Dromore by-election – A well-placed kick (Part 1)

A brave face will be put on in public. Various weak mitigating factors offered to try and reduce the bad look of the result. However in private, DUP members have to accept it was an well-placed electoral kick in the minerals.
The key facts of the result are simple. The DUP lost 2 in 5 of their voters. This 40% did not sit at home. It transferred en masse to a new party, Traditional Unionist Voice. This is too large a drop to be blamed on turnout or the candidate. The campaign was high profile and large, so the lack of a campaign is no excuse either. So what went wrong?
The particular circumstances of the Dromore by-election
1. An unnecessary election – There was no need for this election. A simple co-option could have dealt with the matter. This was a self-generated problem and with the bad result, a self-inflicted wound.
2. The Town Hall symbols – The pre-emptive decision to move the symbols did not need to be taken (both in principle and timing). The DUP did not take the decision alone but TUV were free from any taint of the decision.
3. A bad news month – There was sustained bad news for the DUP on bigger issues. There were multiple Paisley Jnr revelations. This was interspersed with the Victims Commission shambles swiftly followed by the ‘volunteer’ row. The town hall row also got plenty of coverage on top.
4. The TUV chose a very good candidate. A young intelligent personable professional who did not fit any of the stereotypes of a typical TUV supporter. He was not going to tie up swings on a Sunday, foam at the mouth or act like a perennial protestor.
The Jim Allister/TUV Challenge
The TUV and Jim Allister challenge has not been well managed by the DUP.
1. Heart v Head – Jim Allister’s attacks are essentially an appeal to Unionism’s heart. The DUP’s broad response is an argument of the head. If responses are inappropriately handled (too hard-headed) it gives the impression of being unsympathetic and detached from concerns.
2. Replying to everything – The DUP seemed to respond to everything Jim Allister said. They added to his media profile. Too often there was a JA attack, a DUP response then a JA response to the DUP reply – a triplication of coverage.
3. Odd issues – One issue of particular focus in the Allister/DUP exchanges has been the D’hondt system. This is not a ‘Joe’ voter issue and not the best issue for Allister to pick a fight over. However, it was even odder that the DUP chose to get in a fight over it. The DUP’s official position is that it dislikes the D’hondt system. Why get involved in defending it? As for the more recent FoI line of attack I am left completely mystified how it is believed this has any serious traction?
4. There is no alternative – I do not dispute that TUV does not have a developed alternative. However, the DUP adoption of this line made it look and sound like the Trimblites. Hardly an impression the DUP would want to encourage.
What should have been the response? The approach to JA and TUV should have been one of understanding rather than all-out assault, a tactical disagreement not a fight on principles. When D’hondt was attacked, agree with him in its problems and remind people that this is one of the outstanding issues the party wants to address in future. When he raises the Paul Quinn murder agree with him that it is an issue of serious concern etc etc. St Andrews was not a complete piece of work and the DUP should not behave or talk as if it is. Such things have been said by DUP spokespersons but they are the minority. Attack, dismissal and nit-picking were the more common approach.
It’s a one off
This is just one by-election. Take a chill pill fair deal. You are reading too much into this. Don’t over-think it. However, this result is not the first sign of problems.
1. In the St Andrews consultation it became clear that the DUP had not done enough to prepare its grassroots. The ‘12 apostles’ showed uneasiness about St Andrews also existed at a senior level.
2. The Assembly 07 election was an alright result for the DUP. It did see a growth in its MLAs but at the low end of expectation levels.
3. In the Assembly 07 election it could be argued that the DUP lost about 3% (or 1 in 10 voters). Nothing too serious in the context of what was going on. However, Unionist turnout was not good. Despite a serious attempt at creating the bogeyman of a Sinn Fein First Minister, the enticement of a chance to tackle a series of dodgy direct rule initiatives and a restoration of devolution Unionists were not flocking to the polls. Also those who sat at home for the Assembly election may explain the large jump from 1 in 10 voters unhappy across Northern Ireland to 2 in 5 unhappy voters in Dromore. Did they adopt a wait and see approach?
However, the establishment of devolution distracted the party from these issues (and others). The Assembly vote level was considered ‘in the bag’ and in time the 1 in 10 could be attracted back. Dromore challenges both those assumptions.

