The posters are up, the nomination papers handed it, and the so much anticipated European election campaign begins. On the 4th June the people will have their say. The most prominent thing people will have on their minds for this election is, how will Jim Allister do? However the biggest threat to the government this election is apathy. Jim Allister is just another thorn in the side of Unionism.Devolution has been restored and for the first time in a long time our political representatives are governing Northern Ireland. The whole expenses row and issue of double jobbing have been prominent issues in recent weeks. Speculation over tax, water and rate rises came to nothing, for now, after the Chancellors much anticipated budget. Northern Ireland got off lightly. Nevertheless these are issues on peoples minds. As devolution has been restored you would have to expect some people to switch off, as having no government in NI was a motivating factor to turnout. This is more the case for Unionists who are obviously content to see a devolved administration established in NI, which maintains NI’s identity and place within the United Kingdom. Sinn Fein and nationalists still have a reason to turnout. However, Sinn Fein saw less people turn out in Fermanagh, in the by election caused by the UUP. The seat should have been theirs with demographics in their favour. Instead Unionists turned out en-mass for the DUP rising star, Arlene Foster. However let us remember that this is Fermanagh, where Unionists vote.
The ambition for the DUP in this election is to return Diane Dodds at the very top of the poll, creating plenty of space between her and Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brún. Apathy and Jim Allister are not going to help the party in this mission. The effect of the UUP-Conservative merger also remains untested and it is unclear how it will effect the vote.
In 2004 Nicholson received 91,000 odd votes (16.6%) compared to the DUP 175,000 (32%). Sinn Fein received 144,000 first preferences (26.3%), while the SDLP received 87,000 (15.9%). This was before devolution, even before the comprehensive agreement. The year previously the DUP were returned by the Unionist electorate as the main Unionist party. In 2005, at Westminster and local government level the DUP rumped home with 9 MP’s, leaving the UUP with 1.
This will be a very interesting election. I would expect Dodds, de Brún and Nicholson to be returned, but it is unclear as to what damage Allister will do to the Unionist vote. He has been all over the place recently having dropped his ‘chuckle brothers’ insult, which worked in Dromore to saying that he’s a hard working MEP. A recent flyer in the Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter the week previous, was an appeal to the middle-class voter asking them to turnout for him because he is working hard in Europe. There was little mention of the DUP-Sinn Fein coalition. So to what extent will this election be a referendum on Stormont? Allister slogan contains the words: Principle and Integrity. His posters say nothing about smashing Stormont which says to me he knows its not a voter turn on.
After the horrendous murders in Antrim of the two off duty soldiers and of the policeman in Lurgan the DUP performed well. Sinn Fein met the mark, with Martin McGuinness calling such people ‘traitors’. These events would have acted as a wake up call to Unionists and may have an impact on voter turnout. People do not care about what form devolution necessarily takes, as long as their wallets are safe from invasion. However this election could prove me wrong.