest of Northern Ireland, has not yet realised its greatest asset, its people, and he can help invigorate national attention towards Strangford in particular and Northern Ireland as a whole, in order to bring in an economic focus from Westminster and inward investment.

Mike said that there was no plan 'B' for him. he had resigned as a Victim's Commissioner and could not go back. He also highlighted that he was the lone dissenting voice when the Commissioners voted to support the payment to victims.

He further spoke on the issue that these elections are not events, but part of a process. The Conservative and UUP link up is not just for one or two elections. And already the Conservative and Unionists had won three out four elections contested. Not a bad record. This process is to open up doors for the next generation of councillors and MLAs, to draw in capable, skilled and experienced people, people who can make a real difference alongside the experienced UUP councillors and MLAs already there.

Mike said he was deeply disappointed with the complete mess in education and deeply regrets Catriona's obsession to break the bit of education that works, whilst ignoring the bit that does need fixed (The jist seems to be very reflective of my own posting on prep schools).

He also covered the issue of the policing and justice debate by saying that, in principle, the Party is very much behind devolution of such powers, but how is it a good idea to devolve it to an Executive that does not function, or put it into the hands of David Ford who has already prejudged the Saville inquiry before its publication? Is that a good start for the probable new Justice Minister? Mike said the actions of the Ulster Unionist Assembly team was the brave thing to do, it was the right thing to do, and did put the interests of the country before party.

He finished on a rousing note that we had to get the vote out, because the Ulster Unionist Party is back and will be bigger and better.

I have to say the people at the meeting were wonderful, welcoming and very friendly. It helped that I knew a couple of people there but everyone was very open to me.

I went home enthused about politics again (much to the absolute horror of my wife). It is something I enjoy in general, though I am no serious political geek with electoral and policy facts and figures always on the tip of my tongue. I think politics interests me because it is a human trait to be political (not necessarily in electoral terms). It is a natural human activity and helps us define our core values and beliefs by which we judge our own actions and those of others.

I hope this has given people who have much better things to do in their lives than go to little halls to hear the usual political rhetoric an insight into one evening that I gave up to fulfil my constant curiosity to hear others talk politics.

Labour's Department of Government Waste gets an April spring clean


April Fools!

Or is it?

How are your taxes being wasted??

The Conservatives have launched a parody website entitled the Department of Government Waste highlighting Labour's fiscal inefficiencies. 

No matter your own political leanings it is a brilliant little piece of political satire along the same sort of lines as mydavidcameron was used to undermine the Conservative message.

How government polls are really done!


Genius insight into opinion polls from Yes Prime Minister.

Funny how it still seems to fit with modern times, seeing as we have had two of the blighters recently regarding Policing and Justice.  One from our own erstwhile Northern Ireland Office and one from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

Cynical? Moi?

Alan McFarland and the North Down conundrum


New 'New labour' supporter?
The BBC is reporting the resignation of North Down MLA Alan McFarland from the UUP.

He has been MLA for North Down for 12 years and claims he is leaving the party because he is uncomfortable with the electoral link up with the Conservative Party and that the alliance was detrimental to unionist interests in Northern Ireland.

A bit odd since the interests of unionists is to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  Is it not a bonus to have Her Majesty's Official Opposition (at least until 6 May) having a selfish and strategic interest in supporting that union?

I know Alan, and have a great deal of respect for him, but I can not see how he can so suddenly become a New Labour supporter.  Throwing his towel in with Sylvia may not be the best thing for him to do. Nor the best thing for protecting the interests of unionists in Northern Ireland. 

Labour have resisted giving British and Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland equal status with the rest of the UK. Where is the Labour Party in Northern Ireland elections?  Labour Party activists have had to fight tooth and nail to become recognised here.  I don't subscribe to the New Labour ideology (mostly selling of the national assets to drive us even deeper into debt), but I do support Labour activists in Northern Ireland gaining equal status with England, Scotland and Wales.  I welcome normal national politics seeping into Northern Ireland electoral choices.

At least the Conservatives are providing the electorate here an opportunity to vote in UK wide democratic politics.

I googled Alan and found already a lot of chatter on twitter about him resigning and checked out his website. But it did not tell me a lot.  In fact it is not very informative at all.  About anything.

I don't believe this is a set back for the Conservatives and Unionists in the long term.  If Alan could not 'thole' it then he has every right to make his choice to follow his own 'Sylvia' lining.  But it is a very Sylviaesque stunt to try and create as many problems as possible during an election campaign.  I fully expect to see Alan out and about working for Sylvia, but it will be interesting to see if North Down follows down that New Labour route.

Orange is not the only colour.....