Part II the deeper issues and suggestions on DUP responses

  • austin

    Alternatively a more concise explanation may be that a significant swathe of bigots are now voting for the latest party (TUV) that they feel best represents their view that ‘they don’t want a catholic about the place’?

  • Flaminglip

    Unionism’s pointlessly shooting itself in the foot. It will gain nothing and could split the Unionist vote. Silly.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Alternatively a more concise explanation may be that a significant swathe of bigots are now voting for the latest party (TUV) that they feel best represents their view that ‘they don’t want a catholic about the place’? ‘

    Indeed that’s the bad news .

    The good news is that they got only 740 votes a minority of all the unionist votes . And the seat was retained by the UUP by just 70 votes over the DUP with just a 40% turnout .

    Had the TUV won the seat they would have reason to crow . Truth is they saved the UUP seat for the UUP

    Finally it was a by election .

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fair_deal,

    In my opinion the result today is actually an endorsement of the DUP position and a setback for Jim Allister. The election has consolidated pro-agreement support and exposed Allister as a bit-player. Whereas, without a poll of some kind, Allister might have been able to claim that the majority of unionists are against the deal, now he cannot.

  • fair_deal

    CS

    Perfectly true TUV cannot claim to be a majority voice. However, TUV can claim that opposition to StA was 3% in the Assembly election now its 20% in Dromore, they can argue their position is growing in popularity.

    I think the result could also have the UUP toying with the opposition/coming from the right strategy again.

  • LURIG

    So how do TUV intend to take us forward? Do they think that by ignoring 45% of the population there will be a return to the good old days of apartheid majority rule? It isn’t going to happen so they better wake up and realise that not only are they history but that the island of Ireland is closer to political and economic unity than it ever was. It is the proverbial unstoppable avalanche. Jim Allister and the other dinosaurs would be better polishing up on their Irish as they are going to need it in the very near future.

  • Greenflag

    ‘However, TUV can claim that opposition to StA was 3% in the Assembly election now its 20% in Dromore,’

    No they can’t . 20% of a 40% turnout is 8% of voters . 92% still favour the status quo however messy.

  • flaminglip

    It is the proverbial unstoppable avalanche. Jim Allister and the other dinosaurs would be better polishing up on their Irish as they are going to need it in the very near future.

    Aye, I’m a Nationalist, but well done on basically negating your entire point. You become as tribalist as someone like Allister with silly comments like that. Furthermore, it just gives creedence to some Unionist’s belief that the Irish language is a political thing.

  • LURIG

    Flaminglip

    I was trying to be ironic or did you miss that? I wasn’t using Irish as a political tool. My point is that Jim Allister and TUV are trying to drag us back to an age that is long gone. He appeals to about 5% of unionists and even if TUV get a bigger mandate what are they going to do with it. The two governments have made it clear that they are going to deal with this place in a united front so anyone thinking they can plant the proverbial incendiary is sadly mistaken. Likewise the republican dissidents need to wise up and grasp reality. There is so much bitterness here and many people are still very hurt BUT is this to be used as a veto for evermore? I hate the antisocial scumbags causing havoc and crime on our streets but I would rather deal with this than burying people because of their religion. As an aside I think that more and more unionists are very comfortable with the economic unity of Ireland. OK politically that’s another matter but go South and you see many young Protestants making their careers there. It’s a nonsense for anyone to say otherwise.

  • lib2016

    The lack of interest is the main lesson – nobody cared, there’ll be no significant walkouts or splits, and the DUP is steadily growing in influence and will be the voice of unionism for the foreseeable future.

    There will be a dissident wing who will never welcome change but they have no viable alternative and they certainly haven’t the stones to organise a traditional unionist protest, whatever they call themselves. Resistance takes committment, organisation and control of the street.

