Belfast Telegraph

Home News Politics

Sinn Fein may take Westminster seats to counter influence of DUP, says YouGov president

Pollster predicts republicans could abandon abstentionist policy

by Liam Clarke

One of Britain's major polling experts has predicted that Sinn Fein could be forced to take its seats at Westminster to balance the growth of DUP influence in a minority government.

Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov, also predicts that there will be another Scottish independence referendum within 10 to 15 years and that Scotland is likely to go it alone at that point.

Mr Kellner is coming to Northern Ireland later this week as a guest of LucidTalk, the Belfast Telegraph's polling partners, and Chambre Public to conduct a seminar on the UK General Election, which is scheduled for May 7.

Mr Kellner said: "Logically if the DUP starts to get concessions which Sinn Fein doesn't like and are to their detriment, then they might see some merit in threatening to take their seats and use their votes."

He thinks it is quite likely that the support of Northern Ireland parties will be sought because the election is so tight.

Echoing the recent sentiments of Prime Minister David Cameron, he added: "The broadcasters are making a complete hash of these debates. If you are going to have Plaid Cymru and the Greens I don't see how you can legitimately exclude the DUP or Sinn Fein."

Of the the 650 seats in Westminster, 18 are from Northern Ireland and five are held by Sinn Fein. The party has traditionally refused to attend parliamentary sittings or swear themselves in on the grounds that it doesn't recognise the legitimacy of London rule over us. However, the party does lobby at Westminster and has an office there.

One seat each is held by Lady Hermon - an Independent unionist but generally pro-Labour - and Naomi Long of Alliance. The SDLP, which generally backs Labour, has three seats and the DUP has eight, which they hope to increase to nine next time.

The pollster, formerly a senior journalist with the BBC and later with newspapers including the Sunday Times, believes the election will result in a multi-party coalition government or a minority administration which won't last.

"It could take two, three or even conceivably four parties to form a government. And it is possible that Conservatives and Labour will both be below 300 seats, well short of a majority. If the Lib Dems had 30 seats and Labour or the Tories got to 300 they have a majority with the Liberal Democrats. With the big parties falling below that you could get a minority government but it would be precarious.

"I suspect Labour and the Tories between them have around 570 seats and one or both needs to attract about 80 votes from other parties to get into government and stay there," he said.

Mr Kellner said: "This could lead to a minority government living from hand to mouth and the possibility of a second election this year or next. It depends on the precise parliamentary arithmetic in the days after the contest."

A number of UK MPs, like the Tory Crispin Blunt or Diane Abbott of Labour, have protested at concessions being promised to Northern Ireland and Scotland on issues like devolved taxation powers and welfare reform.

Mr Blunt, from Surrey, believes that the south of England is being left to foot the bill here and Ms Abbott, who represents Hackney in London, believes that south of England taxes should be kept for London rather than used to help Scotland.

Mr Kellner does not believe that any of this will prevent a new government taking whatever measures it thinks are necessary to preserve the peace here.

"Throughout the Troubles, whenever the question was asked, English people basically thought we should get rid of Northern Ireland but it was never at the front of their mind. Public opinion never acted as a constraint to the British Army role in Northern Ireland even when the public was on balance against it and soldiers were dying. It won't be a constraint to the Government doing what seems politically appropriate now."

  • 'An evening with Peter Kellner' will be held in the Holiday Inn, Belfast, on Thursday, January 29, 6.15pm. Tickets, £15. Details, iain@chambrepa.com

In his own words: Peter Kellner on ...

ELECTION DEBATES

“If you are going to have Plaid Cymru and the Greens I don’t see how you can legitimately exclude the DUP or Sinn Fein. It is a matter of intellectual coherence as much as legality.”

LABOUR STANDING HERE

“If Northern Ireland’s politics became more integrated with UK politics then it would make sense for Labour to stand. It would be an interesting idea if the UK formed a joint region with the Irish Labour party.”

HOW ENGLAND SEES US

“English people on the whole don’t think about Northern Ireland so the views they have tend to be when asked and not conversations that would come up in the pub.”

GAY BLOOD BAN AND ABORTION

“I think a lot of attitudes in the north on homosexuality and abortion are frankly preposterous, but then I’m a London metropolitan luvvie liberal. The thing that stands out is the fact there is a peace agreement, it has not gone back to violence and in the long run there’s the real prospect of some form of civil society developing where people are not on opposite sides of peace walls. I don’t think there’s an appetite for putting this all at risk.”

OPINION POLLS

“Adlai Stevenson, who stood for the presidency against Eisenhower once said: ‘Opinion polls should be taken but not inhaled.’ It is important to know what voters think but for any party to decide its policies simply on the basis of polls would be craven and wrong and weak.”

SCOTLAND

“It looks as if the SNP may do very well in May and then possibly do even better in May next year when they have the next Holyrood elections.”

Read more:

Northern Ireland politics returning to 'divide and conquer' ahead of 2015 election 

General Election 2015: Curse of trophy politics looms large as parties try to motivate tribal voters  

General Election 2015: David Cameron queries absence of Northern Ireland parties from TV debates 

Vote finally due on flying of Union flag at Stormont  

Unionist bid to scrap John O'Dowd's Irish-medium school fails 

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph