Abandon hope

As Alliance continue selecting their candidates for the Westminster election (congratulations Gerry Lynch) it will be interesting to see where they decide to run. While most assume the campaigns are doomed to failure, they will still put people up as in previous years.

Looking back on recent Westminster elections a pattern seems to emerge on where they select for these ultimately fruitless attempts. I’m not sure what that pattern means, if anything.

The last time Alliance put up a candidate in a constituency currently held by Sinn Féin was 1997. They did not stand in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, West Tyrone, Mid-Ulster, Newry and Armagh or West Belfast in 2001 or 2005.

In the SDLP held Foyle they did not contest the 2005 election. They did contest South Down in 2005.

However, they do consistently contest every other seat that had a Unionist incumbent.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Mark

    Alliance are essentially an Antrim-Down party, and the absence of an SDLP-type voice within unionism encouraged the emergence of Alliance since the 1970s.

    The party benefitted further from the failure of nationalist parties to expand their structures into minority nationalist communities like East Antrim, Lagan Valley and Strangford. In their absence, Alliance was able to cultivate an electoral support base (partially by default) which, married to the non-sectarian brand of soft unionism espoused by other elements of the party, ensured it established an elected profile.

    This has been under threat as nationalist parties belatedly extended their structures into such areas. The fact that the new boundaries have ensured a nationalist quota in East Antrim and Strangford will likely mean that Alliance will face a more robust electoral threat from nationalism in these constituencies in the future- hence the reason Gerry Lynch needs to get his foot in the Assembly door next time round….

  • cynic47

    They would really be better keeping their money in the bank and use it for a slap up Christmas Party.

  • wild turkey

    Mark

    reading this post i am experiencing a bit a deja vu.

    round about the time of the run-up to the GFA i had a discussion with an Alliance friend. an alliance friend who took great exception to my simple point that, at the end of the day, the Alliance were (and are) a partitionist unionist party.

    my point was this:

    the official unionists wanted to ring fence the border

    the dup wanted to ensure that fence was made with barbed wire and electric charges, whilst

    the alliance wanted to hang tasteful laura ashley drapes over the fence

    carpe diem

  • Mark McGregor

    Chris,

    That is a plausible explanation for their areas of strength. It doesn’t explain why post 97 they decided not to contest a Westminster seat with a current Sinn Fein incumbent.

  • Mark McGregor

    Chris,

    Though I’ll also add as a ‘nationalist’ position establishes itself in places like Lagan Valley we haven’t witnessed a decline in the Alliance vote. It remains pretty static while nationalism gravitates around the most likely winner.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr McGregor….a quick look at CAIN site should help you.
    1997 Results in SF constituencies
    Mid Ulster AP got 1% of the vote
    FST….AP got 2% of the vote
    Newry Armagh AP got 2% of the vote
    West Belfast AP did not stand (backing Hendron) but got 2% in local govt elections
    West Tyrone AP got 2% of the vote

    for the record in 1997 in other Nat constituencies
    they got 1.7% in Foyle and
    a staggering 3% in South Down
    and as one might expect 15% in South Belfast (in 2005 they only managed 6%)

    So effectively AP were not even “contesting” SF constituencies in 1997.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Chris Donnelly has made the point about AP strength much better than I can but I would add that from the 1980s nationalism/republicanism thru the end of abstention and demographic change has actually ended AP in some constituencies.

    On 2007 figures AP gets less than 3% of vote in North Antrim. It actually held a seat at Assembly level there in 1973.
    It also held seats at Assembly level in North Belfast (2007 level of support 2%)and West Belfast (2007 level of support a derisory 0.4%)

    Of course there were 12 constituencies not 18 and boundary changes but in East Antrim and North Down and East Belfast AP can rely on frankly Catholic votes making their way to them in transfers as natonalism does not have a quota. Had Danny O’Connor had an extra election to consolidate support (and a mini pogram in Larne) AP would have sunk there also.
    Likewise there is a nationalist quota building in Strangford.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Might also add that South Belfast had during 1970s TWO Stormont seats on occasions (Basil Glass and Dr Joes brother Jim I think) and in 1970s the much under-rated SDLP figure Ben Caraher could never get a South Belfast seat for any nationalist party.
    Now of course SDLP has Westminster (although prolly to be lost in May) and nationalism has three seats to APs one.

