Another Election? Seriously?

By Edward Ferrin, Chief Stormont Correspondent…

The new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has kept Chris Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker in the Northern Ireland Office. The Secretary of State now has little time left before he is legally obliged to call another Assembly election. The Alliance Party is calling the Assembly to the chamber today to avoid having a winter poll, through a recall petition to elect a Stormont speaker.

The “accidental” Prime Minister?

The DUP walked into the chamber in May, signed their names for their salaries and then walked out boycotting the Assembly procedures to elect a speaker. Jeffrey Donaldson also refused to take his seat at Stormont which he was elected to, instead putting un-elected Emma Little-Pengelly in his place. A week earlier, she said to Mark Carruthers that she wouldn’t return to politics nor take a co-option into the Assembly.

Doug Beattie and the Ulster Unionists seem to be angered by the failure of the Assembly to elect a speaker. After being reduced to 9 MLAs, in which 5 have served as party leader, the UUP are playing out the second act of their “union of people” campaign under the “Beattie bounce.” Can Doug Beattie survive another tough election test and leave the DUP with a bloody nose or fall the same way his mentor Mike Nesbitt did in 2017?

Mike Nesbitt resigned as UUP leader in March 2017 after the UUP were reduced to 10 MLAs.

At the minute, there seems to be little appetite for another election. The result is all but likely to be the same as in May. The UUP and SDLP will most likely be squeezed – how much more can Colum Eastwood survive with? However, if the DUP finishes below Sinn Fein for a second time in the space of 8 months – how much more can the party take under their leader Jeffrey Donaldson?

Is the Fianna Fail-SDLP Partnership dead?

A few weeks ago, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood attended an Ireland’s Future event at the 3 Arena in Dublin instead of attending the Fianna Fail ArdFhesis on the same day – Colin McGrath MLA rubbished suggestions that the Fianna Fail-SDLP partnership agreed in 2019 was dissolved. BBC journalists were muting suggestions that it had been ended by Colum Eastwood over the lack of success it brought to his party in northern elections. Instead, McGrath argued it helped deliver the “Shared-Island” project initiated in 2020 by newly elected Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

The former Minister of Infrastructure is not interested in running this December.

The SDLP will enter the campaign without the quality candidacy of Nichola Mallon – she has decided not to run in an election comeback. This is bad news for the party, who now are left without a well-known, popular and gifted candidate in north Belfast. Colum Eastwood helped remove Alasdair McDonnell as leader in 2014 with the promise of a “fresh chapter,” yet he leads a party with fewer MPs and fewer MLAs than in 2014 – another election may seal his fate as party leader.

Before his entry into the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson served as an Ulster Unionist MP and MLA before he defected in January 2004 alongside Arlene Foster and Pauline Armitage. He was a vocal opponent of the former First Minister and UUP leader, David Trimble.

Jeffrey Donaldson may have a fight on his hands – he may find little sympathy within the DUP if he was to be the leader of unionism who lost to Sinn Fein twice in a single year. Furthermore, he must conduct a perfect political manoeuvre to avoid a loss of confidence in his leadership within unionism. He has to prove he can solve the Protocol issue facing concerned unionists, even if he is to lead the DUP through another renewed boycott of Stormont whether he would be the First or deputy-First Minister in waiting.

If he fails to prove to unionists and more the DUP, there may be some rumblings against his leadership and direction – Edwin Poots may have something to say about that! The new Belfast South MLA may seek a second go at leading his party, amid the failure of two ex-Ulster Unionists-turned DUP leaders in the space of a few years to deliver for the biggest tent in unionism.

Could the DUP be back in the hands of this man?

Meanwhile at Westminster, last Thursday Liz Truss announced her resignation as Prime Minister – after 44 days she announced her tenure was over before it even begun. She was the shortest-serving Prime Minister in UK history, in which she was PM for the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the instalment of King Charles III. Liz Truss led her party for a matter of weeks and in such time, she introduced the “mini-budget” and then u-turned on almost all the tax cuts it promised after a painful speech at the Tory party conference in Birmingham last month.

 We may have seen the end of Prime Minister Truss, but have we heard the end of Liz Truss MP?

Liz Truss may feel very anxious and embarrassed as she leaves the office which she set her sights on from the beginning of the leadership campaign in July. There is some comfort in the fact that at the end of the day, all leaders are human like the rest of us – sometimes things work and other times they don’t!

If she is to resign from the House of Commons and make it in the House of Lords, she may begin chatting with a former First Minister of NI who faced a similar fate. Arlene Foster is to enter the Lords as a non-affiliate peer on the red benches alongside her DUP ally Peter Weir. The GB News presenter has now made her mark into Westminster, after losing her fight for the Commons in 2005 at the Fermanagh-South Tyrone poll.

Arlene Foster was the focus of the DUP’s 2016 Assembly campaign with the slogan “Keep Arlene First Minister!” She was forced to resign in May 2021.

In the May election, the Green Party lost both of its MLAs in North Down and Belfast South – both gained by the Alliance Party. New leader Malachai O’Hara has an early opportunity to take his party back into the assembly. With little change in the attitudes of the voters in the coming weeks, the Greens may find another term outside the mainstream of political debates and decision-making.

Is the Green Party going to become history?

Possible targets for the Greens are Belfast South, North Down, Belfast East and Belfast North. It’s difficult to see the Greens increase their vote dramatically amid the ever-contentious debate as to who should be the next First Minister and how the issues from the Northern Ireland Protocol should be handled.

Verdict: It is going to be very difficult for the parties in Northern Ireland to go up to a voter with a straight face and ask them for a vote. Like in May, the best candidate may not win a seat in Stormont. The quality of MLA may get much worse than expected. It is going to be extremely difficult to go out and vote in the election.

Sometimes in politics, we seem to think that the politician isn’t human or doesn’t care deeply about people. This is simple minded – Liz Truss is human and does believe her ideas are best able to help people. In today’s world, the mistaken identity of a genuine clash of ideas for an unholy war has led to personal attacks, betrayals and a narcissistic culture in the corridors and forums of power and more so, democracy.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s