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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 6, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

    The Other side of the Water

    Harry McGee

    Here’s a trick for a journalist like me who’s stuck for an intro. You can always find a simple and obvious comparison. For example, if you’re talking about Irish politics the easiest thing to do is have a look across the water and say, God, what’s happening over there is happening here too, or is just about to happen (expenses scandals; three wins on the trot for Bertie’s bestest friend in the world Tonee Blair).

    And to make it look like your really clever, you can use that most-frayed of quotes from Don Scottus: All comparisons are odious. To excuse the odious comparison that you have made.

    But when you are not being less lazy about it, and delve a little deeper, the more you look the more you come to conclusion is that what separates us and the old enemy aren’t our differences but our similarities. And those similarites have been reinforced by unfettered access to British society.  Our access to its media, TV and web gives us it all: the good, the bad, and Celebrity Big Brother.

    I did a prediction piece earlier this week in which I proffered the view that the Tories would achieve a slim majority. I based it on a belief that this year will see Britian have an Obama moment (in terms of the need for change, rather than in terms of his ideologies being adopted by David Cameron).

    The comparison is this of course. After three terms in office over here, I think that Fianna Fail and co will get the boot in the next General Election, much on the same premise.

    One our our regular correspondents Dan Sullivan, posted a reply expressing doubt about the possibility of a Tory victory.  That, I hope will kickstart a conversation on a fascinating political year in Britain. I’ve also included a link and quote from a very good piece of analysis that the Irish Times London editor Mark Hennessy wrote for this morning’s paper.

    So here’s Dan.

    “The problem for the Tories is that even with a massive win votewise that does not necessarily translate into seats. People often miss it (in large part due to the exit poll gap being 37% to 33%) but the gap in 2005 was only 2% in Labour’s favour yet they won 150 more seats.


    You can try out some scenarios with the site above, even with the Tories getting 42% to Labour 29% they still only end up with a 20 seat majority. Hence the view that they will fall that wee bit short.”

    And here is Mark, writing about the possibility of a hung parliament (read his full article here):

    “The latest polls show that the Conservatives have a 10-point lead over Labour, with 40 per cent to Labour’s 30 per cent.

    Election analysts divide on what such a result would mean, with some claiming that it would give Cameron a 22-seat majority in the House of Commons: a tighter margin than any prime minister would be comfortable with, but a majority nevertheless.

    However, Plymouth University’s Prof Michael Thrasher’s analysis supports the theory that the UK is heading for a “hung” parliament, something that the British have never much liked in the past.

    His figures indicate that Cameron would be 15 seats short of a majority, with 311 MPs, with Labour losing 100 seats, nearly one in three of its existing crop of MPs. Such an outcome could send financial markets into a tail-spin.”

    What is the feeling? The first hung parliament in a generation? A record swing to the Tories? Or Gordon Brown defying the odds like John Major in 1992?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Just to add on other wrinkle but the age profile of MPs, and large size of the UK parliament means that there is a significant number of bye-elections during the life of a parliament. Which governments then rarely win.

      I recall back in 1992 in the aftermath of the Tories win then that an average figure of 20 by-elections was used. That might be much reduced now with better health outcomes, but a 20 seat majority of 335 to 315 would leave them vulnerable. And Major ended up in charge of a minority government (once the 5 euro rebels lost the whip.)

      And let’s not forget that the issue of Europe hasn’t gone away, and with Cameron dependent on many more eurosceptic MPs than Major was that British policy will be even more Euro sceptic than the British mainstream. Unlike here slim majorities aren’t so easily shored up with promises to build small hospitals. It’s policy changes that will buy them off.

    • Siobhan, London says:

      What is the feeling? God forbid n I wish it could not be so… but the smarmy tories look certain to get back in. It’s purely cos of the power of the media in this country which has been collectively (even the usually fair-minded Guardian) grinding away at our Gordon since he got elected. With the Sun the biggest selling newspaper in Britain he’s not going to sound a chance. We’ll pay dearly for cheap journalism.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      As I mentioned already – there’ll be a push to get rid of Brown before the election and a new leader will have to call an immediate election. Lo and behold British Labour MPs received a text today calling for a secret ballot on Brown’s leadership from Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon.