    The simple fact is that from the glory days of Napier and Bob Cooper, Alliance has not been able to actually GROW.
    Its laudable of course that they are non sectarian and neutral but effectively people dont vote FOR them. They succeed because in certain areas Catholics vote for them in preference to any kind of unionist.

    Alas the old lie peddled by O’Neill, Taylor, the Belfast Telegraph and assorted Overclass types that if a Catholic buys a house on Malone Road, Antrim Road or Carryduf, he/she will suddenly be a unionist is a load of old nonsense.

  • Mark McGregor

    FJH,

    Cheers. Exactly the sort of nerd discussion I hoped for.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Well Mr McGregor…I thank you.
    But true “Nerdism” is actually wasting a life on the minutae of “dissident republicans”

    You sir…..are an inspiration.

  • Chris Donnelly

    That is a plausible explanation for their areas of strength. It doesn’t explain why post 97 they decided not to contest a Westminster seat with a current Sinn Fein incumbent.

    Mark
    Ummm..it does. The absence of an electoral gap for them to fill in majority nationalist communities (ie all those held by SF MPs) meant that they simply lost the will after repeatedly coming up against electoral failure.

    I’d dispute the point about Lagan Valley. Alliance was polling between 15 and 17 points in the constituency between 1997 and 2001 (ie after the boundary change that took Poleglass and Twinbrook into west Belfast.) Since then- and I think you know about the efforts made to organise by republicans there- the Alliance vote has declined steadily to between 9 and 11 points.

  • Alias

    There aren’t any mainstream Irish nationalist parties in NI. They have all endorsed the union, the unionist veto, and given up their former right to national self-determination in return for self-serving concessions within the British state. In so far as they aspire to unity, it is not to reclaim their renounced rights or to live within an Irish nation-state but simply as another self-serving concession within a British state (since unity is only possible under British constitutional structures) wherein they think they’ll gain some sectarian advantage by being among the 85% group of a bi-national state within the UK rather than remaining among the 45% group the bi-national state within the UK. There is no such thing as a national who does not advocate a nation-state and who renounces his nations’ right to self-determination. They remain simply as a non-sovereign nation – a de-politicized ethnic group. So that is how the catholic tribe have ‘progressed’ in a few short decades. Give them a few more and they’ll be singing Rule Britannia when King William pays his loyal subjects a visit.

  • Alias

    Typo: “There is no such thing as a national[b]ist[/b] who does not advocate a nation-state and who renounces his nations’ right to self-determination.”

  • Stephen Ferguson

    “Alas the old lie peddled by O’Neill, Taylor, the Belfast Telegraph and assorted Overclass types that if a Catholic buys a house on Malone Road, Antrim Road or Carryduf, he/she will suddenly be a unionist is a load of old nonsense.”

    Posted by FitzjamesHorse on Feb 26, 2010 @ 10:52 PM

    Oops!

    http://alturl.com/33jz

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Ferguson….alas there are some people (perhaps you are one) who finds greater comfort in polls than Elections.

  • Stephen Ferguson

    When was the last vote held on the position of Northern Ireland within the UK??

    I can quote that if you like?

  • The Original Sam Maguire

    Mark, at the present moment, the Alliance ‘brand’ means nothing west of the Bann,. They gave up the ghost in the West in the late 90s – whether it was to concentrate resources, apathy or the realisation that in the border regions (almost) everything is seen is shades of Green and Orange. Had Kieran Deeney stood under an Alliance banner rather than as an Independent in 03/05/07, I don’t think think so many people would have been prepared to ‘lend’ him their votes.

