REALLY, is ‘Alliance for Everyone’? Well, it’s not for those who are unambiguously pro-Union.
It’s not for those who are unambiguously pro-Irish unity.
It’s not for those who think that integrated education is, in essence, social engineering.
It’s not for those who think that plonking yourself at the midway point between unionism and republicanism is the real middle ground of politics.
It’s not for those who think that propping up the carve-up in the Executive is the right thing to do.
It isn’t for those who think the Union Flag should be flown every day of the year.
It isn’t for most of the people in the 17 constituencies which didn’t return an Alliance MP or the 11 constituencies which didn’t return an Alliance MLA.
It isn’t for the 631,109 voters who didn’t vote for it in 2010, compared to the 42,762 who did. It isn’t for the 2,239 voters who stopped voting for it between the 1998 Assembly election and the 2011 election.
It isn’t for the 43,599 voters who have stopped voting for it since its high of 94,474 in the 1973 council elections.
And it certainly isn’t for that almost half of the electorate which has stopped voting altogether.
So excuse me if I take Alliance’s claim to be the party ‘for everyone’ with an enormous quantity of salt. I don’t even know how it’s possible to be the party ‘for everyone’– unless, of course, you move into some sort of Orwellian universe where choice has been removed and Big Brother dictates your every thought and move.
And, to be honest, when I listened to the platitude rolling from the conveyer belt of speakers at Saturday’s conference it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Alliance quite like the Big Brother approach to politics.
One after another they rubbished everyone else (although they had a clear preference for rubbishing unionists) before telling us that we needed to “build a shared future in every respect”.
But how do you build a shared future by telling everyone else they are wrong: particularly when that everyone else is the 93 per cent (of those who vote) who don’t vote Alliance?
How do you build a shared future when you don’t even begin to respect the views and wishes of the vast majority of those who vote for polarisation and mutual veto? In election after election since 1970 (when it was formed) Alliance has failed to convince a majority of voters to support it. It peaked at 14 per cent in 1973 and has rarely made double-figures since then.
The real changes here were made in 1998 with the UUP and SDLP as the lead parties. They were refined in 2005-07 when the DUP and Sinn Fein were the lead parties.
The huge political and electoral risks (however belatedly) were taken by those parties: not by Alliance.
If Alliance had spent less time lecturing and more time listening then it might have made an electoral breakthrough.
Speaker after speaker spoke of the need to “respect diversity”; yet speaker after speaker attacked the very parties and politicians who represent that diversity.
The only parity relevant to Alliance is the ‘parity of contempt’ it attaches to everyone who doesn’t live on their moral high ground.
During his speech David Ford said “change will only happen when we build a strong, radical centre ground, in total contrast to both unionism and nationalism”. Hmm! If he’s saying that now then what, precisely, has the Alliance Party being trying to build since 1970?
And if this centre ground is to be in total contrast to unionism and nationalism then that’s going to require a rewriting of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly the sections dealing with designation and the make-up of the Executive Committee.
Again, he said “only this party has been brave enough, and bold enough, to make the leap, to free itself of that old politics – the politics of unionism and nationalism”.
Hang on there, one cotton-picking minute, Mr Ford. The only leap I saw Alliance take was the one it took from self-styled Opposition into the Executive when it became the cat’s paw for the DUP and Sinn Fein back in April 2010.
Indeed it was Mr Ford himself who made the leap, becoming Justice Minister as part of an absurd game of one-upmanship played by the DUP and Sinn Fein. They put him there – not the mandate based on Alliance’s vote. And they put him there again in May 2011.
Far from freeing itself from the politics of unionism and nationalism Alliance props it up.
It sits in the Executive – an Executive built on mutual hostility and mutual veto. It withdrew from the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) committee, but not from the Executive.
It accuses the DUP and UUP of a “deliberate, pre-meditated campaign to whip up tensions,” yet stays in the Executive with them. It accuses the UUP, DUP and Sinn Fein of “relying on the old divisions to sustain their future,” yet sits with them in the very Executive which actually cements and promotes those old divisions.
Alliance is as much a part of the old politics and old divisions as is every other Executive party.
It can offer nothing new because it has nothing new to offer. The reasons it failed between 1970 and 2013 are the same reasons it will continue to fail. It is a conflict party rather than a post-conflict party.
In a recent article for the News Letter Stephen Farry wrote: “Alliance can be a home for unionists without being an overtly unionist party. We can be a home for nationalists, without being an overtly nationalist party.”
The problem, of course, is that it can’t. That’s not the middle ground he’s talking about: it’s a fence.
And a fence is, in itself, a polarising tool. Alliance doesn’t represent the middle ground; it merely represents something which isn’t quite unionist, nor quite republican.
What it really is, is anyone’s guess. But almost 50 years after it was formed it now seems to be as much a part of the problem as everyone else.
Mr Ford concluded his speech: “We will create a new, better Northern Ireland, based on a new, better kind of politics – a politics for everyone.”
No David, you won’t. That ship has sailed: and Alliance wasn’t on it.
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