Irish by-elections, by and large, are a bit of harmless fun. The outcome rarely influences the balance of forces in parliament, but it gives the voters a chance to give the incumbent party – whatever incumbent party – a good shoeing. Everyone feels better about themselves except whatever hapless candidate has been persuaded to stand by the ruling party. Famously, no government party had won a by-election for 30 years until Patrick Nulty stood under the Labour banner in 2011 – and he was an opposition politician in all but name, remedying even that within a couple of months.
Two weeks ago during a fleeting exchange with Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers I congratulated her on her government’s radical attempts to dismantle the UK’s bloated public sector and hard-earned welfare state before encouraging a bold expedition of the project where its need is greatest: Northern Ireland. On a personal and professional level Ms. Villiers came across just fine – approachable, polite, all that stuff – but I was never likely to be smitten since the very nature of her office … Read more