2024 is set to be a year of elections, with over 40 general elections scheduled or highly likely to take place around the world in 2024, including in the UK, Ireland, the United States, and the EU. agendaNi looks ahead to some of the polls to take place in 2024.
The Executive Formation Act sets a legal deadline of 8 February 2024 for the calling of an Assembly election by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris MP. However, previous ‘deadlines’ have been shifted to deal with the current stalemate at Stormont, and although there is a formal prospect of a looming Assembly election, the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland will be a political development which will likely not end up requiring a new election.
Although an Assembly election is unlikely, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak MP said on 4 January 2024 that there will likely be a UK general election in “the second part” of 2024, with some commentators having speculated that the UK Government was planning to hold the election in May.
Political trends have evolved significantly in Northern Ireland since 2019, when a poll was held following almost three years of an inactive Assembly. The Assembly has since collapsed again, with the DUP stating that it is refusing to re-enter Stormont in the short term as a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework.
Whereas Sinn Féin faced a challenge from the SDLP in Foyle and saw its vote share decline in every constituency apart from north Belfast in 2019, it will be entering this election with the objective of becoming the biggest Northern Irish party in Westminster, a feat which would cap a highly successful electoral period since the turn of the last decade, with the republican party now the largest political force in the Assembly, local government, and in Dáil Éireann.
Unionists will be confident in retaining their eight MPs and will aim to put up a steadfast challenge to nationalists in north Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone, as well as the Alliance Party in North Down. With recent boundary changes favouring incumbents in their re-election bids, the only hope for unionists in the general election may be unionist pacts. However, even pacts may not be enough for unionists to outpoll nationalists and others in these constituencies.
The relative success of the Alliance Party and the SDLP in 2019, characterised by a ‘remain swing’, will face a significant challenge to avoid a complete return to the Sinn Féin-DUP dominant duopoly, with Sinn Féin reportedly prepared to mount a challenge to gain SDLP leader Colum Eastwood’s Foyle seat, and Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party facing a potential unionist pact.
In the Republic, there will be elections held for local government and the European Parliament in the Republic in May and June 2024 respectively. It is also likely there will be a general election held towards the end of 2024.
Fine Gael (through its preceding organisation, Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil have lead government in one format or another since the State was founded more than 100 years ago, whilst Sinn Féin, the second oldest party on the island (after the Ulster Unionist Party) seemingly stands on the edge of ending its century in the wilderness of southern politics.
If consistant opinion polling is to be believed, the shift in Irish politics will be perhaps the most seismic since the historic 1918 election which culminated in the partition of the country. However, if the tide is turned and Fine Gael manages to remain in office, it will be the fourth consecutive term for the party in government, a feat which, despite its prominence in Irish politics, was once unimaginable.
Across the water in Britain, if polls are to be believed, the Tories are likely to be removed from office for the first time since 2010, and a Labour government under Keir Starmer MP will be setting the agenda for relations between these islands. If this were to happen, there would be an undoubted change in the approach taken by the UK Government to Northern Ireland, with Shadow Secretary of State Hilary Benn MP a well-received figure from a unionist perspective, who may be able to better negotiate with the DUP, with Benn’s appointment to the role having been welcomed by both Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Doug Beattie MLA.
Although there may be a Labour government to come, this will not constitute a significant move to the left for British politics, with Keir Starmer MP emphasising his credentials of having “changed the Labour Party”. Although Starmer became the Labour leader by presenting himself as a supporter of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn MP, the leader of the opposition has embarked on a journey which has seen left-wing MPs expelled and deselected, political positions (such as the Labour Party’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict) shift, all in the name of increasing the party’s electability. Starmer is undoubtedly well-received by mainstream media in Britain and may become only the fifth Labour prime minister.
Around the world
US President Joe Biden was given a hero’s welcome when he ‘returned home’ to Ireland in April 2023, but he is currently struggling in his re-election bid against Republican Donald Trump, who is aiming to become the second US president to win a non-consecutive term, and the first since Grover Cleveland in 1892.
Trump, who was found liable for battery, a civil tort, in a civil court and is currently on trial on counts of civil fraud, theft of classified documents, and conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, is as much as 10 per cent above Biden in the polling. Although in the United States polling tends to narrow closer to election day, Biden will face an uphill challenge, especially as independent Robert Kennedy Jr, son of the assassinated former Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, is polling the highest for any third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992 and could potentially qualify for the presidential debates.
However, as some state supreme courts are removing Trump from their ballots, Trump will face the US Supreme Court in order to decide whether he is guilty of inciting an insurrection which, if he were to be found guilty, would remove him from the federal ballot and create a constitutional crisis in the United States.
In addition to the elections to the European Parliament, 2024 will also see elections being held throughout Europe, with the people of Croatia, Iceland, Finland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Georgia, Moldova, and Romania to elect their presidents, and new parliaments to be elected in Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Croatia, Georgia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, and Romania. With right-wing populism on the rise again in many EU member states, observers in both Britain and Ireland, two nations where the far-right has yet to enter the political mainstream, will be watching with interest.
2024 is the year of elections, with the trends which rippled the political landscape in the mid-2010s returning in a much more profound manner in this decade, with right-wing populists taking power in Italy, and significant growth of the far-right having been witnessed in both France and Germany. Ireland and Britain, although they have witnessed populist waves in their own distinctive ways, have yet to face a wave of right-wing populism, but a political trend to come in 2024 in both of these states may be the burgeoning growth of these forces.