    However, I did notice in the local press that Gerry Lynch was talking about starting to rebuilding Alliance in areas were they previously had a presence – with Omagh specifically mentioned – its overdue, but it will be a hard slog. However, at this stage, an esteemed local doctor wouldn’t be a bad method in an attempt to get themselves reestablished quickly.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Ferguson,
    Im sure you could.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I think that doctor…who wears yellow already has a familial connexion to the AP. I tend to look on his Independent label skeptically

  • PaddyReilly

    The fact that the new boundaries have ensured a nationalist quota in East Antrim and Strangford will likely mean that Alliance will face a more robust electoral threat from nationalism in these constituencies in the future

    No, Alliance is not under threat in these constituencies: the seat loss will come from the DUP, who notoriously only got their man in by 31 votes in Strangford last time round.

    Alliance has more than a quota in East Antrim: less in Strangford, but it gets the bulk of the Green transfers, which brings it up to an unassailable position.

    Predictions for Strangford: the DUP, currently on 4, will lose one seat to TUV and one to the SDLP.
    East Antrim, DUP, currently on 3, will lose one to TUV. SDLP will win one, either from UUP or DUP.

    What should emerge at the next election is that there are no constituencies in the province which have more than 4 Unionist quotas in them.

  • Framer

    Alliance used to win council seats in West Belfast now the SDLP finds it difficult.

    In truth the catholic population become more nationalist the more concentrated they become. It is called tribalism, some would say sectarianism.

    Either way it is ethnic.

    Perhaps it is because they cease to interact with protestants or just don’t even consider them.

    Alliance has hardly changed over the decades so it is the voters.

    Who would have imagined in the 1980s that over half the catholic population would vote for a party linked to the IRA ten years later?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I like to sum up Alliance’s approach as “stop talking about constitutional matters and figure out how we can patch up our internal relations”. In 1998, with the Agreement, and subsequently with St Andrews, the parties all moved into this space. Alliance has been in decline since that part of the political process started, and reinvention has been necessary to counteract this.

    To me it is very obvious that the party is still necessary. I find sectarian headcounts, and the attitude of people like Fitz up there (“people vote SDLP/SF because that’s what good little taigs are supposed to do”) to be distasteful, and I don’t have any confidence that the four incumbent political parties have the ideas necessary to take things forward. Moreover, the UUP and SDLP (in particular) are crashing and burning at the moment.

  • LabourNIman

    I guess it depends where their membership is based.

    Having roughly 1500 members doesn’t put them in a strong position to contest every seat due to the work involved in the campaigns

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Comrade Stalin
    I find sectarian headcounts, and the attitude of people like Fitz up there (“people vote SDLP/SF because that’s what good little taigs are supposed to do”) to be distasteful

    I would also find a remark like that distasteful and would never dream of saying such a thing.
    I find your quotation marks very distasteful.
    Unhappily thats the level at which you discuss tthings.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fitz, it’s the level at which you always discuss things. To you, and people like Alex Attwood, it’s all about prods and taigs. You find Alliance offensive because it rejects this simple binary culture you want the world to fit into.

    LabourNIMan, AFAIK that’s the number of members the SDLP had about 15 years ago. Of course, the SDLP didn’t do any actual campaigning.

  • granni trixie

    I would like to know what evidence there is for claiming that Alliance has not changed over the years? The party which does not respond to change, as well as lead in change, is doomed.

    If Alliance had not shown itself to be relevent, its support would have disappeared, instead of which it is increasing, including increasing diversity. How many parties can claim that?

    And ask yourslelf why does Alliance so often be seen to punch above its numerical strength?

    Why were the first 2 Speakers of the Asembley Alliance MLAs? The first cross-community Lord mayor (David Cook),paving the way for SDLP and then SF (remember Tom Eakin had to take crap for supporting that decision, but Alliance more than survived). Bob Cooper lead the way on Fair Employment and Mary Clark Glass on Equality. And we have the Lord Mayor of Belfast who is Alliance and the first women in many years (is she the first women in this role or the second?).
    Need I go on?

