Alliance to burst through middle in South Belfast?

Well, it turns out that the Alliance’s candidate for the next Assembly election in south Belfast is Anna Lo, currently Chief Executive of the Chinese Welfare Association. It is a bit of a coup for a party that has consistently found itself outside the unionist/nationalist carve up at Stormont. If elected, she would be the only Chinese member of legislative Assembly in the UK. A classic match for one of Northern Ireland’s most diverse constituencies.The Chinese population in Northern Ireland are by far the largest single ethnic minority. According to the CWA:

Currently there are around 8000 Chinese resident in Northern Ireland, representing 51% of the total ethnic minority population. The Chinese community is currently the largest and most dispersed ethnic minority group living in the North. The majority of this community lives in the Greater Belfast Urban Area; there are also significant numbers in Craigavon, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and North Down. Irwin and Dunn, noted in their study of ethnic minorities, that the Chinese community is growing at a faster rate than the general population.

Undoubtedly the quality and profile of the candidate that will draw votes in from right across the community in South Belfast. It would be hard to bet against her taking the seat.

Figures last time out were:

UUP 8,469 (27.0%, +3.6%) 2 seats

SDLP 7,176 (22.9%, +1.2%) 2 seats

DUP 6,529 (20.8%, +6.7%) 1 seat

SF 3,933 (12.6%, +6.2%) 1 seat

NIWC 2,150 (6.9%, -2.7%) Best result for NIWC in Northern Ireland

Alliance 1,849 (5.9%, -4.1%)

With a total of valid votes 31,330 the quota stood at 4,476. As well as the Alliance vote, she might expect to take the lion’s share of the Womens’ Coalition are not standing this time. More recently, the Local Government election figures from last year show the usual consolidation of Alliance at the local level. But also their potential to get a good candidate pretty close to the quota first time out:

SDLP 8,538.5 (26.9%)

DUP 8,057.8 (25.4%)

UUP 6,250.5 (19.7%)

Alliance 4,045.6 (12.8%)

Sinn Fein 3,274.7 (10.3%)

Independents 425.8 (1.3%)

PUP 385.3 (1.2%)

Green 369.0 (1.2%)

Socialist Party (229.3 0.7%)

WP 142.0 (0.4%)

Lo could take votes from right across the piste, but she could also unlock a substantial ethnic minority vote, who traditionally have been reluctant to get involved in a set of political arguments that by and large treat their social and economic interests as something of an afterthought.

On the face of it, this is not (contrary to Seamus McKee’s line of questioning on Good Morning Ulster this morning) a gimmick. It puts considerable (and much unwanted) pressure on the second candidates from the both UUs and the SDLP, each of whom were always going to struggle this time out.

In the case of Esmond Birnie, the DUP were already biting at his heels, and the party’s capacity to manage the vote in this constituency seems virtually non-existent. The direct loser is likely to be the SDLP, although it is less than clear which of Alisdair McDonnell or Carmel Hanna would take the fall.

Alliance may end up chalking this up as a gain. But they will need a few more gifted candidate choices (and a bit of luck), if they are to fight their way out of their own tight spots elsewhere.

  • Valenciano

    “Lo could take votes from right across the piste, but she could also unlock a substantial ethnic minority vote”

    I’m afraid that the idea of hitherto abstentionist ethnic minorities flooding to the ballot box to back Alliance on polling day is pure fantasy. No one at all has stopped to consider the fact that this being Northern Ireland we’re talking about,her ethnic status could be as much of a liability as anything else. With voters consciously or unconsciously being reluctant to transfer to a non-white.

    Furthermore many of the ethnic minorities, if they’re even registered to vote to begin with, are from Eastern Europe which if anything, is even more racist than the UK. Those people are not going to vote for someone purely because they’re not from NI, any more than a British ex-pat living in Spain would vote for a Moroccan on ethnic solidarity grounds.

    So we’re back to the simple conundrum for Alliance as others here have pointed out that the party simply isn’t getting its message across to the people that it needs to reach. Instead similar to the SDLP and UUP it seems infected with a criminal complacency. Pious handwringing about the evils of sectarianism ain’t enough. It’s almost as though they assume that people will vote for it simply because its the ‘nice party’ – something very reminiscent in attitude to the UUP’s disasterous ‘decent people vote UUP’ in 2003 and we all know how that ended.

    The trumpeting of the Coleraine by-election result is a sad symptom of this. The spin is that it was a terrific breakthrough outside the Greater Belfast hinterland but in fact it was in an area where Alliance had THREE councillors as recently as 2001 and now have one.

    The sad thing is that I could still see myself voting Alliance if I ever did return to NI but it would be a very reluctant, almost tactical vote because there’s no one else to vote for. Alliance need to up the ante, come up with bigger and more constructive ideas and more importantly the people to get them across. As it is, they’re a major disappointment.

