Those of us who follow the goings on up at the Assembly need to remind ourselves that its powers are limited and the ‘man on the street’ has many other concerns. Some of those concerns are Westminster matters – such as the abolition of the 10p income tax bracket. This move would have impacted particularly heavily on NI but our politicians took the safe option of opposing it – safe in the knowledge they could always blame the Labour Government. Another concern for the ‘man in the street’ is beyond the control of Stormont and Westminster. The dramatic increase in gas prices prompted local politicians to rush to the airwaves to talk about seeing what they could do to alleviate the problem for the less well off and the elderly. In reality the answer is not a lot.
Ministers at Stormont would be right to be concerned about these developments. increasing taxes from Westminster on people and small businesses and rising prices for food as well as energy the decision to delay the introduction of a water element to local rates bills might come back to haunt the Executive. When the increased rates bills ultimately land on peoples doorsteps during these leaner economic times there will be uproar. Prior to that expect to see a lot of MLAs seeking to distance themselves from the Executive. Might this provide the opportunity for the UUP and the SDLP to detach themselves from the Executive?
It is unlikely that the two UUP Ministers in the Executive – who will be 62 and 63 come the next Assembly election - will lead their party into opposition. But might the SDLP (or should that be Fianna Fail?) seize the opportunity? The SDLP could seek to lay the blame for the new bills firmly at the door of Conor Murphy and Sinn Féin. Such a move might put ‘clear water’ between the two parties and surely, after the merger, the party will not be as financially dependent on the Assembly as it is now?