The consensus over the past six months or so was that Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a (political) dead man walking, and that the Westminster election – due by next June at the latest – would result in a walk-over for the Tory Party.
But the opinion polls are starting to show a very clear and sustained climb-back by the Labour Party:
The Tory Party need a very large swing in order to achieve a majority in the House of Commons – the second largest ever recorded, apparently. Up to recently it seemed as if such a swing was possible. But now things are looking less certain, for two reasons:
- Firstly, the Labour Party is fighting back – and with up to six months left before the election, anything is possible.
- Secondly, the Tories are increasingly coming under pressure from the even-more-rightwing UKIP, and could lose a number of seats to them.
If there was a hung parliament, horse-trading would be required by any party that wished to try to form a government. If the gap between, say, the Tory total and the number needed to form a majority was small, then the DUP could find themselves in a position of strength – especially since the Tories would be unlikely to want to get into bed with overt nationalists like the SNP or Plaid Cymru. The DUP, despite being seen by many as 'Ulster nationalists' are at least not actively seeking the dissolution of the UK. As social and economic conservatives they would have little ideological difficulty in cooperating with the Tories – the main problem may lie in the Tories non-merger with the DUP's rivals in the UUP. For the Tories, of course, the DUP's record of tolerance may reduce their salonfähigkeit, but where power is at stake, the Tories may be prepared to hold their noses.
There are a lot of 'ifs' in any scenario that can be imagined, and it is well known that a week is a long time in politics. So what might, or might not, happen in six months is strictly fantasy. But the evidence of the recent polls is pointing towards a much more interesting election than many thought only a few months ago. And for Northern Ireland, the future lies wide open.