  • bertie

    “Maskey was only the Lord Mayor because Alliance were there to vote him in”

    Anytime I find myself thinking the the Alliance Party arn’t that bad, I must remind myself of this.

  • bertie

    “What I’d love to see would be a coalition of pragmatists – Alliance, SDLP and UUP co-operating to form a united front against the nutters,”

    Don;t forget the BOGOF deal you get with the UUP, i.e. the UVF thrown in.

  • kensei

    “Neither is Alliance. Rather, the party is trying to suggest that there needs to be a new reality. That is the point here; that the existing way that things are being done isn’t working.”

    Proclaiming a new reality only works if you have a vision of it, an idea of how to get there and support to do it. The Alliance have none.

    Otherwise you are just a know it all stating that everything here is shit.

    “That’s different from NI is it ? I’m wondering what all the violence over the past few decades was all about then ?”

    That was NI 30 years ago, but it’s not where we are today. The challenges and problems are different, and won’t necessarily be solved by legislation. Or indeed, hand wringing.

  • kensei

    “Don’t get me wrong, mixed marriages are always something positive”

    Not especially so above any other marriage. The correct and natural thing for this is utter indifference. And why the hell are you asking, or announcing the fact?

  • IJP


    Quickly – those “THREE” Councillors were elected in 1997.

    As I said before, I’m not talking “historic day in peace process” here, but Alliance winning outside Greater Belfast in a one-off by-election is not totally insignificant, as it is ten years on from the last such win.

    Out of interest, why would your vote be reluctant? What is it about Alliance that would keep you in on a snowy day?

  • IJP


    You’re welcome to your view!


    Again I can’t agree with you.

    The party has asked itself all those questions. The result has indisputably been increased media coverage in the past 18 months – perhaps you’ve missed this while away. I’d still prefer we stuck more closely to our core issues, but things are a lot better than they were.

    However, there is a legitimate further question: how many people like yourself would be willing to sacrifice things to make Alliance work, or (and this would require even more work) to set up a party with similar principles?

    It’s all very well talking about it on Slugger, but with few exceptions the only people I see making such sacrifices are in SF and the DUP.

    I welcome any thoughts from anyone of course. But should you not be asking the question of yourself? If you’re so concerned, come home, take the risk, and try to make the thing work. I’m not asking any more than what I’ve done myself, and there are people who’ve done a lot more than I.

  • IJP


    Again, we have contradictory statements here – some people feel bringing in new people is a sign of weakness, others want a new approach. Which is it?

    And again, who is going to do this, exactly? Are you going to step forward?

    Alliance has changed its language, the youth wing has reinvigorated, new people have become involved. It takes a wee while before these things kick in, but we’ve one seventh more seats than we did when I joined four years ago.

    But I must repeat: why so passive? When I thought Alliance needed a change of strategy and a change of approach (and I still do), I joined the party and made some of it happen. Yes, it takes sacrifice. But that’s what necessary.

    Unfortunately one of NI’s biggest problems is people who stand aside and let everyone else get on with it. Get involved!

  • insider

    The DUP have selected Spratt and Stalford.

  • slug

    IJP are Alliance planning to stick to their ‘other’ designation or might they designate to optimize Assembly voting impact – as per your idea?

  • Otherparties

    “Unfortunately one of NI’s biggest problems is people who stand aside and let everyone else get on with it. Get involved!”

    If I was to get involved it wouldn’t be with a lost cause, especially not a lost cause with people so appalling as David Ford and Eileen Bell at the helm. Lose them, start becoming more relatable and maybe you might have more luck.

  • Crataegus

    Like Valenciano I am on occasion a reluctant Alliance voter. The reluctance is because I do not feel inspired to vote for you. I vote because the other options are worse. I would like to see you improve and evolve into something more dynamic but doubt that it will happen. The old, “we are the good guys in the middle,” just doesn’t cut it anymore. I would prefer it if you were a bit, well nasty, and showed a bit more passion. We should be furious at how the agreement has been manipulated and corrupted. I want passion, conviction, direct action, I want there to be hell to pay.

    The perception I have, rightly or wrongly is of a party that belongs in the late seventies and I feel that it is a party that is slowly aging and dying. It has the whiff of the funeral parlour about it.

    Because I don’t want a career in politics does not mean I don’t have a right to expect something decent (not UUP) to vote for. Also as other parties puts it why get involved with what appears to be a lost cause.

