Friday, February 26, 2010

Platform for Change launched (summarised in 140 seconds)

Platform for Change launched yesterday at lunchtime in the Black Box. Barren Carousel kicked off proceedings with a spot of acrobatics that maybe summarised the Northern Ireland political scene and the fine balancing act that Platform For Change will have to conduct in order to get its message out without falling off the high wire.

As secretary of the campaign group platform, Nuala McKeever contributed the shtick before Robin Wilson outlined the history and build up to the launch.

Platform for Change stands for pushing “a positive political agenda which does not endlessly replay arguments linked to Northern Ireland’s ‘troubles’”. It wants politics and politicians to server the entire community and not to stymie progress and development.
“… the politics of recent years has too often looked backwards rather than forwards, inwards rather than outwards to the wider world. This makes no sense to a new generation of voters.”
I captured a couple of quick interviews with signatories on the way out.

(Vimeo is playing up on some browsers at the moment - hopefully they'll get it fixed soon.)

There’s a lot of talk about being non-party political and citizen led. Getting away from a politics monopolised by a political elite. Engaging and energising. Consensus should replace polarisation. The platform’s statement sums up the key tenets:
“Citizens need to feel they have a genuine say in government, while the social partners must be properly integrated into decision-making. And devolution must be a springboard to maximise the potential for collaboration across these islands and to build network s across Europe and beyond.”
The fragility and deadlocking vetoes that cripple the current Executive are unacceptable to the platform.
“We want a strong executive, making key decisions in the best interests of all of the citizens. Platform for Change seeks solutions, engaging with young people, voters and non-voters to bring about change. It is within our grasp if, as citizens and elected representatives, we all commit to the common good and come together to secure it.”
As a starting point, Platform for Change have singled out “three demanding issues” to see what a wide-ranging consensus policies might look at.
“The vista of unregulated chaos issuing from the abolition of academic selection at 11 should be ended by moving as quickly as possible to a system of examination-based progress at 14. Schools are already organising into area-based partnerships: this should be accelerated so that all pupils have access to the maximum range of curricular choice. To promote intercultural dialogue, area-based partnerships should, as far as is practicable, involve collaborative networks of de facto Protestant, Catholic, integrated and Irish-medium schools.”
Sustainable development
“Energy policy, economic development, public buildings, public housing stock, investment in innovation, training, transport, planning—all these are devolved. Through adopting a Green New Deal approach the executive could secure and create jobs—from ‘green collar’ insulation jobs to high-tech engineering jobs which build on Northern Ireland’s traditional strengths—and can start to transform our economy while simultaneously tackling fuel poverty.”
Intercultural dialogue / Community relations
commitments to “intercultural education, including non-formal education, should be a priority across the education system; ‘shared neighbourhoods’ should become the model, and protected by vigorous pursuit of the perpetrators of intimidation, not rehousing of their victims; the Police Service of Northern Ireland must ensure everyone can enjoy the rule of law, providing the necessary security to remove the ‘peace walls’; and the public realm should be protected as the property of all, with zero tolerance of sectarian appropriation by flags and emblems.”
I attended a couple of the early meetings of Platform for Change and have followed its progress ever since. Many of the faces from the first meeting at QUB were there yesterday. If I step off the fence for a minute, it’s a good thing, a positive intervention in society and local politics, and sets up a stall in the middle of the public square that offers a chance for the re-engaging public as well as the usual suspects to work up consensual policies on some of the big issues facing us.

The difficulty with Platform for Change is that at present it looks like a middle class revolution, an angry Alliance Party. Or maybe it’s liberal unionists with a heart for social justice mixing with nationalists that prefer practising collaboration rather than marching towards unity?

The platform’s key hurdle is to grow beyond the cucumber sandwich-eating brigade – Frances McCandless spoke exceptionally well on the subject – and reach out to real people in cities, towns, villages, estates and farms across Northern Ireland, while at the same time pushing their agenda firmly into the hands of the current political gene pool.

Political representatives (councillors, MLAs and several Westminster candidates) from Alliance, Green Party, PUP, SDLP and UUP were all present at the launch and listed as signatories to the platform. However the SDLP were quick off the mark with their press release (handed to me at the end of the launch!) and to date seem to be the only party to centrally endorse Platform for Change. And their newest MLA Conall McDevitt blogged about it too. Contributors on Slugger O’Toole were less convinced!

1 comment:

Alan in Belfast said...

Notable that Alliance's Stephen Farry issued a statement to personally endorse Platform for Change, rather than a full endorsement by the party.