So much of politics in both Ireland and Britain is still incredibly binary that coming at a political figure or topic from a different angle is usually met with disdain, disgust or distrust.
The purpose of this short blog is simply to ask and then answer why I believe the North’s unionist politicians should be (at least secretly) hoping for a UK Labour government, and as soon as possible at that.
This has very little to do with Keir Starmer’s political nous or charisma (he has been a disappointing leader so far for a number of reasons) or his commitment to defend and champion the Union (his Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary of State recently said that a Labour government should be “neutral” in the event of an Irish Border Poll and;
“The principal of consent is still very much in tact. It is only for the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own constitutional future and polls still suggest there is still a very firm majority for remaining in the United Kingdom.”
Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, the DUP (who have been the largest unionist party since then) have largely backed the Conservatives, initially through the Confidence & Supply deal with Theresa May and, more recently, through backing Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal before they realised it created a customs border down the Irish Sea.
However, even after that betrayal, very few in unionism have claimed that a Labour government would be “better” or more “conducive” to serving unionism’s interests. My view is that they still believe the NI Protocol can be removed or changed enough to satisfy the Loyalist vote. Because of that, David Frost’s hardline comments and bravado has just about kept them onside.
Fortunately for Unionism, I believe that the Protocol is here to stay and while the next 18 months may result in some political humiliation, there will ultimately be some economic benefits to the North from its implementation.
If this is the case, and the Conservatives are not going to waste any major diplomatic capital on alleviating Unionism’s concerns, what is the benefit to the Union of having such a chaotic, dishonest and divisive London government?
My own view, and it is widely shared and not an original thought, is that Boris and the Brexiteers have been an incredibly beneficial recruitment tool for United Irelanders but also for the Alliance party - as disillusioned unionists find it increasingly challenging to vote for the DUP or TUV, and to a lesser extent the UUP.
So why Keir Starmer and his Labour party? Well, they are boring, predictable and lack any grand vision *but* those aren’t necessarily bad things for unionists and middle-ground voters who were relatively happy before 2016 and aren’t looking for constitutional change.
While it’s currently impossible to ignore the corruption and other crises the Conservative Government are suffering, there is every chance that a Labour government, which seems to have now dropped all of the policy promises that former leader Jeremy Corbyn championed, will initially get a lot less bad press and could even bring a slightly feel-good factor to the Union.
I am not saying he will be the saviour and end all the current momentum of the Irish Unity proponents. However, he may cut off one current supply of fuel for that campaign, which is the chaos and dishonesty of the current regime.
At the moment, Unionism is losing almost every battle and morale is undoubtedly low. When this is the case, it is foolish to simply endorse the status quo. It might be hard to comprehend for some loyalists, but maybe a leader whose words are not as supportive of the union, but whose actions do less to damage it, might be the reset button that Northern Ireland needs to survive the next decade…