David Cameron speaks to supporters during the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto on April 17, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tetchy Cameron dials up SNP attack by warning English voters would lose out

The PM suggested that a Labour government reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects outside of Scotland. 

Since the election campaign began, David Cameron has been accused of lacking passion and of being "too posh to push". His manner on today's Andrew Marr show seemed like a conscious attempt to rebut this charge. "I'm angry and animated!" he declared at one point, lest anyone fail to notice. At moments, he rather too closely resembled an under-pressure chief executive or football manager facing the sack (repeatedly interrupting his interlocutor). But Cameron clearly believes that raising the rhetorical stakes is his best means of retaining power. 

The opening of the interview saw him dramatically dial up the SNP attack, warning of the "frightening prospect" of a party that "wouldn't care about what happenened in the rest of the country" holding sway over a Labour government. In an attempt to make the danger less abstract, he suggested that an administration reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects in England, referring to "People thinking in their own constituencies 'Is that bypass going to be built? Will my hospital get the money it needs?'"

But while excoriating Miliband for refusing to rule out a loose arrangement with the SNP (though the Labour leader is more likely, as I wrote on Friday, to simply call their bluff), Cameron took an equally ambiguous stance towards Ukip. Asked to rule out a deal with Nigel Farage, he merely replied: "We're not planning to do deals with anybody". Since polls show that voters are more concerned by Ukip holding influence in a hung parliament than the SNP (42 per cent against 27 per cent in a recent MORI poll), this is a weakness Labour should repeatedly exploit. 

With Cameron currently on course to lose office, the Tories have resolved that their best hope of persuading wavering voters is to repeatedly play the SNP card - in an ever more apocalyptic manner. In particular, they hope that this will win over two key groups: Ukip defectors and southern Lib Dems. Whether or not the fear factor works, it is a disreputable campaign that only further undermines the long-term future of the Union. (As Marr observed at one point, Cameron sounded like an "English nationalist".) The Tories may yet retain power but they have already lost honour. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.