Martin Smyth steps down…

Veteran MP and former Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Martin Smyth is to step down as MP in the next Westminster election. Former Culture Minister Michael McGimpsey has thrown his hat into the ring early. But whoever gains the nomination, it will be a tough fight for the seat with the DUP, and moderate nationalist voters will be squeezed hard behind Alisdair McDonnell’s tough battle against former BelfastMayor Alex Maskey.

  • idunnomeself

    I don’t see why this is a potential DUP gain.

    In the assembly elections Michael McGimpsey topped the poll, and the pro-agreement UUP quickly took 2 seats. An anti-agreement unofficial UUP candidate that Smyth backed came nowhere. In addition there is a large Alliance/ Woman’s coalition vote available to him as tactical votes.

    The DUP scraped in one candidate at the end. They don’t have a high profile candiate there, and no one is being groomed.

    Now that’s the election that saw the UUP everywhere else get clobbered. South Belfast was one of their strongest results.

    Nor can I see the Nationalist vote unifying around Maskey, so even with a split Unionist vote Michael McGimpsey will win easily.

  • PS

    The DUP scraped in one candidate at the end. They don’t have a high profile candiate there, and no one is being groomed.

    I think a certain slugger contributor would fit into the being groomed category, although perhaps this May is a bit early!

  • The Watchman

    South Belfast was always going to be a potential problem for unionism after Martin Smyth stood down. I don’t think anyone else could have held it for the party in 2001. If the UUP selects the Undertaker, the seat is lost because as pinko liberal he is anathema to the traditional unionist vote without which he cannot be elected. I think this could be Fermanagh South Tyrone allover again where a pig-headed UUP tries to foist a Trimble man on unionists in a marginal seat and end up losing it after a split vote.

    Could someone go down on bended knee in the Bar Library to, say, Peter King or John Hunter, or anyone who isn’t associated with the Trimble Catastrophe?

    Anyone want to bet on a UUP wipe out?

  • AndrewD

    This represents the end of an era.

    The Westminster election will represent a challenge for the UUP. The UUP vote did increase in the November 2003 election and the DUP didn’t do as well as they had hoped. However their vote did increase from 1998 as did the UUP’s.

    The DUP, if they do stand a Candidate (and I think they will) will probably open up the door for someone like the media is suggesting – Diane Dodds. I don’t see any other front running DUP person getting the position.

    It will be a split Unionist Constituency like every other.

    Sinn Fein have pushed really hard in SB with Maskey and they are aiming to make gains in the Council election. They did the SDLP vote great damage, particulary in Alastair McDonald’s areas in November 2003.

    Maskey, no doubt will stand, his vote will increase but I think McDonald will still pull through over Maskey.

    Will be interesting…..

  • PS

    I agree with Andrew. I expect Sinn Féin to make great gains on the 2001 Westminster result but it will probably be another electon or two untill the SF vote overtakes that of the SDLP in this constituency.

  • Rebecca Black

    “The DUP scraped in one candidate at the end. They don’t have a high profile candiate there, and no one is being groomed.”

    Christopher Stalford maybe?

    I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they stuck him in. He wouldn’t win it but it’d build his profile and the DUP don’t really have anyone in that area anyway so might as well let the young one have a go.

  • AndrewD

    Christopher Stalford is planning to run for Council (not sure if he has been selected yet though?)

    However I think it is more likely that the DUP would put in a high profile candidate as their aim is to wipe the UUP off the Westminster board completely.

    Someone like Diane Dodds. However it could be a suprise, look at Paul Berry in Newry and Armagh! He came from no where in 1998.

    Overall I would expect the UUP to hold on to South Antrim, North Down and possibly Upper Bann. However the DUP’s David Simpson is in with a good chance. But my gut feeling is that David Trimble will pull through.

    Will the UUP hold onto South Belfast? I think that there is a reasonably good chance, but I think that the UUP Westminster vote will fall from what Martin Smyth previously achieved.

    I think the UUP or DUP could get Fermanagh South Tyrone, BUT only if one steps aside. I personally think that the UUP’s Tom Elliot is in a stronger position to take the seat than Arlene Foster. Thats is if the DUP step aside. I would say the FST is a stronger UUP seat than DUP.

  • irishman

    The UUP will retain South Belfast- it will be probably the sole highlight of their election. Having said that, the DUP candidate was impressive last year when he adopted a more forthrightly condemnatory approach then McGimpsey and co to the Sandy Row loyalists who were intent on intimidating the unfortunate residents of the apartment complex in the vicinity.

    Sinn Fein’s Maskey still has work to do to catch the SDLP, though the latter on definitely on the slide. Success for Sinn Fein at the locals in Balmoral and Castlereagh would be ominous for the SDLP as it would put republicans on a par with the SDLP across the constituency.

  • Rebecca Black

    “Overall I would expect the UUP to hold on to South Antrim, North Down and possibly Upper Bann. However the DUP’s David Simpson is in with a good chance. But my gut feeling is that David Trimble will pull through.”

    Yep, I would be very surprised if the UUP didn’t hold on to those seats, Trimble does always come through, I think because most people do still hold him in high regard, even though it seems terribly unpopular these days to say anything positive about him. David Simpson simply doesn’t have the profile that Trimble does.

    I would love to see a unionist take Fermanagh/South Tyrone but unless there is a dramatic thaw in relations between the DUP and UUP, theres no chance. Arlene Foster will never back off trying to take that seat, a compromise candidate is not likely.

  • Keith M

    First of all, may I say farewell to Smyth. I always found him to be honest, a rare thing in the UUP these days (especially those UUP supporters who post here).

    When you look at the names being bandied about it is obvious that both the UUP and DUP are struggling in this constituency. If the UUP had any sense they’d move Empey to this constituency. I don’t think that any potenial DUP candidate could beat him. If the UUP run McGimpsey then they are in trouble as the man just has no charisma and is on the losing side within unionism. (Empey has at least had the grace to be a bit more ambivilent recently).

    If Diane Dodds stands then it becomes an interesting contest. The swing from the UUP to the DUP has been slower in SB than in most other constituencies. It shouldn’t be winnable for the DUP this time out, but I’d say McGimpsey vs Dodds would be a very close race.

    On the nationalist side, Maskey’s only impact will be to stop McDonald taking the seat, but if SBers (generally a more conservative lot) react to the bank raid as I think they might, and the SDLP can heal its internal divisions, then McDonald is in there with a very strong chance.

  • AndrewD

    I would agree with Keith. I think Empey would take to the position in South Belfast after Martin Smyth better than McGimpsey. He would be a good candidate.

    I think East Belfast is a lost seat for the UUP. A better candidate would have been Michael Copeland.

    Reg Empey would be better suited to a Constituency like Strangford or SB. However thats not to say Gareth McG is not a good candidate. He is in a good position. Good luck to him!

    South Belfast is a winnable seat for the UUP with the right Candidate to take over the hard work of Martin Smyth.

    One thing Martin Smyth was always respected for was his commitment to his Constituents’ and his honesty. Something that you don’t see in many, if any politicans these days. He also remained loyal to his party despite his difference in opinion. By that I mean he never made a whole public show of it like Jeffery.

  • aquifer

    His suspension from the party whip in Westminster was a private affair then.

    He is part and parcel of Unionist political failure, backed into a sectarian dead end by better led nationalists.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    It would be great to see Ruth Patterson standing for the DUPers. It wouldn’t do the DUPers election chances any good but think of the great craic we’d have on here at Slugger.

  • Fraggle

    Do you think Ruth Patterson could count on the ethnic vote Pat?

  • Visioner

    He is part and parcel of Unionist political failure, backed into a sectarian dead end by better led nationalists.

    Ah, its always about Sectarianism.

    I could say that Nationalists fail to respect and recogise the Unionist line of thought.

    Martin Smyth was someone who represented all his constituents of whatever background. Yes he is a Unionist and has his principles but he respects those of all traditions. The only thing he was and is opposed to is terrorists who fail to respect the principles of Democracy and views of others.

    Obviously his political failure in Unionism has been represented by his years of service as an MP, where he was consistently backed term after term by the people of South Belfast.

