Andrew Lynch: Nothing would suit Ireland better than a coalition in Britain
It's been the most exciting and unpredictable British general election in living memory.
The historic television debates have created a genuine three-way contest for the first time, forcing Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg to contemplate the kind of coalition politics that are all too familiar to us on this side of the Irish Sea.
With the opinion polls offering no guarantee of a decisive result, it's possible that we'll have to wait until next week before knowing for certain who will be the next occupant of 10 Downing Street.
By this stage, most Irish political anoraks will have formed a clear idea of who they want to win. Few of us will have any stronger opinions, however, than the three party leaders who will be fighting for power at our own election -- which is now just two years away at the most.
For Brian Cowen, a shock comeback victory for Gordon Brown would be a very pleasant surprise. The Taoiseach is fed up of being compared to his British counterpart, both former finance ministers who succeeded more charismatic leaders and have never managed to master the art of television.
That comparison was underlined yet again last week by Brown's disastrous "bigotgate" gaffe -- reawakening memories of the time Cowen was picked up ordering Mary Coughlan to "bring in all those f***ers" by a Dail microphone.
If Labour somehow manage to get re-elected, it would give Fianna Fail hope that recession-hit governments really can come back from the dead.
Enda Kenny, meanwhile, will be just as keen to see the Conservatives end their 13-year famine next Thursday. The Fine Gael leader has been quietly establishing a good relationship with David Cameron over the last couple of years, travelling to see him in London and setting up clear lines of communication between the two parties. With the emergence of Young Turks such as Leo Varadkar suggesting that FG have gone back to their centre-right roots, the election of a government with the same broad philosophy in London would confirm that the political winds are blowing in their direction.
As for Eamon Gilmore, the Irish Labour leader is officially obliged to support his sister party in Britain. In private, however, a much better result for him would a strong showing for the third-party Liberal Democrats. That would give a huge boost to Gilmore's claim that he should be included in a three-way leader's debate at the next election -- and given the way the television contests transformed Nick Clegg's standing across the water, that 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' slogan may not be so ridiculous.
What about our own national interest? There's no doubt that most Irish people feel instinctively closer to the British Labour Party, if only because they have shown a surer hand in dealing with the Northern peace process. Given the relative peace we now enjoy and the damage Tony Blair did to his party by invading Iraq, however, those traditional allegiances are nowhere near as important as they used to be.
That's why there's a strong argument that the best result for Ireland would be a hung parliament, with either the Conservatives or Labour needing to join forces with the Lib Dems to form a government. It would discredit the British first-past-the-post voting system, forcing them to join the rest of Europe by adopting some form of PR. In the long run, it would also increase the chances of Britain joining the euro -- which in the interests of economic co-operation between the two islands, could only be a good thing.
For political junkies, Thursday will be an evening to order up a pizza, put all the phones on silent and settle down for a sleep-free night of uninterrupted pleasure. Cowen, Kenny and Gilmore will be with us in spirit.