BRITAIN goes to the polls today to elect a new government and if political punditry is worthy of even passing attention the result will map an utterly novel but challenging political landscape for our nearest neighbours.
The result, especially a Conservative majority or even a renewed Conservative Liberal Democrats alliance, could have a profoundly negative impact on our economic prospects and our our place within the European Union.
Profound, society-defining change is afoot and it is unimaginable that the Conservatives and the Labour party will get, as they routinely did half a century ago, 95% of the vote. Today they will get — if the soothsayers’ predictions are reliable — something just over 60%. The lost 35% will decide which party — or parties — take supporting roles in the coalition which will succeed the Cameron/Clegg union.
Already the stakes are high. Just yesterday in an eve-of-voting declaration designed to sow doubt, Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg warned that the United Kingdom would face a second general election before Christmas if his party does not form part of the next government. He warned that both the Tories and Labour would have to offer “sweeteners” to the Democratic Unionist Party, the Scottish Nationalist Party, or the UK Independence Party, but also to rebellious backbenchers in their own ranks to secure power.
Fragmentation and compromise will be the order of the day. Leverage — a polite, sanitising term for blackmail — will be used ruthlessly. Any party determined to be part of the next House of Commons government will have to row back on elements of its election manifesto and rather than regard that as a betrayal of their constituency the deal-making will be justified by suggesting that any alternative would have been even more damaging. Politics as is usual so, let the auction begin.
This election has a particular resonance for us. The diversity anticipated by the pollsters reflects the situation predicted for the next Dáil.
In effect, the deep, once-in-a-lifetime disenchantment with the political establishment — and, worryingly, maybe democracy too — and its inability or reluctance to control the private commercial forces that changed our world forever over the last decade seems set to express itself by forcefully rejecting the political status quo. Fianna Fáil, the UK’s Conservatives, Fine Gael and both Labour parties must long for the days of turn-and-about-turn power, days that are gone forever because of their unshakeable hubris, detachment and startling ineptitude.
A second eve-of-poll declaration from Mr Clegg must sound alarm bells for Ireland and the rest of the EU. Mr Clegg finally made it clear that the Tory demand for a vote on EU membership would not block a coalition deal.
What was once a distant and threatening prospect has moved a step closer and though still very much in the future even the prospect of a UK vote on EU membership will cast a cloud over the inward investment we so utterly depend on.
Not so long ago we were dependent on the kindness of strangers, now it seems we are just as dependent on the judgment of strangers.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved