#ae17 in numbers

7 days is the period in which Sinn Féin’s nominating officer can continue not to name a replacement deputy First Minister before the NI Assembly Speaker Robert Newton would be expected to suspend business (probably on the morning of Tuesday 17 January). [May not even happen on the floor of the Assembly chamber in Parliament Buildings?]

The Secretary of State James Brokenshire has discretion about a ‘reasonable’ date for a new Assembly election. Thursday 6 April would be the last possible date before the Easter holidays. If the election falls on Thursday 23 March, that’s going to clash with this year’s The Great Big Politics Pub Quiz! If the Secretary of State convenes talks – or leaves a vacuum to encourage them to happen – then Thursday 4 May could be an attractive alternative. [Ed – May the 4th be with you!]

The number of MLAs elected at the forthcoming election will be 90 rather than 108. So at a minimum, 18 MLAs will not return to the NI Assembly. There will be a fierce battle for the last two seats in nearly every constituency.

Despite the fall in numbers of MLAs to be elected, 30 is still the magic number of signatures required to lodge a Petition of Concern.

So 30 is the minimum number of MLAs the DUP would be comfortable getting re-elected to the Assembly in order to be able to continue to lodge Petitions of Concern without the assistance of Jim Allister or the UUP.

With just 5 MLAs elected per constituency, selection strategy is vital as fielding too many candidates runs the risk of early eliminations if voters don’t transfer down the line for a party.

278 candidates stood for May 2016’s NI Assembly election. The DUP (86%) and Sinn Féin (72%) had the greatest percentage of candidates elected. Only half of the UUP and SDLP candidates were elected, and just over a third of Alliance candidates.

Not only is there a surplus of MLAs, but some parties will have a surplus of candidates with very little time to run selection meetings. Having had their lives disrupted less than a year ago, some unsuccessful candidates will not want to stand again.

There will be considerable tension between sitting candidates and any additional names parties run in constituencies. The DUP will obviously be seeking to minimise the number of candidates lost – and battling against any swing in public opinion – while the UUP will need to field enough candidates in the unlikely event that they can nearly double their result, but without losing ground.

There will be big decisions for the SDLP as they decide whether or not to just run a single candidate in Belfast South. There will be a fine line between realism, ambition and greed.

The turnout at May 2016’s NI Assembly election was 54.9%.

While the 6 outgoing MLAs outside the five main parties may be seen as being at risk in the 5 MLA constituencies, many will be campaigning as a voice of protest. Will People Before Profit oust Alex Attwood in Belfast West and pick up a second candidate? Do the TUV stand any chance of picking up disaffected DUP voters? Can Claire Sugden hang on in East Londonderry?

In the meantime …

  • £85,000 is the estimated daily cost to the tax payer of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, a scheme for which there will be no investigation, no clawing back of money and no changes during the election period.
  • Article 50 is likely to be invoked while Northern Ireland is in governmental paralysis. We’ll have no First or deputy First Minister to attend meetings [Ed – would they even be invited?] and lobby directly for Northern Ireland interests at the UK-wide Brexit strategy workshops in London.
  • The new budget remains delayed, and the current budget runs out at the end of March 2017, leaving many organisations and their staff in limbo (and on protected notice) as departments cannot confirm funding. In the event no budget is agreed or set, the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance can set a budget not exceeding 75% until the end of July after which up to 95% is available. This will cause immediate cuts across government departments, particularly in external spending and funding with long-term implications for services.
  • The Programme for Government with its 14 indicators remains a draft framework.
  • Dealing with the past and agreeing how to resolve Legacy issues remain unresolved.

Candidate data via Wikipedia.

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  • NMS

    What about North Belfast? Can Fiona Ferguson build on the base Gerry Carroll & Eamon McCann have given to Trotskyism in Northern Ireland?

    Will Alliance improve enough to be in the running at the end? Better transfers from the UUP, if the UUP are behind her?

    Can the Provos split their vote evenly to ensure Carál Ní Chuilín holds on, or will she fall behind Nichola Mallon?

    The DUP’s 35% is too little to get three seats, will they run just two candidates or go for three, hoping for UUP/PUP transfers?

