Probabilities and Possibilities: 'Tis the Season for an Election

31 October 2019 - by Gráinne Walsh

Boris Johnson finally, at the 4th time of asking, has been granted his election. Once Jeremy Corbyn told the shadow cabinet on Tuesday morning that his condition of taking a No Deal off the table had been met by the EU’s granting of an extension of Article 50 to 31st January, the parliamentary stars were finally aligning for the hamstrung Prime Minister.

Having exercised our democratic duties during local and European elections, Thursday 12th December will be the third time the local electorate will have gone to the polls this year. Incidentally please spare a thought for the good people of West Tyrone who have had the joy of 9 elections since 2015.

As politics leaves the Westminster bubble and goes on tour across the country, the framing of the campaigns are already apparent.  The Conservative Party want to ‘Get Brexit Done’, framing this election as the defining moment in the nation’s exit from the European Union – give Boris the majority he needs to get the deal done. 

Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand would probably rather you didn’t focus on Brexit too much and took the opportunity of the final PMQT to focus on public services, particularly the NHS. If and when Brexit features in the Labour narrative we can expect it to be as a threat to the health service from a US trade deal in particular.

Locally we can expect a big play on the Confidence and Supply funding from the DUP.  Sinn Féin, focusing on the toxicity Brexit has created locally will ask us to send “a clear message to the British government that we want control of our own future through a referendum on Irish unity.” Alliance, like the Liberal Democrats, are the party of remain, particularly in unionist held seats, where they will challenge the DUP Brexiteers. 

Announcing his candidacy, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “I will not sit idly by as our interests are undermined. Brexit can be stopped at Westminster. SDLP MPs will vote to stop Brexit.”  He hopes to retake Foyle for the SDLP following Mark Durkan’s narrow defeat to Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion in 2017.

With his feet barely under the table, new UUP leader Steve Aiken has merrily joined in one of the local traditions shared by unionists and nationalists alike - discussion of electoral pacts.  With calls for pro-union pacts, pro-remain pacts, pro-Brexit pacts and everything in between, what is essentially a process argument can make a real difference come results night.

Locally a number of seats will be hotly contested by the parties.  Three of the four seats in Belfast will be worth tracking, with the incumbent MPs coming under pressure from challengers.  Emma Little Pengelly, in the remain constituency of Belfast South will be thankful there isn’t an agreed anti-Brexit candidate with Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna and probably Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey declaring their candidacy. While far from certain that Claire Bailey will run for the Green Party, she might suffer FOMO if everyone else is throwing their hat in the ring. 

Outside Belfast, South Antrim could switch to either Alliance or the UUP as Danny Kinihan tries to leave the world of local government for the halls of Westminster. With Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew defending a majority of 875, Fermanagh and South Tyrone could switch back to unionism. Will Arlene Foster be joining her colleagues on the red-eye flight to London more regularly? 

So, expect lots of chat about the impact of the dark evenings, lots of Christmas and Shakespearian puns (turkeys voting for Christmas during a winter of discontent, anyone?)

While we are well used to elections in this part of the world over the last number of years, this is the first December General Election since 1923. Remember, that one produced a hung parliament…