    The UUP are history. Hard to know what to say about people who have so completely lost the plot but however hopeless it looks there must be a possibility of a miracle, though probably not from Lourdes.

  • I’m also amazed at the way in which the DUP has got into bun fights with Allister, especially the tit for tat letters in the News Letter. It only draws attention to the fact that their spokespersons are vin ordinaire in comparison.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Perfectly true TUV cannot claim to be a majority voice. However, TUV can claim that opposition to StA was 3% in the Assembly election now its 20% in Dromore, they can argue their position is growing in popularity.

    Fair deal, that’s a tenuous claim at best, given that we are talking about a bye-election with a low turnout and given that Dromore isn’t reflective of the country in any way.

  • darth rumsfeld

    Truly it was such a joy to see Minister Plug Poots on Hearts and Minds last night trying to defend the indefensible with all the vigour and brogadaccio of a soggy blancmange. I think even Jim Allister started to feel a bit sorry for him by the end.

    Yes, Plug trots out the “what’s your alternative?” line- but as we all know, Jim doesn’t have to provide one. The duty of opposition is to oppose,full stop. As Plug was to the fore in doing against the hapless Trimblies, so now he’s the sacrificial sheep bleating about how good devolution is for us. And the fearsome forensic cross-examination of Jams H Allister QC in the criminal courts will be infinitely more impressive against floundering overpromoted fools who can’t even speak proper English.

    Yes, it was bad politics for the DUP to answer everything JHA said, including his Chinese takeaway order, but the trouble is that’s the only politics these one trick ponies understand. Now they’re the establishment but they are still the outsiders, with a chip on each shoulder, in their own minds. Trouble is, the UUP proper establishment types would never take on the sub-hysterical rantings of the DUP. Allister is the practitioner sans pareil of this politics, and he’ll eat them alive- hence Juniorgate for example.

    Deplore it if you will,but there’s clearly a market for negative politics the world over, and Allister has tapped into it, and I suspect it will only grow as we see that outside Dodds and Robinson the DUP is just as talentless and greedy as the UUP when it was top dog

    Perhaps as Minister of Culture Edwin would also remember that the past tense of verbs are “have gone” and “have seen” , not – as he chuntered feebly last night “have went” and “have saw”. It’s pedantic I know, but since he’s supposed to know about culture it would help it he didn’t display his ignorance so frequently.

  • Bigger Picture

    Hi Fair Deal

    I agree with everything you have said above. It shows a lack of political thought on behalf of the DUP to handle JA in the way they have so far done. How much of this do you think is merely a protest vote?? If the lib dems based their electoral targets on their by-election results they would have well over 100 seats, therefore i wonder how much this vote is simply is simply a disproval of Paisley Snr and Jnr??

  • Chuckle Vision

    Glad you enjoyed Hearts and Minds, Darth. There could be more entertainment to come as Poots seemed to be hinting that he might be the DUP candidate in the European Election. Based on the by-election his Assembly seat may be a little shaky. Last time round I think he was elected on the ninth count.Of course his profile is higher now – for better or for worse.

  • Flaminglip

    “Flaminglip
    As an aside I think that more and more unionists are very comfortable with the economic unity of Ireland. OK politically that’s another matter but go South and you see many young Protestants making their careers there. It’s a nonsense for anyone to say otherwise.”

    Yeah, more people in the local “Protestant school” last year went to Universities in the Republic than in the school I went to…especially when you consider that my year group was larger. I don’t think the average person my age, really gives a crap about the political divide.

  • Maybe because the political divide isn’t what it once was? With devolution and a sitting assembly I’ve started to see tribal politics begin to die and normal politics come to the fore. SF have given up all their socialist principals and drift slowly to the right, SDLP have also seen the winds of change and signed up as Fianna Fail NI, British Labour are apparently making threats to stand in NI if the SDLP leaves the Labour fold, while my own Alliance Party becomes more solidly established as a centralist party.

    Times are changing here, politics is becoming normal, but unfortunately our current generation will have the hardest time living in it.

