I watched Ferghal McKinney on UTV’s election debate struggling manfully with a panel of five politicians trying to argue over policy detail they were quite clearly not entirely comfortable with . Most striking was the degree of consensus on a range of policy issues, and the relative non appearance of the constitutional issue. However Maurice Hayes reckons that the real terms of reference that people use to slect their vote will remain the same:
This electoral rhetoric about bread and butter issues is shadow boxing, and everyone knows it. The parties espouse populist issues to get people to the polls in the knowledge that once there, nature will triumph over nurture and they will vote by instinct rather than by reason.
The real political battle will commence, when the DUP on the Department of Finance:
There can be no consummation of the marriage, they say, until a substantial dowry has been paid.
Whether George Brown will play ball, or simply regard it as an impertinent bit of opportunistic blackmail, remains to be seen.
There is an argument for a once-off capital injection for infrastructural developments, to make up for under-investment under Direct Rule, but putting the North on a drip-feed of increased public expenditure flies in the face of all economic orthodoxy.
This is an economy which is chronically and unhealthily dependent on the public sector, which needs to encourage entrepreneurship and inward investment, yet the only thing all the parties seem to agree on is that there should be a massive increase in public expenditure.