The power of numbers 4: Battleground Upper Down

What do the runes of the 2005 election results say about Lagan Valley, North Down and Strangford?In Lagan Valley the Westminster results say 4 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 Alliance while the local government results have it as 3 DUP, 2 UUP and 1 SF. So both Unionist parties will be targetting the constituency. The loss of Lewsley and Close will act as encouragement to Sinn Fein while the loss of Close will encourage the UUP. 3 DUP and 1 UUP seats are safe but it will be a four way battle for the last two with vote management crucial. In that context the decision to run three UUP candidates seems unwise and the DUP will have to overcome the pull of Donaldson’s name.

As always North Down is probably the most unpredictable constituency. The Westminster result is problematic as an indicator as Hermon brought together an anti-DUP coalition of voters but it predicts 3 UUP, 2 DUP and 1 Alliance. However, the local government results do not make the picture easier to determine. 2 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 Alliance seem to be safe and the UUP seem to have a good shout for a second. The pressure on a reluctant Hermon to run is to ensure the 2nd UUP seat with the UUP optimists hoping for a 3rd. However, in the local government results parties and candidates not belonging to the main five parties attracted almost 2 full quotas. A rejuvenated Bob McCartney will be ready for a fight to keep his seat to remain a thorn in the DUP’s side and he seems to have a firm physical vote of about 3,000. As regards the other small parties and independents the failure to transfer among themselves usually ensures the main five still come out on top. An interesting note is that as this is the Greens best opportunity, they should focus all their resources there and try to take advantage of a new Alliance candidate.

With both indicators problematic I will stick my neck out with the prediction of no change. However, it is probably worthy a punt at the bookies as the longest count in Northern Ireland.

In Strangford the Westminster result predicts 4 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 Alliance. However, local government has the UUP holding its ground with the status quo of 3 DUP, 2 UUP and 1 Alliance. The UUP’s cause will be helped if the two incumbents remain in the race, Kilclooney (aka Taylor) and McNarry, the loss of either will spur on the DUP. The SDLP will be targetting the Alliance seat but both indicators give Alliance the edge. Last time this constituency was one of the poster boys for DUP vote management both in terms of 1st preference votes and transfers with will all three elected in two counts this time they need to try to do it for four candidates.

  • Cahal

    My prediction is that 6 Irish people will get elected to an irrelevant body that has no power and our lives will continue to be controlled by English MPs in an English dominated parliament.

  • D’Oracle

    If you get more more votes than the other guys, you get more seats, perhapz?

  • BonarLaw



    Six people who are either British or Irish (but I suspect in N.Down all Brits) will get elected to a devolved assembly subject to control by a South African who sits for a Welsh constituency.

    Try to keep up.

  • Smithsonian

    Purile nonsense. Fiction dressed up as fact. It is as if decommissioning didn’t happen, St. Andrews didn’t happen, Never,Never,Never did happen, over our dead bodies didn’t happen.

    The DUP were handed the opportunity at the last election and guess what? Did nothing with it. Exactly the same outcome as Trimble.

  • betterireland

    Despite the Lewsley resignation, SDLP stand to hold seat by pulling ahead of SF on transfers. The retirement of close will also boost the 1st preference vote

  • Crow

    The SDLP missed out by only 300 votes in Strangford last time. They were also dealing with a selection row where their previous candidate ran as an independent. If that’s cleared up then they are in with a good chance.

  • Crataegus

    Who is the Green candidate in North down. Where else are they standing, does anyone know?

  • Quaysider

    As I recall, Mick, ‘Upper Down’ was actually a constituency in the Portadown News, consisting of the top floors of all the houses in Banbridge, which discriminated against unionists because they all live in bungalows.

  • Observer

    Lagan Valley will be interesting.

    I think the UUP will be fighting to retain 2 seats.

    Donaldson has taken alot of people with him and people didn’t warm to Basil McCrea in 2005; however he has a profile now. McCrea would have been hopeful that Bell would had stood down allowing him a clear run, but Bell is standing again so it will be interesting where the votes go. I suspect that there will be alot of former UUP Donaldson voters annoyed with his defection and may cast their vote for the UUP after 3 years of UUP non-existance in the constituency.

    However I think it is likely that the DUP will get 3 seats. That leaves 3 up for grabs with the UUP with a fighting chance of taking two – albeit with the retirement of Seamus Close. The last seat is a fight between Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein.

    The SDLP stand a chance of retaining and indeed building on their vote in Lagan Valley with the right candidate who I would suggest is Dunmurry-Cross Cllr Brian Heading. Sinn Fein are relying on someone who isn’t known.

  • Jane Smith

    I agree with BetterIreland.
    The Sdlp could swing it, just,if donaldson hogs the vote.
    The Ulster Unionist will concentrate on Mc Crea to up his profile 2009/ 2010 Westminister election. But the rest their election team leaves a lot to desired. Could they lose a second seat leaving them with one and opening the room for the SDLP and Alliance?

