As we reach the final stages of the election campaign, the polls suggest that the Conservatives are going to gain the largest number of seats but will be just short of an overall majority. The situation is still, of course, highly volatile but with the likelihood of a hung parliament, the importance of how Northern Irish voters make their decision in a General Election has never been greater.
The backdrop for Northern Ireland voters is that with the UK in so much debt and the Republic of Ireland economy in so much trouble, there are very tough times ahead, whatever the outcome of the election. However, I maintain that the outcome of the election, whatever your tradition, will be as important to you as it will be to any citizen in Britain. What I say here is directed to anybody who is a voter in a Northern Ireland constituency, with the exception of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I have expressed my view on the circumstances of that constituency here and here.
All of the political parties that are represented in Northern Ireland have now produced their manifestoes.
Sinn Fein was the last party to produce their manifesto. Their policies are as vacuous as ever. They do not take up their seats in Parliament. Taken together, they have absolutely nothing to offer the electorate. All that a Sinn Fein MP achieves by election is the title “MP” and a salary with expenses. When the Conservatives are elected, they will pass legislation so that neither Sinn Fein MPs, nor any other MPs that do not take up their seats, will be able to draw upon expenses.
The SDLP, by identity, is an Irish Nationalist party but for the purpose of the General Election, I am not interested in their Nationalism. Historically, they line up with the Labour Party in the Westminster Parliament on matters which don’t specifically concern Northern Ireland. What is most important, for the purposes of this election, is that SDLP MPs support the Labour Government. If you watched the Northern Ireland leader’s debate last week, you would have heard Margaret Ritchie explaining that.
If you habitually vote for the SDLP or you are thinking of voting for them, I ask you to think of them as the Labour Party. If your constituency is North Down, it is also reasonable to treat Lady Sylvia Hermon, who is now supported by the SDLP, as a representative of Labour.
NI voters need not concern themselves with Labour’s policies for Education or the Health service. Those are matters for the Assembly. However, I would urge NI voters to think in terms of which party is best suited to run the Economy and deal with other non-devolved matters such as Immigration. If you have decided on the answer to that question, then I respect your voting choice if the Labour Party is still your preferred party of Government.
If you feel that Britain and Northern Ireland need a change of Government and you are broadly in agreement with Conservative economic policy, I urge you to put aside any notion of what has gone on before and vote for one of the 17 Parliamentary Conservative and Unionist candidates who are campaigning on behalf of the Conservative Party.
The Democratic Unionist Party currently has 9 MPs. Their core policy for the UK Parliament is simple and clear. They are telling unionists that they will use a hung Parliament in order to extract or defend funding for Northern Ireland. If you are a Unionist and you are taking that prospect seriously, then I urge you further to take into account the following points.
It has been suggested that during the Labour administration, the DUP extracted concessions from the Government. Peter Robinson has alluded to concessions given when they supported them over the 42 bill. Do not be fooled by that or by anything else the DUP tell you. There was, in reality, no funding for Northern Ireland as a result of that vote.
The DUP may also point to Policing and Justice, where extra funding was obtained to support devolution. There are two things to say about that. Firstly, it was the last piece of the Devolution jigsaw puzzle. The supportive funding was a one-off. Secondly, the Government made those funding concessions to support devolution, not the DUP specifically.
The reality is that Gordon Brown has not bribed Peter Robinson at all. If Brown was into that game, the outcome of the Presbyterian Mutual Society problem might have been different. Incidentally, savers with the PMS have every reason to hope for a different result when the Conservatives take office. When in office, they will look at the affair afresh and consider taking a different approach.
If DUP MPs start looking for special favours from the Conservatives to keep them in power, the Conservatives will, firstly, appeal to Northern Ireland MPs to put the nation’s interests first, particularly in these difficult times. However, they will not be making any concessions to the DUP. Memories still linger of the “bribe” negotiations between Labour and Ulster Unionist MPs in 1978 and 1979. Promises made by the Callaghan Government on the eve of no confidence motions erupted into national scandal. The Conservatives would be taking a very bad gamble if they went down that route.
Voting for the DUP on the basis of potential leverage will not benefit Northern Ireland because it will not benefit the UK as a whole. A strong Government with a working majority represents the best prospect for the UK during these difficult times.
The broad way to differentiate between the Conservatives and Labour is in terms of their attitude towards state and economy. The conservative approach is economy-centred. Labour’s is state-centred. Labour has never been able to break free from its “Robin Hood” approach to the economy. Another description which sums up Labour’s approach is the “Nanny State.” Whenever Labour has finished a spell in power, it has left the State sector larger, as a proportion of the overall economy, making it much harder for it to thrive in the future.
For people in Northern Ireland, the benefit of the Conservatives being interested in this region is that the Conservatives are committed to enabling Northern Ireland to break away from its dependance on the State. The Conservative leadership has made its overtures on this subject. This election represents an opportunity for voters in Northern Ireland to take ownership of that commitment by showing solidarity with the Conservatives and giving them the power that we all need them to have.
Unfortunately, because of the present state of the UK economy, Northern Ireland, like everywhere in Britain, is going to suffer from spending cuts during the first part of a Conservative administration. That cannot be avoided. In the medium and longer term, the Conservative Party is committed to reducing the dependency of the state sector and regenerating Northern Ireland’s private sector economy. One measure for Northern Ireland, already promised to be implemented, is the is the reduction in the rate of Corporation tax so that it is consistent with the low levels of equivalent tax in the Republic of Ireland. Further fiscal measures will be unveiled after the Conservatives have taken office while others, such as a review of Business rates, will be discussed with Northern Ireland politicians. In conclusion, there is some short term economic pain ahead for Northern Ireland. Further along, the future will be much brighter under the Conservatives.
Filed under: SDLP, Economy, Conservative Party Policy, General Election, Sinn Fein, Conservative Party, DUP, Gordon Brown, Northern Ireland politics, Margaret Ritchie, Westminster, Lady Sylvia Hermon, Nationalism, Conservativism, UCUNF | Tagged: Economy, Sinn Fein, David Cameron, DUP, SDLP, Conservative Party, Labour Party, Gordon Brown, Northern Ireland politics, General Election, Margaret Ritchie, Westminster, Nationalism, Lady Sylvia Hermon, Conservativism, Conservative Party Policy, Hung Parliament, UCUNF | 2 Comments »