      If by some fluke Brown were to win in the April (not May) election – assuming he lasts that long – it means up to 5 more years of him and no one wants that.

      There is no way he will lead Labour into a 2015 election (I think even Brown knows he is there far too long and this is his last election one way or another) so immediately his authority drips away as everyone wonders when he’s going to resign.

      So the stark choice is get rid of Brown soonish in a clean cut and go immediately to the country in about March/April. Or keep Brown and hope for the best as the prospect of actually voting nears – it will focus people’s minds.

      If the Labour loss is not as bad as feared – which seems likely – they go into opposition, elect a new leader, do some housekeeping, rebuild finances and let the Tory minority government or the Tory/Lib Dem coalition put through some of the tough financial medicine before falling out and a second election in about a year.

      By when Labour will have a new leader bedded in, a year in opposition to refresh and rebuild and be ready for a whole new generation of post Blair/Brown government.

      Result by June 2011. Labour back in power, the Liberals back to second place and the Tories once again a busted flush.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Desmond, that heave appears to be in greater danger of collapsing than the Irish scrum.

      The other thing is the exact timing of all this, British general elections tend to be of a shorter duration to ours. But in 1997 John Major went for a 6 week campaign thinking it would expose Labour. It didn’t.

      Does Brown go for a short campaign hoping to negate the funding advantage the Tories have, or a long one with the hope that events/gaffes will blow the Tories off course?

      And how this affect the budget? Here there are some measures that are passed within a few days but the detail of the finance bill can drag on in March and April. If Darling presents his budget how much parliamentary time is necessary to pass it? Or do they, as FG did in 1987 (cos the play book for that campaign worked out so brilliantly), end up going to the country on the budget document itself?

    • dealga says:

      Labour are in less trouble than is commonly assumed. As usual, and as in this country, it takes very few voices to make a lot of noise (hysterically these few voices love to believe they speak for the ‘silent majority’ for good measure).

      There are whole swathes of England that didn’t vote Labour in the first place and whole swathes that will never vote Tory, regardless of Gordon Brown.

      The winner will be the party that gets its supporters off their asses and into the polling booths. And, for both parties, the election campaign will be about scaring its own supporters into not letting the other side in.

      Similarly, when our time comes, Fianna Failed won’t do anything like as bad as the noise suggests (more’s the pity).

      As for The Sun, they might have to tone it down yet. There’s hardly a knuckle dragging simpleton out there who doesn’t know they completely botched the Brown ‘letter outrage’ fiasco. Furthermore Mandelson could hit Murdoch in the one place he hurts (his pocket) if he forces Sky to sell its stake in ITV (at a huge loss) and / or if he further frees up digital television.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      In a hung parliament the Ulster Unionists will have sufficient power to suspend the Good Friday architecture and rely on their Tory brethren to rule N.I. from Westminster. If Peter Robinson can hold on until May he may well be about to make Lazarus look like an amateur.

      That would be the nail in the coffin of the “peace process” and a possible return to the armalite.

      This is such an appalling vista that Irish political parties should consider taking out adverts in British newspapers to advise against a Tory vote, if necessary, by using a UK surrogate like UKIP or SNP.

      It might also throw the Sinn Fein policy of abstention in to sharp relief. What if SINN FEIN and SDLP were sufficient to provide a majority to one of the large British parties? Given their electoral demographic, they could be guaranteed to win a by-election in the event of one of their MPs dropping dead (so could the DUP/UUP pan-unionist alliance, if they ever got around to talking to each other).

      Coalition government is the way of the future in Britain, and the sooner they adapt to it the better – firstly by adopting a representative form of democracy.

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