  • PS

    Even her own party members describe her as a loose cannon, I’d say Stalford’s a far better bet. It’ll probably end up Diane Dodds in any case.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    There’s a fierce amount of total crap being talked on this thread. I’m sorry about Smyth’s wife and I respect the reason he’s chosen to resign, but this talk is insulting. Never made a public show of his opposition to the UUP ? I take it his challenge of the UUP party leadership was just a bit of a laugh then ? Come of it AndrewD, the man is a full-scale hypocrite. He sniped away from the sidelines but always did his best to make sure his own interests (seat and salary) were protected.

    “The only thing he was and is opposed to is terrorists who fail to respect the principles of Democracy and views of others.”

    One word – bollocks. I remember quite clearly during the early 1990s some nurses from the RoI attending QUB moved into houses in the Donegall Pass/lower Donegall Road area, and were promptly intimidated out by loyalist paramilitaries – Smyth came on to say how terrible it all was, but nonetheless that it was “understandable. ” – much like Ruth Patterson does today. I remember in Drumcree 1996 when Smyth was asked to condemn people with rather clear allegiences who were blocking the roads to the airport and Larne – he refused, saying that people were entitled to do what was necessary to secure their rights.

    Every step of the way, whenever push has come to shove, Smyth has stepped out of the way and allowed the paramilitary “shove” to take place without any objection by him.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    I wouldn’t normally quote An Phoblacht (provo news) but they have an article from 1997 quoting Smyth when he described a
    “>direct threat by loyalist paramilitaries against Catholic civilians as “understandable” – I note that he chose not to sue.

    Let’s not have this stupid talk about how nice this man is and how he loves democracy and hates paramilitaries. With people like Smyth around the loyalists have nothing to worry about when it comes to people trying to challenge their existence.

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    arse, the quote worked under “preview” but not in the real post. Damn.


    “>link

  • Roger W. Christ XVII

    OK, I’ll just post the link straight since it doesn’t seem to want to play.

    http://republican-news.org/archive/1997/June26/20post.html

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Sorry to be a late arrival in this thread. Slightly stunned by idunnomeself’s statements:

    the pro-agreement UUP quickly took 2 seats. An anti-agreement unofficial UUP candidate that Smyth backed came nowhere.

    Well, no. Second UUP candidate was elected only on the last count, and I don’t now who the independent candidate referred to is. Perhaps you meant the third official UUP candidate?

    The DUP scraped in one candidate at the end.

    Well, no. They had well over a quota, their successful candidate was the second elected after McGimspey, and with 330 more votes they would have beaten Monica McWilliams to be runners-up. (Alastair McDonnell would still have got in on Monica’s transfers.)

    In my view, the DUP are further behind here than in some other places but with their current momentum I would not write off their chances.

    On the other hand, whoever wins it won’t be the SDLP. The 23% they got in the Assembly election is probably their real ceiling. The 30% they got in the 2001 election was drastically swelled by tactical voters – some of them normally UUP voters – who didn’t like Smyth’s anti-Agreement line, and who won’t be available to the SDLP if the UUP picks a less hard-line candidate. To that extent, idunnomeself is right about the reserve of tactical voters.

    I was surprised that SF did not win a council seat in Balmoral in 2001, indeed that they were as far as 500 votes behind. It’s unlikely that they’ll overtake the SDLP in South Belfast – this time.

  • Keith M

    I’d agree with almost everything you say Nicholas except the following on the SDLP “The 30% they got in the 2001 election was drastically swelled by tactical voters – some of them normally UUP voters – who didn’t like Smyth’s anti-Agreement line, and who won’t be available to the SDLP if the UUP picks a less hard-line candidate”.

    Almost uniquely the UUP vote here went up here between 1997 and 2002 (by a whopping 9%), so whoever voted tactically for the SDLP, they were unlikely to be UUP voters. Don’t forget Trimbelite UUP supporters also had the APNI and NIWC as options. The SDLP may have received tactical votes, but these may have come from people who voted for Maskey in 2003. Your point on the SDLP’s chances are however well made, especially after the shameful treatment of Hanna.

