In the Belfast Telegraph Maurice Hayes argues that the “electoral rhetoric about bread and butter issues is shadow boxing, and everyone knows it.” The focus on populist issues he says is “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.” There are some predictions and some criticisms of individual parties election stances, with the most pertinent criticism echoing elements from the economic discussion with the Strategem Policy Panel on Slugger BlogTalkRadioNo specifics in those predictions, but the broad strokes seem reasonable..
The battle remains between DUP and Sinn Fein, both of whom have ambitions to wipe out opposition on their own side.
Both wish to secure the highest total of votes, and of seats, because under the arcane rituals of the D’Hondt system, this will determine the number of ministerial posts each party secures in the Executive, the order of choice and the comparative importance of the portfolio.
The polls, allowing for margins of error, confirm earlier predictions that DUP will dominate the unionist vote, taking perhaps four or five extra seats at the expense of UUP.
Those former UUP voters who do not stay at home may switch to DUP to ensure that they remain the largest party and to fend off the dire prospect of Sinn Fein being in a position to nominate the First Minister.
They will also help to counterbalance the defection of those in DUP for whom engagement in Government with Sinn Fein is a u-turn too many.
Some disenchanted UUP voters too seem to be swinging to Alliance, who, if the polls are to be believed, would more than double their vote.
The polls also confirm the stabilisation of SDLP, perhaps a recovery of their share of the vote, and even, maybe, the gain of a seat or two.
And this despite being caught between presenting as the party of good sense and moderate practicality, and trying to outflank Sinn Fein on their All-Ireland credentials.
Since the rationale of the process was to encourage unionists to agree to power-sharing at Stormont because the Agreement secured their position within the United Kingdom, it seems premature and perverse to invoke it as a half-way house to Dublin.
This is to repeat the post-Sunningdale gaffe of ‘trundling’ unionists into a united Ireland, which helped to torpedo that arrangement.
The manifesto call for a border poll, which SDLP boycotted in 1973 because the answer was known, echoes oddly at a time when the answer is still the same. Sinn Fein will likely emerge as the largest party on the nationalist side, but not by so much as they may have hoped.
While the economic argument echoes the panel discussion on Slugger BlogTalkRadio
There is an argument for a once-off capital injection for infrastructural developments, to make up for under-investment under Direct Rule, but putting Northern Ireland 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.
A couple of additional points to consider is whether any party, if they did advocate a decrease in public expenditure, a) would be returned in numbers, or b) could implement such a policy within a mandatory coalition of our particular, and peculiar species of pseudo-parliamentary government.