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.

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  • Comrade Stalin

    Sinn Fein are being talked out over here in terms of making limited common cause with the SNP to support Labour

    SF will never, absolutely never, act to shore up a British government. When it comes to things like this republicans are not pragmatic; they would not be able to look past the fact that they would be maintaining a British government which legislates in Northern Ireland in office.

    Now you might think as I do that the GFA rules out constitutional change. But when all’s said and done it’s only an act of parliament that could be replaced by another Act and another international treaty with Dublin.

    The GFA is the subject of an international treaty, specifically the British-Irish Agreement 1998. Material changes to the nature of the Agreement would be in violation of that treaty. Parliamentary sovereignty is in practice not without restrictions.

    Might joint authority appeal in the upper ranks in Westminster and Leinster House? Sinn Fein might light up at the thought. Don’t all shout at once. Let’s just see if they anything say at all about abstention in their manifesto.

    leaving the practicalities of this aside (ie the fact that the unionists wouldn’t like it) why do people always assume that everyone up the Falls Road trusts or expects someone like Enda Kenny to speak up on their behalf ?

  • Redstar2014

    CS never say never as regards how far SF will about turn on principles and stated position…..

    No seats to be taken in the Dáil- ahem
    No internal settlement- ahem
    No return to Stormont- ahem
    No deal unless RUC disbanded- ahem
    No acceptance of Crown forces in Ireland- ahem

    The list goes on and on indeed added to this week with Mr Kelly telling us now its honourable to be an informer!!!!!!!!!

    With SF principles and stated positions are very disposable.

  • Superfluous

    Didn’t Unionists throw out the idea that a Tricolour could be hoisted at Stormont upon state visits by senior Irish dignitaries? (much like it was at Buckingham palace…) I’ve a feeling that such not-an-inch-ism wouldn’t be so keen on joint sovereignty…

    Labour / SNP / Lib Dems / SDLP could be a good bet in my books, even for minority Government. I know that Labour and the SNP are hardly buddies – but I think it would be suicidal for the Conservatives to get into bed with UKIP (legitimising them in the process) – so there could be very few other options to form a Government.

  • eireanne

    conservatives and labour would form a national government rather than a coalition with the DUP, Plaid cymru or even possibly the SNP

  • Bryan Magee

    Not true (in my opinion): Labour and SNP are enemies but Labour and DUP is possible. As is Tory DUP. SDLP and Labour tend to vote together. Neither PC nor SNP could work with Tories in a coalition, especially after recent retoric from both nationalist parties, pitting Tories as “beyond the pale” for them.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Let me put it another way.

    Under what circumstances could you envisage SF actively supporting a British government which has a policy of continuing to occupy Ireland ?

  • Redstar2014

    They don’t seem to have any problem working with them currently!!!!!

  • Comrade Stalin

    “working with them” is not the same as actively making a British government possible.

  • Redstar2014

    I agree but frankly as they have thrown every Republican principle out the window and continue to do so just to cling to their establishment position I would rule out nothing in as low as they will stoop

  • chrisjones2

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

    and encourages them not to do a deal this year when they may hold more cards in 6 months time

  • chrisjones2

    “The GFA is the subject of an international treaty”

    which can be varied by agreement.Only specific clauses were put to referrenda

  • chrisjones2

    Sorry but outside a time of war that is tripe.The hatred there is a s visceral as here and they have the example of the evisceration of the Lib Dems

  • chrisjones2

    “wouldn’t be so keen on joint sovereignty”

    …if they were given a choice. But what if they werent – what do the Prods do? The UDA and UVF seem to be in the pocket of the Brits as I suspect may be many in the DUP who have little pecadillos they might not want to see aired

    If SF were seen to be stiffed as well then most Prods might just say that anything was better than what we have now

  • chrisjones2

    The back seats of those Skodas are very comfortable and the smell lof the leather benches is amazin.The coffee is good and there are free biskwits

  • chrisjones2

  • Comrade Stalin

    Yes. It can be varied by agreement. Which is not what Brian appeared to be saying; he suggested it can be varied unilaterally by the Government pushing stuff through Parliament as part of a confidence and supply deal.

  • Gopher

    I can write the SDLP manifesto “We can get you the deal because we are in Westminister”. which will translate to Anna Lo will be in Westminister after the actual election. I have to say Cameron’s retort to Gerry Adams displays the lack of utility SF now have in UK politics. The southern campaign has really taken a heavy toll up here.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    A lot of this seems to me based on wishful thinking.

    1) I am sure that some day the price will be right for the Shinners to take their seats in Westminster. However it’s very difficult to imagine a minority government finding that the SF option is better than the DUP option, under current circumstances. The DUP are likely to remain the largest group at Westminster, and their MPs are known quantities; and I suspect that their price will be realistically pitched. (Certainlythat was the message Peter Robinson was sending at their conference.)

