Jeepers, it's two months since I posted on here! Whatever was I thinking taking such a lengthy sojourn?
I return to the blogosphere with the General Election looming. This time last year, it looked as though this election would be pretty much the same as the last one in 2005 in terms of outcome in Northern Ireland. However, a year is a long time in politics. Since then, we've had the rise of the TUV and their decent showing in the European elections, the demise of Iris Robinson's political career, and ex-TV stars Mike Nesbitt and Fearghal McKinney throwing their hats into the ring in Strangford and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone respectively.
So what will the outcome of the election be? Well, I'll hedge my bets in terms of the results in Northern Ireland. Whatever they turn out to be, this will be a fascinating election.
Across the UK generally, there could well be a hung parliament. David Cameron's Conservative have lost some ground to Gordon Brown's Labour in the polls. Given the massive swing that would be needed for the Tories to secure an outright majority, could it be that voters choose to stick with the devil they know rather than the devil they don't? In terms of the unprecedented TV leaders' debates which are scheduled, I think Cameron has more to lose than Brown insofar as he's the favourite so there's no other way for him to go than backwards if things don't work out on air.
If there is a hung parliament, could we see a Lib/Lab coalition? Such a pact is not completely unprecedented- the two parties are in coalition in the Welsh Assembly. However, in Westminster's First Past The Post system, it would be a major departure.
There has been disquiet in some quarters that if there is a hung parliament, a Lib/Lab coalition could form a government even if the Tories are the single biggest party. Personally I don't see this as a major problem- in countries more used to coalitions, it happens all the time. After all, Fine Gael hasn't been the biggest party in Ireland since it was overtaken by Fianna Fáil in the 1930s, but it has still formed coalition governments.
Ultimately voters choose the MP for their constituency. Whether that MP's party forms a coalition is up to his or her respective party. I think that people going to the ballot box in May will know that this is a possibility, so it's not as if such a post-election pact to form a government would be a bolt out of the blue.
Another option should there be a hung parliament would be for a party to form a minority government. However, this by its nature could breed instability given that it would require the support of smaller parties for important votes, which could leave the government open to accusations of pandering to those whom it needs to woo.
The Conservatives will be hoping that they can carry enough seats to see them across the line and avoid any such headaches. If the polls are right, it may not be as clear cut as everyone once thought.