June 17, 2013

Coffee with Jeffrey Peel, talking NI21

For some time now I've enjoyed reading and following Jeff Peel on Twitter and on his blog which you can access here.

He's a man of erudition and a man of the globalised world, but also a man rooted in Northern Ireland. And so he drives a fresh type of discourse and debate that Northern Ireland so desperately needs. It isn't the idealism that you see elsewhere or the old-time thinking, but talk of the future, guided by ambition and pragmatism.

And so I thought it right to ask Jeff for a on the record comment on his thoughts of NI21, the latest political party in Northern Ireland. Here's Jeff:
"As I’ve mentioned in my blog I wish Basil et al my good wishes. But I’m not sure I’ll be joining any time soon. 
Firstly, I don’t really ‘get’ the Northern Irish parochialism of it. Basil used to talk at length about appealing to the “garden centre Unionist” - the type that sing “Ireland” at rugby matches but still love the Queen. Hmm.
My political interests are not really in that domain.

Northern Ireland needs to start behaving in a different way to tap into a new world order that is, increasingly, connected - with a consequent reduction in the importance of nation-state and politician. We need to define ourselves less as anything in particular in terms of “identity” and more in terms of the quality of things we say. We need to start thinking about really important things that affect us all - not just here, but in the rest of the UK.

Therefore a Party that is as narrowly defined as NI21 doesn’t really do it for me. I’m comfortable in the secular, melting pot of UK progressive politics. I’m fiscally right but socially left. But I want to be associated with a Party with a grander, national ideology. I’m a Classical Liberal. I want to see the return of a confident UK Conservative Party that is clearly ideologically defined. I’m much more comfortable with UK politics than Northern Ireland politics. So I’m disappointed that Basil and John didn’t join the Conservative Party locally. Because that Party needs some leadership and some clear direction. 
NI21 is half-baked and unimportant. It’s tiny and will remain so in my view. Its appeal is to the local and to the nice. But it’s unimportant in the scheme of things.

In short we need to stop “defining ourselves” as British, Irish, or Northern Irish - and just start getting involved in politics if we want to change things. However, we’re part of the greatest pluralist democracy on earth and we need to join in that country’s debates and challenges. We need to reduce our dependency on aid - that’s what the block grant is. Aid. And we’re aid-dependent. We need to start building companies without expecting grants. We need to start knocking down peace walls immediately - rather than waiting 10 years. We need to realise that governments are mostly wasteful and nearly always meddling. We need to reduce our public sector employment. We need to reduce the role of clerics in our civil society. We need to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to here. We need to embrace diversity.

If Basil starts addressing these fundamentals I might be convinced otherwise. But speaking in Irish isn’t a good start."
My response to Jeffrey would be to cite Alex Kane writing here. A commentator who has as good a view and informed insight into Northern Ireland politics as anyone:
"The UUP will stay around for a long time yet, but the Conservatives (as I have said before) will remain dead in the electoral water."
Alex further said on eamonnmallie.com:
"Conservatives are busy reconstituting themselves as some sort of ‘new’ vehicle to attract non-voters—yet how do they avoid the reality that they are as much a part of the political/electoral past as the rest of us?"

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