  • darth rumsfeld

    Yes CV, I’ve heard Poots is the DUP choice for Strasbourg on the basis that he’s never going to Westminster and it’ll allow a freshening of the ministerial team-possibly to give wee Jeffrey a portfolio if they can’t get him Justice.

    If true, roll on the debate with Allister, who at least knows where Europe is, and is our most effective MEP.

    BP
    You may well be right, but the DUP drove to power on the back of a protest vote, and NI is the world capital of begrudgery. Not perhaps the most noble foundation, but more secure than the Lib Dems

  • darth rumsfeld

    ..Oh, and let’s deconstruct Poots’ attempts at analysis last night

    In paraphrase he repeats “We’re in government because otherwise the evil Brits(!) would impose
    -abortion
    – seven regional councils
    – direct rule
    – the Irish language Act”

    As Allister rightly pointed out,it’s a bit rich to scaremonger about 3 green local councils when your alternative is one regional authority with SF at its heart.

    Abortion can still be imposed by Westminster, but it would be extremely unlikely to do so faced with widespread cross-community opposition

    Direct Rule isn’t always bad- it’s just the personalities in Stormont who can make it unpalatable, but there’s only one Peter Hain, thank goodness. And is he really worse than Martin McGuinness? Permatan or armalite- I know which I’d prefer!

    The Irish language is going to have to be accommodated in some way, and for the minister responsible for doing so to use it as a scare tactic renders him unfit for his office.

    Edwin’s argument is simply a rehash of the old Danegeld argument- the great scare that if we don’t do what our colonial masters tell us to, we’ll get worse treatment- the unspecified plan B. Paisley has used this ( though less in recent times as he becomes drunk on self-importance and the trappings of power) since St Andrews. If Unionism is really as weak as this theory posits, it isn’t worth defending

  • Bigger Picture

    Darth, i am aware that this is what the dup built its vote up on over the years. What worries me is that the dup are now starting to use trimble speak to justify it’s position. Surely having come up the route the TUV are now on the DUP would surely know the best way to deal with it. a bye-election is a gud chance to implement whatever is necessary, and that stops at nothing!! at the end of the day the only reason i didnt join the TUV was for the pitfalls that i knew they would face. why do the likes of myself and fair deal see this but paisley doesnt??

  • ABC

    Its so good of Chuckle Vision to come on and defend her husband…….

  • Darth, I remember Plug at a Drumcree rally some years ago and referring to our King Billy as “Sir William” until he corrected himself.

  • Chuckle Vision

    Nice try, ABC. Have another guess.

  • Diluted Orange

    [i]Unionism’s pointlessly shooting itself in the foot. It will gain nothing and could split the Unionist vote. Silly.

    Posted by Flaminglip on Feb 14, 2008 @ 09:58 PM[/i]

    You may see it that way (and me too for that matter) but from Jim Allister’s perspective it is far from pointless.

    The TUV obviously don’t want the current set-up in Stormont to continue. How best could they go about dismantling those structures?

    If, say, in the next Assembly elections, we have a Unionist vote split along the lines of the Dromore council election then I’m afraid the game is up. I’m not speaking for myself here but I believe that the majority of Unionists will just about palatte Martin McGuiness as Deputy First Minister, only just mind you. However, ‘First Minister Martin’ will be bring a completely different connotation to events.

    In terms of the long term aims of Unionism the TUV is a self-defeating step backwards

  • fair_deal

    Bigger picture

    “How much of this do you think is merely a protest vote??”

    I tend not to think in such terms if you treat a vote change as simply transitory event then you don’t do enough to get it back. People voted for somebody else, how do you get that lost voter back? Simple as that

    As i said this goes deeper than simply the Paisley’s

    CS

    “that’s a tenuous claim at best, ”

    Party political spin usually is pretty tenuous.

