The Guardian view on dual mandates: double trouble in Northern Ireland

Ťhis spring’s elections are getting an unusual amount of advance publicity. The cause, regrettably, is not a great revival of enthusiasm for local government. It is that the results may decide if 鲍里斯·约翰逊(Boris Johnson) stays as prime minister – if he has not already gone by then. But the contests are important for other reasons. Nowhere is this more true than in Northern Ireland, where the assembly is up for election on 5 可能.

自从 1998, though with significant interruptions, 北爱尔兰 has been self-governing through power-sharing institutions agreed in the Good Friday agreement. The Northern Ireland executive has always been jointly led by the leaders of the largest parties in the assembly from the main rival traditions, unionist and nationalist, although there is now a growing non-sectarian tradition too.

It is increasingly possible, for the first time in 24 年, that a unionist party will not be the largest in the assembly this time. 反而, Sinn Féin is ahead in the polls. This reflects many things, including unionist divisions over the Brexit deal, infighting within the largest party the DUP, and nationalist dislike of Mr Johnson. 但, if all this is confirmed in May, Sinn Féin will be entitled to nominate the new first minister. That outcome threatens a sectarian stand-off which Mr Johnson, if he is still in office, would be singularly badly equipped to resolve.

This forms the backdrop to a government U-turn at Westminster this week that was overshadowed by the leadership crisis. Yet the U-turn was significant. 上个星期, the Northern Ireland secretary, 布兰登·刘易斯, proposed an amendment which would mean that, in place of the current ban, a Westminster MP would also be eligible to sit in the Northern Ireland assembly until the next general election. What this meant in practice was that things had been fixed so that 杰弗里·唐纳森爵士, the DUP leader, could sit in the assembly without causing a Westminster byelection in his Lagan Valley constituency.

Mr Lewis’s plan caused outrage – some genuine, 一些 confected – among Northern Ireland’s other parties, which had not been consulted about or consented to the change. In a political system dependent on compromise, and in which the UK government is a guarantor of fairness between the traditions, it was a stupid move. 在星期三, with enough other crises on his plate already, Mr Johnson 宣布 that the plan would be pulled.

Dual mandates, as they were once termed, used to have a place in UK politics. It was possible to sit both at Westminster and in a devolved parliament, and indeed in the European one too. In some cases it still is. Arguably this helped to bind the legislatures and the country together in some useful ways. Arguably it still could.

But double-jobbing, as it is now dubbed, is very unpopular, especially since the MPs’ expenses scandal caused public trust in politicians to collapse. The issue deserves more thought than it gets. But the partisan and piecemeal path chosen by Mr Lewis – glumly characteristic of the political manipulation that is too often the default option of this government – does absolutely nothing for it.

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