Friday, 2 April 2010

What was missing on the Celtic fringe?

ON Wednesday the leaders of Plaid Cymru and the SNP stood together to outline what role they could play should there be a hung Parliament.

Proudly they declaimed how the ‘Celtic Nations’ could hold the balance of power, and what they could gain from such a position.

But, it was noticeable that there was a nation (okay, region) missing from the so-called Celtic fringe.

Even the more radical Plaid Cymru and SNP supporters couldn’t share the stage with politicians from Northern Ireland!

One party official was heard to mutter: “We’re mad, but we’re not THAT mad!”

Wise men came from the east

IT is said that the wise men came from the east. And every Glentoran fan maintains this to be the case. But can a wise woman from the east represent the ‘wise men’ from the east in Westminster?

It’s set to be the battle of the party leaders as Peter Robinson seeks to enhance his 49% poll share last time out in East Belfast and Sir Reg Empey, MLA for the area, wants to nibble away at the DUP poll backing with his Westminster candidate for the consitituency, former Irish rugby star, Trevor Ringland.

And into the fray is the Lord Mayor, Naomi Long of the Alliance Party.

In the past two elections in East Belfast, Alliance has been nudging the 20% mark. Given Ms Long’s profile as Mayor, she could attract a few extra votes. But where will these come from? Will it be from DUP female voters? Or will her moderate tones appeal to UUP voters who are Tory refusniks? Or will it be from Sinn Féin voters who think that Ms Long is so nice she deserves that wee ‘x’ on the ballot paper?

Where Naomi takes votes from could indicate so much. On the other hand it will show so little in the first past the post poll.

What can be said definitively is that should Ms Long drive a wedge between the unionist dominance, the Liberal Democrats would be eternally grateful for what would effectively be an extra seat when it comes to bargaining in what the pollsters predict will be a hung Parliament.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Et tu Brute?

IN one of the defining Shakespearian scenes, Caesar turns to the man landing his fatal stab wound. He gazes upon his killer and asks of the man he assumed was his friend, ‘Et tu Brute’. For those of you who missed studying Latin in state school, or for whom Shakespeare is written in a foreign language the appropriate Belfast translation is ‘Brutus? I thought ye were me mate?’

Alan McFarland, whilst no doubt wrestling with his conscience, must have thought long and hard about delivering the blow of his resignation from the Ulster Unionist Party. Will it be a fatal blow?

With the election date set to be announced in a few days, Mr McFarland’s resignation is timely for the opponents of the Conservatives and Unionists, but also comes far enough from the suspected polling date that it cannot be seen as being vindictive.

Mr McFarland’s decision is as a result of him being uncomfortable with the UUP/Tory marriage of convenience.

Fair play to a man of conscience, but it also places some doubt over Mr McFarland’s future as an MLA after 2011. Last time out he got in as the last candidate elected, just 731 votes ahead of the next placed candidate, from the DUP.

While a week is a long time in politics, a year is not nearly long enough to decide where exactly he is to sit in the Assembly chamber come plenary sessions. DUP benches? Not likely. But then again there is also that other North Down independently minded MLA in the shape of the Green Party’s Brian Wilson to sit alongside.

Deal? Or no deal?

WITH the North Down settling down to a straight shoot out between the Conservatives and Unionist candidate Ian Parsley and the independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon, attention has been turned to the other constituencies.

North Antrim looks like being a straight contest between the TUV’s Jim Allister and the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr. But elsewhere the DUP has dangled a particularly tasty carrot to the Conservatives and Unionists.

Said Carrot is that the DUP will step aside in either South Belfast, or Fermanagh/South Tyrone, thereby all but ensuring a unionist will occupy those seats.

On the face of it a sensible ‘unionist unity’ approach: but there are a few problems, the main one being that Sir Reg Empey and his bedfellow, Conservative Leader David Cameron have said ‘no way, Jose’!

Cameron has pledged that the Tories will fight every seat in the UK.

Also, who would be the ones to pick the constituency? Would there be a panel of arbitration?

“Tell you what we’re farmers so we’ll go with the sticks”. “Nah, we’re getting a wee bit of heat from the media and South Belfast contains some housing developments…so fresh country air seems a good idea.”

The more cynical of commentators could surmise that the DUP don’t want to be anywhere near South Belfast, but lest you assume we are cynical, it is much more rational to assume that trying to embarrass the Tories and Ulster Unionists was too much of a chance to pass up.

And therein lies the rub. For all the DUP, TUV, Tory/UUP and other assorted election battles, it is never really about battling republicanism or nationalism. It really has only ever been about who has unionist bragging rights.

It’s all kicking off…

AT last it’s down to the proverbial brass tacks as election mode kicks into high gear with manoeuvring and Machiavellian political machinations…and that’s just in Westminster!

Here in Northern Ireland it’s all a little bit more vicious; and subtle at the same time.

Readers of the runes will see the DUP’s decision to step aside in the North Down as a direct challenge to the UUP Tory link-up.

With Lady Sylvia Hermon cutting ties with her former party and standing as an independent it now comes down to a straight fight with the Conservatives and Unionists candidate Ian Parsley.

The DUP message is clear: if you can’t win the affluent citizens of Cultra, Crawfordsburn, Ballyholme and Bangor West to your flag then what hope do you have elsewhere.

Of course, that ignores the less wealthy denizens of North Down, where Lady Sylvia would have cut down on the DUP votes.

North Down has always been a weird constituency – and not just because they once voted in Bob McCartney, leader of the now defunct UK Unionists. There is an independence of mind there. That may be because for many of the wealthy, the ‘Troubles’ were something that only impinged on their lives once they crossed the Sydenham by-pass. Or it could be that they had to put up with so many little ‘oiks’ turning up in the summer to sully the seafront?

Whatever the reason the voters are now faced with the choice of a sitting MP who supports the Prime Minister and Labour leader, Gordon Brown and the placeman of the UUP/Tory link-up, whose policies are sure to appeal to those residing in six-figure plus valued properties.