The power of numbers 2: Battleground Belfast

The 2005 Westminster and Local Government results indicate a fight in each of Belfast’s constituency’s with some prominent names under threat.In North Belfast the fight will be on the Unionist side. The Westminster figures have the DUP gaining 3 seats but Local Government figures have the UUP’s Fred Cobain holding on. The factors that will determine it will be the DUP’s vote management, where the 1000-1200 PUP votes go (or if they run) and can the UUP muster a strong constituency campaign. The nationalist split will stay the same, 2 SF and 1 SDLP. With such clear margins between the SDLP and SF, it would be highly unlikely that if an anti-agreement republican candidate ran that it would impact upon this.

In 2005, West Belfast was a story of continuing SF and DUP growth and decline of the SDLP. The Westminster figures have the DUP losing out but Local Government has them holding the seat. The pull of the Adams name and trying to get a five way split is a difficult as vote management can get. The UUP’s announcement that they will fight all 18 constituencies will help the DUP’s cause of holding the seat. The UUP is no threat to their dominant position and should get out a few hundred core UUP voters who would have stayed at home. Also there has been Unionist underpolling in the constituency so the DUP have will have to ensure voter mobilisation. IF the SDLP decline continues in West then it could be the SDLP seat under threat. With such tight margins, the intervention of an anti-agreement republican candidate would likely have an effect.

In South Belfast, the big battle will be between Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey and Alliance’s Anna Lo. The Westminster result points to a SF win but Local Government result to a Alliance gain. The 2001 results had the same divided opinion on SF and Alliance’s prospects but a year as Lord Mayor and a strong consituency campaign delivered the seat for Maskey. The Alliance vote is concentrated at either end of the constituency and they have struggled to find a candidate that can appeal to both pockets so choosing a fresh face and non councillor was a sensible move. The two SDLP seats are safe. The unknown is will McDonnell run and how will that effect the split of the nationalist vote? On the Unionist side, both indicators have the UUP losing a seat to the DUP, based on past results the weaker of the two sitting UUP MLAs is the cerebal Esmond Birnie. The curious decision to run three UUP candidates when they have less than two quotas will not assist the UUP’s cause of holding onto the second seat.

In East Belfast, it looks like the PUP’s David Ervine is facing a difficult fight with both the Westminster and Local Government results pointing to a DUP gain at the PUP’s expense. However, Ervine has always been able to attract a vote beyond the PUP’s and DUP vote mismanagement worked in his favour in 2003. Therefore, the DUP will have to manage its vote properly to ensure the gain. An interesting note is that former DUP Councillor Harry Toan has attended anti-St Andrews meetings, will he emerge as an anti-agreement candidate? The UUP and Alliance seats appear safe.

IMPORTANT NOTES: Seats were assigned to parties strictly on the basis of who was closest to a quota. No assignment was made on the basis of possible/likely transfers nor has any projection of existing trends been extrapolated (ie DUP vote grew X% between 2003 and 2005 but if that continues their likely vote be). Westminster results tend to show a party’s maximum potential vote in a constituency while Local Government shows the core vote. When the two agree it seems the highly likely result and were they disagree it highlights were a party should target a constituency for extra effort. In individual constituencies the perceived geographcal base and number of candidates a party chooses and the vote management system adopted can have an effect on the final result. Examples of how this can impact are – the choice of two Ballymena UUP candidates in North contributed to their loss of a seat, vote mismanagement in West and East Belfast cost SF and the DUP a seat respectively. It is possible to confound both indicators as David Ford did in South Antrim in 2003.