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29 April 2010 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Hanging on for a hung parliament

THE buzzword in this election is ‘hung parliament’. That simply means that no one party will have an overall majority in the British House of Commons. Well, those are the predictions and the very thought of such an outcome has sent a rush of blood to the heads of both the unionists and the SDLP, whose leaders appear to be overwrought at the thought of their own importance in such a situation.
Such grandiose and overblown ideas, especially among the various shades of unionism, has invoked memories of the heady days when unionist MPs could hold the balance of power between the two major British blocs of Labour and the Tories. People will remember the 1990s when Conservative Prime Minister John Major bought off the unionists to keep himself in power after a revolt by Tory right-wingers. The price was no concessions to Sinn Féin and the Peace Process, a dirty deal that would cost the lives of many in the North and postpone the negotiations for peace in the intervening years, until Labour came to power in 1997.
The situation has changed considerably since those days of unionism’s monolith and power. Yet, as events during this election campaign have shown, dirty deals are still very much part of the British political psyche. The recent secret talks shenanigans between the Tories, the UCUNF and the DUP with a view to forming a pan-unionist electoral pact should serve to alert us to the old unionist/Tory agenda of playing the Orange card when the need arises. The intervention of the Orange Order in the selection of a ‘unity’ candidate in an effort to unseat Michelle Gildernew is a case in point. Many will see it as the shape of things to come, a dry run in anticipation of next year’s Assembly elections.
During the recent party leaders’ debate, Margaret Ritchie made much of Sinn Féin’s refusal to take their seats at Westminster, claiming that attendance was crucial to the political and economic well-being of the people of the Six Counties. It was left to Gerry Adams to spell out the ineffectiveness of the voting power of Six-County MPs on issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, instead of pushing the notion that their votes and attendance at Westminster will be crucial to the well-being of the people in the North, in the forthcoming parliament (hung or not), the SDLP should concentrate their political efforts on devolving power away from Westminster.
Instead of being hung up on whether Sinn Féin take their seats at Westminster, the party leader needs to wake up to the real agenda of David Cameron and his cohorts in the UCUNF, which any fool can see is the unpicking of bits of the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreement to prevent Sinn Féin from emerging as the largest party and Martin McGuinness becoming the First Minister.

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