A Fistful of Early Thoughts Ahead of Brexit’s GE17

There’s nothing like the scent of a fresh election in this mid-Spring air to get the pulses racing.

A few early thoughts for Slugger readers as we embark on yet another election odyssey:

  1. This one is all about Brexit, and that suits both of our main parties. For Sinn Fein, it taps into and feeds the energy which created the Nationalist Surge delivering the historic election results in March. Nationalism remains agitated and unnerved by the cocktail of developments from Brexit to RHI, Arlene’s crocodile and McGuinness’ passing, yet simultaneously is re-energised following the March election performance. For the DUP, it moves the discussion squarely onto an issue that appears to align more naturally along the traditional constitutional-sectarian lines than March’s Assembly campaign. Even though there remains many unionists who are unnerved by the potential implications of Brexit, the DUP will hope that the more strident tone of northern nationalism in recent months will have the effect of further galvanising unionists to turn out to bolster the campaign of the largest unionist party. Expect to hear a lot about the less than 1,200 votes that separates the DUP and Sinn Fein.
  2. It is almost certain that there will be a unionist pact, but don’t rule out a Brexit pact – official or unofficial- which could see Sinn Fein once again stand aside in South Belfast (and possibly East Belfast) whilst calling on the SDLP to do the same in Fermanagh South Tyrone.Whether or not the SDLP do take up the offer is, in many ways, irrelevant, if the gesture has the intended effect at the ballot box.
  3. This would suit both nationalist parties quite well as it would likely ensure that the two marginal seats fell to their respective candidates, whilst also keeping the pressure on the DUP in East Belfast, where the ever-impressive Alliance Party leader, Naomi Long, should once again poll very strongly, requiring a unity unionist candidate to see off her challenge. A repeat of Nationalism’s strong showing in Fermanagh South Tyrone in March would almost certainly see a Sinn Fein candidate returned at the expense of the UUP’s Tom Elliott. The battle in South Belfast is intriguing due to a number of reasons: the SDLP’s vote share in the constituency has been withering in recent elections. However, in spite of the DUP returning with the highest % share of the vote for a party in the constituency in March, the combined vote share of the two unionist parties was less than 30%. Whilst the local Sinn Fein organisation may point to their candidate’s strong showing in March as a reason not to stand aside, the party leadership is likely to view a loss of the seat to unionism as a more considerable setback than merely halting the forward progress of the party in the constituency at this time. Alliance would likely point to their modest vote share increase as reason to be optimistic that their candidate could slip through the middle and claim this seat.
  4. Theresa May’s volte face over an early election is likely to pay off handsomely for her, given the relative poll showings of the Conservative and Labour Parties. Ironically, success for May will be measured in how much additional elbow room she creates in terms of the party’s overall majority in the Commons, a development that will significantly diminish the influence of the DUP within the Commons. That could help create the conditions within which a British Government felt able to take the steps needed over outstanding issues like an Irish Language Act in order to allow for devolution to be returned in the months to follow.
  5. For the first time ever, Sinn Fein face into an election having supplanted the SDLP as the largest political party in the two SDLP heartland constituencies of Foyle and South Down. However, translating that into successful campaigns ousting the two SDLP MPs is a much more daunting task than merely outpolling the smaller nationalist party at the Assembly election. Sinn Fein will know that the SDLP candidates will be boosted by tactical voting by unionists, meaning that the Sinn Fein candidates will be required to significantly increase their vote share amongst nationalists to stand a chance of emerging triumphant. That will in all likelihood require the republican party taking yet more steps along its transition journey and selecting an atypical Sinn Fein candidate in Foyle capable of connecting across the broad nationalist electorate (Chris Hazzard could do the trick in South Down, but the party will have to decide if it can afford to lose one of its better performers from the Assembly and Executive.)
  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    Interesting thoughts.

    What happens however if we end up having another Assembly election on the same day? It throws all pact calculations completely out of whack.

    I can’t get too excited about these Westminster elections. Irish MPs have been pretty much irrelevant in Westminster since 1918. All they can do is make boring speeches to an empty House of Commons. Anytime Northern Ireland is mentioned you’ll see that any of the few English MPs who are in the chamber are staring at their phones.