    Will the UUP improve enough to be in the shake out?

    Or will the gay Green Gael, pull off the surprise of the election?

    How far below 50% of the electorate will the turnout be?

  • Vince

    Judging by the 2016 assembly election there is only a small % chance of SF retaining 2 seats. Can’t see Nichola Mallon losing out (if she does then it will be further evidence that democracy really isn’t working in NI) and it would therefore require a remarkable surge in nationalist/republican turnout in that constituency. PBP are on the up there but insufficiently so to come close to a seat. They should however take 2 seats in WB (provided that they field 2 candidates).

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Will the PUP even run in North Belfast and if so who will it be ?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Where will the Unionist Transfers go in West Belfast ? Will Winky run for the PUP in the West to profile himself up for Council Elections in 2018 ?

  • mjh

    Surprisingly enough, last years voting patterns would give the DUP 3 seats (two of them without hitting quota). The SDLP would keep their seat safely. Even perfect balancing would not prevent SF from dropping to 1.

    The first preference votes expressed as quotas for a five seat constituency were:
    DUP 2.10
    SF 1.59
    SDLP 0.63
    Alliance 0.42
    UUP 0.32
    PBPA 0.21
    PUP 0.20
    Green 0.13
    UKIP 0.12
    TUV 0.11
    WP 0.08
    Others 0.08

    Looking at those figures, barring an electoral earthquake there are 2 safe DUP seats and 1 safe SF. Even changes in last year’s transfer patterns could change the other two winners.

    Relatively small changes could see the DUP drop a seat, or Alliance take one (400 extra votes or transfers to Alliance would do it).

    Less likely changes, but still within the levels of recent precedent, could theoretically see the SDLP lose, with SF picking up a second (that would need about 1000 SDLP voters to switch to SF).

    PBPA would need about 2,000 more first preferences and transfers to be in contention. And the UUP about 1,800.

  • NMS

    Really, it is turnout, that will make all the difference. Are Mr. & Mrs Livid satisfied to take a short stroll and do their civic duty, or are they sick of them all?

    Ms. Long seems (to me) to be giving Alliance a bit of new life from her predecessor whose stare eerily reminded me of an undertaker.

    Let us be positive, DUP to drop enough, Alliance & SDLP to increase and far better transfers among the others to see the demise of a DUP seat & to plagerise Neil Sedaka

    Oh! Carál
    I know you think we are fools
    Darling, I hate you
    Because you treat me cruel
    You hurt me
    And you make me cry
    But know your leaving me
    I will surely not die

  • Vince

    The final shake-out will determine that. In a 5 seater, 3SF & 1 PBP are safe. The last 4 in contention for final seat will be the 4th SF candidate, Attwood, PBP 2nd candidate and DUP candidate. Given any sort of decent vote balancing, PBP2 should be ahead of Attwood and SF4 but behind DUP. Transfers from Attwood & SF4 should take him/her ahead of DUP candidate.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Thats why it would be interesting to see if PUP run in West Belfast as I believe their transfers would favour PBP more than SDLP & SF ?

  • Paddy Reilly

    Interesting. On those figures, I would call DUP 2, SF 1, SDLP 1, Alliance 1. But it all depends on whether an initially less popular UUP candidate can build up a larger number of transfers before Alliance passes the finishing line.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    So, looking forward to an election on my birthday (4th May) 😀

  • mjh

    However there were not enough transfers to Alliance last year to produce that result. But a significant change in the UUP transfer pattern, or a number of small changes in the other variables would be enough to do it.

    Certainly this could be Alliance’s best prospect for any gain.

  • Vince

    It would but I think the actual numbers transferring through would be small.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Could be the difference though for the 2nd PBP seat in West Belfast ?

  • mjh

    It could make a contribution, TE

    The 2016 first prefererence votes expressed as quotas were:
    SF 3.27
    PBPA 1.37
    DUP 0.62
    SDLP 0.44
    UUP 0.11
    WP 0.09
    Green 0.05
    Alliance 0.05

    Given the actual pattern of transfers and the same number of candidates, this would have produced 4 SF (3 elected short of quota), and 1 PBPA.

