It’s beginning to sound as if we have some kind of editorial position on Opposition. We don’t actually. There are arguments for the smaller parties staying in, not least if you think the result is by and large an endorsement for being in Government.
The most powerful argument against going out is the fact that as an opposition you can never promise to ‘kick the bums out’ as they say in the US. If that’s the case you need to be careful not just about your red lines for leaving but your green lines for a return.
You cannot ever, under current rules, insist that the parties you’ve been criticising for the last five years leave office. It just doesn’t work like that, so it undermines its real existential power as an Opposition.
The other con is that the current seating arrangments. If there is to an opposition it de facto changes the nature of the Legislative Assembly from a Congress of Tribunes to a parliamentary chamber where truth may be spoken directly to power.
No self-respecting (or independent) Speaker would allow the Leader and deputy Leader of the Opposition to speak from the Naughty Corner at the back of the Chamber. Whoever is appointed, should insist that they speak directly across from the government parties.
That would mean that the FM and dFM and their parties would sit on the same side, with the whole opposition on the other side. First Minster and deputy First Minister’s questions would become more visually representative of how power is actually brokered.
Then we might actually get some actual stories out of Stormont (both BBC and UTV have been disinvesting steadily for years). More stories mean more interest. And more interest, then more engagement of citizen mind share.
The opposition won’t be guarantee of any future success. For anyone who goes there it will be a gamble. As noted in this morning’s SluggerReport Assembly elections have become a routine administrative matter, largely determined by who has the better organisation.
As we’ve seen in West Tyrone a good, young and ultimately fearless candidate – unafraid to speak up for himself – did perfectly fine even after losing 3/4 of his local SDLP party organisation. If organisation is the ground on which they choose to fight they will lose time after time.
The question needs to shift to who can run the country better? It is for the mid-sized parties to decide how best to do prosecute that line. But if they insist (as they have in the past) on raising serious matters and then running round trying to fix it then there’s only ground war.
In which case, as parties (and viable alternative options for the electorate) they’ll all be virtually extinct within another decade.
Going into an opposition is in part about pinning the blame on the Government but also about demonstrating to voters over and over again that ‘if you want to make a change then you must stop voting for them and vote for us’. It would also give them a breather to consider what they want to do next.
Coming out and being separate also needs a longer term political reform agenda (absence of which contributed to the TUV’s failure to ignite), because the all shall have prizes and none shall be punished by the electorate is not working, either for the mid-sized parties or the broader electorate.