So is this election about Brexit? In fact, it is much more about each of the parties and their direct needs. Mrs May, seemingly unassailable in England and Wales is using it to break back into Scotland, and it will double nicely as that second referendum the Blairites have been calling for.
The 48% will become considerably less than it has been since the election. In Northern Ireland, the demise of the majority Remain opinion is almost assured. Brian Feeney thinks it can only be about what it’s always all been about: the ‘oul sectarian carve up.
Newton Emerson thinks he’s found a canary that squawks and confirms Brian’s hunch: the non-invitation of Sylvia Hermon (a Lady who has certainly put her anti-Brexit vote where her mouth is).
How was this not noticed during attempts to woo the Green Party? North Down MLA and Green leader Steven Agnew expressed initial interest in an anti-Brexit pact but said it was “essential that it goes beyond the boundaries of nationalism and unionism.”
The best place in Northern Ireland to do that would have been within the boundaries of Agnew’s constituency, where the Greens have by far their highest vote – nearly 14 per cent in the last assembly election – and where this could be uniquely critical in saving an anti-Brexit MP.
Even if Lady Hermon has no interest in a pact, ‘progressives’ should have urged the Greens to give her a clear run. Why did they not do so?
As an ex-North Downer, I’ve a few hunches.
One, neither the SDLP (whose idea this anti-Brexit pact actually was) nor Sinn Fein ever give much thought to what happens in North Down. It is far too Protestant for either of their candidates to make much headway. Nor could they offer any positive value to the incumbent MP.
Two, Sylvia wouldn’t welcome the approach. Having few opponents, she, like many of her predecessors, is largely allowed to her “reason and judgment” with a freedom from her electors’ prejudice that Burke would have envied.
Three, whilst we are all focusing on the subtext of these party manoeuvrings, Northern Ireland’s majority (cross-community) case against Brexit appears to be going to hell in the proverbial handcart.
That may be a lot to do with the nearsightedness of our politicians, or as Tom Kelly has argued in the BelTel that Northern Ireland is just too small for any kind grown up win-win deal? Newton again:
While most of the hostility to Alliance in recent years has come from unionists and loyalists, the 10 per cent centre scenario is mainly a threat to republicans. It creates an indefinite obstacle to reaching the simple majority required to dissolve the union.
Swallowing the centre whole is not a plausible nationalist objective – Brexit is not that drastic a problem (at least not yet). But breaking the centre up and reclaiming its nationalist-background voters is another matter.
Demands for a pact have already split the Greens from Alliance – rejecting a pact, Agnew accused Alliance of sectarianising the question.
The next split to occur will be among centrist voters. Refusing point blank to engage with an anti-Brexit pact will alienate many of those from a nationalist background, while appearing in any way to humour a pact will alienate many small-u unionists.
All of this supposes any of us have a clue about what sort of Brexit we are supposed to be in favour of or against. Keeping it hidden appears, at least in Britain, to be the key to Mrs May’s successful colonisation of majority public opinion.
The Tories are galvanised behind the idea that the only possible Brexit is the mysterious one that May will present to the country as a done deal some time in the future, and for which she wants her mandate up front. So, perversely, the UK will vote twice in as many years on leaving the EU, and most people will still be none the wiser about what that really involves.
This doesn’t feel accidental. It suggests that there is something wrong with the way we conduct campaigns in this country, so the headline issues do not get proper scrutiny. And it suggests there is something dodgy about Brexit that those who keep campaigning for it don’t want to be properly scrutinised. [Emphasis added]
If we take the view that all this can ever be is a parish shadow play, we’re never going to get down asking the right questions about what our politicians are promising us, or to review what they’ve actually delivered.
The continuing dematerialisation of Daisey Hill Hospital and the weird disappearance of Bengoa and SF’s ten-year plan to fix Health is a poignant case in point. Whilst everyone else squabbles, the DUP walk off with the high prize of an irreversible exit.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty