The outcome of the UK General Election has resulted in an “arrangement” involving the DUP, about which there is not yet any detail, to ensure that the Conservatives, who have a narrow overall majority in Great Britain but not the UK, can form a government.
Inevitably this outcome has caused significant bemusement and concern. Expert opinion is being sought, both inside Northern Ireland and without, about what this will mean.
One of the most expert electoral post-War commentators is Sir David Butler, who provided expert commentary on the 1959 General Election from a smoke-filled BBC studio and has done so again even in 2017 on Twitter. He cautioned, on Wednesday, that for all his expertise (he was too modest to reference that) he had no idea what the outcome would be. “All I know is that I don’t know”, he wrote, sagely.
I am no Sir David, but I have been involved in politics, both as an elected representative for six years and as a commentator and campaigner for rather longer, and again the truth is I do not know what a Conservative-DUP arrangement will mean. All I know is that I don’t know.
The problem in this social media age is that we are always desperate for quick knowledge and information. The quest for this results in a tendency to prioritise only people who are prepared to offer quick opinions, rather than taking time to ensure that those opinions have value as reasonable analysis. Indeed, those prepared to offer quick opinions are disproportionately those whose analysis is anything but reasonable or objective. In other words, the quest for quick information almost always results in misinformation.
Just have a look in Northern Ireland at the pundits’ election predictions even locally. Almost no one saw the DUP (and, to a lesser extent, Sinn Féin) surge coming to anything like the extent it did. Those parties took two thirds of the vote between them, yet very few pundits are associated with either of them.
What we do now is that both the UK and Northern Ireland are rudderless. Now, more than ever, is the time to think rather than talk before we work out how to put things back on track. As we do so, we should note that the wise people are those not currently offering advice or opinions – and we should in future probably be more careful whose advice we buy.