Why the DUP is refusing to fight the Lurgan by election…

Horseman has spotted that the DUP is not in the running for the by election in the Lurgan ward of Craigavon Borough Council early in the new year. The byelection follows a series of attempts to get David Calvert co-opted directly on to the council. At the back end of October, the Portadown Times reported:

Mr Calvert experienced a massive snub almost a fortnight ago on his first attempt. Just five members turned up for the special council meeting to replace the TUV’s Councillor Mark Russell who resigned recently, and Mr Calvert was the party choice.

Seven are required for a quorum, although five members were in an adjacent room having a cup of tea. They refused to enter the meeting where David Jones (Independent) was waiting to propose the name of Calvert, and Mr Calvert was left in limbo as the meeting was adjourned.

Mr Calvert has resolutely refused to step down as TUV candidate, despite an angry meeting of the party’s Upper Bann Association on Wednesday, during which an officer bearer walked out. Afterwards, the association issued a statement, giving him unanimous support and slamming the unionists who stayed away from the council meeting.

So the line-up for the poll in the Lurgan Ward on Wednesday January 13 will be – David Calvert (TUV), Jo-Anne Dobson (UUP), Liam Mackle (Sinn Fein) and Pat McDade (SDLP). You can discount the two Nationalists from any chance of winning since the Lurgan ward since in the last four council elections nationalists have only managed one out of seven seats.

Even at this distance, you’d have concede Dobson victory. Leaving aside any alleged tensions inside the local TUV associate, the electoral record in Lurgan suggests this is one of the deeper wells of UU sentiment in what was until 2005 David Trimble’s Westminster seat. Horseman puts it this way:

In Lurgan the unionist vote divided evenly between the DUP (39.4%) and the UUP (40.2%) at the last council election in 2005 (and thus before the TUV existed). Any leaching of support to the TUV would virtually ensure that the DUP could not win the seat – and experience has shown that around 40% of the DUP’s voters have deserted it for the TUV.

If Dromore is relevant then it has little to do with scale. The Dromore pre by election figures for 2005 the DUP took 49.8% of the vote to UUP’s 31.3%.

This time the councillor who is stepping down is TUV, in a ward will likely return a UUPer. As Horseman puts it, it robs political anoraks of “an opportunity to gauge the relative strengths of the three main unionist parties in the run-up to the Westminster election”.

Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour… In the meantime, the loud and continuous complaints from the DUP’s most problematic political opponent/ally of how the DUP ‘done us up like a kipper’ may do the rest…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty