Alex Kane: Change is coming with this election – but is it change for the better?

There is something in the air, but it’s less Disney bluebells and birdsong and more the electoral equivalent of slurry

Alex Kane

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an Irish News columnist and political commentator and a former director of communications for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer at Worcester City Football Club where he met Labour supporters whilst campaigning in the West Midlands for this year’s General Election to be held on July 4 . Picture date: Wednesday May 29, 2024.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer at Worcester City Football Club where he met supporters whilst campaigning for the general election (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

When John Manley – from this parish – mentioned on last week’s Sunday Politics that there was an ‘outside chance’ that Jim Allister might throw his hat into the East Belfast ring, I got quite excited. And yes, I know what a lot of you are thinking when you read that line: ‘Alex, you really do need to get out a bit more’.

But I got excited because if he were a candidate it would mean three leaders fighting for the one seat. And it would also mean a cracking ding-dong between as close as it gets to the polar opposites of unionism.

Gavin Robinson, a devolutionist in heart and head; and Allister, who would welcome the immediate and permanent collapse of the assembly. Meanwhile, Naomi Long would have great fun teasing both of them while working out her increased odds of victory.

Sadly, though, I am to be denied the fun of that contest. I live in the constituency and would have had my list of questions prepared for all three of them.

Gavin and Naomi have knocked my door during previous elections and I’m pretty sure Jim, who I first met at QUB in 1976, would have made the journey to my doorstep, if only to stop me writing or tweeting that having already come down from North Antrim he ‘couldn’t even be bothered to walk to my house and canvass me for a vote’.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long is hoping to win the seat from incumbent MP the DUP's Gavin Robinson. Cartoon by Ian Knox 
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long is hoping to unseat incumbent MP Gavin Robinson in East Belfast. Cartoon by Ian Knox

So far the local end of the general election has mostly consisted of the runners and riders being nudged into place. Most of them weren’t expecting the election before October/November, so the selection/nomination process has had to be rushed in some places to meet the June 7 deadline.

And just because I like a bit of variety when it comes to commentary, I’m hoping there’ll be a few independents in the field.

I like independents. It’s a daunting enough task fighting a general election (about 80-plus per cent of the candidates lose, of course) with a party machine in support; but much more difficult when it’s basically just you and a circle of family and friends knocking the doors.

It’s also much harder for independents to get media coverage when they’re competing with the tidal wave of central office press statements flooding the local weeklies.

TUV conference at the Ross Park Hotel near Ballymena
The prospect of Jim Allister in the same field as Naomi Long and Gavin Robinson – three party leaders – would have been a tasty one (I Presseye/Stephen Hamilton/ Presseye/Stephen Hamilton)

Talking about independents, is it just me or has Rishi Sunak become an independent? He seems so detached from political and electoral reality right now that it’s hard to believe he is prime minister, let alone a candidate for the Conservative Party. Or any party for that matter.

He’s more like one of those clapped-out, end-of-the-pier Speak Your Weight or Tell Your Fortune machines you can still see in other-worldly Brigadoon places like Brighton and Blackpool. Just shove in a few coins and he’ll regale you with gibberish. Actually, I’m pretty sure he’d roll out the gibberish even if you didn’t shove in the coins.

Rishi Sunak on the election campaign trail
Tory leader Rishi Sunak on the election campaign trail (Aaron Chown/PA)

He’s already talked about National Service for the young. But bearing in mind the number of Conservatives and GB News presenters who’ll have nothing to do from July 5, it might be a better idea to provide purely Notional Service for booted-out politicians.

He’s also made the case for dumping ‘worthless’ courses at lower-end-of-the-scale universities. Yet, since most of the damage done to the country has been inflicted upon us by an Oxbridge mafia who graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, it might also be a better idea to dump those courses and steer those would-be students into plumbing and call centres.

There is something in the air, but it’s less Disney bluebells and birdsong and more the electoral equivalent of slurry

He’s also promising a ‘quadruple lock’ for pensioners’ pensions. It’s a bribe, of course, and only payable, obviously, if they manage to stay alive and vote the right way on July 4. After that, all bets are off.

It does look as though a Labour landslide is on the cards – yet we live in strange times, and anything is possible.

But it doesn’t have that sense of change that was in the air in 1997. There is something in the air, but it’s less Disney bluebells and birdsong and more the electoral equivalent of slurry.

An awful lot stinks in politics today, yet there’s very little hard evidence that the change which is coming is a change for good. It’s the Body Snatcher territory, I fear.