Enamoured of Carla Bruni?

Sark-astic Britain

As Mrs Miggins said of the fleeing French aristos in Blackadder the Third: “ooh la la and an éclair for both of us!” The visit of diminutive French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his glamorous other half has caused a stir in Westminster this week, but bloggers saw cracks in the gloss. Iain Dale has not yet been won over by “France’s Thatcher”. Sensing demagoguery in his eyes, he also fears a lack of focus:

“While he appeared to have clear plans for France, he has allowed himself to be distracted from the main task of reforming France's stagnant and centralised economy.”

And Eutopia asked whether Sarko has stitched up Gordon Brown domestically, by hinting that he’s acted to get Europe “moving ahead”. He wrote:

“Sarko seemed to be suggesting that Gordon’s done something pretty major to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. Pretty major like following Sarko’s lead and refusing to hold a referendum? Or was there some other agreement made behind the closed doors of the Council?”

The sceptics won’t like that.

Meanwhile the fragrant Carla Bruni was getting ratty over the sale of an old pic of herself in the buff – while on a more sensible note, Edis Bevan provided some interesting historical context to these suddenly rosy Anglo-French relations.

Musical Youth

The week saw the launch of Liberal Youth, the new organisation for young Lib Dems. Your intrepid blogger showed up late at its launch party on Tuesday night and missed the free booze. Andy Mayer, a self-declared decrepit old hack from its predecessor organisation, was highly impressed. He enthused:

“I have to say much has changed since the early 1990s. For starters the event was heaving, overflowing the main venue into two side rooms and an outdoor terrace. Possibly around 250-300 people. Further everyone was frankly rather normal. This was not 30 socially awkward policy geeks stuffed into a cold gymnasium in Hull discussing abolishing the monarchy while agonising whether or not the cheesy nibbles were vegan.”

Perhaps irked at http://www.order-order.com/2008/03/party-that-dare-not-speak...">not receiving an invite, Guido complained that the group’s new website has a “Top of the Pops circa-1974 feel.” What a grump!

What have we learned this week?

That the epic abortion row between Nadine Dorries MP and blogger Unity looks set, as they say, to run and run

Across the Pond

Like many of the shriller US bloggers Michelle Malkin is unhappy with John McCain’s recent use of leftist rhetorical tactics – such as nuance. Media Lizzy is more impressed though, and thought McCain’s foreign policy speech this week hinted at an ability to win over Democrats.

Video of the week

The must-watch video of the week is a contribution by ‘Kev Livingstone’ to the London Elects site. An impression of Ken Livingstone doing an impression of Boris Johnson as a stuck CD. Post-modern!

Quote of the week

“Personally I think this is all pretty timid stuff. I would prefer to see him strung up from a lamp post by his fingertips, next to Jack Straw and Ed Balls. That's not really anything to do with beer taxes, though. It would just be for fun.”

Greenie blogger Paul Kingsnorth on the online campaign to bar the Chancellor from every pub in Britain.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Theresa May "indifferent" towards Northern Ireland, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

The non-sectarian leader questioned whether the prime minister and James Brokenshire have the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the impasse at Stormont.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early election reflects her “indifference” towards the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has accused both the prime minister and her Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman, Long – who is running to regain her former Belfast East seat from the DUP for her non-sectarian party in June – accused the Conservatives of “double messaging” over its commitment to Northern Ireland’s fragile devolution settlement. The future of power-sharing province remains in doubt as parties gear up for the province’s fourth election campaign in twelve months.

Asked whether she believed the prime minister – who has been roundly criticised at Stormont for her decision to go to the country early – truly cared about Northern Ireland, Long’s assessment was blunt. “We have had no sense at any time, even when she was home secretary, that she has any sensitivity towards the Northern Ireland process or any interest in engaging with it at all... It speaks volumes that, when she did her initial tour when she was prime minister, Northern Ireland was fairly low down on her list.”

The timing of the snap election has forced Brokenshire to extend the deadline for talks for a fourth time – until the end of June – which Long said was proof “Northern Ireland and its problems were not even considered” in the prime minister’s calculations. “I think that’s increasingly a trend we’ve seen with this government,” she said, arguing May’s narrow focus on Brexit and pursuing electoral gains in England had made progress “essentially almost impossible”.

“They really lack sensitivity – and appear to be tone deaf to the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “They are increasingly driven by an English agenda in terms of what they want to do. That makes it very challenging for those of us who are trying to restore devolution, which is arguably in the worst position it’s been in [since the Assembly was suspended for four years] in 2003.”

The decisive three weeks of post-election talks will now take place in the weeks running up to Northern Ireland’s loyalist parade season in July, which Long said was “indicative of [May’s] indifference” and would make compromise “almost too big an ask for anyone”. “The gaps between parties are relatively small but the depth of mistrust is significant. If we have a very fractious election, then obviously that timing’s a major concern,” she said. “Those three weeks will be very intense for us all. But I never say never.”

But in a further sign that trust in Brokenshire’s ability to mediate a settlement among the Northern Irish parties is deteriorating, she added: “Unless we get devolution over the line by that deadline, I don’t think it can be credibly further extended without hitting James Brokenshire’s credibility. If you continue to draw lines in the sand and let people just walk over them then that credibility doesn’t really exist.”

The secretary of state, she said, “needs to think very carefully about what his next steps are going to be”, and suggested appointing an independent mediator could provide a solution to the current impasse given the criticism of Brokenshire’s handling of Troubles legacy issues and perceived partisan closeness to the DUP. “We’re in the bizarre situation where we meet a secretary of state who says he and his party are completely committed to devolution when they ran a campaign, in which he participated, with the slogan ‘Peace Process? Fleece Process!’ We’re getting double messages from the Conservatives on just how committed to devolution they actually are.”

Long, who this week refused to enter into an anti-Brexit electoral pact with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, also criticised the government’s push for a hard Brexit – a decision which she said had been taken with little heed for the potentially disastrous impact on Northern Ireland - and said the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont was ultimately a direct consequence of the destabilisation brought about by Brexit.

 Arguing that anything other than retaining current border arrangements and a special status for the province within the EU would “rewind the clock” to the days before the Good Friday agreement, she said: “Without a soft Brexit, our future becomes increasingly precarious and divided. You need as Prime Minister, if you’re going to be truly concerned about the whole of the UK, to acknowledge and reflect that both in terms of tone and policy. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet from Theresa May.”

She added that the government had no answers to the “really tough questions” on Ireland’s post-Brexit border. “This imaginary vision of a seamless, frictionless border where nobody is aware that it exists...for now that seems to me pie in the sky.”

However, despite Long attacking the government of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” to handle the situation in Northern Ireland effectively, she added that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had similarly failed to inspire confidence.

“Corbyn has no more sensitivity to what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment than Theresa May,” she said, adding that his links to Sinn Fein and alleged support for IRA violence had made him “unpalatable” to much of the Northern Irish public. “He is trying to repackage that as him being in some sort of advance guard for the peace process, but I don’t think that’s the position from which he and John McDonnell were coming – and Northern Irish people know that was the case.” 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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