Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Why you should ignore 'precious' Alliance attempt to split the vote and put your 'X' beside Remainer

DUP and Sinn Fein have failed to bring back the Assembly and deserve to be punished for it, writes Alban Maginness

SDLP chief Colum Eastwood, Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, Emma Little-Pengelly of DUP and Alliance leader Naomi Long at the TV debate
SDLP chief Colum Eastwood, Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, Emma Little-Pengelly of DUP and Alliance leader Naomi Long at the TV debate
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

In the democracies of western Europe there can't be a more unfair system of election than first-past-the-post that, unfortunately, Britain has tolerated since the granting of full universal suffrage after the First World War.

Under this archaic and disproportional system, where the winner takes all without even having to reach 50% of the vote, there is a basic unfairness in that significant political parties, such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens (and in this election the Brexit Party) are denied proper representation in the Westminster Parliament.

But so long as this disproportional system suits the Conservatives and Labour there will never be any change to proportional representation.

So, whatever happens in Thursday's general election the national result will be a distortion of the will of many of the electorate. This will do little to resolve the fundamental issues affecting the UK.

Here at home we witness time and time again how the first-past-the-post system brings out the worst in our politics and, in many instances, creates intense sectarian dog-fights, undermining attempts to achieve a reconciled and non-sectarian political order.

Thursday will see the most important general election in our modern history. It will determine the political and economic direction of Britain for the foreseeable future. In so doing it will also determine the future direction of Northern Ireland - and indeed Ireland - as a whole.

Therein lies a challenge for all of us as local voters to give both the DUP and Sinn Fein a very strong message - that, collectively, they have not been representing the interests of ordinary people in that they have failed miserably to protect and enhance our public services, as evidenced in the current serious crisis in the health service.

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Shamefully, for their own selfish political reasons, they have wilfully failed to restore the Assembly and Executive.

In addition the DUP should be told that their position on Brexit is dangerously wrong, both politically and economically, and misrepresents the pro-Remain majority view of the people here. Until they change that position they should not receive electoral support.

Sinn Fein should be told in no uncertain terms that by abstaining from the Westminster Parliament they have not served the vital interests of the people in Ireland, north and south.

With their seven seats over the past three-and-a-half years, they could have played a pivotal role in many crucial votes in Parliament and could probably have stopped Brexit altogether - if they had the wit and wisdom to do so.

Their failure to do so has damaged the interests of their constituents.

In those circumstances they do not deserve a vote from an electorate that they cynically regard as being compliant and unthinking.

If the latest opinion polls in Britain are anything to go by, this election will be close-run and the possibility of another hung Parliament likely to turn into a probability.

With neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn likely to get a working majority, it is crucial that we have the best possible representation here to determine, or at least influence, the make-up of the new Government.

Given the history of the past Parliament, it is clear that parliamentary representation from here has had a pivotal influence.

But this time we need representation that will truly serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland on the vital issue of Brexit.

Neither potential Prime Minister has shown much regard for our economic and political interests.

Therefore it is incumbent for local voters to vote wisely and tactically and to, at least momentarily on Thursday, abandon their traditional party loyalties.

In every seat tactical voting can make a difference.

But there are a number of constituencies in particular where a tactical vote may make a very significant difference to the outcome. They are East Belfast, South Belfast, North Belfast, North Down and South Antrim.

Given the unfairness of the electoral system in Westminster elections, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in Britain have wisely maximised the opportunity for pro-Remain parties to win in certain constituencies by entering into tactical voting arrangements.

Unfortunately here Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has been precious about standing down in a small number of constituencies.

If she had been wise then it is likely that North Down and South Antrim would return pro-Remain MPs.

By not standing down Alliance has gratuitously given the pro-Brexit DUP a real advantage, by splitting the vote between the pro-Remain parties.

Hopefully, ordinary voters will have the good sense to back the leading pro-Remain candidates in each constituency and return pro-Remain candidates, be they Alliance or Ulster Unionists, in those seats.

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