With Northern Ireland’s MPs now united against the Coalition's cuts programme, it will take a great deal of work for Clegg and Cameron to get any support there.
In her speech to Parliament yesterday, the Queen declared that:
“My Government will support the political institutions and stable devolved government in Northern Ireland.”
The question this raises, however, is whether the Northern Ireland parties will be prepared to support the Con/Dem coalition in return. The signs are not good.
Following what the former Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Lord Kilclooney dubbed a mongrel relationship between the Conservatives and UUP which resulted in their political force returning no MPs to Westminster, it is clear that the Ulster Unionists are looking at how to distance themselves from the Conservatives.
In the wake of Sir Reg Empey’s decision to stand down as party leader, a statement by his party’s executive clearly recognised the questions that now hang over the UUP’s links with the Tories, concluding:
“The Executive meeting also discussed the issues of the Conservative project and unionist unity with agreement reached that discussion would ensue about where external relationships stand.”
“Whether we have any relationship with the Conservatives is a matter for the party to consider but it was a difficulty having another party involved in the selection of candidates. Personally, I think we are extremely unlikely to make the same mistake again.”
And what of the Lib Dems’ sister party, the Alliance? Speaking to the BBC earlier this month, the party’s first MP in Westminster, Naomi Long, announced that she was not prepared to be tied down to supporting the Lib/Con alliance by taking the Government whip, saying:
“We stand on our own party political platform. That will not always coincide with what is best for regions of England and we would not be tied by any party whip.”
The reason? The Alliance has a clear objection to the cuts that their “sister” party in Westminster is now part of, which on Monday saw Northern Ireland having to find £128 million of savings. Having told Jeremy Paxman before the election that a Cameron-led Government would target Northern Ireland as top of the list for public sector cuts, the Alliance were highly critical of his comments.
Alliance MLA Anna Lo had said:
“This comment shows the Tories’ true colours on Northern Ireland. We all know that the Tories are the slash and burn party and they proved us right with these remarks.”
“David Cameron’s backtracking will simply not work. The damage has already been done. Everyone knows that if the Tories get into power they will make brutal cuts to our vital public services. People need to be aware that a vote for the Conservatives and Unionists is a vote for cuts in our health service.”
With Northern Ireland’s MPs now united against the Tory/Lib Dem cuts agenda, it is clear that as David Cameron seeks to support the devolved bodies at Stormont, it will take a great deal of work to get Northern Ireland’s support for what he and Nick Clegg are doing. With the sister parties of both the Tories and Lib Dems distancing themselves from what their parties are doing this will prove a very difficult task.
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