Trimble’s challenger pulling ahead?

David Trimble is not a man whose poltical fortunes can be written off lightly. But on this occasion his challenger is impressive. David Simpson is certainly larger and more charming. And he canvasses with a broad smile and a team of twenty around him. The UUP are more economical – sending out smaller (and multiple) teams of councillors, with and without their (at least in some places round here) controversial MP. Slugger was in Portadown with Simpson on Friday night.The DUP candidate in Upper Bann is confident of taking the seat away from David Trimble. David Simpson’s campaign manager says the reason is simple: it’s all about delivery. “We have beaten him on the ground every day for the last four years. We believe we are four figures ahead”. And he seems certain. “We have been out canvassing for a week longer than David Trimble. And we are sure of our core vote.”.

And his reckoning appears sharp. He names three key wards he thinks the battle will be won: Waringstown, and two places called Edenderry, one in Banbridge and another in Portadown. It’s here they see former hardline UU voters coming over to them. The rumour amongst workers on the UU side is they themselves are ahead by about 2-300 votes. But in practice, any estimate under a thousand is highly vulnerable to fluctuation.

The private housing in the Killicomaine Road area is prosperous and doesn’t have the look of a hard-core DUP area. It’s crucial for the party pull in good numbers of votes here. Most of the people coming out greet Simpson are young and upwardly mobile. Most are warm, but it’s hard to gauge precisely the proportions of people responding as I continue the conversation with Simpson down the road.

Simpson dismisses the idea that a vote for his party would mark an end to any shared future. Whether by design or accident, he is Mayor of Craigavon this year and was deputy to the SDLP’s Ignatius Fox this year. He’s used his office to dampen down the party’s old sectarian image. He was invited to speak in two Catholic schools this year, and claims to have been the first Unionist to have done so in the borough for 25 years.

In response to the belief that a ‘shared future’ would be finished if his “If you want an agreement and if you want one that both sections of the community can sign up to, it has to be based first of all on trust and the foundations have to be right. And that was the mistake that was made with the Belfast Agreement – they didn’t read the small print”.

Although he accepts things have moved on considerably from the time of the talks about talks era of the late eighties, early nineties, and that power sharing is now the practical way forward; he won’t accept that it’s one of the positive fruits of David Trimble’s negotiation of the Belfast Agreement.