Utter Speculation. A Hung Parliament and Abstentionism.

Just thinking out loud and very speculatively in this post. Whehn Fianna Fáil decided they would establish some kind of presence in the north, they said that while they might stand for elections in the Northern Ireland Assembly, they would never seek seats at Westminster. Not, I suspect, out of any principles, for I believe they have none, but just to avoid the possibility of being in government in Dublin and negotiating with an EU partner government they were in opposition to in London. PSF long ago abandoned absentionism as a political principle, but they still refuse to take their seats at Westminster. They do, however, use the office facitilies they are entitled to there, and claim expenses. There were however noises during the expenses scandal that this arrangement would no longer be acceptable in a newly-changed climate, though the issue seems to have dropped off the radar. PSF are also of course already administering part of the UK, and so the refusal to go to Westminster is more symbolic than anything else.

I think it’s fair to say that most people expect a quite crushing Tory victory at the next UK general election. I’m one of them. Not so Michael Heseltine, who thinks that a hung parliament is more likely.

But in order to get an overall majority, David [Cameron] has got to have the biggest swing, with two exceptions, since the war.
I think David is doing a very good job, I think that the odds on him winning are significant, but the overall majority is a mountain to climb and I think he’s been absolutely right in making this point clear.
I think it’s very unlikely we’ll see a Labour government, that I do believe.
Then you come to another problem – there are not many parties… that will form any sort of relationship with the Conservatives, so the Conservatives have got to win outright or be sufficiently the largest party that there isn’t a coalition against them and they face the House of Commons, which of course will mean a relatively short Parliament.

It’s an interesting possibility. I would agree with him that there is next to no chance of a Labour victory, but if the economy takes an upturn, Labour succeed in mounting a strong campaign, and disillusioned voters chose the Liberal Democrats rather than the Tories in sufficent numbers, there might be some chance of a hung Parliament. At which point, Northern Ireland’s 18 seats may or may not prove crucial, as they proved after John Major’s narrow majority after 1992 was chipped at by by-elections and Tory splits, and the UUP forged an agreement with him.

In a hung Parliament, the seats PSF hold (now five, and likely to be the same after the next election I think) could make them a serious player in Westminster deal-making. Given that the Tories are once again unambiguously the Conservative and Unionist Party and formally allied to the UUP, and that they are likely to make savage cuts in public services and benefits in line with their underlying Thatcherism that would hurt Northern Ireland disproportionately, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in such circumstances pressure would emerge from within northern nationalism to take the seats in Westminster to protect nationalist interests. In such a scenario, the case for retaining absentionism might well be weakened. Would pragmatic people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness spurn such an opportunity to have the British government dancing in part to their tune? I’m not sure. It’s likely that they would, on the grounds that it is not their job to determine the government of a country they wish to see leave Ireland. But then again, who remembers “no return to Stormont” and “not a bullet, not an ounce now”? Nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility.


18 Responses to “Utter Speculation. A Hung Parliament and Abstentionism.”

  1. Jenny Muir Says:

    Very interesting but I think unlikely. There’s a good case for SF to abandon abstentionism once policing and justice is devolved, because running P&J buys much more fully into the legitimacy of the UK state than does attendance at Westminster. The reason I think it won’t happen is that I can’t see SF, even now, abandoning abstentionism to shore up a Tory government with links to the UUP, perhaps even including a UUP minister. More interesting is whether the Tories would be so desperate that they would consider a deal with SF and if so what would be the impact on the UUP link.

  2. Garibaldy Says:

    I think it’s unlikely too that they would abandon abstentionism but not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility. I more meant they would contribute to a grand anti-Tory coalition, supporting the Labour-led government in a motion of no confidence vote. They could perhaps do that and nothing else.

  3. Jenny Muir Says:

    Oh right, I see! It says much about my perception of SF’s politics nowadays that I seriously thought they would back the Tories!

  4. Garibaldy Says:


    Says a lot alright. Interesting times indeed.

  5. Drithleóg Says:

    I think PSF would be far too terrified of the prospect of losing their political base. They are already living a lie about their acceptance of the union, sending MPs to Westminster would be the final straw for many of their supporters who are refusing to see the wood for the trees. Their compromise would be laid bare for all.

    It would be a lot bigger than De Valera’s mouthing of a “form of words” to take the Oath to the King so he could abolish it.

    That being said once you make one big compromise, others become easier. We live in very interesting times.

  6. Garibaldy Says:

    You may well be right Drithleóg. Having said that, I don’t think northern nationalists have ever been particularly ideological, and aren’t so now. If the 5 votes would make the difference between the Tories and say a coalition supported by a range of groups, then I think they could make a case for voting in return for concrete benefits. The majority of their supporters would I think accept it. It might be different in their own organisation, and that might swing it.

  7. WorldbyStorm Says:

    In a way what’s most interesting is the thought that Heseltine thinks it’s unlikely to be a massive Tory majority. I don’t know, like yourself I’d have thought they’d win big… but there might be a bit of buyers remorse in there as well, so if the circumstances you posit came to pass while I can’t see SF voting in Westminster, I could see them getting some flak for letting the Tories in by default…

  8. Garibaldy Says:

    Yeah it’s striking that Heseltine is saying this. I’m not sure why to be honest. Maybe if Labour were doing better in the polls, and looked coherent at the top. But they don’t.

    I think your point about flak is a good way to look at it. And if there were to be a number of close votes over a period of years, then the pressure might well build.

  9. Jenny Muir Says:

    Nah, Heseltine’s response is classic rallying the troops stuff. He’s very sensible not to let the Tories get too complacent.

  10. Garibaldy Says:

    That makes a lot of sense Jenny.

  11. Jenny Muir Says:

    And he also wants to make sure the Tories don’t lose votes to UKIP and the BNP, and to apathy.

  12. Garibaldy Says:

    Frightening the voters is a fair point too. Be interested to see if this is an isolated comment, or others start saying this too.

  13. Urban_Underclass Says:

    Excellent Post,


  14. Garibaldy Says:

    Thanks Rory.

  15. nineteensixtyseven Says:

    Good post. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see that Fortnight published an article I sent to them a number of months ago on abstentionism: http://roevalleysocialist.blogspot.com/2009/05/abstentionist-fallacy.html

    Just think, for example, how close the 42 days detention measure would have been with another 5 MPs voting against it.

  16. Garibaldy Says:

    cheers 1967. Enjoyed your post. I see that the committee has decided to allow PSF to claim hotel expenses in London.

  17. British Labour Regaining the X-Factor? « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Says:

    […] Tories, just might be enough to throw what looks like an inevitable Cameron victory into doubt, and possibly a hung parliament. Things could get interesting […]

  18. Buena Debiase Says:

    There’s a bunch of controversy out there about this issue, but I tend to agree with the author.

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