Belfast Telegraph

General Election: Time our politicians came clean on who they'd put in No.10

By Gail Walker

Open any paper and you'll likely be greeted with an article predicting a hung parliament after the General Election this May. Indeed, the smarter ones are speculating about the General Election after May's run-off.

Everyone but everyone - bar diehard Labour and Tory supporters - agree that May is going to be a nip-and-tuck cliffhanger with an endless Rubik's Cube of potential governmental combinations: Majority Con? Minority Con? Majority Lab? Minority Lab? Con/Lib/UKIP? Lab/Scots Nat/Green? Lab/Lib? Or even Con/Lab?

Given the endless permutations, it's no wonder commentators are casting their beady eyes over our own wee 18 MPs, trying to figure out where exactly Nigel, Alasdair, Michelle et al will jump come May 8.

As indeed so should we who live here, as it might very well be the Right Honourable Member for East Londonderry or South Down who will determine whether it's Dave's or Ed's commodious behind gracing the upholstery of No.10.

But do we know exactly how our representatives will vote come decision time? Of course not. This is Northern Ireland - the land where nothing is quite what it seems. All of our parties have lots of "wriggle room" when it comes to who to support for PM.

Our Xs will be like pinning the tail on the donkey. We'll draw closed the little curtain behind us and just hope the electoral fates don't make a mockery of our beliefs.

Yet, don't our parties have a duty to tell us who they'll be voting for as PM? Haven't we a right to be given an inkling as to what our MP will do when it comes to the big one?

Purists will reach for the Bagehot's and mutter under their walrus moustaches about us not directly electing Prime Ministers but, let's face it, the world has moved on. Referendums were once declared a constitutional danger; now they stack up like cheap flights over the Costas. Ditto TV debates between party leaders, which used to be pooh-poohed as distinctly American and a denial of our parliamentary system of government. Once we were a unitary state, now we've "parliaments" in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

Our political culture is changing. For most of us, an MP's main function is to be part of the de facto electoral college that elects the Prime Minister and, by definition, the executive.

Is it, therefore, unreasonable to ask our candidates how they, if successful, will line up come that dreary Friday dawn when the rolling news tickertape declares: HUNG PARLIAMENT?

This isn't to revisit the old chestnut of national parties organising here. That's never going to happen because, well, we don't want it. But that doesn't mean we should be voting from a position of ignorance about that most fundamental question: who will govern us?

For now, we're reduced to reading the runes. We're fairly sure the SDLP - as a sister party - will vote to see Ed in Downing Street.

We think Sinn Fein would naturally side with Labour. But they won't count because they boycott Westminster (except to lobby, rally support, liaise with potential allies, meet shadow ministers... every damn thing except actually vote on the one thing that will profoundly shape the lives of its supporters - Labour Red or Tory Blue).

In the "middle" ground, we have Sylvia Hermon and Naomi Long. Lady Hermon in her scuffle with the then Tory-cuddling UUP made clear she was a natural Labour supporter. Still, a Press release clearing up any potential ambiguity would be appreciated. Naomi's trickier. Alliance is closely allied to the Lib Dems, so in theory she could jump any which way. Is that fair to her electorate?

Which brings us to the unionists. The UUP dallied with the Tories, with whom it has deep historical links, while the DUP seems culturally more emotionally attuned to Tory values (that is, if it can close its eyes to Cameron's support for gay marriage). But - as history has shown - unionists wouldn't be above cutting a deal with Miliband. After all, they kept Sunny Jim in power.

However, while the idea of being king-makers and bringing home the best deal for Northern Ireland might be attractive, it does - again - rob voters here of their right to know to what exactly they're putting their Xs.

I suspect that I'm howling for the Moon. Declaring for Dave or Ed is too much like real politics and all the difficulties that involves (developing a coherent political philosophy or simply having the nerve to say 'No' to potential voters).

But that's what politics is about. It isn't about the high romance of identity, belonging and principle. No, it's about tax, spending, services, pensions, employment, health, education and "events, dear boy, events".

Or to put it more baldly, it's about voting for someone to deal with these issues. That's why we need to know: Dave or Ed?

In the polling booth, we have to choose. Surely it's time our politicians did likewise?

Follow me on Twitter, @GWalker9

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