Wednesday 2 September 2009

Conferences will launch election campaign

The three main parties in Britain will be holding their annual conferences in the next month: first the Liberal Democrats on 19-23 September, then Labour on 29 September to 1 October, and finally the Conservatives on 5-8 October. These conferences will signal the de facto start of the Westminster general election that must be held by next June at the latest. They will provide the parties with a platform to set out their policies and to demonstrate to the electorate their unity of purpose and electability. From October onwards they will all be in full election mode.

If Gordon Brown stretches his doomed term to its limit, the election campaign could be over nine months long – long enough to tax the stamina and resources of even a large and well-funded party. Yet the parties will all have to remain on war footing for the whole period – any slackening could give the opponents a chance to steal the advantage.

As things stand at the moment the Conservatives are on course for a resounding victory in 2010 – but if a week is a long time in politics, imagine what nine months feels like to David Cameron! The conferences themselves can boost party support, but this is usually just a temporary bounce which will be long forgotten by next June.

Northern Ireland is, of course, caught up in all this but yet at the same time utterly marginal to it. Even Roy Garland has noticed that the poor UUP, despite their pretence of importance, are simply pawns being used to further British aims: "While we could not compare Sir Reg with Edward Carson, even the latter discovered he was but a puppet in a game to get the Tories into power." Northern Ireland may get a token mention at each party conference, but in the election it will scarcely count – the real battle remains one between Labour and the Conservatives in the densely populated heartlands of England and to a less extent central Scotland and south Wales.

Nonetheless, elections will also be held in Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster constituencies, and while largely irrelevant to the future of the UK, the results will be of great local importance. Northern Ireland's parties have neither the resources nor the necessity to commit to a nine month campaign, and so the increasing clamour on the other side of the Irish Sea will be viewed from here with a kind of envious detachment. Northern Ireland's parties will only really get active in the month or two before the election date – though some, like the TUV, will try to get publicity earlier, and the unionist media will no doubt give it to them to try to bolster the illusion that Northern Ireland really is an equal participant.

But the absence of any policies in the Northern Irish debate apart from the eternal constitutional question dooms the election campaign to sterility. It simply doesn't matter who wins seats in Northern Ireland because it will not affect the overall outcome, except in the highly unlikely event of a Tory disaster and the UUP holding the balance of power – a fantasy which even the UUP know to be almost impossible.

The interest in the election in Northern Ireland stems only from the light it shines on the relative sizes of the two main political blocks. Whether unionists steal Fermanagh-South Tyrone, or Sinn Féin retains it, is largely irrelevant in the wider scheme of things. Although the victor would claim it as a great victory, it provides him (or her) with no power or reassurance for the future. Only the aggregate votes of the blocks can do that, and if unionism achieves its objectives and snatches additional seats while at the same time suffering an overall drop in its proportion of the vote, these victories will be but Pyrrhic. A side-show in this election will be provided again by the TUV, but this performance will remain entirely within the unionist camp, and the overall effect for unionism will be zero. Nonetheless, it is always entertaining to watch unionist infighting so this blog will pay the TUV some undeserved attention.

In the run-up to the election campaign this blog will look at the profiles of each of the 18 constituencies – though the demographic data is getting old, and the electoral data will be three years out of date by June 2010 – in order to provide a basis for predictions of the outcome. Of course the actual outcome will in many cases depend on who stands (or doesn't, if there are pacts) and on the unknown unknowns that a nine-month election campaign will inevitably throw up.


Anonymous said...

interestingly enough a Welsh LibDem, Peter Black, has realised that were his party to advocate a parliament for England it could be gong more mainstream with English public opinion than it's adherence to 'regional assemblies'.

... now, that would have interesting reprocussions on the Union.

have you also heard of this book by Welsh Convervative AM, David Melding? Advocating a Federal Britain is the only viable way of saving the Union? It's a well-written and thought out book.


Anonymous said...

No one in England gives a toss about an English parliament and neither party that will actually hold power advocates it.

Anonymous said...

No one in England gives a toss about Northern Ireland

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts...

I really do not like the idea of an incumbent party being able to decide when the election will take place. It gives them an unfair advantage. I see this as a real flaw and inherently undemocratic. I think scheduled elections with fixed dates are much fairer. All parties know in advance where they stand.

I was surprised that Northern Ireland has 18 M.P's. This seems more then its numbers would warrant? Does anyone have any info on this? Are some areas of the U.K. under or over-represented in London? I have heard that England gets a raw deal here and Scotland a sweet one but I don't know?

I wonder if the English might be better off if THEY seceded from the U.K. It seems to me that Labour enjoys much less success among the English then in the 'Celtic' parts of Britain. Labour also seems to be responsible for the mass-immigration to England which has caused so much social dislocation. QUESTION? Where would the secession of England from the U.K. leave N.I?

Anonymous said...

Seems Horseman knows little of NI politics since the UUP will not be fielding any candidates in the Westminister election. The candidates will run under the Conservative and Unionist banner and all elected will agree in advance to take the Conservative whip.

Also 18 seats in NI is in line with the rest of the UK.

Anonymous said...

No one in Ireland gives a toss about Northern Ireland - they just say they do because the 'priests' told them to...

Anonymous said...

If there was to be such a secession and a break up of the united kingdom the only option avaible to the ulster protestant people would be an independant northern ireland. This would be strongly favoured by us over a united ireland despite the difficultieS because wile a stronge element of ulster unionism is the genuine belief in the union the dominant element is the determination not to be ruled by an all Ireland Dublin government as such a situation would see a destruction of the ulster protestant culture and way of life and the destrution of the ulster protestant nation on this island.

Anonymous said...

Ye, and get The EU to fund it!

Anonymous said...

yea not a bad idea just like ireland eh.

Anonymous said...

"would be an independant northern ireland."

The economy is 63% public sector, lol.

Don't worry, the government in Dublin will let the Unionists come down and ask for forgiveness and to let you guys join the new United Ireland.

Your right, they really don't want you guys but it might look bad for them to turn you down after they have been talking about it for the past 100 years.