  • Stooper

    There is very little attention given to the nationalist parties in the above summary. For example the SDLP has a big chance to gain a seat in Strangford and buck the general trend of growing smaller by gaining a new seat and in a constituency that has never returned a nationalist at either assembly or westminster level.

    To me, thats the story here.

  • fair_deal


    “To me, thats the story here. ”

    That may be the story you wish but that is not the story the numbers tell (althought the numbers can be beaten). The numbers say the SDLP should target the seat but they also say Alliance will win.

    Also in 2005 Westminster and Local Government elections Alliance has improved its position since the 2003 Assembly elections in physical and percentage terms. Also noteworthy is that in the 2001 Westminster vote the SDLP were only 250 votes behind but in 2005 they were 830 votes behind. The SDLP also seem to have a problem in increasing their physical vote stuck in the 2500-2750 range.

    In such a Unionist dominated constituency Alliance is a much more attractive transfer prospect. While the SDLP is hampered in getting a nationalist seat by SF’s intervention. The lack of a SF candidate would be grounds to make Alliance very nervous.

    The SDLP may also be suffering from ‘hype’ backlash. If a party makes a big show that it can take a seat but misses the electorate are less motivated the next time around.

  • Sammy Morse

    Worth noting that the local government estimates in Lagan Valley will be overstating the nationalist vote generally and the SF vote in particular, because they assume an even split of votes between the West Belfast and Lagan Valley when we all know that is far from the case.

    On the other hand Paul Butler polled comfortably ahead of Patricia Lewsley here in the Westminster Election. While Lewsley pulled narrowly ahead in the 2003 Assembly election by being more attractive for lose transfers, it was a close run thing and if the Westminster figures prefigure what happens this year Patricia is toast. This is a constituency where I would expect SDLP transfers to favour Alliance where Butler probably needs them to favour him quite heavily. I don’t see where Sinn Fein can win a seat here.

    As far as Alliance goes they will lose some of Close’s personal vote but Trevor Lunn has also been around for a while, and it’s worth noting that almost a third of Ivan Davis’ transfers went to Close last time. Any wavering Alliance voters who plumped for Davis to stick the finger up to Jeffrey last time are likely to come back this time.

    On paper, the DUP have a shot at four seats but I doubt they will be able to balance Jeffrey out and his surplus is likely to be fairly leaky. The Westminster results would indicate the DUP have a real shot at four seats but the local government results have the Ulster Unionists so close to a second quota that they’re home in a boat. It’s still not impossible for the DUP to take four but I’d put this as being a worse prospect than North Antrim or Strangford but a better bet than East Antrim for them.

    In Strangford, Alliance seem to be recovering and the 2003 Assembly election now seems an odd case where the combined Nationalist vote was significantly ahead of the Alliance vote. McCarthy also has name recognition and long, long, incumbency in his favour. The SDLP must target it but Alliance have the odds in their favour. The big question here is whether the DUP can take four – in my view, this constituency is their best bet for it, especially as they’ve shown they can manage their vote here; or whether a UUP in free fall can hold on to two seats on only a little over 1.5 quotas. What happens to Nationalist transfers well down the ticket could make or break this one.

  • Stooper

    The southern tip of the peninsula is fairly nationalist, the votes are there for a nationalist MLA.

    Also you should take into account that with a higher profile (than usual) tory candidate running, Alliance may lose votes and the middle ground will be split perhaps allowing the SDLP to sneak up the middle and take the seat.

    It would be interesting to have a look at the voter registration levels around the constituency of Strangford. That could also tell a story of whose voters will be likely to turn out on the day.

  • DK

    One factor in this well-heeled area is property prices. According to UTV “The average house price in Northern Ireland is for the first time ever higher than the rest of the UK”

    There could be mileage in policies that address some actual bread-and-butter issues here, such as rates. Can’t see the greens making much progress in this area.

  • Truth and Justice

    North Down will not see much change still 2 UUP seats and 2 DUP seats one Alliance and a fight for McCartney and the Greens for the last McCartney just sneaking it.

  • Chris Donnelly


    Enjoying this series of threads, but for the sake of geographical accuracy, any chance in amending the title- Glenavy’s quite a distance from county Down!

    On the substantive matter, I’d go along with your assessment of Strangford and North Down.

    In Lagan Valley, the SDLP candidate is a gonner, even at this stage. The party’s former MLA, Patricia Lewsley, knew she was in trouble the moment the Westminster election result revealed her to be running 600 votes behind Sinn Fein in this constituency.

    Whilst that may appear a relatively small number, in the battle for votes between the nationalist parties here, that represented a considerable shift, consistent with the trend since 2001 in the constituency.