    It’s clear that the English are going to keep voting for the Tories and that they will deserve everything they get as a result. As the English are daft enough to vote in a hard right party that is hell bent on a hard Brexit, the erosion of the welfare state and the destruction of the NHS then my voting calculation will be based on what is most likely to bring about a border poll and a United Ireland. Northern Ireland being dragged out of the EU against it’s will and then being governed by a bunch of Tory head the balls is clearly going to be a disaster. May doesn’t know her arse from her elbow and is going to make a hames of these Brexit negotiations and NI is going to be the ones who will suffer the most. If there’s going to be any changes at the border there will be hell to pay.
    If the English want to vote in the Tories that’s grand for them. I just don’t see why we have to suffer as a result. It’s time for Irish and Scottish nationalists to figure out how we can get out of the Union whilst remaining in the EU and minimising disruption. If The English are determined on going down the tubes in recreating their imperial Brexit fantasies then I don’t want to be dragged down with them. I don’t see much point of the Union if we have to deal with an English Tory government elected in perpetuity

  • Dan

    Mopey and dripping with hatred of the English…

  • the keep

    At least he is consistent.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    I don’t hate England. I’ve lived in England, have family members in England as well as have several English friends and I try to visit them regularly. There’s no hatred in me.
    I do however feel that English political culture in recent years has gone completely daft and the Hard right turn the conservative Party has made is a major political problem. I know that Corbyn is a bit useless but it’s the Tories that are the real problem. The English have a choice and if they reelect a hard right government then they have to deal with the consequences. England has a different political culture from us and it’s increasingly incompatible with the interests of the people of Ireland and Scotland. Fintan O’Toole had a good article in the Irish Times on this area yesterday. https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-brexit-means-ireland-must-be-the-anti-england-1.3051562?mode=amp

  • Gopher

    The election is a simple choice for stabilty which Mays election will bring to the whole process of Brexit giving it the best chance of a successful outcome for everyone whether you were for it or against it, or instability which every other party is opposed to it seems to be pedalling. The platform of stability through the process needs a platform here beyond party lines.

  • hgreen

    Can you explain how May’s election will bring stability? Do you seriously think the EU will care how big her majority is?

    The Daily Heil today wants her to “Crush the Saboteurs”. The Tories have caused chaos since Cameron was elected in 2015.

  • hgreen

    Actually I think it’s the English and the Tories who are hate fuelled.

  • Zig70

    Talk of the SDLP entering a pact is nonsense. Similarly I don’t think SF would want it. SF have put a lot of work into SB. It would harm them in the long run.

  • GS

    How can the parties be expected to come to an agreement now when they are now in election mode?

    I think both elections have to run again and after that a chance given to reach an Assembly agreement.

  • Jag

    If this really is a Brexit general election, and the tiny UUP enter into a pact with the pro-Brexit DUP, and the DUP/UUP win 10 seats out of 17, then can’t the DUP say that NI is now pro-Brexit, despite the results of last June’s referendum.

  • Tarlas

    “There is a soft megalomania in the way May presents this ballot. It feels as if the democratic process is being requisitioned not to air competing opinions but to dispense with them. There is an unhealthy inference that politics should aspire to total unanimity and that the best outcome of an election is the elimination of inconvenient dissent.” ( Rafael Behr. The Guardian)

    It is time for cool heads to confront this colonial megalomania.

  • Reader

    hgreen: Do you seriously think the EU will care how big her majority is?
    Yes. May wants a majority that would be willing to tell the EU where to go if they produce a bad deal. The stronger the parliamentary majority, the more leverage she will have in negotiations.

  • GS

    The more leverage she’ll have internally but I don’t automatically believe the European officials will see this any differently…

  • ted hagan

    The EU has already welcomed the election saying it would give May a stronger hand.

  • ted hagan

    It will set the pulses racing?
    I’m depressed already. Weeks of more childish, tribal , ungrammatical squabbling. (ie ‘You done this; nah, you done that’, blah, blah, blah)
    I want out of here.

  • GS

    “We have some hope that this will lead to a strong leader in London that can negotiate with us with strong backing by the electorate,” an EU official said after Tuesday’s surprise move.

    Found the quote but I don’t think this gives May any more leverage in negotiating a good deal for the UK in Bexit talks…

  • Granni Trixie

    Going by the sound waves Sf definately do want a pact with the SDLP.

  • ted hagan

    But with ‘tolerance and respect’ I assume?

  • ted hagan

    Your post drips with anti-Englishness. Who are you trying to kid?

