ONLY the naivest of the naive would contend that this week’s local government election is just about the council staples of emptying the bins and burying the dead. Like so many other things here for the past century and more, City Hall politics have become consumed by the politics of partition – aka the politics of division.
It is right and proper that those going down the ballot paper will reward hard-working former or prospective councillors for the hours and effort they put in dealing with local issues. But against a background of a collapsing Health Service, desperately underpaid public servants and the decimation of community services, it is more right and more proper that a strong message be sent to those whose actions have robbed us of a devolved assembly at a time in the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement that it was most needed. And those who need to hear that message are the DUP and their candidates.
The best way to send that message is first of all to take the trouble to turn up and vote, and secondly to put your number or numbers beside concerned and progressive candidates who have spoken up in favour of our Health Service; who have stood on the picket line with public sector workers who have spent 13 years watching the real value of their salaries plummet; who have added their voices to those of grassroots organisations whose services and posts are about to be devastated by the latest round of vicious and punishing Tory cuts.
The DUP has illustrated in spades over the past year that it cares more about the politics of the flag and flute than it does about the lives of the people they were elected to serve.
The Stormont institutions are, of course, themselves a supercharged form of local government and by its own shameful admission the largest of the unionist parties has cynically used them as a weapon in its doomed and pointless fight against the Protocol.
And if the DUP won’t nominate in order to let MLAs address the various crises which assail people in their daily lives, then why should we for a moment think they care any more about what goes on in local authority chambers across these six counties?
Needless to say, the DUP can have no argument with any of this because in their election literature they make it expressly clear that they want people to vote for them in order to continue a fight in which local councillors can have no part. “Let us finish the job,” pleads the DUP, without informing people that the job they’ve been doing up to now has landed them in the departure lounge of the union from which the only exit is a door marked ‘Protocol Climbdown’.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the election British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was given the front page of the Tory in-house newspaper, the Telegraph, to tell the DUP in no uncertain terms that there will be no renegotiation of the EU-UK deal that gave us the Windsor Framework. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has run out of options. There are no good outcomes for him, only less worse ones. That’s a nightmare of his own making.