Following on from Mick, let’s begin by making the best possible case for Sinn Fein, the party which seems the most intransigent in the inter- party talks. The Conservatives’ strategy for the next five years to a produce budget surplus of £23 billion by 2019-20 is probably unsustainable, unless the rate of growth picks up dramatically. Why tamely accept it? By contrast Labour’s plan to balance only current expenditure would result in a continuing deficit of £25 billion over the same period, leaving a gap of almost £50 billion between the two parties ‘ present plans. Why can’t Northern Ireland have just nibble of the difference? Trouble is, Labour is going into the election just as tough on current expenditure. Holding out for a Labour victory seems a forlorn hope as a way out of deadlock.
The plain fact is that there is no party in these islands which supports what Gerry Adams calls “ a different economic and fiscal model. “ We have got beyond bailout responses now. But growth is still too modest to make a much of a difference fast. The Conservative and pro-business aim of “rebalancing the economy” can’t be achieved any quicker. Perhaps the hardest conclusion to reach is that The Past is a weakening argument for more, more money.
To be alone is nothing new for Sinn Fein whose very name proclaims it. Their tradition of armed revolt leaves then with no great respect for the democratic process beyond what they can get out of it in elections. How often have we heard them glorying in the vision of the only all-Ireland party on both sides of the table in future North-South and British-Irish intergovernmental deliberations?. This duality is now working against their own northern supporters. Settling with the Brits now would seriously weaken their anti-austerity stance in the Republic which up to now has served then so well in the opinion polls. Right now it seems a self regarding indulgence, to sacrifice immediate northern interests for southern political aspirations. Partition snares them unless the south were to bail out the north which of course is out of the question.
There is never an easy answer to populism. That can only come from better results than expected and greater sobriety from the voters in the privacy of the ballot booth. Neither can be guaranteed .
So who might Sinn Fein turn to for solidarity? Try Greece, where the parliament is deadlocked over electing new president. Failure would trigger new parliamentary elections by the end of the year which almost no one wants. The polls suggest the far left party Syriza would win. Its leadership has tried to assure the rest of Europe and the markets that it has no intention of quitting he Eurozone. Yet this could yet be the result if a Syriza –led government tried to carry out its plan to cancel half of Greece’s massive debt – just at the moment when recovery has taken modest hold.
Remind you of anyone?
By contrast with Greece Sinn Fein has failed to grab much attention for their doom-laden prophecies of Assembly disintegration. It’s a rich irony that this looks like becoming a notable result of that now overworked concept “the peace process.” To have their threats ignored is not what they expected. Nor the other parties either, who might just have been quietly riding on Sinn Fein’s backs this time. If so, it’s time to get off the dead horse. The SDLP included.
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