Belfast Telegraph

It's Groundhog Day minus the happy ending

By Liam Clarke

Looking at the line-up of ministers and functionaries around Stormont post-election, it is hard not to think of Groundhog Day.

Theresa Villiers is back as Secretary of State with the same advisers; only her deputy has changed. We all know what she thinks and says. Her reappointment shows that the Government backs her in a policy of no more money for welfare reform, in fact, little more money for anything.

The main development in the election locally was the re-entry of the UUP to Westminster and particularly its ability to take a seat off the DUP in a straight contest in South Antrim. That may work through to the Assembly elections, if there are any next year. Sinn Fein has had a relatively bad election, though not disastrous.

Just for now, though, these are details, which don't really change the disposition of forces.

The big change is the Tory majority, which makes it easier for the Government to say no than yes. The majority means that the Government will be even more inclined to pour on the pain early on while it retains the advantage.

Then, the hope will be that the economy will have grown sufficiently to have some giveaways before the next election.

That was more or less the plan for the last parliament and it worked for the Tories. Improved economic forecasts and the hope of better times to come boosted them at the last moment.

If the Tories have a plan that could work, the same can't be said for our local leaders.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character enters a time loop where he has no choice but to go through the same situations and the same problems.

Release from this pattern of repetition comes as he begins to get things right after years of painstaking effort.

It is a bit like here, except that progress is less in evidence. In the movie Murray's character, Phil Connors, does slowly learn to act more effectively, but that hasn't happened so far here.

The problems have also become worse in that the Government now has a secure majority, denying us the leverage we had hoped for.

The present crisis was precipitated when Sinn Fein pulled out of the Stormont House Agreement, saying it would renegotiate the financial arrangements.

It is now after the election and the main change is that we have a majority Tory Government with a fresh mandate to save £12bn more in welfare spending over the life of this parliament.

The gamble of waiting to see what turned up after the election has only made our situation more difficult. We need to try something else, or it will be time to start handing powers back to Westminster.

Belfast Telegraph


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