Following on from Petes blog (and no I was not Martina Purdys well placed source though if she ever wants to contact me…) the TUV have formally announced that they will not be running in the Enniskillen by election. I will reproduce the text of their statement below the fold and then comment on it.The Central Council (Executive body) of the Traditional Unionist Voice has endorsed a decision by its Fermanagh Branch not to contest the upcoming Enniskillen by-election. The Council issued the following statement:
TUVs primary goal is to oppose IRA/Sinn Fein and dislodge it from government, unlike those who admitted them to government, we, therefore, will not rush into a venture capable of strengthening Sinn Fein. The forcing of this by-election, in addition to producing a brazen volte face on dual mandates by the DUP candidate, more importantly, could add an extra republican councilor to Fermanagh District Council. In these circumstances we have no interest in being dragged into this unseemly dispute between the two pro Belfast Agreement unionist parties.
We do, however, look forward to offering the people of Enniskillen and across Fermanagh the opportunity to vote for Traditional Unionist candidates in future elections.
As for this by-election, we certainly do not want to see a republican victory. We acknowledge there is little to choose between the two unionist candidates. Both are now supporters of Sinn Fein in government, yet both would claim to be the one to keep them from winning a council seat!
This was a difficult decision for the TUV but I call authoritatively state that it was a unanimous decision by the local party.
There are a number of criticisms one can make of the decision: The TUV are a political party and one of a political partys most important functions is to fight elections. As such one could argue that they should have stood, after all they did not call the by-election. In addition apparently a fair number of Fermanagh people have suggested that they would have voted TUV but will abstain rather than vote DUP/UUP (something the TUV and I personally would strongly council against).
In addition not standing will be presented as running away (I await multiple DUP posts to this effect). It will be suggested that in an STV election there should be no problem with vote splitting (the answer to that of course is: SDLP, West Tyrone). The TUV will be presented as a flash in the pan and as losing momentum. In actual fact this decision does involve a certain loss of momentum. I would suggest, however, that although there are reasons for the TUV to stand there were better reasons for them not to stand.
Had the TUV stood it is highly likely that if this seat falls to SF the other unionist parties would have taken the opportunity to blame the TUV for the loss of the seat. They would have looked at how many TUV votes failed to transfer and would have blamed the TUV party for that. The fact that the UUP forced this election and that the DUP insisted on a problematic candidate for co-option would all have been forgotten in the race to find a scapegoat. I can easily imagine the cries that the TUV supposedly so opposed to SF had handed the seat to them; I can even guess which commentors on slugger would have said it.
Fermanagh unionists are a bunch with long memories and it would have done the TUV little long term good to be seen as the ones who handed the seat to SF. One need only think of the way in which Jim Dixons ill fated campaign for Westminster is remembered for handing Gildernew Fermanagh / South Tyrone.
The next good reason is that this is a very finely balanced seat. The numbers of unionists and nationalists are essentially equal. In such a scenario there is a high danger of vote splitting giving SF the seat. It is a simple fact (leaving aside any damage the TUV might suffer) that the TUV do not want this seat to fall to SF. Had this been a seat with even a medium sized unionist majority or indeed a no hope seat, then a TUV candidate would have been a certainty.
Overall then this was always a Catch 22 for the TUV. Either standing or not standing would have resulted in attracting massive criticism from the DUP. In this case, however, one option is better for unionism as a whole (not standing). As such although a difficult decision it was always going to be the one the TUV was going to make.