Perhaps thedissenter should have commented in the run up to, and during, the election in Northern Ireland. But the build up to, and conduct of, the local campaigns was not exactly exciting; business beckoned, a bit of travel to be done, and it was time for a break.
So in retrospect and to bring thedissenter up to date…
Campaigning for the Westminster election in Northern Ireland had an air of reluctance, or nervousness; perhaps born out of uncertainty as to how the election would impact on the local Parties. Politics in Northern Ireland seems to have descended into a tactical contest, where any greater purpose to gaining power has been lost in the pursuit of power itself (or clinging on to the certainty of what is already held). The Westminster campaigns in Northern Ireland seemed more of a prelude to the 2011 Assembly elections than one of national consequence.
The SDLP had a new leader trying to hold its vote and not lose ground to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein ran the same old faces, and hoped to gain ground on the SDLP. Both nationalist parties begged the same votes for the same romantic notion of a united Ireland at the end of the rainbow when all would be well and good – earlier, Brian Cowan had set out the real politic and focusing on bigger issues on St Patrick’s Day. Other than for tactical considersations of the least worst option, neither nationalist Party appealed to the electorate that matters to their ultimate aspiration (again, see Brian Cowan’s words).
Peter Robinson gave himself a bad press on the eve of the election, which didn’t seem to impact on the Party as a whole. The UUP/Conservative grouping gave the appearance of being as disorganised as the huckster’s shop in which it continues to hold two Executive seats. The newcomers, the Traditional Unionist Voice, were the great unknown factor and a first-past-the-post Westminster election was the worst outing a fledgling party could face.
The Alliance Party and Naomi Long? Bless.
The 2009 European election showed, at least on the Unionist side, that the electorate no longer swallowed the warnings of the doomsayers, nor feared the Sinn Fein bogeymen on which many election strategies were based. A large proportion voted and damn the consequences. For 2010 Westminster the unionist electorate was largely more circumspect, but hardly enthusiastic: evidenced in Fermanagh South Tyrone. Unionism is past anger; frustrated and petulant, but not angry. The simple interpretion on the electoral fortunes of the three unionist Party leaders is: ‘ a plague on all your houses’.
Unionism is in flux, and May 6th has not provided any clarity on the questions that should be asked let alone provide any answers. That debate will continue and is to be welcomed.
Northern Ireland’s 18 Westminster seats were always going to be filled, even if choice in voting preference was diminished by the available options being well and truly woeful. In general, commentary and analysis on the election results has been mostly inward rather than outward. The now marginal status of all local parties at Westminster may tend to exacerbate that focus. Yet change is always a time of opportunuity. The new consensus in Government at Westminster, for as long as it can last, offers such opportunity if grasped.
If this post seems to ramble a little it is because thedissenter is in a process of thinking, reassessing fundamentals, throwing the bricks in the air and rebuilding ideas. That may take some time. Absence has not brought any conclusions. In the meantime regular commentary will resume once the electoral dust has settled.