  • OneNI

    The consequences of a Conservative government have been Record Employment and the best economy growth in europe – both of which NI (and the Republic incidentally) have benefitted from hugely. NI has benefitted economically but also by continuing to have disproportionately large Public Expenditure allocation

  • It won’t give her a better deal, it will though make it easier for her to force acceptance of a bad deal in Westminster.

  • hgreen

    Ha ha ha. The naïveté and willingness to suck up Tory spin is truly astonishing. All negotiators will be thinking of the impact of any deal on their own internal electorate not the UK’s.

  • hgreen

    Here you go again.

  • ted hagan

    Go away, you are out of your depth.

  • Madra Uisce

    No it’s a bit of a false premise. People quite clearly voted to remain in the EU. However when it comes to the undemocratic first past the post Westminster election then the inbuilt sectarianism of the unionist voter base will take over and the sheeple will vote accordingly. Because they hate themmuns more than the thought of Brexit even though for some it could end up costing them their livelihoods.

  • Madra Uisce

    But only in England and Wales. She will have no mandate here or in Scotland and despite what she says that will not bring people or the”country” together

  • ted hagan

    The EU believes May will emerge much stronger from the election, that she will be able to sideline the Brexiteers within her party and a adopt a softer negotiatiing stance which will, in turn, pave the way for easier negotiations and an eventual agreement. This is all theory, of course.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    It’s not anti English to say that with the UKIP driven rise of English nationalism, England has developed a fundamentally different political culture that is increasingly incompatible with the interests of Ireland and Scotland

  • Roger

    Best economic growth in Europe….doesn’t that accolade go to Ireland?
    Isn’t income now dropping in the U.K.

  • Roger

    She may not get a deal.

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    One million people now use food banks in the UK. Let that sink in for a minute. Sensational economics at work right there.

    Type “Record Employment” into Google’s new tool called Bullcrap Detector. I bet what comes out the other end is called “Zero Hour Contract”

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Quote the specific parts of what he has said and point out where he has been anti-English

  • Enda

    How so?

    England has a population of 53million, the six counties just over 2m – it’s hardly fair that a different country should vote for their interest, but with very possible detriment to the interest of a part of someone else’s country.

    English people don’t know or care about any part of Ireland. Most of them don’t even know which part of Ireland ‘they own’ as some would put it.

  • Enda

    Record Employment – zero hour contracts?

    And then he woke up with his head in the cornflakes.

  • ted hagan

    You refer to ‘the English’ throughout your piece. You tar every English person with the same brush. That’s bigotry in my book.
    You are as guilty of narrow-minded nationalism as any Ukip supporter.then try to sugar-coat it.

  • Reader

    hgreen: All negotiators will be thinking of the impact of any deal on their own internal electorate not the UK’s.
    And *now* they also need to consider the impact of no-deal on their own internal electorate.
    When May first said that no-deal might be better than a bad deal, it looked like posturing. Now the EU wants £60billion up front – talk of there being no-deal is looking not just realistic, but likely. May needs a credible option to walk away.
    So, to take Ireland as one of your negotiators – does Ireland want a deal, or no-deal?

  • Enda

    You can understand his trepidation. The Tories don’t contest elections here, (no English parties that actually matter do) but yet were stuck with a government that the buck stops with, and not one person in the north makes a mark for them.

    Hardly democracy.

    The British gov is like a car insurance ad. They should put at the bottom of each election poster ‘Excludes N.Ireland’.

  • Korhomme

    “Crush the Saboteurs” isn’t a new saying.

    Lenin said it when pesky parliamentarians were getting in the way of “the will of people” and he wanted them to see that the Soviets were the ones in charge.

  • hgreen

    Everyone wants a deal that suits them however in the end we’ll get a deal that suits France and Germany. Ireland may have influence but will have to suck it up. No deal means WTO putting the U.K. In the worst trading position of any major nation.

    Mayhem needs this election not to give her firepower in any negotiations with the EU but to protect her arse here in the U.K. when it goes tits up.

  • Korhomme

    “The Constituent Assembly which failed to recognise the power of the people is now dispersed by the will of Soviet Power…All power to the Soviets — and we shall crush the saboteurs.”

    19 January 1918

  • Reader

    Enda: The Tories don’t contest elections here, (no English parties that actually matter do)
    Wrong – the Tories (using the cunning alias “Conservatives”) do sometimes stand for election here, but don’t do well:
    http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/fw15.htm

  • Dan

    More anti English guff