Every time the people of Northern Ireland vote, the political experts look for signs of change. Are those favoring a United Ireland gaining? Are the pro-London Unionist parties maintaining their lead?
It will be the same on Thurs., May 7, when the voters of Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland elect the 650 members of the new British Parliament. Only 18 members, less than 3 percent, will be elected from Northern Ireland but the results will be very interesting, not only for the Northern Irish but for the entire British nation.
As in any close election, the results cannot now be accurately predicted. Which political party will rule the London parliament, the Conservatives or Labor? In the recent Parliament the Conservatives had 302 votes and Labor had 256. The Conservatives achieved power in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who had 56 seats. It is probable that neither major party will receive the necessary 326 seats to gain a clear majority. The two other significant parties, the growing Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats, appear to have lost considerable ground and have no chance to be the leading party. A coalition of one of the larger parties and a few smaller parties are almost certain to rule the country.
This sort of development is called a “hung parliament,” which can only be made to work if deals are made with other losing parties. Given that, Conservatives and Labor are frantically moving positions and trying to make deals for support in whatever coalition may emerge after the votes are counted.
David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives and the current prime minister, has already made overtures to like-minded conservatives by promising a referendum ballot of all British voters sometime after this election on the question of staying in the EU Common Market. Many conservatives, in a classic xenophobic step, would like Britain to leave the Common Market.
And this is where Northern Ireland comes in. The Democratic Unionist Party that Ian Paisley started would be delighted to participate in such a government. They would have much increased influence over decisions with the 8-9 votes they are projected to have after the election. Britain leaving the EU would cause a major disruption along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which would serve Unionists well.
As far-fetched as such a development sounds, Sinn Fein, the second most popular party in the North, has published a manifesto decrying the possibility.
It may well be, however, that Ed Milibrand, the leader of the Labor Party, will obtain enough votes to enter into a coalition with the Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon. With Labor projected to earn about 280 votes, the SNP’s projected total of more than 45 votes would get them very close. The Nationalists in Ireland would be much happier with that outcome.
In Northern Ireland there are some very interesting parliamentary constituencies that will be watched carefully:
In East Belfast, the young DUP star Gavin Robinson, a former lord mayor of Belfast (no relation to Peter Robinson), is trying to unseat Naomi Long of the Alliance party. This is one of the four constituencies in which the two Unionist parties have agreed to run only one candidate. Robinson is favored. In the Belfast South constituency, the leader of the SDLP, Alasdair McDonnell, is fighting two Unionists and former Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O’Muilleior. O’Muilleior is coming on strong in the late stages of the race, but the odds are still with McDonnell.
There could be other surprises. In North Belfast, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has come closer and closer to the deputy leader of the DUP, Nigel Dodds, in each race where they run against each other. This time, the Ulster Unionist party has made a deal with the DUP not to run a candidate so the Dodds would have a clear field for the unionist vote.
In the Fermanaugh South Tyrone district, Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew won her last race by only one vote and thoughshe appears to be favored, this is another deal by the two Unionist parties to back only one Unionist candidate, in this case, UUP’s Tom Elliott.
It does not appear that the political situation after the election will change much in Northern Ireland, but it also appears that things may change dramatically in London, and that would impact the 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland, who, with only 18 votes in the Parliament, unfortunately suffer from their lack of influence.