After the election… Alliance…

Forty plus years in the political middle have made the Alliance party one of the most agile (which often irritates their opponents) of Northern Ireland’s political parties.

Overall not a huge amount has changed for them, although there’s something of a problem in East Belfast where the flag issue has alienated a lot of working class loyalists it previously had the support of.

One failure to elect was Duncan Morrow in the Botanic DEA of Belfast. But appears to have been more to do with a poor splitting exercise, something which the party is much less practised in that some of the larger ones.

The one thing they understand better than the larger parties languishing below is that under the current regime is that this is a game of micro fine margins.

Yesterday John Manley referred to Anna Lo as the ‘other nationalist candidate’. And despite a less than gruelling campaign trail (the Green party canvassed her twice in North Down and found her at home both times), she turned in the party’s best European return ever.

In the process with some smart candidate selection they got a couple of  young Catholic candidates in of strong nationalist councillors.  But the movement is too small to call a trend.

Patrick Clarke based in Dundrum got home, which could be a handy place from which to benefit from anything further erosion of the SDLP’s South Down base. Lo’s rise in the overall vote also means the party will have more micro loca data to figure paths forward in that area.

But that’s just it with the Alliance. The maintenance of a viable future is dependent its ability to respond quickly and intelligently to the rise and fall in the fortunes of other parties (another reason the other parties don’t like them).

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  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, I think there was a major shift, hid by the 1st pref figures but clearer in the transfers, they are shiting into SDLP turf rather than UUP. Partly to do with the Lo statement but also to do with shifting perceptions of the fortunes of the other two parties.

  • Valenciano

    Mick, looking at Botanic, I don’t think there was any failure at all. The vote splitting was done well.

    They’d 1612 votes in total with a quota of 1500. They split that as 843/769. For a centrist party that’s usually transfer friendly, that’s good enough.

    When Morrow, the second candidate, was eliminated, they’d a total of 2004 votes against 1010 for the Green, so even perfect splitting wouldn’t have been enough to be ahead of the Green.

  • Naughton

    I hope DR missed an ‘f’.

  • RyanAdams

    Good election overall.

    Local elections put them on course for a second seat in South Belfast and make them competitive in North Belfast.

  • Larne man

    I believe South Belfast is a realistic target for next year, if they can convince the SDLP’s tactical voters to ditch McDonnell. I also mantain that the current Sinn Fein lord mayor has a reach and appeal beyond the Sinn Fein core in the area and that they will not stand down this time. The potential of a single unionist added into the mix should make this a fascinating Westminster contest.

  • Newman

    South Belfast has many intriguing possibilities come election time…but the failure to get Duncan Morrow elected was a major own goal. You don’t play the STV game when you have much less than 2 quotas. They needed to focus on Morrow and bank that before attempting the high wire act of getting 2 elected. Voters like the fact that they hold balance of power in BCC. Further they have increasingly with Anna Lo looked like the progressive liberal party. Problem is, however, that the Seamus Close wing who would have housed many socially conservative Catholics who also wanted to buy into a shared future and new politics the party looks much less welcoming.

  • APNI has failed to live up to its early promise when it pulled in over 94k votes in the 1973 local elections. This slipped to around 80k in 1977, 60k in 1981 and 45k in 1985. This years almost 42k is just over 7k down on the almost 49k it achieved last time out in 2011. It appeared to really struggle during the era when Paisley and Hume were tussling for the top spot.

  • Charles_Gould

    I wonder if Anna Lo’s abortion policies won her votes? There isn’t another clear party with this “liberal” approach to abortion.

    This is a policy difference with the SDLP that might have seen some of the SDLP’s socially liberal people switching.

    Not easy to judge, but it does seem that some SDLP voters moved to Alliance this time. This could be for several reasons. Social liberal reasons. UI reasons. And the reason that she is obviously not culturally “protestant” by background. (She also seems “nice” and the fact she was attacked by protestors may have increased her sympathy from SDLP voters).

