100 Years Out of Date- The Tory/UUP Joint Election Manifesto

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Originally posted on Socialist Economic Bulletin.

The Tory Party has launched a joint manifesto with the Ulster Unionist Party.

This is a revival of a formal alliance that stretches back nearly 100 years, when the anti-Home Rule wing of the Liberal Party (the ‘Liberal Unionists’) split and joined the Conservatives to form the Conservative and Unionist Party. This was the political force most opposed to Irish independence and which helped to organise the illegal arming of the Ulster Volunteers as well as the ‘Curragh Mutiny’ – the rebellion by anti-Home Rule British army offices stationed at the Curragh camp outside Dublin.

However the UUP is not the force it was, the dominant representative of political Unionism. It lost 5 out of its 6 remaining seats in the 2005 General Election with Reg Empey now as its sole representative at Westminster. Both parties have perhaps been hoping for a lift from the remerger; the UUP aiming to win seats from the DUP, and the Tories having an automatic back-up ally in the event of a narrow majority in current election. Politically, both have proclaimed that the manoeuvre signals that ‘Northern Ireland’ is now an ordinary part of and “no longer semi-detached from the UK.”

However, their own manifesto shows that this is not true, politically or economically

The only concrete policy for the northern 6 counties seems to be turning it into an ‘Enterprise Zone- different from the rest of Britain. This is to be a regulation-free, low-pay and low tax area, an extreme echo of the early years of Thatcherism, which one commentator at the time dubbed ‘Welcome to Slumsville’.

Economically there is too a qualitative difference. In an interesting map in the manifesto reproduced below, there is a geographic representation of the relative size of the economies, with the 6 Counties shrunken and shrivelled. This is a function of the current phase of colonialism in this part of Ireland.

Per capita output in NI is approximately one-third below the British average. A key feature of the economy in NI, and primary cause of this underperformance is that it is a closed one. Its most recent trading performance shows annual foreign sales (equivalent to exports) of just £12bn, with just £5bn going to non-British destinations. By contrast, Britain’s total exports amounted to £421bn, and even this is a weak performance by international standards. At the same time exports from the rest of Ireland amounted to €84bn, even though the population is only just over 2 1/2 times greater.

This is a direct product of colonialism, which the policies of the UUP/Tory Party will only deepen.

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3 Responses

  1. Garibaldy

    April 29, 2010 12:40 pm

    Interesting stuff. Where would Thatcher’s deliberate de-industrialisation of the UK, and from which the traditional industries in NI suffered, fit into your analysis? I’m not sure that colonialism explains that process, especially in light of the similar damage down to similar regions in Britain. The lack of exports you point to seems to me to be related to this process. When your main growth industry is call centres, it’s hard to see what you can export.

    Regarding the misnamed economic development policy, which I think you pretty much correctly characterise, I’d be interested to hear what you think about the policies of the other local parties in NI. For example, London is refusing to cut corporation tax in NI, whereas the local parties want to cut it, usually down to the same rate as the rest of the island. How muc of this do you think is due to a local embrace of the fundamental economics of neo-liberalism as opposed to colonialism driven from Westminster?

    By the way, the UUP’s sole MP was Sylvia Hermon, who has now gone independent, not Reg Empey.

  2. Michael Burke

    April 30, 2010 11:55 am

    Yes,thanks, don’t know how I got my Sirs mixed up with my Ladys (no vestiges of feudalism here), especially having seen Hermon’s “I am just not a Tory” interview on Youtube.

    Deindustrialisation, which took place across Britain under Thatcher is of course a function of neo-liberalism, not colonialism. However, that episode had the aim of driving down wages and the social wage and eliminating less profitable sectors of capitalism in order to drive up the profitability of the remaining sectors. The result was an increased dominance of British finance capital, both relatively and absolutely.

    But deindustrialisation in NI is not an episode, but a trend, that stretches all the way back to Partition, with a few interludes. Large-scale capital owned in NI has been eliminated, compared to Britain. (The FTSE 100 companies alone had market cap of over £4trn at the beginning of the year, now higher, and there are no NI equivalents). That is, swamped by larger entitities, obsolescence, lack of investment and sacrificed by deindustrialisation, NI looks increasingly like a dependent colony, rather than the equal partner of the WWI. The lack of foreign trade with all but the colonial power is both a sign and a key mechanism of that relationship.

    This virtual absence of a strong domestic class of large-scale owners of capital is now a common feature both sides of the border. As a result, the parties representing the owners focus on the needs of a much smaller class, sometimes refered to as gombeen men. Their obsessions are low wages and low taxes, often under the guise of ‘competitiveness’, even though they actually compete only with each other, not internationally.

    In that way the economic policies of the UUP and DUP are remarkably similar to the enacted policies of FF. ‘New Priorities In Difficult Times’ suggests the SDLP is heading in that direction also. SF’s policy for reflation would be unremarkable in most of Europe, or even the US and Japan- although it would mark them out as dangerous left-wingers in Britain now. But in Ireland, anything that smacks of Keynesianism is revolutionary.

    So, harmonistation of tax and all other fiscal and regulatory regimes makes sense on this island. But that should not be the race to bottom envisaged by many of the parties, which leads to the scandalous situation where the Dublin government claims it cannot afford a public health service, even though it has a higher per capita GDP than Britain. Instead, harmonisation should be co-ordinated on the basis of the needs of the all-Irish economy.

  3. Garibaldy

    April 30, 2010 1:28 pm

    Thanks for the response Michael. The continued honours system is certainly a joke. Agree on Thatcherism being entirely in the interests of finance capital. I think there was also a very deliberate political element to it. They sought to remove as far as possible the material basis for the trade unions and for opposition to the capitalist system. Norman Tebbit said so on Question Time in the 1990s I think it was – he said they sold off the housing stock because people who own houses have acquired capital, and thus become capitalists. Hard not to see the promotion of small business in a similar light.

    I’d agree deindustrialisation in NI is a long-term trend, and to the mixture of reasons you cite, I would add industrial growth elsewhere in the world, be it shipyards or shirt factories, a major factor unaffected by partition, and a process underway before World War I. So I think there might be a greater place than sometimes is given for NI’s role as a participant in a declining imperial economy as Britain’s international competitors caught up and overtook it. I think that NI – and before that Ireland’s – place within the metropolitan economy and within the expansion of the British empire has been seriously undertheorised/understudied by the left, especially when it comes to the issue of colonialism and Ireland.

    As for harmonisation of tax etc, I have no objections in principle but like yourself I do wonder about the terms on which it would take place. It is often talked about essentialy in terms of replicating the southern system in the north, which would be the race to the bottom you are talking about, and might well have an impact on public services within NI. The discussion around corporation tax does worry me on those grounds.