Alex Kane: Election humiliation inevitable for useless Tories

July 4 general election could be interesting for Northern Ireland, with polling looking bad for DUP

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.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issues his election statement outside 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street after calling a general election for July 4 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sometimes even atheists feel the need to look skywards and yell, ‘Thank God!’

That’s what I was doing on Wednesday evening when Rishi Sunak confirmed a general election for July 4. I had tweeted at lunchtime: “I really am sick to death of all this general election rumouring. Just call it. The present dysfunctional, dystopian farce which dares to describe itself as a government needs to be put out of its misery.”

Sunak’s announcement was like an answer to my half-hearted prayer.

If he loses – which I think is unavoidable – it won’t just be the end of a parliamentary term which has included three prime ministers, but also the end of a Conservative run which stretches back to David Cameron’s victory in May 2010.

I say victory, but it was actually a hung parliament, and he was obliged to cut a deal with Nick Clegg and agree to a cabinet which included Conservatives and Lib Dems. It survived until the 2015 election, at which the Lib Dems were crushed by the electorate while Cameron remained as PM, albeit with a very slim overall majority.

(Ón Chlé) iarCheannaire an Lucht Oibre Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg ó na Daonlalthaigh Liobrálacha agus PríomhAire na Breataine, David Cameron. ag sermanas cuimhneacháin i Londain Dé hAoine
David Cameron and Nick Clegg cut a deal to govern together

To secure that victory – and halt a potential wave of votes to Nigel Farage’s UKIP – he had included a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on EU membership. He regarded it as an easy promise because, like so many at the heart of the political/media establishment at Westminster, he assumed a handsome victory for the Remain campaign. So confident was he that he headed one of the most lamentable campaigns in my lifetime; even worse than his pro-UK campaign in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

What he did next was, I think, unforgivable. Having called a referendum and promised to accept and implement the will of the electorate, he just bottled it and scuttled from Downing Street. Worse, it quickly emerged that no preparations had been made for a victory by Leave. I’m not even sure there was a list of thought-through strategies in place if he did lose.

His arrogance, as ever, trumped all else. When he required real courage, confidence under fire and provision of central stability to his confused and warring party, he just ran.

Boris Johnson resignation
Each of David Cameron's successors, including Boris Johnson, were subjected to internal rebellions

What followed was a never-ending nightmare for the Conservatives, as one rent-by-the-month prime minister followed another, with crisis the party’s only recognisable long-term policy.

It doesn’t matter what outsiders may have thought of May, Johnson, Truss and Sunak: all that mattered was that each one became the focus of rebellion from within the parliamentary party. It was like watching the Borgia and Corleone families on continuous loop.

I can’t see any possible route to non-humiliation for the Conservatives. Even a swing to the right – trying to compete with Reform UK – is not going to work.

Reform UK leader Richard Tice
Reform UK leader Richard Tice (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

For what it’s worth, I’m not persuaded the Conservatives should be running scared of Reform UK. Unlike UKIP in 2015 (EU referendum), and the Brexit Party in 2019 (the original Get Brexit Done), it has no single, all-embracing gotcha to rally or corral substantial numbers of votes. Also, too many of its key players spend too much time in TV studios (GB News in particular) rather than building proper campaign structures at constituency level.

So, it looks like impossible-to-stop victory for Labour across Great Britain, including hitting the SNP quite hard, too.

The NI Conservatives will probably run someone, somewhere; but my cat would have a higher profile – and he died three years ago

As ever, it’s a different election in Northern Ireland. No Labour candidates and no Lib Dem candidates. The NI Conservatives will probably run someone, somewhere; but my cat would have a higher profile – and he died three years ago.

The latest polling suggests Sinn Féin will hold what they have and maybe add Foyle. But the same polling looks like very bad news for the DUP, facing threats from both Alliance and the TUV (although a snap election will bring difficulties of its own for TUV/Reform UK).

It has the potential, though, to be a very interesting election locally. The parties have less time than they expected to have, and unionist pacts will be more difficult to arrange.

But interesting to note that the DUP and TUV are staying out of North Down in favour of independent Alex Easton in his battle against Stephen Farry. I’m not sure the UUP’s Tim Collins ever had a chance there. He has none now.