As Sunak's Tories implode, we need to hear more from Labour about its vision for Northern Ireland

The Irish News view: Hilary Benn says he won't set out conditions for a border poll, but he should tell us what would influence his 'political judgment' on calling a unity referendum

Shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn told The Irish News he is not persuaded a formula can be produced that would trigger a referendum on Irish unity
Shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn told The Irish News he is not persuaded a formula can be produced that would trigger a referendum on Irish unity

With this wretched Tory government lurching towards its doom, it is difficult at this stage to see anything other than a Labour victory at the next general election. Given the current trajectory of Rishi Sunak's premiership, that could happen sooner rather than later.

A consensus had formed around next October as the most likely date Mr Sunak would go to the polls, though more recently May has been talked of. This government is so hopeless, so unpopular and so out of ideas that it's hard to imagine what difference the date might make.

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Ever-deepening internal Tory divisions – that dead cert of British politics – mean it's not impossible that an election could be called before that, thus hastening the clap of electoral oblivion.

The flip side of the Conservatives' chaotic implosion is Labour's sustained lead in the opinion polls. This week's voting intention data from Ipsos is typical, with Labour on 46% and the Tories on 25%.

This context is why the views of Hilary Benn, Labour's shadow secretary of state since September, are of particular interest to this newspaper and its readers.

Mr Benn is undoubtedly a politician with a wide range of experience, including a number of ministerial and cabinet roles in previous Labour governments. As such, he brings a heft to the NIO portfolio that has manifestly eluded any number of Conservative appointments.

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Mr Benn was firmly in the remain camp in the Brexit referendum and chaired the House of Commons' select committee on leaving the EU (he was elected to the position ahead of prominent leave campaigner Kate Hoey, a fellow traveller of the DUP and TUV).

A serious figure in the NIO who will take the job, Northern Ireland and its people seriously can only be a good thing, though it should be acknowledged that almost anything would be better than the abject failure of the Conservatives.

Read more:Keir Starmer says Irish border poll 'not on horizon'

Mr Benn says that were he to become secretary of state, he would not be setting out a list of the conditions that would need to be met to trigger a unity referendum. He argues that deciding when the time is right is a political judgment and not one that can be shaped by the latest opinion polls.

It would be useful for everyone if Mr Benn shared what might inform and influence this political judgment. Either way, the conversation around unity will not get any quieter.