Monday 24 October 2016

Forget SNP or Farage, we need to worry about Cameron

Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30

Ed Milliband
Ed Milliband

With less than a week to go to the British general election and no overall parliamentary majority in sight for any party, the Conservatives have resorted to an old favourite, the Fear Factor.

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Almost everybody agrees that the likeliest result is a minority Labour government supported by the Scottish National Party. Here's how the Tory defence secretary, Michael Fallon, views that prospect:

"Ed Miliband cannot possibly govern without the SNP propping him up. Nicola Sturgeon (the SNP leader) would hold him to ransom, demanding higher taxes, more debt, unlimited welfare payments and weaker defences."

From what we hear about her, Nicola Sturgeon is a smart lady who has no intention of spoiling her imminent election triumph by insisting on daft policies. If she wins, as expected, almost every seat in Scotland, we can expect her to govern Scotland successfully and collaborate effectively with Miliband in governing Britain.

Of course, her ultimate aim is Scottish independence. But that lies down the road. In the meantime, we have little or nothing to fear from her.

Neither have we much to fear from the Bad Boy of the pantomime, Nigel Farage.

Thanks to the first-past-the-post system, Farage labours under an insuperable handicap. Under proportional representation, his Ukip party would probably hold the balance of power. Under the British system, pollsters reckon that his House of Commons tally would range from zero to two seats.

So we don't have to worry about an eccentric party demanding a British exit from the European Union and an end to immigration.

We do have to worry about David Cameron, an aristocrat who would have been perfectly at home among the grandees who ruled Britain (and Ireland) in the 19th century.

More to the present point, he has promised that if he wins the election he will hold a referendum on withdrawing from the European Union unless he gets major concessions from Brussels. Let's consider what would follow if this drastic event occurred.

A recent authoritative assessment concluded that withdrawal would cost Britain 14pc of GNP. At a stroke, a rich country would be reduced to a poor one.

Britain's plight would be lessened if all the remaining EU countries concluded favourable trade agreements with it and if the current negotiations for a transatlantic partnership were not hampered.

But these are big "ifs". At a minimum, we could expect market turmoil and dire trouble in the weak countries.

And what of Ireland? Great work has been done on diversifying our markets, but we still rely heavily on Britain, our best customer.

Moreover, we have no guarantee that our economic recovery will continue at its present steady pace. A British departure from the EU would bring us a major and long-lasting shock.

What if Cameron wins the election and enters into negotiations with Brussels? Is he clever enough to cut a deal which makes it appear that he has achieved important concessions, sufficient to recommend that Britain should stay in? It seems unlikely in the extreme.

If he tried it and failed, presumably the result would be the end of his premiership. But we would all surely feel a lot more comfortable if the question never arose.

We in Ireland do not know a great deal about Ed Miliband, and the little we do know does not impress us. But from an Irish viewpoint, political or economic, the most desirable outcome of this election would be a Labour-led coalition.

And if such a coalition comes to power and governs well, British voters may learn a valuable lesson.

They tend to think that single-party governments are not only better than coalitions; that they are something ordained by nature.

Not so. Britain has been ruled by excellent coalitions in the past. With a bit of luck, perhaps future generations will be able to say the same about Ireland.

Irish Independent

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