    Spin is not an

  • Flaminglip

    “If, say, in the next Assembly elections, we have a Unionist vote split along the lines of the Dromore council election then I’m afraid the game is up. I’m not speaking for myself here but I believe that the majority of Unionists will just about palatte Martin McGuiness as Deputy First Minister, only just mind you. However, ‘First Minister Martin’ will be bring a completely different connotation to events.”

    And then what, the DUP withdraw from government, causing the whole thing to collapse because they don’t like a democratic result? Speaking as a moderate nationalist, at the moment I’m close to neutral, but if the whole thing falls to pieces, it would be hard not to support the view that NI is a failed state. I’m not sure where the annoyance lies, is it with the Army Council and Paul Quinn sitations, or is it, as I fear it might be, a basic hatred of Sinn Fein? I don’t like Sinn Fein, but what can you do? It’s pretty depressing from my perspective as a young person that the best thing for Northern Ireland (not Unionism. not Nationalism, but the country generally) happens pretty much in it’s entire history and some people can’t stomach it. It has it’s faults, duh, but some people are so afraid of change. Paisley’s been pretty much public enemy number one for Nationalists, but we’ve got over it.

  • PaddyReilly

    And then what, the DUP withdraw from government, causing the whole thing to collapse because they don’t like a democratic result?

    Well I think you should consider what the results of the next Assembly election are going to be like. Assuming that it is held 5 years from the last one, and that the TUV vote holds up, we would expect that SF and SDLP would have a couple more MLAs each, that the TUV would have up to 10 MLAs and the DUP would fall from 36 to 22, leaving it little larger than the UUP. The balance of power would be held by Alliance or the Greens.

    As such the whole compulsory power sharing thing would be unnecessary, as power sharing parties would be in a large majority. I should think that a majority vote to abolish it would be accepted.

    Whether the DUP and TUV would be able to think of another way to thwart majority rule I do not know.

  • Elvis Parker

    ‘we would expect that SF and SDLP would have a couple more MLAs each,’

    Dont tell me based on the rising Catholic population?

    1. There is no longer a rising Catholic pop.
    2. Not all Catholic are nationalists anyone
    3. It is entirely feasible that SF will have difficulty maintaining their vote as they manage partition
    4. Nationalist vote might spilt with FF and Labour (Irish and British?) entering the picture
    and – last but certainty not least apparently the re-drawing of the boundaries may actually cost nationalists a few seats

  • PaddyReilly

    Dont tell me based on the rising Catholic population?

    I would say it was based more on the steady increase in the Nationalist vote. You may have noticed (or possibly not) that the number of Nationalist Westminster MPs has in the last 30 years, increased from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 to 6 to 7 to 8. The next number in this series is in my opinion 9, though you are welcome to imagine that it’s 5 or something.

    But if you wish to see this in terms of religion, it is more linked to the falling Protestant population. For example, in 2001 there were 9082 Catholics aged 80-84 and 21,025 Protestants. Assuming that these are just the sort of people liable to be dying off in the period 2007-2012, this will have diminished the Protestant electorate by nearly 12,000, even assuming (wrongly in my opinion) zero growth of the Catholic electorate through birth or immigration. See http://holdingpage.nics.gov.uk/

    Not all Catholic are nationalists anyone (sic)

    Not all Protestants are Unionists. It balances itself out.

    Nationalist vote might spilt with FF and Labour (Irish and British?) entering the picture

    Might is the operative word. We have STV in Assembly elections. FF is considering merging with the SDLP, not going into competition with it. Labour will gain no more votes than Conservative, and those from Unionists as well as Nationalists. We already have Socialist candidates.

    It is entirely feasible that SF will have difficulty maintaining their vote as they manage partition

    No sign of it. As long as the Unionist electorate keeps squealing the Republican one knows it’s winning. But as above, we have STV. The emergence of a party that is more Republican than SF will not effect the overall Nationist vote.

    the re-drawing of the boundaries may actually cost nationalists a few seats

    If it loses them one in Lagan Valley they will gain in South Antrim. It will certainly give them an extra seat in Strangford and East Antrim, possibly in East Londonderry. The loss of two seats is all that is needed to put Unionists in the minority.