I was among many who firmly endorsed a change of government in 2010, taking in my case ludicrous risks to do so. Having told us there would be “no more boom and bust”, the Labour Government failed appallingly to prepare for the mother of all busts. It was rightly removed from office for its foolishness.
Nevertheless, it is increasingly evident that a Labour win would be a better bet for Northern Ireland. There are three main reasons for this.
Firstly, a Labour win of some sort would avoid almost certainly a referendum on the EU. It is possible that pressure would still be applied on Mr Miliband to hold one, but the party does seem determined to avoid this, on the basis that it has many other things it wishes to deal with. The most likely parties to supply a coalition or at least a “confidence and supply” arrangement also have no interest in one currently. This is good for Northern Ireland as it does not risk the open border for trade, the next tranche of PEACE IV funding or the CAP arrangements.
Secondly, the Labour Party has now announced the inclusion of Kincora in the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry. It is baffling that the Conservative-led Government had not done this.
Thirdly, Labour’s financial plans make more sense (although there is a significant health warning here that they need to be competent enough to deliver them). In particular, Labour does not appear to plan to close the deficit on the Capital side, meaning that it will continue to borrow to fund infrastructure (with a direct read-across for infrastructure spending in Northern Ireland). This currently makes sense, as the UK Government can borrow money at a much lower interest rate than usual (in fact at close to zero currently, although this is bound to rise a little) – infrastructure is a clear asset, and if it can be built through borrowing at almost zero interest, it makes sense to do it with that rate than wait and do it at, say, a more typical 4%. There will certainly be gains on the welfare side too – Labour’s abolition of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ would save the £20 million put aside for ‘mitigation’ after Stormont House, for example.
Against all this, there is very little to be said for a Conservative win. Most areas of clear difference, such as zero-hours contracts or non-dom taxation, apply only to England or carry no real financial consequence either way.
Which is better for the UK as a whole is, of course, as unclear still as the outcome! However, there is a case that Northern Ireland may want a change.