    2) The chance of the extra 6-10 DUP members (let alone five or six Shinners) holding the crucial votes is very small anyway, as Martin Baxter has so ably mapped out. Even his statistics disregard the fact that the SDLP, likely to retain 2 seats and if lucky all three, take the Labour Whip, which narrows the zone of DUP relevance still further. Added to that, a Labour deal with the DUP which annoys the SDLP may turn out out to have too heavy a price.

    3) Moving farther northeast, I do find it interesting that the current Tory proposals for Scotland are much more generous than the Labour equivalents. Of course the SNP must say “no deals with the Tories” for now; but if Cameron is smart, he will be preparing an offer that the SNP cannot refuse on 8 May. I am sure the he at least has read Douglas Hurd’s 1970 novel dealing with precisely this scenario…

  • eireanne

    Please don’t confuse a national government with a coalition government.
    In a historical sense national government usually refers primarily to the governments of Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain which held office from 1931 until 1940.
    Not wartime as you can see Chris, but a time of great economic crisis – just like the present.

    Visceral inter-party hatred can be got over when governance of the country is at stake

    Please do note that both Labour and the Conservatives seem to have agreed on continuing the austerity programme with further cuts – the only differences seem to be in how far, how fast.

    Furthermore do you really think the DUP would be welcomed as potential ministers of a majority English government of whatever party when they are all exploring the issue of English votes for English laws?
    A gay website has already published a set of 10 other reasons why they wouldn’t be

  • hugh mccloy

    Little to none, have we not already realized, we are small time players in a big time world that passed us by in 1998.

    While we were to busy pretending to celebrate peace and the dividend that never left political parties bank accounts the world kept turning. Even during austerity cuts Nire faired not to bad, but the real world has popped in and said hello

  • hugh mccloy

    Sinn Fein have sold out already, they are instruments of British rule in Ireland, it does not matter if they take a seat or not in Westminster or join up with the SNP. This move could be counter active to SNP due to Scots for reasons defoined by the republican movement as being legitimate targets during the troubles and killed

    If there was a return to violence SF have become by definition a legitimate target for republicans. Out of all groups of people in N Ire SF have more to fear from a return to violence than anyone else.

    SF need a different game plan, and that has started already with the exodus to the Republic of Ireland, if Stromont fails thats where they will hide until the next opportunity

  • ted hagan

    What’s more Rory McIlroy didn’t win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Something very suspicious about that. Mayby it’s to do with him representing Ireland in the Olympics or something….? Makes me very uneasy.

  • Bryan Magee

    The DUP seem likely to ask for financial requests, that the SDLP could build common ground on.

  • Barneyt

    The republican movement has always struggled with acts that given credence to the occupation. Some took the view in the 20’s that we should take what was on the table and the rest would follow in time. The British allegiance was dropped, a republic formed and then not much else happened to re-united since then.

    The argument in republicanism has always been about working in “the now” and how much this co-operation can be seen to not only recognise British ownership but to effectively support it.

    The compromise SF made with the Dail, Assembly, supporting the police were all necessary. They had to address social and welfare issues for today, rather than defer for a greater and distant future.

    I think its possible to take up a position of co-operation, but with the firm understanding that the aim to bring about permanent change is maintained. It also depends what you do when you get into a position of co-operation. You can get comfortable and I can see why many would regard SF as accepting British rule and the system they work within. But being fair to SF, they are clearly working towards a longer term goal, and its possible that most republicans can see this. Of course many have and will lose patience if there is no significant change soon.

    As far as taking up westminister seats goes? This will be a huge gamble. Aligning with the SNP to put a labour government in power. will in the short term be akin to labour signing their own death warrant. The SNP and SF would surely want to dismantle the union and each would prefer to have and run their own countries under a regime of self determination. On this basis the SNP and SF will depart and bang will go Labours chances with it, unless there is a sea-change in England. If SF go into westminister for this purpose, there is no longer term advantage to labour. I see them being more inclined to reach out to unionism.

  • Typically, this discussion centres around Northern Ireland as the centre of the Westminster bubble. It isn’t.

    Labour may be desperate enough to side up to SNP/SF but realistically, longer-term it would be a suicide pact (though only Labour would end up dead). Labour needs Scotland seats to survive as a national Party. SNP may also want to bury Labour, and in terms of extraction of concessions for Scotland, an SNP/DUP supply arrangement with the Conservatives and what might be left to the right following a Liberal catfight is far more attractive.

    Either way, at this point, the NI politicians will still be part players in a far bigger national game.