Capital uncertainty bad for nationalism

Posted By: April 13, 2016

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday. april 13, 2016

The whole place is festooned with posters but you don’t detect much interest in the assembly election, do you?

Currently it’s the media trying to excite some interest in how the six seats in south Belfast will pan out or whether Sinn Féin can overtake the SDLP as the main party in Derry.

If you did a vox pop it’s a fair bet many people wouldn’t even know the date of the election.

Turnout has been falling for years. It may be because people are fed up with the parade of mediocrity which passes for so-called politicians in the assembly. It may also be because now that the Troubles are long over people realise that Stormont is a side-show, a vastly expensive glorified county council administering the money sent from Britain. What really counts is what happens in London and Dublin. The next five years are going to demonstrate the truth of that.

The money is on a deal in Dublin tonight or tomorrow. It looks like a minority Fine Gael government supported on the basis of what’s called ‘confidence and supply’ by Fianna Fáil. The plan will be for it to last two and a half years or three budgets. It probably won’t, but how ever long it lasts it will be inherently unstable. Fianna Fáil will be anxious not to be seen propping up an unpopular Taoiseach and a Fine Gael party that only a quarter of the electorate voted for. They will be desperate not to let Sinn Féin adopt the position of main opposition party though in effect that’s what they’ll be. Fianna Fáil will be equally desperate not to be blamed for causing another election.

The effect of this introspection will be to ignore the north. That’s bad for nationalists because government in Britain will be equally unstable. Whether Cameron wins or loses his EU referendum there will be a heave against him. At present it looks like a narrow win for ‘Remain’. That will induce open warfare in the openly divided Conservative party. We know Cameron isn’t standing in the next election but many Conservative MPs want rid of him as soon as possible. Conservative Eurosceptics have no loyalty to his government and are ready to rebel about anything, not only European affairs.

Of course if Cameron loses the referendum he’ll have to resign. Win or lose there’s a strong chance of Boris Johnson emerging as leader of an anti-Europe Conservative party before the 2020 election.

Now consider this. Labour can’t win the 2020 election. They would need to win more than 60 extra seats in England to do so plus winning more seats in Scotland and Wales. That would require a swing of more than 10 per cent which is bigger than Blair got in 1997 and that was the biggest swing since 1906. In short you’re looking at a Conservative government until at least 2025.

In the meantime, until Cameron decides to go, and that will have to be well in advance of 2020 if he’s not defenestrated, the instability of his party and his fragile majority mean he will increasingly need to rely on the DUP’s eight political giants who will naturally look for concessions.

Remember how Cameron courted this bunch in the run up to the 2015 election despite the open distaste of some of his backbenchers? Former minister Crispin Blunt in January 2015 asked, “Do you,, like me, rather fear for the face of this country if by some mischance there is not a clear Conservative majority at the next election and an administration will have to rely on that lot over there?”

Well, despite a Conservative majority it could happen because of the civil war in Conservatism. We’ve witnessed since 2011 what happened when Enda Kenny’s coalition paid no attention to the north, despite protests from Fianna Fáil, and exerted no pressure on the openly biased proconsuls.

Now an even worse set of circumstances looms with an unstable Irish government struggling to survive for a couple of years and an equally unstable British government riven by pro and anti-EU factions. If it came to surviving a vote in the Commons would Cameron listen to a feeble Dublin voice?