I had decided not to blog about the election until the results were in. However, so detailed are the unofficial results compiled largely by Mick that I felt I should make some sort of comment. To think had Mick not provided us with this service we might have had to do real activities instead of sitting in front of our computer screens: Mick has saved us from talking to our friends and families; again Mr. Fealty we are all in your debt sir. (in all serious Mick a stunning achievement, even if I personally failed you).
Clearly these results are preliminary and therefore (like my wife) I reserve the right to change my mind completely. I will also analyse the results in more detail (with suitable silly literary and historical references) at a later date.
For the meantime, however, we could do worse than look at each of the unionist parties and where the preliminary results suggest they are.
Turning first to the CUs. They seem to have done pretty well. I had anticipated them falling a fair bit but it looks as if they have held the line fairly well. They will obviously present this as a huge success and, in truth it is. However, this success could pull them in multiple directions. They are not currently capable of presenting themselves as a serious alternative to the DUP as the lead party in Stormont, yet they are an unapologetically pro agreement party. Unless they can produce a cadre of serious politicians who could take over on the hill, this victory could be a very temporary one. Against that, however, increased media attention etc. will give their leadership more opportunities to shine; again, however, this vote will protect Sir Reg and his leadership has so far brilliantly fused Jim Molyneaux’s lack of charisma and dynamism and Trimble’s utter incompetence: at least up until now.
In addition on a falling poll it may be that the stalwart UUP voters who always trail out to vote unionist did so as ever. Remember that the UUP victory in the Dromore by-election was achieved despite a fall in UUP percentage of the vote (as well as a fall in absolute numbers).
This relative victory may privately be a problem to some of the Tory modernisers. Jim Nicholson is hardly a new force and yet he did quite well. This victory could pull the UUP in multiple directions. Incidentally note I have switched to using the term UUP. The problem is that the UUP wing may well suggest that they are on their way back to their natural position as the main unionist party and the help from the Tories whilst welcome does not mean that the party should fully immerse itself within the Conservative Party. They will suggest that a steady as she goes strategy will soon result in the rightful order of things being restored with them in charge.
On the other hand of course the Conservative brigade will suggest that this victory shows what a good idea the new link up is and that had the link been an ever deeper union then the party would have achieved even more. Indeed I strongly suspect a certain cohort of the NI Tories would have liked to see Nicholson defeated so that they could push their agenda. To my mind both wings of the CUs may be in error in their analyses but I will return to such musings in the coming weeks.
Turning to the DUP. Such was the disaster of this campaign that even if Diane Dodds does get through it will have been a major defeat: one which I think should be covered in a blog of its own and one which I will put up this afternoon. Suffice here to say that they made the error which Jim Molyneaux always cautioned against: that of getting so far ahead of their supporters that they could no longer see them.
Looking at the TUV, I am pleased but hardly that surprised by the result. We fought (from our viewpoint) an absolutely flawless campaign. We have a fairly large number of people who are willing to go out and canvass all day, then poster and then get up the next day and do the same. It was also interesting that during canvassing no one I saw denounced us and the usual reason for refusing election literature was that they already had it and would be voting for Jim.
Jim performed well in the party political broadcast and was perfect on television and radio. Yes he is forceful and at times abrasive but that is what TUVists expected and wanted. On the debate he did exactly what was needed: knew the issues, denounced the DUP and attacked SF.
There are complex issues to be looked at regarding where next for the TUV and they are dependent on whether or not we have won the seat. There are challenges and opportunities either way which need to be analysed when we have a more compete picture. For the meantime I cannot resist reminding some of the DUP commentators that they suggested Allister might get 10-15,000 votes and that Dromore was the high water mark for the TUV. That level of failure to read the unionist electorate is in a politician or political analyst pretty unforgiveable
As a final anecdote, I remember when I realised the DUP would destroy the UUP at the last Westminster elections: it was when two very middle class women I worked with openly said they would be voting DUP; the embarrassment which once attended voting for Paisley had gone. On this occasion several people (again women) who I work with asked me how I was going to vote and as soon as I said Allister they agreed that they were going to do the same. Then at the end of the campaign I met a lady who was once my boss in a previous job: she knew relatively little of my politics and we had not met for several years. Almost her first words to me were I hope you are voting Allister.
As I said a few weeks ago The times they are a changing.