by Denzil McDaniel

With the marketing folk making Christmas come earlier every year, thoughts have already turned to the festive season. In some shops you can’t avoid it now.
This year, though, our polling cards will be dropping through our letterboxes about the same time as our Christmas cards.
Goodwill to all men, and women, in the political sphere, seems to be in short supply and it’s not just the fact that this is the first December election since 1924 that makes this one unique.
To paraphrase Mr. Spock, Star Trek’s First Officer on the Starship Enterprise: “It’s an election, but not as we know it.”
Spock was a Vulcan and looking at our species he once mused, “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”
And despite every single opposing party being utterly convinced that they know what the people want, it will be interesting to see what results emerge on Friday the 13th which may yet live up to its frightening reputation.
I’m not even sure the people themselves know what they want. Different things to different people in a divided Britain.
By way of context, let’s remember that it’s 14 years since any party won a decent working majority; in 2005 Labour’s Tony Blair won by 66 seats.
In the three Westminster elections since nobody has emerged with a majority that has allowed them to govern with any degree of certainty.
In 2010, there was a hung parliament and with no overall majority, David Cameron cobbled together a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, resulting in Nick Clegg’s eventual demise for unforgivably assisting the Tory austerity plan.
In 2015, Cameron stayed in Number 10 with a majority of just 12 which proved precarious and he tried to assuage his warring Conservatives in a referendum over the EU. Big mistake, and he made way for the disastrous Theresa May.
She went for election in 2017, but her hopes of consolidating a majority were dashed when the arithmetic meant she needed the 10 DUP votes to even stay in power, and like Dave before her stepped aside mid-term, this time for Boris “die in the ditch” Johnson.
2010, 2015, 2017 – and indeed the narrow margin of the referendum result in 2016 shows a deeply divided Britain. Can we really expect a clear cut answer this time?
Remember Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, Wales and England voted to leave and increasingly Nationalist England’s population numbers leave them holding the cards in this dis-United Kingdom.
It would seem the whole Brexit debacle has reduced Britain to a basket case of politics, and I tend to agree with those who think that a General Election is not the way out of this mess. A second poll is my preferred option.
As the German philosopher, Nietzche said: “If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes into you” and people in Britain are in danger of being consumed by the uncertainty.
What, then, will the voters be thinking about when they place their X?
It’s being suggested that the hard remainers will find a home in the Lib Dems, while the hard Brexiteers will be comfortable with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.
If only it was that simple.
There are dilemmas all around. What about the traditional Labour working class voter, who isn’t a Corbyn left winger, but can’t bring themselves to vote Tory, which they see as the party of the rich. Now more than ever.
Or the old One Nation Tory, who watches as he and his kind are being purged out of a Conservative party being run by Boris, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Cummings and the party managers and press officers who run the show, indeed it’s the same in all parties. The lunatics are taking over the asylum.
A pro-European, one nation Tory, Ken Clarke dismissed the Johnson notion of parliament versus the people by pointing out that, actually, Boris, Jacob etc were part of the blocked previous attempts by Theresa May to “get Brexit done.”
Is this a Brexit-only election, or will people vote on other issues? Such as the NHS? Interesting comment from a former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major who said that under Johnson, Gove and Iain Duncan-Smith the NHS would be as safe as a pet hamster in the presence of a hungry python.
Has the nasty party become the really, really rich and nasty party?
As the election campaign evolves, expect twists and turns. Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister in the 1960s, coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics” and the wily campaigner once suggested that his strategy in a long election campaign was to time it to nobble the opposition in the last week.
Who will be Prime Minister at Christmas? I liked the suggestion from one politician who urged the voters “don’t give them too much power.”
And what role will the Northern Ireland MPs play thereafter? Already here there’s been plenty to talk about. We tend to think that there hasn’t been much change, but again a review of recent elections makes interesting context.
Back in 1995 before the Good Friday Agreement, the Ulster Unionists were in the ascendancy returning 10 Westminster MPs to the DUP’s two.
But 10 years later, with the UUP riven by controversy and splits, they were reduced to one MP (with even leader David Trimble losing his seat) to the DUP’s seven in the 2005 election. In that one, Sinn Fein won five seats to the SDLP’s three.
Look now. The further demise of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP has seen them bereft of any MPs, while the DUP has 10 and Sinn Fein seven.
The only exception, of course, is one independent Unionist, Lady Sylvia Hermon who interestingly first won the seat in 2001 as an Ulster Unionist, but subsequently left the party unhappy with a previous alliance with the Conservatives. Link-ups between Unionists and Conservatives don’t seem to end well, do they?
Over the last 15 years in Northern Ireland, voters have moved towards the two power blocs of the DUP and Sinn Fein, which is a symptom of the polarisation of society here.
To those who argue that this little synopsis of elections does signify change has happened, the counter would ask if
different labels and personalities are simply cosmetic change. Apart from the collapse of Stormont, further division between the two communities suggests any change has been negative.
Are there signs, though, that at this Westminster election people are thinking rather differently?
The withdrawal of candidates in certain constituencies in a fast-moving fluid situation could be regarded as moving towards the old cliché of a sectarian headcount.
But even in Northern Ireland, the voters are pondering on issues outside the traditional “for the Union or against the Union.” For many, that is still legitimately their priority above all else.
But one caller to a radio station summed up his dilemma after parties withdrew in his constituency. He was a Catholic who was opposed to the new abortion law and same sex marriage so felt he couldn’t vote for Sinn Fein who support these developments. He was a Brexiteer so didn’t want to vote Alliance, and wouldn’t vote for the DUP because he isn’t in favour of the Union.
And after UUP would-be leader, Steve Aiken’s u-turn over fighting North Belfast, some Ulster Unionists who favour remain and are still resentful of the DUP usurping of them are left with a decision.
How much will a range of issues play into the election: a remain alliance or leave; abortion and same sex marriage; the DUP handling of the Johnson deal and a Border down the Irish Sea, even their handling of RHI and the new united Ireland debate in civic Nationalism. Nuances in loyalism, some of whom want genuine positive change and others who alarmingly talk of “resistance”. The Irish Language Act, for or against, the state of our health service and education.
And, indeed, it will be interesting to see if the recent surge in voting for centre parties such as Alliance continues.
I suspect that with all the supposed disillusion with politics here, and even the difficulties of a winter poll, that Northern Ireland’s electorate will be rather more energised and voters will come out in strength.
What effect that will have remains to be seen. And how will our new MPs use their mandate to move society forward to help us, in the words of Mr. Spock to “live long and prosper.”
Spock also said, “Change is the essential process of all existence.”
What change will Election 2019 bring?