December 31, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
It may be possible that a man who lost his seat at Westminster in 2010 could decide who will be in Government in 2015.
Having explained in my first blog on this topic how First Past the Post makes the results of the 2015 General Election in the constituencies of Northern Ireland very predictable, and in my second blog where there could be a possibility of a surprise, I turn now to how the outcome of Northern Ireland could affect the governance of the United Kingdom. More importantly, I turn to how Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, but without a seat at Westminster since 2010, could be the Kingmaker.
The key to understanding why is to know how many seats the bookmakers are predicting for Labour and Conservatives at the moment. Paddy Power, for instance, are suggesting that Labour will win 287 and the Conservatives 284. More significantly, they are suggesting the Lib Dems will win 27, the SNP 24 and UKIP 6. Should those be the result, it would be impossible for Labour or Conservatives to form a workable government.
The target is 326 seats to have a majority. However, given Sinn Fein (likely to win 5 seats) don’t take their place in Parliament and the Speaker doesn’t vote, the actual number of seats needed for a majority is 323. Labour and the Lib Dems added together make 314, So one more party would be needed at least to (just) make up a majority government.
The SNP have made it pretty clear they are uninterested in governing the UK by virtue of the unrealistic demands they intend to make to support a governing party. The SNP are so fervently nationalist that they would be uninterested in policies that help the rest of Britain. They are also so desperate to manoeuvre public opinion towards a second Scottish Independence referendum, that they would prefer a Conservative government to allow them to continue to wind up the Scottish people about how unsustainable being governed by Westminster is.
However, the DUP are different. When their central purpose was to keep Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, they were aligned much more with the Conservatives than anyone else. This link was broken firstly by the similarly aligned UUP’s official link with the Conservatives (they were called the UCUNF for a while although that link was broken in 2012). Secondly, the link has been broken by the change in the focus of the political parties and political process in Northern Ireland. The DUP concentrates a lot more on social and welfare issues, particularly in the poorer areas of the province. On this areas, they are actually nearer to Labour than to the Conservatives.
Therefore, apart from the Lib Dems, the DUP are the only party who would be willing and capable of entering coalition or at least confidence and supply support of both the Conservatives and Labour. They will have at least 8 seats, but possibly 10 seats, as it is hard to see how Peter Robinson won’t regain the Belfast East seat he lost in 2010 at a time when he was mired in scandal surrounding his wife’s financial arrangements. Furthermore, Alasdair McDonnell’s Belfast South seat was won when he got less votes than the DUP and UCUNF added together, and if those parties agree not to stand against each other there he may lose. The UUP will want to consider that, given they don’t have any seats and in return the DUP could leave the way open somewhere else for them.
The big question is, should both the Conservatives and Labour get similar amounts of seats (in which case under our constitution David Cameron would get first go at trying to form a government, who will Peter Robinson and DUP choose to support? As I said, it used to be the Conservatives, but Ivan Lewis, Labour’s Northern Ireland spokesman, gave a pointed reminder to the DUP in a speech recently that the peace process has left many of the DUP’s constituents behind, and exposed by the austerity policies that the Conservatives have implemented.
Whilst it is obvious who the moderate Nationalist and traditionally left-aligned SDLP would support if asked, at some point before the election, potential DUP voters may ask Peter Robinson who he would support in the event of a hung Parliament. It isn’t clear who Kingmaker Robinson would crown. So Northern Ireland is one to watch.