OK, I will be up front about this. I am an Orangeman. There I said it. Now I am expecting a number of very liberal minded people to go either 'bigot', 'not surprised', 'how can he be so sectarian'.....blah blah blah.

I make no apologies, or excuses. I am what I am (as that Broadway musical song goes). It is part of my upbringing, my culture, my values and beliefs. People can make up their own minds on what I am actually like.

The Orange Order is a broad church of views from the very broadest interpretation of Protestantism to the most evangelical. It is a common tie that binds together a wide range of people who would not necessarily 'hang out together' in any other circumstance.

Normally, discussions I have regarding the Loyal Orders revolve around its history, why it still exists and, depressingly, marching.  But none the less I am proud to be a member of the fraternity.

I have noticed over the past number of years that the Order has been making serious efforts to broaden its appeal (OK, stop sniggering!). The 12th of July celebrations have been expanded to take in a week of activities. It is much more family and tourist orientated. Something I really welcome.  Every year I really do believe the Orders are adjusting and responding to changing circumstances in a positive way without throwing out its core tenants and values. 

And then...............

The Orange Order reacts to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK .

Oh dear.  Oh deary me.

The Orange Order states in the very first sentence
"While we recognise the civil and religious rights of all, we cannot welcome or agree with the visit of the Pope to this country."
Hmmmm. I think that's called an oxymoron.

I am fully signed up to the first part of this assertion, that of civil and religious liberty for all.  Yet, even in the same sentence the Order asserts the Pope is not welcome. If the Pope decides to accept an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to visit the country of which she is the Head of State, then that is up to him. As Bruke's Corner points out,
"Queen Elizabeth II, acting in her role as chief governor of the ecclesiastical estate of her realm, has issued the invitation to Benedict. The statement of Grand Lodge is, therefore, a blatant rejection of the Queen's role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England."
Next the Orange Order says,
"The Pope claims himself to be the vicar of Christ on earth, a title which assumes supreme and universal supremacy both in honour and jurisdiction over all - church, state, the world. Any who would welcome him are in danger of appearing to acknowledge his primacy and universal supremacy in all of these matters."
So does this mean that the Head of State for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is now in danger? Has she therefore acknowledged the Pope has primacy and universal supremacy? 

How then will the leadership of the Order cope with the Queen, who is greatly admired within the Order and many a Lodge having at least one picture of her on the wall, welcoming the Pope to the UK after having specifically invited him?  Or, as Burke's Corner also contends, does it signify Benedict recognising the Queen Elizabeth as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England?  He is visiting the UK on HER invitation alone.

The call to protest, whilst of course refraining 'from any uncharitable acts or sentiments against our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen', again seems to be a strange sentiment. I would have thought that making public protests against someone 'our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen' revere as much as Orangemen do the Queen was in itself an uncharitable act.

Perhaps it is merely an attempt to re-route the Pope?

At the end of the day the Orange Order really needs to think very carefully in future on public statements it makes, and think firstly about exactly what it is saying, to its members and to wider society on behalf of its members.  

I really do not see the point of the Orange Order making such ill-informed and doctrinally  narrow statements on my behalf.  I think it undermines the great work it has been engaged in for the past number of years.  

The reformation, on which the Orange Order stands, was never anti-Roman Catholic, it was pro-Protestant.  It was also rife with splits (Lutherans, Calvanists, Presbyterian).  The Orange Order draws members from all of the different Protestant denominations, and statements on behalf of the whole membership should reflect that, not a narrow section.  I do not deny their right to feel such a way or indeed express their theological opinions on the Pope's visit.  I would just have liked them to make the statement on their own denominational behalf.  The Orange Order should not have been used as a platform to launch such a statement.

Grand Chaplain Reverend Alistair Smyth said the Orange Order did not want protests of a violent nature taking place and that the final decision was up to the Grand Orange Lodges of Scotland and of England. He said Brethren might hold rallies outlining the differences between the Catholic Church and the principles of the Protestant reformation Orange Order members espouse.  He also defended the statement saying it was not sectarian, adding members wanted to flag up the principles of the reformed faith.  

Well, of course it is sectarian.  Sectarian means 'Adhering or confined to the dogmatic limits of a sect or denomination; partisan'.  Being sectarian is not a bad thing in its own right, though the word is used disparagingly far too often.  Any one with a religious belief is sectarian.  I am sectarian.

I think the Grand Chaplain and any Orange Brother who intends to act on the statement also need to remember, they will probably be right back at the end of the queue of people already wishing to have a wee chat to Benedict about a little matter of child abuse and its cover up.


Hand of History. Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved Revolution Two Church theme by Brian Gardner Converted into Blogger Template by Bloganol dot com | Distributed by Deluxe Templates