Posted By: December 31, 2014

Brian Feeney. Irish Nws ( Belfast). Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THE British general election on May 7 is set to produce the biggest sea change in British politics for generations, perhaps since 1945 when Labour emerged for the first time as a government with an overwhelming majority.

Nevertheless 1945 was only Tweedledum overturning Tweedledee. That is to say the two-party system remained in place. So in 1951 the Conservatives overturned Labour’s majority and the pendulum has swung between the two ever since.

All the indications are that neither Labour nor the Conservatives will win an overall majority in May. That has happened before of course but what is different this time is that it is because the two-party system of British politics looks broken. The SNP and Ukip are likely to win enough seats to deprive the two largest parties of victory.

The most recent poll shows the SNP up a staggering 23 per cent from the 2010 general election while Labour is down 16 per cent. That means Labour is likely to lose a minimum of 26 of its 40 Scottish seats while the SNP is likely to win a minimum of 25 Scottish seats.

The SNP will deprive Labour of an overall majority and hopes to drive a hard bargain in any coalition deal with Labour.

That’s why Alex Salmond is standing for Westminster. On the right Ukip may well take some seats from Labour but will do far more damage to the Conservatives depriving them of an overall majority.

As a result the bookies are expecting Labour to come in with around 288 seats and the Conservatives with around 285, both far below the 326 required for a majority.

You can now bet on any of 20 varieties of single government and coalition ranging from a Labour majority at 7/2 to a Conservative/Lib Dem/Ukip coalition at 100/1. If you’re interested Paddy Power is offering 16/1 on a Conservative/DUP coalition.

One result you can be sure of – and so can Cameron – is that the DUP will win eight seats here in May.

Unlike the uncertainty and excitement in Britain, no-one is betting on any change of scenery here. The only question is how dirty the DUP campaign in East Belfast will be, not how stupid it will be. That goes without saying. Sometimes, however, dirty is stupid.

After all the mud (and petrol bombs) thrown at Naomi Long and her office in 2013 the Alliance vote in East Belfast in last year’s council elections was down less than 400.

OK, they made a mess of vote management in the PR system and lost a councillor but overall the DUP’s mud-slinging campaign and stupid allegations had no effect.

All that remains to be seen is whether the DUP manage to outmanoeuvre the UUP’s leader (never difficult) and field so-called unionist unity candidates. That, however, is an intra-unionist struggle.

Whoever wins will make no difference to the result of Westminster seats even in Fermanagh/South Tyrone or South Belfast. In neither constituency is a credible unionist candidate available.

All in all 2015 offers more of the same here, a stillstand as they say in geology – that is, a period when a glacier remains stationary, which pretty well sums up Norn Irn[Northern Ireland] politics. Don’t get your hopes up from the false praise heaped on last week’s Stormont House Agreement. Those statements from Obama and others were written for them by people who hadn’t even read the agreement. It’s a pretence they have any knowledge or interest in this place and why would they have? Last week’s was a financial deal designed to tide the chancers in the assembly over until the general election. None of the matters of pressing importance was addressed despite the outlandish claims of Charlie Flanagan.

To observe if there’s any change in the DUP’s attitude the first item to check is whether the DUP vote for Mitchell McLaughlin as speaker as they promised. If you read the Stormont House Agreement, as of course you did over Christmas, the first missing item you’ll notice is that in the new procedures for good behaviour at the executive and assembly there’s no mention of the speaker.

You surely don’t think the agreement has exorcised the DUP’s dread of unionism’s Jeremiah, Jim Allister?