  • Framer

    Granny

    You assert Alliance has changed over the decades but give no evidence; not that unchangedness is necessarily a crime.

    The first woman Lord Mayor of Belfast was a Unionist so Naomi Long can’t blether her way into that record.

    The first two speakers of the Assembly were picked by the NIO for the job and at great cost to the Alliance Party which opposed their elevation. Office and honours proved stronger.

    Luckily David Ford flanked by Naomi promised last year Alliance would not take the Justice job so it won’t be a problem again.

  • granni trixie

    Framer: Where to start as its obvious from what you write that you believe that the Alliance glass is half empty – but that from close up I see it as half full. We also disagree about change – it may not be a crime but a party that does not change is unlikely to be adapting to changing circs. and unlikely to survive.

    For the record, here are some significances from my persepective which suggest why I believe that Alliance has altered over the years and which explains its longevity despite the odds of keeping such a diverse group int he cotnext of NI, together:

    1. Naomi Long as Lord Mayor of Belfast: as you can see, I was vaguely aware that decades ago (50s?) there had been a female Lord Mayor, but Naomi is significant in her own right as a clever politican ofcourse but also in a modern context where women are supposed to be equal and yet in NI there is still a derth of female political representatives. This supports my arguement that equality in a political party does not just happen – the leaderships can make it happen or not.
    2. A good example of change in Alliance is that the present party, as appropriate to modern times and under DF,adopts a more collegiate,consensus making approach to decision and policy making – traditionally political parties tended to be top down.

    A Party Council of 80 reps of branches around NI meets every 2 months to discuss key issues and over the past year much time was given over to P&J,in particular the risks should Alliance agree to nominate a person to throw their hat in the ring. Many had stong and differing views on the risks and on the benefits. This is why DF was able to claim with authorty terms under which Alliance was prepared to play ball. Only when they were satisified that the community relations/CSI policy once parked was to be on the agenda for delivery plus a policy/terms of referenece framework for the Minister to work within, did Allinace agree that DF was their man to put forward.

    I spell this out Framer as you clearly misrepresented what I said. I am not surprised that you have not addressed my question of why does Alliance tend to punch above its numerical strength as I know that this is more complicated than we can deal with here. Try if you wish.

    BTW, what a happy morning I’m having – anorak browsing on Slugger whilst listening to the Archers (Phil’s funeral, 28 year old boyfriend for 16 yr old Pip, Susan decides to give up gurning about her job and poor ole Jack not eating properly in the care home). A simple pleasure but mine.

  • Framer

    Thought Phil was long dead.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Framer:

    Luckily David Ford flanked by Naomi promised last year Alliance would not take the Justice job so it won’t be a problem again.

    I seem to remember the DUP saying they would never enter government with SF. I seem to remember SF saying they would never operate a partitionist settlement. The lesson ? Things change all the time in politics, and Alliance secured a range of concessions in exchange for agreeing to take the office on. Who would argue that the DUP or SF were not right to change their long-standing policies ?

    Alliance’s members and supporters are generally people who want to see politics working and the political process, however imperfect, continuing to operate; gradual change is the way to correct its glaring imperfections, not a wholesale slamming on of the brakes. As such, it would never be possible, IMHO, to put itself in a position where it would cause a collapse of the institutions, even though those institutions are designed to keep Alliance well out of centre stage.

    This may well all turn out to be academic. The word is that Peter Robinson won’t vote on March 9th to proceed with devolving justice powers unless the UUP are on board. And it looks right now as if the UUP is quite happy to act to put a spanner in the works, exacting revenge on the DUP for doing the same thing back when they were top dog. I don’t even know right now if the Stoops will vote to devolve the powers either. It looks to me like we’ll be in a big crisis within just over a week – still, at least it won’t be an Alliance-caused crisis.