The political week in 5 points

Two-and-a-half years after Ashers Bakery refused to decorate a cake with the words ‘Support Same-Sex Marriage’, the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier judgement that the bakery had unlawfully discriminated against a customer on grounds of sexual orientation. In its decision, the Court ruled that icing words on a cake does not constitute the endorsement of a particular message.

Naomi Long succeeded David Ford as Alliance Party leader. Uncontested in her leadership bid, Long had long been considered a wise choice for the top job. As former Lord Mayor of Belfast and the woman who ended Peter Robinson’s parliamentary career in East Belfast, she has earned a reputation as one of the party’s most effective figures. Accepting her new role, Long was keen to emphasise that her leadership amounted to a change of style, not substance: “It’s not about a change of direction, it’s about a change of pace.”

There was broadly positive news for the UK’s economy in the wake of the Brexit referendum. In the three months after the June 23 vote, the economy grew by 0.5% – less growth than in the previous quarter, but higher than most predictions had forecast. Meanwhile, after considerable uncertainty, Nissan confirmed its long-term commitment to its Sunderland plant. With a third runway finally approved at Heathrow, Theresa May’s government will be hoping that manufacturing and infrastructure projects will help the UK economy to weather any storm clouds generated after Article 50 is triggered next year.

Arlene Foster addressed her first conference as DUP leader. Buoyed by two defections from the UUP earlier in the week, her keynote speech seems to have been more about pleasing the party faithful than broadening its appeal. Indeed, in the run-up to the conference Foster announced that her party would continue to mount a petition of concern if the legalisation of same-sex marriage returned to the floor of the Assembly, effectively blocking any change for the next five years. Her opponents were particularly riled by part of the First Minister’s reasoning: that online trolls had convinced her to remain firm on the issue.

In a remarkable twist in the US presidential race, James Comey announced that the FBI is still investigating Hillary Clinton over her State Department emails. The FBI Director defended his move in order to avoid “misleading” Congress, but his intervention ran contrary to the wishes of the Department of Justice. Will the bizarre revelation give Trump a new lease of life? Will it change the calculations of undecided voters? Early voting is already well underway in many battleground states; in 8 days’ time we will have a much better understanding of the fallout from Mr Comey’s ‘October Surprise’.

 

About Jamie Pow

Jamie is Deputy Editor of Northern Slant and a PhD student at the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University Belfast. His interests include elections, peace building, and making democracy work better. All views expressed are his own, not those of the University.