One up to Sinn Fein and two up to the Fresh Start parties for framing the media debate early…

YouTube video

This is important, I think, if only as a portent for what’s about to come. I imagine both parties will be pleased with this: not least because at 23 minutes, aside from the commentator’s corner slot, this was the only feature on The View last night.

  • Mairtin O Muilleoir’s channelling of his younger early eighties self as an angry young councillor on Belfast City Council will have been superbly exhilarating for his party’s support. Motivation will matter hugely in this February election (and believe me it is going to be the minor party’s biggest issue).
  • The DUP have some reason to be pleased/relieved if only because the other parties were reduced to a bit part role. Still, Givan was in some respects handed back his head on a platter, because Mairtin successfully framed the conversation around Girvan’s weakest positions: his humiliating flip-flop over Liofa; and the funding of the bedroom tax.
  • The Sinn Fein finance minister must be relieved there was no substantial questioning of why he’s three weeks late in setting a budget, Nor, if they can keep this kind of pressure game up, is there likely to be. The media appears to have no substantial evidence on what lays behind that impasse and they seem to have no curiosity/motivation to try digging for it.

This is ominous for the smaller parties. With the exception of the Alliance party, who had to sit last night out, they are not getting much cut through in what’s likely to be a vicious Big Billy v Big Mickey, which-side-are-you-on-boys fight. The blood is up.

Sinn Fein are where they are most comfortable: fighting “the bigots of the DUP” rather than rolling out that ten-year plan to save the health service that has sat on the desk of every health minister (in different reports) since the days of Bairbre de Bruin

The DUP will have concerns about RHI. But it is notable how that as an issue has receded from the foreground of this fight. Their game plan is to take Gerry’s complaints about them in his speech to SF’s Cuige Uladh as key to their election strategy.

Barring a huge upset (events, dear boy, events), everyone else is in the ha’penny place. Trying to get their activists motivated with the likilihood that the big two will dominate the first proper airwar there’s been since 2003.

The game will level up once the election campaign is official announced. But their campaigns will have to fight the narrative frames already set by the two big boys and girls. These guys are the dream team.

After three soporific election campaigns on the bounce (because SF/DUP wanted it that way) NI politics is once again going to no place for the faint-hearted. Do join us for the ride, (put a few pennies in the meter if you’re enjoying it).

But you’ll have to bring your own popcorn/handkerchief.