Last night, I enjoyed watching the results of the Euro Elections coming in. It was a good night for the centre-right across Europe.
Perhaps that last sentence would be meaningless to most people. In years to come, politics will have moved on and what happens with political parties all over Europe will matter, whether we like it or not. In this context, this is not a bad time to wheel out an idea that formed just after the Conservatives negotiated their agreement with the UUP.
The idea originated after I thought about the potential alliance between Fianna Fáil and the SDLP .
When I first heard (some years ago) that the SDLP and Fianna Fail were negotiating a political alliance, I pondered about whether this would be a good or a bad thing. I originally thought that anything which would weaken Sinn Fein was a good thing. As my thoughts developed, and believing that Fianna Fáil was a conservative party, I thought it was a bad thing. The SDLP is a party of the socialist left. It seemed to be like “trying to put a square peg into a round hole”
I re-considered that question after a friend of mine insisted that Fianna Fáil is a party of the left. I checked again. Looking at the Fianna Fáil website, it is obviously a Republican party. It also states that it has a commitment to the historic principles of European republican philosophy, namely liberty, equality and fraternity. On Wikepedia, it is stated that the party is Liberal Conservative. In Europe, it is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. It seems to be more like a Lib Dem Party. Whether Lib dem or liberal Conservative, the SDLP are far more fixed on the socialist wing of political philosophy. Somehow, I still dont think those two parties would make very comfortable political bedfellows. Let us suppose, however, that they were able to.
The problem with such a set up is that it would be a Nationalist alliance, unable to attract voters from the Protestant community except in a protest vote. They might be able to make inroads into the Sinn Fein vote. Unfortunately, I still do not think it would help towards establishing normal politics.
The recession has meant that the SDLP and Fianna Fáil have postponed their alliance indefinitely. I do not know if that project will ever re-surface. It may be better for both parties if it did not. If the SDLP wants to be a cross- community party, it needs the British Labour Party. The problem with that is that it inhibits its Nationalist identity that it would want to keep. How can it resolve that?
I would suggest that the SDLP enters into a triple alliance with the Labour Party in Britain and the Labour Party in the Republic of Ireland to promote a pan-British Isles socialist agenda. Whichever way you cut it, Northern Ireland has business and cultural intimacy with both Britain and the Republic of Ireland. This would be a way of promoting socialism in Northern Ireland with an Irish element but without diminishing the British link. Such a relationship may be one which both Irish and British socialists could buy into.
Such a relationship would actually achieve more than just setting right the SDLP. Whichever way you cut it, Northern Ireland has a business and cultural intimacy with both Britain and the Republic of Ireland. It would add a new exciting dimension to cross-border politics. This leads me to the idea that I had.
In the next few years, we will get an idea of the extent to which the Conservatives and the UUP have been successful attracting Catholic voters who have conservative values. The means by which this ought to be achieved may be difficult for unionists to accept. I am also concerned that unionists in Northern Ireland may not find it easy to think in terms of conservativism without getting away from their fixation on the Union. There is also a possibility that no matter how many “olive branches” are made towards the Catholic community, the CU brand is too toxic to ever be attractive to Catholics who are naturally conservative. Is there a faster route to breaking down sectarian politics?
I think there is but readers of this post – at least in 2009 – may prefer to “shoot down in flames” the idea. Alternatively, the reader who likes “thinking outside the box,” might warm to it. It has many advantages but it would be extremely difficult to sell because it requires unionists in Northern Ireland to make a quantum leap in their political thinking.
That is why I was almost afraid to talk about the idea until now. A couple of days ago, I read a post written by Horseman, in response to one of mine in relation to a CU candidate. Horseman was not correct in assuming that UCUNF was formed in order to co-opt Catholics into Unionism. It was formed to promote conservativism in Northern Ireland. However, if the UCUNF project is to be successful, it requires that sectarian politics is brought to an end. I do accept what some unionists have told me which is that the preservation of the Union is likely to be a by-product of such an achievement.
I agree with Horseman’s analysis that more Irishness would strengthen the union. This is entirely consistent with the Conservative core aim, which is to improve the well-being of Northern Irish people. That includes embracing cultural diversity.
Looking to the future, I believe that more intimacy is needed for the economic and cultural well-being of Northern Ireland. That means, particularly, freeing up obstacles to cross-border trade, joint planning capital projects, shared public services, shared development or any other public concern which could make efficient use of the land border.
Furthering Northern Ireland’s interest on the other side of the border would have added dynamism if there was a political party on the other side to promote Northern Ireland’s interest. In the scenario that I have already provided, the left achieves this by through a triple alliance of the three labour parties. The conservatives and the UUP could also achieve that by aligning with Fine Gael. In practice, that would mean, effectively, Fine Gael joining the New Force.
Fine Gael is a conservative party, although it calls itself a party of the “progressive centre.” It is a member of the centre right EPP. With the Conservatives set to leave the EPP, it will now be in a slightly different political position in Europe. In Ireland, however, there is no reason why Fine Gael should not be invited to set up in Northern Ireland and join a conservative triple alliance. Would Northern Irish people want this?
I have no doubt that they would. However, I dont think many unionists are anywhere near being ready for this kind of politics. Most of them, including some of their politicians, have a mindset which leads them cynically to conclude that ideas involving anything to do with the Republic of Ireland are a trojan horse for bringing about a united Ireland. We are perhaps 10 years or so away from an idea like this being taken seriously, unless the Labour Party and the SDLP get there first.
Filed under: Conservative Party, Fianna Fail, Normal Politics, Northern Ireland politics, UUP | Tagged: Conservative Party, Conservativism, Fianna Fail, Ideology, Normal Politics, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland politics, Political Ideology, Unionism, UUP | 4 Comments »