Brokenshire is brilliant

27 October 2017 - by Quintin Oliver

It is fashionable to wring one’s hands at the current state of political play.

For the broader public, understandable frustrations often spill over into anger and disillusionment, sometimes turning into a dangerous form of anti-politics; but no violence yet.

For commentators and the chattering classes, amongst whom we are, of course, numbered, it can tend towards arrogance – “we could do it better; they are so juvenile…”. This is equally dangerous since it undermines the democracy of politics, however imperfect, and intensifies the gulf between politicians as a class, and the voter.

James Brokenshire MP, our nineteenth Secretary of State (I remind each of them that Gerry Adams TD met the very first one, in Cheyne Walk on an IRA delegation, and is still going strong) is not very well got in the current discourse: “He’s no Mo Mowlam. Even Peter Mandelson had a clear agenda. Tom King would take none of this nonsense…

Nevertheless, he has achieved many of the objectives one imagines The Prime Minister, Theresa May, set him, assuming sealing a deal wasn’t attainable:

  • Keep Northern Ireland off No 10’s plate, for as long as possible;

  • Keep the various bull-headed factions talking as long as you can;

  • Keep violence off the streets, disrupt paramilitaries, maintain law and order;

  • Keep the Irish engaged – and ‘be nice’ on Brexit;

  • Boost tourism, grow the economy, encourage investment.

Furthermore, he has overseen the Rates Order and the financial Monitoring Round, turned a blind eye on MLA pay (thereby protecting the political class from implosion) and tolerated – maybe urged – Permanent Secretary ultra vires risky decision-making.

If he can trump this nine-month feat with a non-direct rule, direct rule-lite arrangement, then might we praise him, before burying him again in well-deserved obscurity after the Irish election and after Brexit, if that’s what it will take?