Trimble's democratic deficit
BY FERN LANE
One of the key aspects of the Good Friday Agreement was the urgent need to address the democratic deficit which had been so apparent for so long in the civic and political life of the Six Counties. The Agreement was, naturally, and perhaps necessarily, coy about how this deficit had come about, discretely neglecting to mention the small matter of the crude ideology of unionist majoritarianism, an ideology which historically had positively espoused corruption, inequality and injustice. It preferred instead to treat the deficit as if it were some kind of natural phenomenon, or act of God, rather than the conscious will of the unionist population and their politicians. It also neglected to mention that this state of affairs had been originally encouraged and then allowed to continue under the auspices of successive British governments.
Nevertheless, the idea was that, however the democratic deficit had come about, it really ought to be rectified, and one of the ways of achieving enhanced electoral opportunity, participation and accountability was to introduce, in effect, a system of proportional representation. This system created a number of anomalies of its own; such as, for example, the tremendous political clout wielded by tiny parties such as the PUP, UDP and the Women's Coalition, who between them have had only marginal electoral success, but who have nevertheless been rewarded with disproportionate political power. Even this rather odd situation, however, was felt by nationalists to be infinitely preferable to that which had obtained previously and anyway, getting loyalist paramilitaries to embrace politics was a crucial part of the effort to establish peace.
, albeit reluctant, party to this Agreement was the UUP, whose members have, astonishingly, traditionally prided themselves on their democratic credentials in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Not surprisingly, in British circles very little is made of the disparity in how the UUP sees itself and how it has historically operated. The party has long believed - and has managed to persuade others - that because its own internal structures are said to be `democratic', this in itself makes the party democratic in how it conducts itself in political matters generally.
Not so, as we know to our cost. This internal `democracy' is, as it always has, manifesting itself in precisely the opposite way for the nationalist population. UUP party policy is decided by the party's Ulster Unionist Council, which consists of some 800 or so largely unelected party members and Orangemen. In a normal democracy, this is not at all problematic. The Six Counties, however, is not a normal democracy. At present, these men, and very few women, have the staggeringly undemocratic power to dictate to the rest of the population, nationalist and unionist alike, the course the `peace process' is to take, In direct contradiction to the democratically expressed will of the people of the Six Counties (the people of the rest of Ireland are of no consequence to unionism), these few hundred may well yet manage to bring down the Good Friday Agreement. And their ability to do so relies in no small way on the power struggle between David Trimble and Jeffrey Donaldson.
The latest working out of this power struggle was, of course, Trimble's refusal to nominate ministers to attend the North-South ministerial meeting last Friday. In this Trimble - who, as ever, has Peter Mandelson standing firm beside him - has flown in the face of the Good Friday Agreement and, in order to salvage his own hide, rather than removing the democratic deficit, has, together with Mandelson, actually reinforced it.
Like the notorious hierarchy of death, there is now also a hierarchy of voters being established in the Six Counties, with the UUP voter at the very top of the pile and the Sinn Féin voter at the very bottom. The SDLP voter, incidentally, fares little better. Perhaps the single most important element of the Good Friday Agreement for nationalists was the creation of cross-border bodies, but no matter.
Whilst Trimble may finally have bared his teeth at Jeffrey Donaldson at the latest UUC meeting, in reality this was a hollow show of strength since, by his own admission, he and Donaldson differ only in ``tactics'', rather than in policy. Their objectives, he said, were now the same. All that remains is for Trimble to admit officially that he has finally moved into the No camp. His determination to ``punish'' Sinn Féin for supposed transgressions - transgressions which have simply been invented by him and his party - was no more than a desire to punish republicans for his own inability, or unwillingness, to adequately lead his party and prepare them for the inevitability of sharing power.
His efforts to block - and possibly even destroy - the North-South elements of the Good Friday Agreement, were countered by a show of unity by nationalist Ireland but his strategy of exclusion has been underwritten by the Secretary of State (who, let us not forget, rules by decree).
Official British policy now is that the UUP is the only party which counts and that the `peace process' is not about peace at all; it is not about creating a more just and equitable society; it is not about removing the causes of conflict or about addressing the serious social and economic failures of 80 years of unionist rule. The `peace process' is now simply about maintaining the political career of one man.