    I noticed some signs that the Alliance vote is down in their “protestant” areas: North Down and East Antrim. So I have a sense that Alliance have – by accident or design – drawn a slightly different mix of voters this time, and the experiment was to the disadvantage of the SDLP. If my sense is proven right then Alliance have disproven those who said that Catholics only voted for them when there was no SDLP option.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Nevin. You have brought true perspective to the subject here.

    Two questions pose themselves. Might a really gruelling campaign have helped Mrs Lo’s vote? Or did Mrs Lo’s pro-UI statement damage her vote as much as the last-minute redesignation damaged NI21?

  • Ulidian


    East Belfast too I suspect – they barely outpolled the DUP in Ormiston, which should have been an absolute fortress. They have a problem in Ards too, in particular the peninsula, though the latter may reflect the absence of Kieran McCarthy on the ballot.

  • David, back in the glory days APNI had 6 councillors in what is now the Causeway Coast and Glens area; they now have 1.

  • Granni Trixie


    Where did you get your figures for Alliances European results: First preferences were 44,423 which is 7.1 per cent – up on the previous best of 6.8 pc (Oliver Napier as think). In last European Election we achieved around 26K first preference votes which we exceeded this year.

    On the point of APNI not living up to its early promise in one sense I agree in that I remember that feeling in its seminal phase that we were going to bring all of NI with us in the quest of anti sectarian politics. Does ths ring a bell? We were seeking the “new,fresh politics ” which NI 21 espouse and look what happened to them and the Women’s Coalition previously, illustrating just how difficult it is to sustain a new party especially a cross community one.
    I think we started off in 70s with a peak of 16 pc of the vote going down in John Alderdices time to just over 5pc. Under DF we have mcreased beyond that (not sure bt may be around 7) . You have only to look at BCH to see we learnt how a small party can punch above its weight.
    As for this year, yes there were some winners and losers but overall we are happy with our performance given the fleg and intimidation troubles and the concerted effort to vilify Alliance by
    UUP and DUP in EB.
    David Crookes: you would be wrong to think we did not give the election our best shot in terms of planning and resources.

    My own canvassing in balmoral and Botanic definately showed that Anna Lo has a tremendous personal vote, overriding negative reaction to her UI remarks. She also would tend to lose some votes because of her pro abortion views….but gain for same reason. Let me clarify however that this is not Our policy as there is a free vote on abortion one of the few things on which Anna and I differ.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Nevin, I’m learning things in my old age.

    Granni, thanks for that information. I didn’t mean to asperse the AP campaigners.

    The mere passage of time has stopped the AP getting a big emotional sympathy vote on the back of the flegs outrage. If I was a member of the AP I should be glad. Big sympathy votes are ephemeral, and have nothing to do with steady organic growth.

  • Granni, my only reference to the APNI’s EU performance was when it was, I felt, squeezed by the tussle between Ian Paisley and John Hume. You’ve probably correctly noted the impact of the Women’s Coalition.

    Have you any explanation for the 7k drop between 2011 and 2014 in the local election figures? The 2011 figure is about 17% higher than the 2014 one.

    It’s only able to punch above its weight where it holds the balance of power. When Nationalists decided to poke Unionists in the eye the Unionists reacted by kicking APNI. I thought Naomi Long came out of the debacle with her reputation enhanced whereas some of her male colleagues made idiotic statements about what SF had voted for.

    Anna Lo has also displayed grit in the face of adversity and I think ordinary folks are likely to respond positively to that.

  • snow white

    Being at the count at Belfast City Hall on Friday and Saturday i was clear to see that Allianc transfers were predominantly going to the SDLP. I think there are 2 reasons for this;
    1. Alasdair McDonnell has been lack lustre in his leadership and has not narrated a vision. I think he’s in the race for most disappointing leader. South Belfast SDLP are also having to deal with vicious in-fighting.
    2. People like to feel good about themselves. The language used by the Alliance Party to criticise politics in Northern Ireland as dysfunctional and sectarian appeals to voters who feel the mainstream parties have let them down. By voting or indeed transfer to those nice people probably makes them feel good as the leave the polling station.

    It’s always the do-gooders that do the most harm. It can been seen from Duncan Morrow’s facebook profile that he and the Alliance are incapable of comprehending why people keep voting for “sectarianism”. I didn’t vote Alliance but I didn’t realise that automatically made me sectarian.

