Unholy Labour-Conservative alliance passes penal rates system

Earlier this evening in the House of Lords, and unholy political
alliance between Labour and Conservative Peers colluded to vote through
the Rates Order (NI) (2006). I had worked hard, in assistance to the
Fair Rates Campaign, to try to get Peers to support a fatal motion by
Lord Smith of Clifton, but Conservative Peer Lord Glentoran tabled an
alternative, non-fatal motion. After an agreement with Lord Rooker, it
was Lord Glentoran’s motion that carried the vote, 124-62.

In
my efforts to defeat the Rates Order, I wrote a letter in my Party
Leader, David Ford’s name (see previous press statement). I made the
case that as we are on the verge of knowing whether devolution will be
restored, it would be a harsh contradiction to not allow
locally-elected representatives the opportunity to decide this for
themselves and for Northern Ireland. Lord Rooker made the point that a
devolved Assembly can still do this, but as this controversial
legislation has now been passed by the Labour Government (with
Conservative acquiescence), there is less political rationale that such
change will happen. Instead, I expect various Northern Ireland
politicians to blame the unaccountable direct rule ministers. “It
wasn’t our doing, Gov.”

Ulster Unionist Peer, David Trimble, actually made reference to my
letter, complimenting David Ford. Mr Trimble cited the passage in
regards to the fact that as the introduction of the proposed rates
system is to be revenue-neutral, then HM Treasury should have no
objection to any postponement of its introduction. Trimble said that
David Ford would be surprised to hear that he was complimenting him —
a reference surely to the matter of the fallout between the two men
when the UUs wanted Alliance to stand down in certain seats during the
2001 General Election. “But there you are,” added Trimble.

Trimble repeated the point that although it was he as First Minister
who initiated the reform of the rating system in Northern Ireland, in
2002, he was certain that he “would not have ended where we are today”.

Of course, we’ll never know where we would have ended up.
Unfortunately, after tonight’s vote, we’ve likely lost any chance that
this matter will be revisited. I wish the Conservatives would have
given the ratepayers of Northern Ireland that chance.

Let me tell you, whenever the Northern Ireland Conservatives
campaign in the next election here, the UUs — the most likely vote
swingers to the local Tories — have now got a nice stick to beat them
with.

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