Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Alex Kane: Five talking points from the General Election campaign

The leaders’ election debate on UTV last week
The leaders’ election debate on UTV last week
Alex Kane

By Alex Kane

Bumbling Boris, caught-short Finucane and perilous pacts... Commentator Alex Kane shares his five talking points from the General Election campaign.

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1.  Sinn Fein/SDLP deal in Belfast

The biggest surprise for me during the entire campaign was the fact Sinn Fein and the SDLP actually cut a deal: a deal that meant Sinn Fein agreeing to vote for a candidate (Claire Hanna) who had resigned the SDLP whip when the party cut a separate deal with Fianna Fail in February.

It isn't the first time the idea has been floated within the two parties, although this time it was widened to embrace Alliance and the Greens.

Brexit provided a useful hook on which to hang an electoral arrangement that suited Sinn Fein in North Belfast and the SDLP in South Belfast, but in the event that Hanna wins with a small majority and Finucane wins - or loses - by a small margin, it raises the question of what happens in the next election.

Seats won by a pact often need another pact to retain them.

I think Alliance made the right decision to test the strength of their Euro surge by standing in every constituency.

For the Greens, though, supported by young people who wanted something different to us-and-them politics, the pact could prove costly come the next election.

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2. The leaders debates

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UUP’s Steve Aiken, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, SDLP’s Colum Eastwood and Naomi Long of Alliance, at last night’s debate
 

The leaders debates, which are often fairly dull, predictable events, had a more important purpose this time.

With a new round of talks due to start on Monday, observers were looking for some evidence that the parties might be ready to break the ongoing impasse and reboot the Executive, but that evidence was in small supply.

The exchanges between the UUP and DUP and between the SDLP and Sinn Fein were particularly snarly, making a complete mockery of the unionist pacts in North Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone, as well as the nationalist pacts in North and South Belfast.

Let's face it, if the moderate branches of both communities are this tetchy with each other, it doesn't augur well for reaching a settlement before January 13.

While Sinn Fein and the DUP were able to maintain a veneer of civility, it was clear, when an Irish Language Act and reforming the petition of concern were mentioned, that there was nothing approaching a meeting of minds.

3. Loyalist rallies

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Rally in Ulster Hall is a chance to resist Brexit deal. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
 

There had been a view in some quarters that the public meetings organised by a section of loyalism would probably run out of steam.

They didn't. Indeed, they seem to have energised a younger generation of loyalism which has, up until now, tended to keep its head down and do most of its activism on social media. The target of their anger is Boris Johnson's 'Betrayal Act,' so it will be interesting to see what will happen if he manages to win a comfortable majority and pushes ahead with his deal.

While it is true that a result which curtails Johnson's room for manoeuvre would dissipate some of the anger, it is also true that, having been harnessed and galvanised, it is hard to see this new movement (and I think that is how we must see it) just disappearing.

The reaction of this movement could prove crucial when the new talks begin.

4. Boris in Northern Ireland

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Pacemaker Press 7/11/19 Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Tayto Castle in County Armagh Northern Ireland on Thursday afternoon. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
 

Boris Johnson only made one trip to Northern Ireland during the entire campaign and used it to produce waterfalls of waffle about what was, or wasn't, included in his withdrawal agreement.

He hadn't a clue. I'm not even sure he could have pointed to the Irish Sea on a map, let alone known where Northern Ireland ended and the Republic began.

Bizarrely, he didn't seem to have the slightest concern about trumpeting his ignorance, even when he was having a meeting with local Conservative members. Okay, he knows that the four candidates being fielded by his party wouldn't be getting enough votes between them to fill a smallish hall in the middle of nowhere, but you would have thought that he could, at the very least, have been honest with them. But no, not a bit of it. He continued to waffle. Maybe he just can't help himself.

He had already proved that he wasn't listening to the views of the DUP, so why would he even begin to care what anyone else he met during the visit was thinking?

5. Finucane is caugh short

Every campaign produces a story which is remembered long after the election is over. This particular one isn't as historically significant as the Relief of Mafeking or the Relief of Derry. That said, the Relief of Finucane was splashed across the front of the Belfast Telegraph and followed up by a number of other media outlets. It gave rise to a stream of jokes, most of them involving number ones, number twos, variations of flushing away support, inconvenient truths and his determination to meet the challenge from the DU Pee.

My own favourite was that he hadn't really done anything wrong because the General Election is based on a "first p****d the post" form of voting.

If nothing else, we can always rely on our much celebrated sense of humour to see us through.

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