  • Granni Trixie


    Whilst I can see why the capacity to achieve a balance of power looms large in your estimation of effectiveness, Alliance also consciously tries to find various ways to influence change, not least, by modelling anti sectarian politics which,as NI21 illustrates, is fraught with difficulty. I don’t want to rehearse many signs of that influence sufficient to say think of fields of fair employment and integrated schooling. You also cannot estimate influence on public discourse with an alternative vision and analysis.

    Sorry I’m rubbish with figures so can’t argue with you about the drop you refer to at this point though I have never heard a 17pc drop referred to before – suspect it depends on what it is based. I will take a look at Nick Whites website later though.

    What I can say however is that although there were disappointments in cases such as Maire Hendron, we were definitely well pleased with our overall result and at signs of growth (Nuala Mcallister getting in in North Belfast (Castle),increased reps at BCH, going from 6 to 8,many unknown (often young) people got in elsewhere and Michael Long partner of Naomi topped the poll.

    All in a context of unprecedented negative targeting Alliance endured the previous year when pundits predicted wipeout. Phew.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Has the Alliance not passed its sell by date in the same way Women’s Coalition has? Both were setup for a reason one to bring a non sectarian element to politics and the other to get more women into politics but beyond that their narrative is over.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Since the last euros, the Alliance party have got two ministers where they previously had none and have had massive support from the media and yet they can make no substantial impact on the vote. They remain embarrassingly small

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Anna Lo has threatened to leave NI as she doesn’t feel safe due to Pastor McConnell – every cloud and all that.

  • “I have never heard a 17pc drop referred to before – suspect it depends on what it is based. I will take a look at Nick Whites website later though.”

    Granni, I put up the rough figures at 10:32 last night. I should also point out that in mathematics higher and lower percentages are not the same. I took my figures from www dot ark dot ac dot uk; Nicholas Whyte looks after the section on elections.

    APNI candidates obtained 41769 first preferences in 2014 whereas in 2011 they got 48,859. The 2011 figure is 17% higher than the 2014 one; it’s also higher than the vote for Anna in the EP election and she would have a higher voter recognition figure than many of the APNI LE candidates.

    APNI’s slogan is ‘For Everyone’ yet when you look at its contacts page you will see that it had five candidates [inc only three photos] in the Causeway Coast and Glens but no office. People who have problems with bureaucracy probably greatly appreciate face-to-face contact with party representatives but this sort of support is greatly lacking from APNI.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks for directing us to that piece of non-news, Joe (11.15 am). Sounds to me like self-importance gone through the roof. Of course the local BBC reports the threat in detail. I wonder what opinion on the matter is held by every other candidate who failed to get elected.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    It’s clearly a complete bluff by Anna Lo, somone whom I don’t rate very highly anyway.

    Has Anna Lo or the Alliance party as a whole spoken out about the Chinese drug gangs that are profiting throughout Belfast?

  • Morpheus

    Joe, you think it is acceptable that someone feels so intimidated that they have to leave Northern Ireland?

  • Is the story of this election not about the transfers? I’d say that transfers are an indicator of people getting ready to shift voting patterns. Experimenting with giving a number one to a lesser party and then using the number two or even three vote for the old surety is a signal of appetite for change. First preferences are only part of the story and a bit blunt – a bit like GDP for measuring economic wellbeing.

  • Joe_Hoggs


    This is clearly a stunt for all to see.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Michael (12.44 pm). Can you discern a willingness on the part of some voters to contemplate a different constitutional future without fear?

  • David Crookes

    Joe, let’s not allow this trivial matter of what some preacher said to take on a fatuous and disproportionate gravity. Robert Bradford MP was murdered.

  • HopefulPessimist


    “Has the Alliance not passed it’s sell by date ….setup … to bring a non sectarian element to politics …. but beyond that their narrative is over ”

    Have we achieved non-sectarian politics? How did I miss it?

  • David, I think that many people may not know what they want yet but are ok with living with the constitutional uncertainty in the meantime as nothing can change soon and violence is not an option. Where to next? Might seem a good time to explore what’s out there in the safety of knowing nothing major is going to change constitutionally.

