election is looming, tomorrow in fact. Gangs of
boring politicians have been roaming the streets
making promises they have no intention of keeping.
A journalist remarked to me a matter of days ago
something along the line that it is the 33rd election
in an equivalent number of years. Each, we are
assured, is always more crucial than the one before
it. Crucial to what is another thing. Not crucial
to the economy because it remains in its perpetual
state of stasis. Nor is it crucial to a vibrant
democratic polity because elections have not yet
produced one. Crucial, arguably, to the British
state which, for the first time since the second
world war, has now a selfish strategic interest
in Ireland in the form of the territory hosting
MI5, and can benefit from a puppet regime content
to live with the new strategic dispensation. Crucial,
yes, to the bank balances of the wannabe ruling
class and the legion of functionaries that manage
to live off it. The 'attraction-repulsion dynamic'
so at play in the electorate ensures that despite
being the most useless political class in Western
Europe, ours still manages to get itself elected
to some gravy train.
pundits have been out and about trying to make
sense of it all, but they have laboured to sound
either interested or interesting. A prominent
member of the commentariat sat in our home last
night seemingly as bored with it all as we were.
Given that no pessimist was ever proved wrong
here terra firma usually supports every Jeremiah
that cares to stand on it. For those eager to
see the reestablishment of the political institutions
the most pessimistic outcome is a post-election
scenario in which the DUP had lost so much ground
to either apathy or the Bob McCartney anti-deal
critics, that it dared not risk forming part of
a British administration with Sinn Fein. The chances
of that happening are slim. Pollyanna should on
this occasion trump Jeremiah. Unionism in general
appreciates that the DUP has put manners on Sinn
Fein and should vote accordingly.
seeking to ensure that it does just that Peter
Robinson has amplified the siren, warning all
that Sinn Fein could become the largest party
in the assembly if it can comprehensively see
off its nationalist rivals in the SDLP. Robinson
has astutely pitched his distress call at a level
where it shall be impossible for it to go unheard.
Unionists fearing the horror of Martin McGuinness
as first minister will stampede in behind one
unionist party, Paisley's, to prevent the nightmare
scenario. There is not a lot of choice. It is
hard to see circumstances in which the UUP will
fare anything other than poorly. When it lost
David Trimble as leader, it collectively sensed
that it was a party going nowhere and so picked
a leader who would take it nowhere.
all other things were equal this would produce
a dynamic within nationalism somewhat to the detriment
of the SDLP whereby voters would feel inclined
to form behind Sinn Fein in a bid to push it over
the finishing line either breathing down the neck
of the DUP or ahead of it. Voters who might otherwise
consider casting their ballot in favour of the
SDLP will sense that in the absence of any effective
brake being placed on the acceleration of Paisleyism
from the UUP the best check lies with Sinn Fein.
Certainly, Sinn Fein canvassers in West Belfast
have been using scare tactics to get the vote
out. Those brave enough to tell Sinn Fein teams
at their door that they will not be voting the
party this time round have met with the retort
that the non-voter will be responsible for the
DUP's Diane Dodds getting the seat.
for Sinn Fein, all other things are not equal
and the dynamic that will ensure DUP supremacy
within unionism is heavily tempered within nationalism.
Sinn Fein, unlike the DUP, is faced with a reasonably
robust rival within the nationalist community.
Despite a tangible flatness in presentation Mark
Durcan is au fait with policy detail in a way
that Gerry Adams clearly is not. The Sinn Fein
leader's woeful performance on RTE two nights
ago has left him dangerously exposed as a flapper.
There is no way that Durcan would have proved
so inept. In a northern election it would not
be so damaging if Adams' poor grasp of Southern
economics was the only sphere he struggled in.
His detail deficiency is compounded in that on
both the role of MI5 and holding the British state
to account for past actions vis a vis the now
abandoned OTR legislation, Durcan has proved much
more sophisticated than Adams, mastering the detail
in a way that makes the Sinn Fein leader appear
the balance of political forces does not point
to Sinn Fein getting the booster it needs. At
most those forces will prevent the SDLP playing
catch up, little else. The election results are
unlikely to produce any significant reconfiguration
in the balance of power within northern nationalism
and should confirm the arrest of both the SDLP
decline and the forward momentum of Sinn Fein.
Republican candidates stand little chance of taking
any seats but in Derry, Fermanagh/South Tyrone
and Newry/Armagh they could block Sinn Fein adding
to the number of seats it already holds, and allow
the SDLP to maintain what it might otherwise have
time for Sinn Fein to have emerged as the nationalist
party with supremacy rather than the more limiting
superiority it currently enjoys was in the Westminster
elections of 2005. But the goodwill the party
was claiming in interest as a return on it having
deposited peace in the consciousness of the nationalist
electorate was first questioned as a result of
the Northern Bank robbery and then seriously undermined
by the murder of Robert McCartney. Sinn Fein's
subsequent failure to trounce the SDLP at a time
when the DUP was running the UUP off the park
has placed the Adams outfit at a serious disadvantage
in its confrontation with Paisley's party.
the SDLP manages to hang on tenaciously the DUP
is likely to emerge as the real victors in this
election. Unable to establish a 'Provopoly' within
nationalism which would give it greater leverage
against the DUP, Sinn Fein on the back foot has
shed republican tenet after tenet to the point
where Jeffrey Donaldson can trumpet that its "decisions
are a million miles away from 1916 and the declaration
of a 32-county republic. In short, the IRA has
lost the battle for a United Ireland."
election is not going to alter that.