Prime minister’s u-turn on double jobbing leaves DUP humiliated

News Letter editorial of Thursday January 20 2022:

By Editorial
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 12:38 am
Updated Thursday, 20th January 2022, 12:42 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The row over double jobbing has only lasted days, but has been a dramatic and disagreeable saga.

On Friday it emerged that the government was planning to amend the rules on the ban on holding dual mandates in elected office.

At present you cannot be more than one of the following at the same time: councillor, MLA or MP. An MP elected to Stormont, or vice versa, has to relinquish one of the two seats.

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The government planned to amend this rule so that an MP elected to Stormont could hold on to their Westminster seat until the next general election. This was seen as an attempt to help Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has been stymied in his bid to lead the DUP from Stormont. Under present rules, if he becomes an MLA he will have to surrender his Lagan Valley seat, triggering a by election.

The DUP is favourite to win such a contest but the unionist vote might split three ways and Alliance is strong in the constituency. Under the plans, a by election would not be needed. But the proposal caused uproar.

The Labour Party, which in fact mooted the change months ago, saw how the wind was blowing and turned against it.

All the main rival parties to the DUP had jointly opposed it.

And then, yesterday, Boris Johnson revealed he did too, and had decided to bin the proposal, leaving Sir Jeffrey humiliated (the DUP leader put on an admirably brave face).

The public is said to oppose double jobbing but there was little sign it did. Supporters of all parties routinely voted for politicians with dual mandates. Once a ban was introduced in NI, it should have been akin to that in Scotland, where election victors can hold on to both seats until the next election. But a belated moved to bring NI into line with that rule looked like an inappropriate bid to help the DUP. But the proposal, if implemented, would be much less bad than the special dispensation given to Sinn Fein to get expenses while not taking their MP seats.

There is no cross-party opposition to that deal.

The prime minister’s sudden u-turn, when he is under huge political pressure, will remind the DUP of his unreliable nature.

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