Reaction to the election…

9 05 2010

I did a short Q&A with BBC Online earlier – it’ll be a small part of a bigger article. I thought it might be useful to post up my full answers, then I’ll post up the BBC link when it gets uploaded. (I inflicted way more words on the BBC than was necessary.)

[Here’s the link to that piece.]

Q: Did the election result surprise you?

A: In Northern Ireland, the DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson lost his seat. The DUP’s vote largely held up everywhere except in Peter’s East Belfast constituency – scandals involving his wife and their financial dealings turned people against him. Like Ian Paisley, Robinson is such a dominant figure in his party that before the election it was difficult to imagine a DUP leadership without him. But right now it’s difficult to imagine a leadership with him anywhere near it.

Otherwise, one minor shock was the fact that the Conservative pact with the Ulster Unionists managed to return no MPs. It was a huge failure. I expect the UUP leader will resign within the next few days.

The DUP have 8 MPs to the CU’s zero MPs – David Cameron clearly courted the wrong Unionists.

Q: What was your initial reaction?

A: The election could have big consequences for Unionists in Northern Ireland. Both the DUP and UUP leaders failed to win a seat, and it seems likely that both leaders will resign in the coming days.

Unionism in Northern Ireland is in a state of flux – and significant realignment could be coming down the line.

On a more positive note for Unionists, the DUP’s 8 MPs could have a big role to play during the negotiations to form the next government. The last decade’s peace negotiations have made the DUP quite effective in extracting side deals from central government. If given the opportunity, it’s likely that the DUP will be able to trade their support for riches from the Treasury.

Nationalism on the other hand is relatively stable as all its incumbent MPs were returned. But there still space for high drama – Sinn Fein won in Fermanagh by just 4 votes. This was a memorable election for all sorts of reasons.

Q: What are your thoughts specifically on national results?

A: The Lib Dems had been promising so much in the debates and in all the polls leading up to May 6. So I was taken aback by the fact that they are now a smaller force in Parliament. One explanation might be that the last-minute scare-mongering from the bigger parties was effective. The ‘Vote-Clegg-get-Cameron/Brown’ lines undid all those weeks of positive campaigning from the Lib Dems. Going negative clearly works.

A Lib-Tory administration would command about 60% of the total votes cast, and that to me makes the most democratic sense when forming a government from the present mess. Whether it’s politically desirable for the main players is another matter altogether.

I can’t see how Gordon Brown continues. Prior to the election, Mr Brown said he would go into charity work if he failed to form a government. I think he should choose to leave for the Third Sector as opposed to being chased into it by his party.

All that painful modernising carried out by David Cameron was done for comparatively little reward in terms of vote share. This was an election fronted almost exclusively by Party leaders and despite Cameron’s fabled gifts in that regard, he just couldn’t bring people with him. Who could blame a Tory for thinking now that Cameron’s over-hyped and overrated?

Q: We have a hung parliament – what do you make of the coalition possibilities?

A: The Lib Dems will not have had an opportunity like this in decades. They must be pragmatic and be prepared to accept some creative ambiguity around electoral reform in order to get their people into Cabinet positions. I would like to see the Lib Dems join with the Conservatives, and show what they can do in government. I suspect there will be another general election coming along very soon – the Lib Dems need to bear that in mind and grasp what they can this time out.

There’s noises from the Labour Party that Gordon Brown should go and that the Party must accept a period of opposition. This looks like sensible advice. From a Labour point of view, the next government must make some eye-watering cuts to the public sector. It will do Labour good to be in opposition and defending their working-class vote while the Conservatives get on with implementing some very unpopular austerity measures.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on the possibility of electoral change?

A: I don’t think electoral form will happen. The Lib Dems have leverage at the moment but they cannot dictate terms. The Tories have other options and can form a minority government, so the Lib Dems will probably accept something less than an absolute pledge on reform in exchange for power. Political parties exist to seek power, so who could blame them?

No doubt the issue will be kicked off into some gloomy all-party standing committee where it will quietly die off.

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