Throughout February, we’re getting people from all over Northern Ireland to contribute personal pieces in the run up to the election on March 2nd. 28 days in February for 28 different voices.

There are still a few spots left to fill so get in touch!

Stephen McCrory

I have noticed a strange phenomenon that appears regularly at Stormont. Northern Irish politicians seem to be unable to speak to camera on their own. Inevitably, when a statement, important or otherwise, is being made the one making the pronouncement is accompanied by a gaggle of his colleagues (what is the collective noun for a group of N.I. politicians? – so far we have come up with “a laughing stock”, “a disagreement”, a shambles”, “a bluster”, “a irrelevance”, and “an ineptitude” of politicians).

Generally Arlene or Gerry or Colum or some such stands at the front talking, but around and behind, crowded about, are political colleagues of varying fame and notability. This phenomenon is not unique to one party. All the parties with enough representation to make a crowd do it. But why? The clatter at the front mostly seem mildly embarrassed or bored, often not looking at the camera, seemingly slightly dead behind the eyes, like the children from ‘The Village of the Damned’. The back ones peek through gaps or stand bolt upright trying to catch a glimpse of the lens. It’s vaguely disturbing and seems to be unique to Northern Ireland. I have not seen this behaviour from politicians from other parts of the UK. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t appear in crowd of SNP MSPs when she speaks.

So why do they do it? I think there are several possibilities. Firstly, I think there is a desire to get some less well known faces on the telly. Certainly, I had no clue about some of the faces on display and had to cross check on the parties’ web page. That said, the photos on the web pages were so old that many of MLAs looked like school leavers and were hard to identify. So maybe the reason is exposure, blooding the new recruits. If that is the case however the troops need to look excited and enthusiastic, not gormless and bored.

Secondly, the speaker might feel that with the crowd ‘with’ them their message is more forceful. The thought could be ‘all these people are standing with me so they must agree with my message and so you should too’. Again, I fall back on argument 1., the gormless and bored one, which isn’t reinforcing anyone’s message. If people are to endorse my message, I need some ‘oh yeahs’ and fist punching, although that regurgitates images of the DUP conference and ‘Arlene’s on Fire!’. Looks like I’m not sleeping again tonight.

Finally, it could be cultural. We live in a land where marching is the norm. Possibly it’s just in the genes that when a point is be got across you have to do it in a group. I doubt that a flute band would be allowed in the foyer of the big house, but our politicians seem to insist on gathering as if they are about to set off down the Garvaghy Rd./ Falls / etc. I’m sure that by now you are not surprised that I would like this to stop.

If a new political generation is to be launched on to the unsuspecting populace wouldn’t it be much better to hear them speak for themselves? They might make the occasional blunder, but it would be so much better for us all if they could speak out rather than standing gormlessly with their arms the same length.

If the message needs the endorsement of a mute crowd, it’s not much of a message. Let us hear the message and judge it on its content rather than the number of bystanders press ganged to stand before the press.

And surely it’s time to move on from the tribalism of ‘there’s more of us than them’ or ‘if you don’t believe us we’ll come and walk down your street’. Surely it’s time to leave a siege mentality behind.

As the election draws near and inevitably our political parties grab the limelight as much as they possibly can, see who stand confident and alone in front of the Grand Marble stairs of the Great Hall. And consider voting for them.

Stephen McCrory is a Health Professional and cycling enthusiast who tries to remain hopeful at all times.

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Photo Credits: Belfast Telegraph