October 14, 2021
Labour, Conservatives, and most recently the UUP presented fine optics at their respective conferences. Leaders who said a lot about nothing we didn't know already, at best. Boris was Boris, delivering what everyone in the Conference Centre expected of Boris. Sir Keir and Doug Beattie presented speeches that didn't alarm the horses. At least Sir Keir started to articulate a Labour Party of his own design. All the backdrops, bright lights, dancers and comedians (for once, not the politicians) still left a sense of something absent from the UUP.
More structured and very well crafted was the speech given by Lord Frost in Portugal, which outlined what the UK expects from a future relationship with the EU and, yes, the NI Protocol. This builds on previous actions and papers, so there is pathway in place from the UK - a plan. We had to record the Podcast before the EU announced what it wanted everyone to focus on when it published the bureaucrats' response to difficulties only a few months ago the EU claimed didn't exist. The EU also claimed it would not re-negotiate the NI Protocol. Yet here we are, with the EU about to enter intense negotiations on the NI Protocol. Never say never.
October 1, 2021
We have heard a lot in Northern Ireland about Executive disagreement on the matter of 'Vaccine Passports'. Less clear, and barely discussed, is either the science that underscores a requirement for restricting 'the unvaccinated' access to hospitality venues. Arguments on encouraging vaccinations or 'saving' the NHS don't add up: the age categories with least vaccination uptake - say 18-30 - are not those showing most positive test results ("cases") or taking up hospital beds.
The approach to policy around 'vaccine passports' seems to be around the same level as Brexit and the Protocol: wildly differing groups, none listening to any other, with facts or reason out the window. Meanwhile, world trade and international relations have been upended by Covid (not Brexit) in ways we couldn't have imagined and generating shortages and logjams that will take some considerable time to unwind and recalibrate to a 'normality'.
Finally, it is Party Conference season. Starmer has had his day, Boris next week. Other than the very contrasting styles and personalities, are either really able to address issues that are far out of their control. Events dear boys, events.
September 3, 2021
Cherryvalley will be eating M&S baked beans on toast this Christmas as this one retailer lays bare their shelves in an honest announcement of the reduced Christmas lines for NI shoppers this year. Every indication is that the 'grace periods', currently preventing already challenging restraints on goods from GB to NI becoming brutal, will be extended beyond the 2022 Assembly election to spare the blushes of those calling for 'rigorous implementation'.
Policing is in the news because a Report on policing, meant to be on the subject of South Armagh, seems to have raised more questions than it answers - though many are no longer certain what the question was in the first instance.
Part of that policing review was about local surveying, and elsewhere this past week that topic was discussed following a Belfast Telegraph story reporting results of local pollster Lucid Talk, where the pollster soon became a bigger story than the poll's results. Also discussed is a 'Let's Talk Loyalism' survey, endeavouring to articulate the frustration within a particular community in Northern Ireland.
June 4, 2021
While we know there is a Judicial Review of the Protocol in our courts, the key points on which the Protocol is being challenged haven't had much airtime. Efforts by Jim Allister to explain on the BBC Northern Ireland Nolan Show were interrupted (frequently) by the host shouting "but Brexit". With his legal hat on, we give Jim time to set out the legal case, clearly: on the fundamental risk to the Act of Union, on conflict with principles of the NI Act 1998 that underpins the Belfast Agreement, and on the Human Rights issues around democratic legitimacy.
The deflection from the cost of the Protocol, particularly to small businesses and the consumer, in suggesting that the Protocol was 'inevitable' simply reflects the intellectual shallowness of those who have already lost the argument on Brexit and continue to deny the a democratic national vote.
Slightly longer than our usual podcast, but well worth the listen to understand the deep constitutional and economic dangers that lie within the Protocol, with repercussions across the UK. Leaders of Unionism would do well to listen, and learn, because focus on the 'process' of the Protocol risks missing the clear and present constitutional dangers.
If you are inspired to support the JR challenge to the NI Protocol you can do so here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/defending-the-union-of-the-uk/
May 7, 2021
Has the DUP leadership contest been precipitated by policy, politics, or a simpler clash of personalities? Hard to say, and more difficult to see how the DUP comes out the other side with a stable leadership. Not that Unionist voters are going to have a massive choice in 2022 - devil you know, or the devil or the deep blue sea.
The accusation of policy designed by focus group has been made. A greater issue is media's apparent obsession with 'polls' for easy headlines and lazy copy, with commentators left to consider why and with little in the actual news columns to enlighten or inform the voter on why and what is happening. We talk % and whether polls can be trusted rather than substantive issues around whether, whatever the numbers, are we getting good government.
April 1, 2021
A year after the first Covid lockdown, and just over a year of New Decade "new" Approach, the ability of our institutions to address anything much with a degree of competence seems, at best, little improved. The Storey funeral suggests everyone is confused on both law and responsibilities, including those who wrote the law and those who might be expected to uphold the law. The public does not share that ambiguity in respect of what happened at the Storey funeral. More widely devolution is not delivering. It is institutional, or simply that those at the head lack the competence/experience/imagination. A £140 million infrastructure project further delayed because of 'place making'. Seriously. The public is being played for a fool.
March 5, 2021
The UK Budget this past week gave small comfort to small businesses in excluding many from the proposed corporation tax increases. In Northern Ireland that was indeed small comfort to many small businesses. They are doubly troubled. Burdened by the NI Protocol and supply issues that impact directly on competitiveness within the UK internal market, and battered by the indecision of the Northern Ireland Executive's Covid Roadmap that is long on words, short on anything that much informs anyone. "Can't have people in complete darkness as to what comes next," declared the Health Minister (Nolan Live, 3 March). The NI Exec seems not have found the light switch.
February 11, 2021
Risk is relative. When the COVID-19 virus has been prevalent in the community, the large numbers who require hospitalisation threaten to overwhelm the health service. That has been true without a working vaccine. Now that there is vaccines being delivered it is clear the threat to the health service will decline - the risk to the NHS declines. That changes the context for the restrictions on personal freedoms.
The NI Protocol may have seemed a good idea at the time (not on this Podcast) but it is clear something is dangerously wrong, and the claims of protecting the GFA seem seriously adrift if not fundamentally disingenuous. Risk is not an absolute and can only be understood relative to the prevailing circumstances.
January 22, 2021
Ending the podcast with insightful commentary from the FT that a United Ireland is imminent because there are posh East Belfast coffee shops. Who knew? The remarkable ability to put apples and oranges together and calling it bowl of bananas is a communications trait that seems to be all too prevalent in public discourse, and perhaps the underlying theme of this Episode. The theatre of a disorganised riot becomes an 'insurrection, while democracy is lauded within a cordon of tens of thousands of armed troops. Lockdown is the only policy to 'protect the NHS', as if there was no alternative, and 'freedom' must be sacrificed for an institution of state? Slightly longer than usual, for big topics.
December 28, 2020
The pattern of bold policy announcements followed by a failure to deliver seems to be the dominant feature of 2020. Perhaps the recent UK/EU trade agreement will be an exception as it seems to be, for now) - once the NI Protocol as 'best of both worlds' is explained. That can't be said for the New Decade heralded by the resurrection of Stormont that shows little evidence of the promised 'new approach'. There is plenty to be pessimistic about in the performance of Stormont and the Northern Ireland Executive, as individual Parties and as a collective. Internationally, Trump was not as bad as he performed for the crowd, while China continues to perform economically on the back of slave labour and significant abuse of human rights.