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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 15, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

    Westminster Balance of Power

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    We have long experience of Northern Ireland MPs holding the balance of power, or part of it, at Westminster. Back at the end of the 1970s, Labour really annoyed nationalists by conceding extra House of Commons places to placate the Unionists.

    Then, if memory serves, it was the abstention of Gerry Fitt on a crucial vote that led to the general election of 1979 which brought in 11 years of Margaret Thatcher with all that that entailed, for good or ill, in the North – her stance on the hunger-strikes (ill), the Anglo-Irish Agreement (good), etc. (Fitt attended the House of Commons of course – he was not an abstentionist in that sense.)

    Back in the early 1990s, David Trimble and his UUP colleagues held back John Major from indulging his enthusiasm for the incipient peace process.

    Now it looks as if a hung parliament could be on the cards and, who knows, the North’s MPs could once again be in the driving seat. Nationalists are at a disadvantage in this context, since the Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats on principle.

    Abstentionism is a longstanding article of faith for Irish republicans and it does not look as if this is going to change. So once again the unionists are the most likely to hold the whip hand.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      In the 70s wasn’t the difference in seats that led to hung parliaments far smaller than would be the case now, ie, 5 or 6 seats?

      There were no SNP or Plaid Cymru then (were there?) and there were only a few Liberals. The polls indicate that only the Liberals, who ought to be very pleased with Nick Clegg, (didn’t he do well?), will have enough seats to bridge the gap between either party.

      Unless the Nationalists from Ulster, Wales and Scotland all join together as a block? Unlikely.

    • robespierre says:

      A difficulty for the Liberals and Labour in the next debate, Foreing Policy, will be that many Britons (or rather English) hate the idea of the EU even though they unwittingly enjoy so much of what it has given the UK.

      The Tories are much closer to Little england than the other two parties and just because they were slaughtered running irrelevant campaigns to save the pound and leave the EU doesn’t mean that many Britons won’t agree with the traditional Tory stance.

      I’d see Cameron emerging next week very strongly by just turning up in Sky’s studio and talking about conservative values in the context of a multi-polar world.

      The final debate will be where the Liberals will be squeezed out as they try to present an alternative while the nation makes up its mind about the two real prospects for No. 10.

      Barring a Sarah Palin moment, they will make up their minds during the final debate on the economy. Brown will do well to emerge after 90 minutes without being hammered for his role in creating the crisis.

      Back to the point however, it is much more likely that the Liberals will hold the balance of power and with the Tories desperate for power, they will do a deal to get into power. The list / 50% First Past the Post electoral reform will cut the Tories off at the ankles and strengthen Labour in its strongholds.

    • solenoid says:

      The UK election is certainly the most interesting since ’97. Ladbrokes currently have Cameron on a majority of two seats, which is to say it’s all to play for.

      There’s a very interesting videoclip from the Guardian on the North Down constituency, which includes a great interview with Sylvia Hermon (“I’m just not a Tory”) where she talks about the dividend of peace that Labour brought to the North and why she’s running as an independent. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/video/2010/apr/01/northern-ireland-conservatives-ulster-unionist-party

      I remember watching Labour getting elected in ’97 and being excited at the prospect of the peace process finally being able to move forward. Although I’ll never forgive Tony Blair for Iraq, it has to be said that New Labour really did deliver for Northern Ireland.

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