In 50 years of political journalism, one old Tory grandee has never been so desperate for a change of government. Nevertheless on reading the runes, he spots a problem in last months polls for the Conservatives. On a 38: 31 percent margin between the two main UK parties, the average for February, William Rees Mogg observes:
even on the poll of polls figures… Labour and the Lib Dems will between them gain enough seats to lock out the Conservatives. It is highly likely that Gordon Brown would then remain Prime Minister, relying on the 62 Lib Dems and on a Northern Ireland vote to keep Labour in power until he was ready to call another general election.
That begs the question of whether the Lib Dems would retain their 62 seats ( polls says no) and take Labours bait of half-baked electoral reform, or do what Nick Clegg says they would, which is to allow the largest party in this case the Conservatives, to form a minority government. In any case, eat your heart out UCUNF. That bubble seems well and truly burst. What bargain would any mix of unionism try to strike that either the Conservatives or Labour could deliver? Try for a voluntary coalition? The bar of cross community consent is high. Does silence suggest that the bargaining power of the NI parties has finally run out, even in this otherwise most promising of political opportunities ever? They seem too busy cutting each other’s throats to notice. In another local scenario, nationalists could hold the balance if only Sinn Fein took their seats. Tempted guys?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London