    Her departure has left the party in a shambles in the area, forced to pick between two unknown candidates- both intelligent and affable no doubt, but with hardly the time to establish a reputation before an election in less than 12 weeks.

    Speculation that the SDLP may benefit from transfers ignores the fact that all unionist parties will be urging their voters to transfer primarily to their own party candidates in the first instance and then other unionists. The SDLP candidate should be long gone by the time lower preferences kick into play.

    I expect the DUP to go all out for four seats, but ultimately to no avail. Alliance candidate, Trevor Lunn, will hold Close’s share of the vote and pick up transfers all over the place, and McCrea will fight hard to bring in one of the two additional UUP candidates.

    But I expect the DUP to take three, with Alliance, UUP and Sinn Fein taking the remaining three seats.

    There has been speculation that Sinn Fein may outpoll the SDLP but fail to garner sufficient transfers to get elected; I’d have to say the departure of Lewsley will only benefit republicans in making the case that only Sinn Fein can win a seat for nationalists in this constituency, and therefore transfers from the SDLP should follow.

    It’s a strategy the DUP will doubtlessly employ in West Belfast and Newry/ Armagh as well.

  • Sammy Morse

    The southern tip of the peninsula is fairly nationalist, the votes are there for a nationalist MLA.

    Except that time and time again Kieran McCarthy gets a big vote from Portaferry, Kircubbin and surrounds. It is his home patch after all and he only has been a councillor there since about the time of the Famine. And it always has been a very liberal-minded part of the world to boot.

    I hope we’re not still living in the days when the SDLP’s campaign strategy in mainly Protestant areas was to get hold of a copy of the Parish register and assume that all Catholics “should” vote for an SDLP candidate out of tribal loyalty? Policies, personalities and effective representation be damned?

    Also you should take into account that with a higher profile (than usual) tory candidate running, Alliance may lose votes and the middle ground will be split perhaps allowing the SDLP to sneak up the middle and take the seat.

    Tory transfer patterns since they started contesting elections here indicate they take votes from the UUP overwhelmingly and Alliance only to a small degree. A genuinely high profile SDLP candidate would be far more of a threat to Alliance (except there isn’t one). In any case, let’s say the Tories take a few hundred votes of Alliance? Unless they somehow outpoll them – and you’re not seriously suggesting that, I take it – those votes will come back at full value a few counts later when the Tory is eliminated.

    Of course the SDLP have to target the seat, I would in their position too, but the odds are clearly in Alliance’s favour here.

  • Sammy Morse

    There has been speculation that Sinn Fein may outpoll the SDLP but fail to garner sufficient transfers to get elected; I’d have to say the departure of Lewsley will only benefit republicans in making the case that only Sinn Fein can win a seat for nationalists in this constituency, and therefore transfers from the SDLP should follow.

    I have to respectfully disagree here, Chris. I just don’t see how Sinn Fein can win a seat in Lagan Valley.

    I take it we’re both working from the assumption that the order of three parties in discussion here will be Alliance, SF, SDLP in terms of first preferences, and all will be short of a first-stage quota; I’d say something like All 10%, SF 8%, SDLP 6%, although in a volatile political situation I’m obviously sticking my neck out.

    Although I agree Trevor will be good at picking up loose transfers, especially as sitting Mayor of Lisburn, I can’t see him being over a quota at the point the SDLP go out (although I hope and pray I am wrong!). With both Alliance and SF still in the hunt for votes, the overwhelming majority of SDLP voters will transfer somehwere.

    While Sinn Fein now take a clear majority of SDLP 2nd preferences across NI Alliance still seem to take a majority of SDLP transfers in Greater Belfast, especially in middle-class areas of Greater Belfast. Were this not the case we’d now be takling about Cllrs. Stiofan Long and Deborah Devenny and Sinn Fein would be the largest party in Belfast City Hall.

    OK, so at that point the SDLP sacrifical lamb goes out and probably transfers 2:1 in Alliance’s favour leaving the figures something like Alliance 14% (and probably within a few hundred votes of the quota) and SF 10%. At that point SF, UUP2 and DUP4 are in the hunt for the final seat with only a clatter of Unionists to gain transfers from. I can’t see Paul Butler winning in any circumstances.

    Paul might be able to boost his vote by, as you say, making the appeal that he is the only nationalist who can win a seat but he’ll be taking those votes from people who were going to give him a second preference anyway. And there are a lot of SDLP voters in Lisburn, Dunmurry and Glenavy who would never give a vote to Sinn Fein at any preference under any circumstances.

    Your scenario depends on Trevor Lunn doing better than most people expect and an awful lot people voting SDLP 1, Alliance 2, Sinn Fein 3. Can’t see it myself. Of course if there are a huge number of UUP or DUP only plumpers he might sneak in well sub-quota but I just don’t see it.