How much leverage for Northern Ireland in murky coalition waters at Westminster?

That shrewd observer (pardon the pun) Andrew Rawnsley has been among the few, the very, very few ,to have even noticed Northern Ireland’s little governmental crisis.  Not out of compassionate concern for our people or even out of fear of “a return to violence” but because of what really matters to them– who might form  the next UK government and who – given no one is expecting a majority government – might support it.

One option would raise a few eyebrows. Sinn Fein are being talked out over here in terms of making limited common cause with the SNP to support Labour. Now you might think as I do that the GFA rules out constitutional change. But when all’s said and done the core of it  is only an act of parliament that could be replaced by another Act and another international treaty with Dublin. Might joint authority appeal in the upper ranks of Westminster and Leinster House?   Sinn Fein might light up at the thought. Don’t all shout at once.  Let’s just see if they  say anything at all about abstention in their manifesto.

No?   OK so it’s  a safer bet to rule out any prospect of radical political change and stay in the comparative comfort zone of money, as Rawnsley does.  Note that Labour are more flexible about borrowing and that might impress even the DUP, who  have no self-imposed  bar on free political bargaining. So how much might the DUP want? Would all those other parties, the SNP, UKIP, the Greens and oh yes, the Lib Dems wear yet another special  deal for NI at their expense?  In tough times, financial politics is increasingly being seen as a zero sum game. Let’s see how our own zero sum experts enjoy  having the game played against them. Might not a united opposition front  cancel out any  leverage our little lot might have?   The Downing St sofa could get very crowded…

From Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer.

There is some bad blood in the history of the relations between the Tories and the DUP, but also potential areas of agreement. The DUP agrees with the Tories that there should be a referendum on membership of the European Union. Labour, too, has been putting out some quiet feelers to the Unionists. The price of their support has traditionally been goodies for their part of the world. In the late 70s, the Ulster Unionists propped up Jim Callaghan’s ailing Labour government for a while, and they did the same for John Major’s wilting Tory government in the late 90s, in return for getting favours for Northern Ireland. If I were Ed Miliband, I’d be searching my family tree for any Orange ancestry and telling Ed Balls to set some money aside for lubricating Ulster men.


The problem with all this tactical fun is that it’s a distracts our adolescent politicians from the painful business of growing up.

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