    If PBPA had stood a second candidate things would have been much more complicated.

    Provided PBPA had been able to move about 2,900 to 3,000 of Carroll’s 8,299 votes to the second candidate, they would be ahead of Atwood who would have been eliminated at stage 3 instead of stage 5.

    Even if SF had only run 4 candidates one of them would now be in danger. If the two PBPA were better balanced (say about 3.500 first preference for the second candidate) in itself that could well be enough to eliminate the fourth SF candidate. Result SF 3, PBPA 2. If not the PBPA would fall out leaving SF 4, PBPA 1.

    It would take very little to tip the balance further in favour PBPA. A better transfer from SDLP than I have assumed (I went for a conservative 38% to PBPA, 28% SF, 6% to DUP and 28% non-transferable); better transfers than I have assumed from WP, Green and Alliance (I assumed about 500 from 1150); some personal votes for the second PBPA candidate; a loss of the personal votes that came to the 5th SF candidate. Any of these alone, or a combination, could make the difference.

    And all those are before you consider any possible swing in party support since last May.

    If the PUP or any other candidate stood, they could well bring out some voters who had stayed at home in 2016. I would expect more PUP voters to transfer to PBPA than to SF (even if the majority went to the DUP). In absolute terms that might be only a handful of extra transfers for PBPA, but it is not impossible it would make the difference.

  • Paddy Reilly

    But this year is not last year. This time there will be nearly 4% of unassigned Nationalist votes left over which can go to whoever is not a Unionist.

  • mjh

    Agreed. I make no predictions – it’s a mug’s game at the best of times. And this is shaping up to be a particularly difficult election to call at the level of individual constituencies.

    But I think it’s helpful to keep in mind what happened last time, and how much or how little change would really be required to produce a different outcome.

  • Skibo

    The issue will be does PBPA have a well enough known candidate. While Gerry Carrol has plenty of publicity, who is coming in as his running mate?
    A further issue will be if the new resurgent SF attract back enough voters?

  • AntrimGael

    ‘Sink Fein’?? Freudian slip!

  • Gopher

    PBP I imagine will run 2. This is a once in a lifetime election.

  • mjh

    They’d be mad not to.

  • Fear Éireannach

    PBPs stance on Brexit is diametrically opposed to the concept of Irish nationalism, if they do get 2 seats it will be proof positive that people in the Falls are pseudo nationalists.

  • Neads Doherty

    How? They backed a left exit on account of the refugee issue and the fact that it is a capitalist sream. How does that oppose a socialist Ireland?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Great analysis mjh, always like your election forecast posts, the detail in figures and mathematical permutations is second to none ! Depressing that we look down the barrel of a forthcoming election as I cannot see agreement after such an election to get Stormont up and running again, but look forward in such an election event to more of your posts regarding the battles within the other NI constituencies !

  • mjh

    Thanks, TE.
    Actually the numbers indicate that all the doom and gloom could prove to be vastly overdone.

    I reckon that the pattern of votes and transfers last year would have given the DUP 32 seats out of 90. However, as discussed earlier in this thread, their 3rd seat in North Belfast would be on a knife’s edge. I also reckon that their 3rd in Strangford could be extremely vulnerable if Bell stands as an Independent (I won’t go into the figures here).

    The loss of those two would put them on 30 – exactly the minimum number they need for a Petition of Concern.

    So if the DUP suffer any loss of votes from RHI they could well slip below 30. (For example if it enabled Bailey to hang on in South Belfast as discussed on another thread.)

    That would change the political climate totally. SF would have every reason to nominate a DFM, including:
    1) The perceived diminution in DUP power.
    2) The probability that a Marriage Equality Act would be passed.
    3) The possibility that other legislation, including an Irish Language Act, could be moved as a Private Members Bill and could not be blocked by the DUP if it had the support of a majority of MLA’s.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Not far away from my analysis mjh. I think the 2nd DUP MLA in South Belfast is gone ! I can see other Unionists Transfers going to Bailey !

  • Liam Donovan

    Why wouldn’t the 6th candidate (SDLP) be most likely to lose their seat? I’m sorry for the silly question; I’m unfamiliar with the NI electoral system.