    The question is, how much of Smyth’s votes will remain with the UUP if they choose someone as closely associated with the Trimble faction as McGimpsey? I fully accept that SB has a form for of political inertia which isn’t seen anywhere else in NI, but all the DUP need is a 4% swing to overtake the UUP (based on the assembly result). Another significant factor is the two minors parties; Will McWilliams stand? (this would favour the DUP), and will the APNI field a candidate in a constituency where their vote has decreased at an alarming rate over the past 10 years? If the APNI field a decent candidate, they too could influence the result. Do the APNI have someone up their sleeve? What’s that UK lottery slogan again ….. ;-))

    The question here is

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Keith,

    When comparing 1997 and 2001, bear in mind that the UUP vote went up by less than the PUP vote decreased, and the total Unionist vote went down from 52% to 48%. Both elections were further distorted by the absence of a DUP candidate, and neither should really be taken as a baseline.

    I certainly don’t believe that all of the extra SDLP voters were habitual UUP voters. But there were at least 1648 people in South Belfast who voted SDLP in the 2001 Westminster elections and didn’t vote for either the SDLP or Sinn Fein in the simultaneous local elections. At the same time there were 750 people who voted for Unionist parties in the local elections and did not PUP or UUP for Westminster. I accept that some of the slack will have been taken up by Alliance, the Women’s Coalition, and smaller parties. But all of it? I don’t think so.

  • fair_deal

    Nicholas

    I agree with your stunned state at idm’s comments but I am afraid it is symbolic of the wishful thinking many apply to the UUP’s fortunes e.g. Danny Kennedy’s comments on hearts and minds of ‘These are seats are traditionally Ulster Unionist’ so was East Londonderry, Strangford, North Belfast and Newry and Armagh even.

    In south Belfast the DUP votes has grown both in percentage terms up 8 percentage points in 5 years and crucially in physical terms an additional 1200 votes (while the UUP have dropped in physical terms and SDLP have dropped in percentage and physical terms.)

    Also if you look at the Belfast local government elections in the city in 1997 the DUP was 8500 votes behind the UUP but in 2001 the DUP was 200 votes behind the UUP.

    Although I believe you are mistaken that the McDonnell growth was Unionist pro-agreement tactical voters I think it was more likely to be an untapped nationalist vote which will come out again if there are two Unionists in the field.

    Furthermore, the tallies in south Belfast for the European were very bad for the UUP (although European results have to be viewed with some care.) However, I think the close coincidence in the DUP’S Total Assembly vote in 2003 and the Euro election vote is significant.

  • idunnomeself

    ‘An anti-agreement unofficial UUP candidate that Smyth backed came nowhere.’

    Nicholas, I think he was Hutchinson? He wasn’t part of the UUP main campaign, he ran his own, as I say, he was Smyth’s man. He came nowhere.

    Not arguing about your figures of course, but when you look at the counts and the probable transfers, the UUP took a seat early, and they were always going to bring in the running mate on transfers- they just took a long time to appear.

    We should also bear in mind that South Belfast has a large ‘non-tribal’ vote. lots of people who will vote for other reasons than the border or the agreement.

    [/personal experience alert] most of the Protestants I know who voted SDLP in South Belfast did so because of McDonnells manifesto, especially on ethical issues like fair trade. I suppose the fact that Smyth represented everything that embarasses them about Unionism can’t have done the SDLP any harm either[/p]

    I think McGimpsey will do better with these voters, although they will have plenty of other choices (are the greens still on slugger? keen to know APNI thinking)

  • davidbrew

    the UUP anti-Agreement candidate was none other than our own John Hiddleston, who did run a separate campaign, though as I am sure he will confirm, the other two effectively ignored him anyway, so he had nothing to lose.

    Another factor to bear in mind is the collapse of the constituency association, which is now controlled by McGimpsey. Having brought in new members to oust the Smyth faction there are now about 50 members many of whom are elderly, with the occasional barrister (hi Brett!) or other intellectual who probably don’t even know that the Village or Donegall Pass exist. They are struggling to raise the £3,000 quota to HQ, so goodness knows how they’ll raise £15k or so to run a contest against a DUP candidate- on which I think there might yet be a surprise high-profile candidate.

