Refusing ministries like choosing to be mushrooms in a shed

Posted By: May 11, 2016

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, May 11, 2016

We now have a preposterous stance from the UUP and SDLP. To be sure it has softened from their original position that if they didn’t get what they wanted included in the programme of government they wouldn’t join the executive.

Their present position is that they will consider the Programme of Government and if they find it acceptable they will enter the executive.

Never mind considering the grandiloquently titled programme of government, these two parties need to consider their own position in the political scheme of things. They’ve both just suffered the worst election results they’ve ever had except for the previous assembly elections in 2011 which were the worst results they’d ever had.

The SDLP went from 105,000 votes and 15 per cent of the vote in 2007, to 94,000 and 14 per cent in 2011, to 83,000 and 12 per cent this time.

The UUP’s figures for the same three elections are 103,000 and 15 per cent, 87,000 and 13 per cent, 87,000 and 12.6 per cent.

They’re both in terminal decline. In 2021 when there are only five seats per constituency they’ll both lose a rake[ a lot] of seats because in many cases, like Alex Attwood or Richie McPhillips, they scraped in to the sixth seat. In 2021 there won’t be any sixth seat.

In short these parties are in no position to demand anything. Incredibly it still hasn’t dawned on either of them that they’re “the also rans,” that the political gears have turned and the DUP and Sinn Féin are and will remain the dominant parties. You still hear senior figures in both the SDLP and UUP talking about reorganizing and restructuring as if there’s a chance they can return to their erstwhile dominance. Maybe they imagine it’s a bad dream and they’ll wake up in 1998 or 2001 as top dogs? It’s over. They should be thinking about managing decline, about cutting their coats to suit their cloth.

In the assembly that means two things. First, accepting their one seat apiece in the executive and secondly and just as important, accepting their subservient roles in the executive. Both Martin McGuinness and John O’Dowd had valuable advice for the UUP and SDLP. O’Dowd said the UUP and SDLP could not be in the executive and in opposition at the same time.

The SDLP was the worst offender in this respect during the last executive as McGuinness said, ‘chipping away at almost every decision the executive took’. Suffering from an insufferable sense of entitlement, the SDLP ministers since 2007 could never accept they could never win in the executive.

They have to take what they get and the same goes for the UUP. Before their minister took the ball and went home last year he had been huffing at his allocation and actually refused to spend £20 million because he thought he should have had more. Ridiculous.

Do SDLP and UUP ministers not realize that even in a real cabinet,  and not a toy town one like Stormont’s, the prime minister, Taoiseach or what have you, with the person in charge of finance, allocate funds and some departments are always favoured over others? It’s more blatant in coalitions obviously but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

First, however, UUP and SDLP must accept their executive places. They’ve no alternative. Why do people go into politics? To turn down the chance to exercise political power? Really? For parties in terminal decline to consign themselves to howling at the moon for five years will guarantee beyond peradventure that when the next election comes round people will be truly fed up listening to the noise. Will they be able to howl louder than the professional radicals beside them? Of course not. The self-important tones of their whingeing will be so boring compared to Jim Allister and Eamonn McCann, neither of whom will ever exercise power.

There is some evidence to show how ineffectual walking out of the executive is. The UUP did it last September. Does anyone even remember the name of their minister? Does anyone remember anything he said since then? As a consequence the UUP lost their places on any quangos due to be filled.

Forgoe places on the executive and you sit in the powerless assembly like mushrooms in a shed.
Accept the people’s verdict.