Friday, April 13, 2007

Coalitions 'n stuff

How far we've come in the last five years, politically at any rate. If you'd told me back then that by 2007 the IRA would have disarmed, that Sinn Féin had openly started backing the police and justice authorities and that Ian Paisley had decided to share power with Gerry Adams I'd have said you were a few pancakes short of an Ulster Fry.

But strange things happen in our part of the world, and I'm glad they do.

The UK is not used to coalitions, the last one having been the rather limp "Lib-Lab pact" 30 years ago. Coalitions are often seen as sell-outs - after all no one votes for a coalition - but if you have a free press, open reporting and proper personal accountability they offer a reliable way of arriving at policies the electorate can broadly get behind. A necessary evil, if you like.

The DUP's disaffected are quick to accuse Paisley of cozying up to Sinn Féin, describing them as his "new bestest friends", when in fact they're no such thing. A coalition is a marriage of convenience, not of love. It's a practical, grown-up step when the only alternative is ongoing stalemate where nothing gets done.

As Ulster's parties prepare to share power properly for the first time, let's remember - as I've said here before - that they don't have to see eye-to-eye on any one matter: they just have to agree what they're going to do. There's a difference because each policy will be the product of compromise, with individual policies either honed to ensure wider acceptability or traded off unaltered against something the other side wants. Either way the result is progress and the beginning of a shared future.

This is going to be a delicate process because it's the first time, and the two main players occupy the extremes of the political spectrum. Let's expect some people to reach for their toys and make out like they're off home. There will be play-acting, gambits, the lot - all a necessary, if tiresome, part of the democratic process and I wish them well with it.

Time to stay Big and keep our eyes on the horizon.


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