    The problem for the UUP- privately predicting 10 seats, would you believe!-is that every seat they hold is now a marginal, whereas the only DUP seat which on paper looks vulnerable is peter Robinson’s- and who really believes he’s at risk? The UUP are going to have to pour money-and (more difficult for them) people into retaining east Antrim , South Belfast, Upper Bann, and South Antrim, and I wouldn’t bet on North Dowen being a lot closer than last time if Bob doesn’t run.

    The DUP should run in every constituency to underline its position as lead Unionist party, while I am sure that the UUP will too, to bolster its numbers, even though there are some rumblings from MLAs west of the Bann who are being told to waste £10k + of their own money to help the number crunchers in Cunningham House. The problem of fighting a no-hoper is that you have to persuade the candidate that there will be a reward for his sacrifice down the line, and while the DUP can have some optimism of future triumphs, what’s in it for Billy Armstrong, Derek Hussey, or Tom Elliott. Their careers have already peaked. They haven’t even selected in North Antrim yet because private soundings indicate a marked reluctance to be the traditional whipping boy in Dr Paisley’s last (?) election- wouldn’t you have expected as queue to be in pole position for the 2009 election? Yet no volunteers tells the tale.

    it’s worse at local council level. many Constituency associations haven’t yet selected, because the only willing lambs to the slaughter are the old codgers. There are very few new faces for the UUP, whereas the DUP have a large number of young candidates. Now youth can be overrated, but anyone who has been a candidate will tell you that it changes your perspective- you really begin to understand the nuts and bolts of politics. How many Young Unionists are going to be candidates? The DUP youth wing seems less active to an old outsider like me, but that’s because most young DUPers are already in frontline jobs, on the principle “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough”

    Yes I know I’ll have the usual “He would knock the UUP” posters, but really, someone prove that I’m wrong. And it is a genuine source of concern that the UUP has rapidly atrophied to the point of assured destruction before the Unionist population as a whole has recognised that the DUP has become the lead party of Unionism in which their trust should repose for the current phase of politics .

  • idunnomeself

    ‘Having brought in new members to oust the Smyth faction there are now about 50 members many of whom are elderly’

    I don’t quite follow, if they brought in new members, shouldn’t it be larger? Surely Smyth’s faction would have been older anyway?

    I’m not going to randomly compliment UUP candidates, but it would seem to me that Michael McGimpsey is one of their better performers on TV. I also gather that he is active and respected in working class South Belfast, where I know a few people in community. I know there are some South Belfast locals here, even some who are very close to the UUP there? like to hear what they think.

  • davidbrew

    I don’t quite follow, if they brought in new members, shouldn’t it be larger? Surely Smyth’s faction would have been older anyway?

    ..cos, like China, the UUP has always has a gerontocracy approach to politics. Martin’s supporters are mostly people who have been with him since the 1980s- in their sixties and seventies. They won’t change party now. But they are still there as a significant faction, once described as “bedblockers” by a Trimbleite. They aren’t likely to take an active part in the election. McGimpsey’s people are hardly spring chickens either, but thanks to a recruitment campaign by Smyth opponents Rogan and Stoker, they have been able to take over branches which gives them a disproportionate strength ( branches send representatives to the Constituency assocation)

  • johnhidd

    I would just like to point out that I am a mere stripling of 51.

    Thank you

  • Christopher Stalford

    Based on the assembly result the task facing the DUP can be summarised a thus: to persuade 750 people who voted UUP last time to vote DUP this time around – hardly a monumental task.

  • Christopher Stalford

    On a personal level – the first vote I ever had was cast in 2001 for Martin Smyth. I happily went into the Polling booth and gave him my vote – he is a decent, honourable man and I had no problem whatsoever supporting him at that particular election.

    I think the pathetic “Martin served Ulster Unionism well” – talk coming from Michael McGimpsey is rank hypocrisy, bearing in mind the actions of his supporters since 1998.