Some solutions-focused beaconicity from SDLP

7 04 2009

Just checking out the SDLP New Priorities document.

It’s a curious creature. Like a platypus. And interestingly, just like a platypus, the SDLP economic paper provokes the same question:

‘How could it happen and who is responsible?’

In the case of the platypus, people like Mervyn Storey blame God. In the case of the SDLP position paper on the depressed economic situation, people like Mark Durkan but they’re going to blame him anyway.

As a rule, you know you’re in the Northern Territory when you see the Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations rising majestically out of ancient desert sands sacred to Aboriginal peoples.

And as a rule, you know you’re in Mark Durkan territory when you see clunky, malformed syntax impersonating bad poetry and desperately craving rhythm:

Doing nothing is not an option. More jobs, more houses, more nurses mean a stronger economy.

Living organisms are at the heart of the cheese making process. You could find that out, either by reading (as I often do) the essential, or… by watching the living organism Mark Durkan produce cheese like this:

Throughout our history, where there have been problems the SDLP has been close by to offer solutions. Some others do problems. We do solutions.

SDLP – purveyors in finest beaconicity and economy-focused solutions. It’s all a bit 1990s.

But we soon learn the top priority from the paper:

1. We must stimulate economic activity protecting businesses and jobs from the impacts of the recession.

Hooray! Then the paper goes on to list the following demands:

The Construction Sector

Reconfigure the government’s capital investment strategy to prioritise those areas of planned capital expenditure that have a high labour content.

Ensure that the Capital Programme gets delivered on time.

Bring construction projects forward.


Developing our Tourism Potential

Tourism Marketing –directed to Tourism Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board using the pull of an affordable currency zone.

Tourism Product Development through the physical development of the signature projects.

Hooray! Then the paper goes to suggest:

Harbour Commission voluntarily fund Titanic Signature Project from cash reserves freeing up allocated Executive funds.

Hoor… eh? So the SDLP want to cut government funding on the Titanic Project? But hang on, according to one MLA, this is the kind of project to be welcomed because it will:

  1. create construction jobs
  2. alleviate the worst effects of the current economic crisis
  3. benefit our local tourism.

Isn’t that right, Alastair McDonnell! The SDLP deputy leader so thoroughly backed the Executive’s spending plans last November that he claimed it was ‘good to see our message getting through’. So it must be bad to see that the SDLP’s message is no longer getting through to the SDLP, right Alastair?

But won’t the Titanic Project’s creating hundreds of jobs for the construction sector and helping to developing our tourism potential meet the stated aims of the SDLP paper? Surely this would mitigate the worst impacts of the recession by reordering public expenditure to achieve maximum short term stimulus to the local economy (page 3)? No?

Enough talk. This is my initial take on all this: dumb courage.

Great to see someone putting substantial proposals into the public domain. But why include stuff like the above and potentially controversial proposals on Sunday opening for bookies when it will suck attention away from decent and popular proposals (eg. surrounding Assembly costs)?

Their policy people will be busy on Euro manifestos and assembly business. Drafting together a paper of some depth was going to be difficult – which is why it’s got lots of clunky stuff and proposals that just don’t match up. But they’ve started the ball rolling on what constructive, intelligent politics can look like.

So they don’t go down in my estimations for producing this, or even for producing the dumb bits. Going back to the ugly platypus simile (the platypus, not the simile), this ugly jumble of forest and car park fire-sales (which will net little value), PFI schemes for the Housing Exec HQ (anyone told John Dallat) and tired old guff about comfortable old Sir Humphrey may not attract admiring glances from policy wonks. But I’m more struck by the SDLP’s courage of articulating a constructive alternative vision.

So where does this debate go next? How will the SDLP win consensus on the really good bits?




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