    For me now to even think of getting involved in NI politics would be crazy. Following reasons;
    1 You need younger people, I’m the wrong age group.
    2 I wouldn’t have the patience or the sort of attributes you require. I don’t have a mind for trivia and I like quick decisions and clarity. For me a deal is a deal not the starting point for negotiation. To my way of thinking the political parties in NI are in breach of contract and one should respond accordingly, but no we reward the reprobates. This is perversion.
    3 I spend more time in London than I now do in NI.
    4 I spend increasing amounts of time out East.
    5 There would be a serious potential for conflict of interests. In many ways I make my money trying to predict how changes in legislation impact on the market and also I may be involved in something that the electorate object to. In such circumstances best to insure the conflict doesn’t happen in the first place.
    6 Political involvement is not good for Business. Also as a person who initiates projects and seeks partners I would prefer that my reputation was dependent on me and not on the vagaries of any political party to which I might be associated. It’s a mine field.
    7 I don’t want to be an elected representative.
    In my opinion what I am doing is far more important than any career in politics, what I build will be about for hundreds of years after we all depart this earth. Also in terms of global economics the West could do with an awful lot more people actively creating wealth rather than living off our increased house values, the misery of the younger generation, and endless layers of debt. Our western civilisation is living beyond its means and is losing its relative position. I would say to you, would you not be better spending your time building your business and creating tangible benefit.

    You say come back home, but I don’t particularly see NI as a home any more than anywhere else, but I would like to see the place get out of the hole it is in, just as I would like to see sanity return to the Lebanon.

    Anyway breakfast beckons and a long day ahead.

  • slug


    “what I build will be about for hundreds of years after we all depart this earth”

    I met a traveler from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Crataegus, King of Kings:
    Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

  • Crataegus


    Interesting variation on Shelly. All endeavours return to dust eventually but I wonder which will be first, what I build or the Alliance Party? Crataegus is the hawthorn, May blossom, and Fairy trees. A useful tree for wildlife. I am fond of trees and this one seemed appropriate to NI. Blossom, myth and thorns.

  • slug


    I was just teasing. You seemed unusually arrogant 🙂

    ANYhow who knows the full impact of political work? With a building you can see and touch what you do, with a business you can see the money and the employment you create. In politics the results are less tangible. You can’t know for sure what the world would have been like without you.

    The ideas of some individuals like Margaret Thatcher or on a more local level David Trimble do seem to have had particular and lasting impacts on the course of events but such people and such opportunities for such people, are rare.

    The world of politics is the world of ideas. IJP and others in Alliance, therefore, may hope that Keynes was right when he said that practical men (i.e. people of business like yourself) are in fact more influenced by thinkers and ideas than they realise:

    Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

    — John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) .

  • Crataegus


    The arrogance is probably due to a combination of the shock to my system of heat in December and utter frustration with Alliance. They seem so complacent; they are enough to make anyone’s blood boil for it is they that have presided over the decline of the ‘middle ground’. It is their responsibility. They look for reasons outside themselves for their own failure, why it is all our responsibilities for not joining, it is polorisation, the parades issue, anything but themselves. We look at Skerries but wasn’t the independent (whose votes Alliance borrowed) up there a former member of the Alliance Party? How many other councillors andd supporters have left the party? If their membership is low and falling the question should be why? Is the fault not that people see Alliance as a waste of time. Are they not being judged on their track record? For God’s sake they have had long enough to sort themselves out and more than enough opportunity to make an impact.

    Often I think it would be better if they ceased to be as they are occupying ground that another group may fill more effectively. Their demise may create a space for someone else, but who?

    Alliance just does not command attention. I accept as IJP points out their crowning moments may well be when I am out of the country, but compare Eamonn McCann, with all his faults and strange beliefs, with David Ford. To me there is no comparison.

    In the last Assembly election they were exceedingly lucky, this one they are likely to hold East Antrim and North Down, the rest I wouldn’t put any money on. The next council elections will decimate their base and the following Assembly election (if there is one) may see them go the way of the Woman’s Coalition. How stark does it have to get?

    With regards ideas business types are often quicker on the uptake of ideas than are politicians. Often it is the politicians that are the slow learners. In business you have to be fairly flexible and have a feel for markets, changes, opportunities and reality. If you are not you soon cease to exist. In politics death can be a lot slower. Also in the end money is power and do you not think that business exerts considerable power and influences the thinking of government? The relationship isn’t linear.

    How many ideas are coming out of politics in NI? Unfortunately the lessons to learn are about how humanity can inflict misery on itself. About how difficult it is to get out of a hole once you set up a system that abuses and treats unfairly, how reality is warped by perception and the past, how pure hatred and fear festers and warps attitudes. It’s a sad insight into the weaknesses of humanity. It just doesn’t need to be the way it is, the problems are not due to climate or poverty, or factors outside our control, they are entirely of our own making and persist entirely because of mistrust and a lack of willingness to honestly and fairly address the issues. We play stupid games and score petty points over trivia and all the time the world moves on and opportunities are lost. Indeed the self interest of the political elite is put ahead of the common interest of the population. The politicians in NI are a collective liability not an asset. If it were a business they would be among the first to go.

    As I have said many times before I can turn around projects in the East within the period likely to be necessary to get Planning approval in NI. Many parts of the administration are simply ceasing to function efficiently and have roles that perhaps need trimmed. The place is inefficiently run, is uncompetitive and is nothing but a liability to Britain. If Ireland were united it would also be a liability to there because there is not the willingness to make a go of it either way.