    Nothing to fear but fear itself.

  • David Crookes

    Bravo, Michael, thanks a lot. That posting deserves to be read by every local journalist.

  • Gopher

    I think the blindingly obvious thing to come out of this election for Alliance is Naomi drove the election for them. Outside of Her, Marty and Unionism there is no other dynamic personality. Lets face it no one listens to Ford, think he needs to step aside before 2015.

  • “I think we started off in 70s with a peak of 16 pc of the vote going down in John Alderdices time to just over 5pc. Under DF we have mcreased beyond that (not sure bt may be around 7) . You have only to look at BCH to see we learnt how a small party can punch above its weight.”

    Actually Alliance hit its peak in the 1977 local election with 14.7% of the vote. After the Hunger Strikes when lost its nationalist votes west of the Bann it was down to single digits. Since 2010 performance has improved greatly upon the low point of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

  • “Has the Alliance not passed its sell by date in the same way Women’s Coalition has? Both were setup for a reason one to bring a non sectarian element to politics and the other to get more women into politics but beyond that their narrative is over.”


    I’m sure that for those who are totally into tribalist sectarian politics, Alliance was never welcome to begin with. But its electoral performance has actually dramatically improved over the last decade, which seems to indicate that the electorate doesn’t agree with you.

  • Valenciano

    “Alliance hit its peak in the 1977 local election with 14.7% of the vote. After the Hunger Strikes when lost its nationalist votes west of the Bann it was down to single digits.”

    @tmitch, Alliance’s decline west of the Bann started long before the hunger strike. In the 1977 locals they lost both their council seats in Limavady and Strabane, their councillor in Armagh, 2 of 4 in Derry and one of their council seats in Coleraine, Craigavon and Newry, while gaining in the east. The decline in the 80s seems to be part of an overall polarisation, though there has been an uptick in recent years as the SDLP and UUP declined.

  • Politico68

    As a Republican and devout Shinner I have to say I really like and admire ALPNI. They have managed to carve out a small middle ground constituency that is impossible to break. They ahve also help the line and been the voice of reasons when others were so fixated with rage that they couldnt see their nose for their face. And for those that claim alliance have achieved nothing; could you just imagine the absolute chaos on BCC if they were not there to steady the shift. Alliance has made a difference, the only reason most people do not realise it is because we have not experienced the trauma that would have ensued if they were not around.

  • @Valenciano,

    That may well be true–which makes their overall performance even more impressive in the 1977 local elections. I conducted interviews in 1998, and the people I spoke to may have forgotten the entire sequence leading to Alliance’s decline in the West, but the important dramatic dividing line was between before the Hunger Strikes and after. After many nationalist voters started voting for Sinn Fein and former Alliance voters voted for the SDLP to make up the difference.

  • Valenciano

    @Tmitch, I’m not convinced that that’s the case. Have a look at the table showing Alliance’s vote share by district council area.

    In virtually all the councils west of the Bann and in Co.Armagh and South Down, Alliance’s vote declined in 1977. You’ll see exactly the same pattern if you look at Westminster/Assembly election results from the time. 1973 was the peak of Alliance’s vote there, it was already in decline in the west as early as 1975, in the convention elections of that year.

    The big drop in Alliance’s vote came in 1981, at local elections which Sinn Fein didn’t even contest. The districts where their vote declined the most in those elections were Castlereagh, North Down, Newtownabbey, Lisburn and Larne, the most solidly unionist councils in other words, where nationalist candidates were largely non-existent. In 1985, the first elections which Sinn Fein contested, Alliance, against the tide of a declining vote share, gained council seats in Twinbrook and the Upper Falls. So an analysis which blames their decline on the defection of nationalist leaning voters following the reemergence of Sinn Fein is seriously questionable.

  • @Valenciano,

    Thanks for the link. What I take from it is that Alliance lost most of its vote in the small towns west of the Bann in 1977 but still had a decent percentage in larger towns such as Omagh. It may well be that the 1973 council election was a one-off event with many Catholic voters in the west willing to experiment by voing for a new non-sectarian party and that after Alliance failed to make big changes they went back to default mode.