What a 12 months it could be for the DUP. It most people’s estimation Diane Dodds will relieve Jim Allister of his Euro seat. Then after this comes the general election.
What if, after another good election, the DUP’s prayers are answered? What are the prospects for a hung parliament?
Rather good, according to Michael Crick and his useful graphic.
Crick goes on:
Certainly many leading Conservatives expect that outcome [hung parliament] in 2010. They think its simply too big a task, in one election, to gain the 116 seats they need for a majority, on what would require the second biggest swing in 60 years. Instead, they think their best bet is to be the biggest party in a hung Parliament with the chance of winning an outright majority in a second election in a year or two. It’s the two election strategy.
So while the Conservatives want an outright majority, they are also strategising around a hung parliament.
Does that mean the relationship between the Tories/UCUNF and the DUP may be about to thaw? Could the UUP be faced with the extraordinary possibility of having torturously patched together the UCUNF deal in the expectation of sharing power with the next government, only to see the Tories dealing over their heads to win the support of 9 (?) DUP MPs?
The Swish Family Robinson and Tory sleaze department row shows that there is some distance yet to travel if agreement between CCHQ and Dundela Avenue is to take place. But remember that hackneyed old phrase about Tory politicians never having allies just interests. It does contain truth in it – politics is about pragmatism and self-interest (ie. manoeuvring to get your party’s agenda into play). So if it is in their interests (and it would be), then the DUP and Conservatives will necessarily travel that distance.
If Crick’s source is right then perhaps the Conservatives have started talking to the DUP about what happens after 2010. Or if that conversation has not yet happened, then it surely will in the months ahead.
Will the UUP be a part of that discussion? Is hung parliament on the agenda of the UCUNF joint committee? What is the UUP’s view of a hung parliament? Intermittently, vague talk is aired about unionist unity (Billy Armstrong once demanded a single unionist party), so wouldn’t a hung parliament create a kind of unionist grand alliance? Tories, UUP and DUP all cooperating together?
For the UUP there is a huge danger in all of this. A hung parliament offers the DUP opportunity to settle into the role of local power-broker with Whitehall, so undermining the UUP’s relevance. So UUP must act now in their own pragmatic, self-interests and extract power while they’re still in a position to do so. They must surely get a commitment that one of their people is made a Minister from Day One of a new administration.
If they have nothing in place, a hung parliament hands leverage to the DUP. And you can be quite sure that one of their conditions for working with the Tories is that the UUP are not elevated to the frontbench. Why would the DUP bend over backwards to prop up an administration that reinforces the relevance of the UUP locally?
Perhaps there will be a warming in relations between the DUP and Conservatives. For the UUP, it’s past time to conclude their deal with the Tories (it must be a Minister’s job. David Trimble doesn’t count – his deep unpopularity offers no electoral pay off for the UUP).
A poor showing from Nicholson (who failed to turn up for the first hustings encounter with rivals), endless to-ing and fro-ing in the Joint Committee and protracted huffiness from Syvlia Hermon in Westminster may just illustrate to the Tories that they need to keep their options open.
With Conservative strategy focusing on a hung parliament, the UUP needs to tie up its deal with the Tories. Every moment lost now weakens their hands – their value as a partner dissipates and transfers somewhat to the DUP the closer we get to 2010.