Arlene Foster offers to stand aside

The BBC are reporting that Arlene Foster has said that she would stand aside for an agreed unionist candidate to take on Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh / South Tyrone at the general election.

Foster said : “…if I do step aside or need to step aside for a unionist unity candidate it’s something that I will do because it’s in the better interests of unionism.”
“It doesn’t mean necessarily that I wouldn’t want to be there on occasions, but if it has to be done it has to be done and I will do it.”
Whilst Arlene Foster might like to be MP, it is clear that unless there is a unity candidate unionism is most unlikely to retake FST. Furthermore, there is considerable the animosity between the DUP and UUP in FST and many UUP members remain annoyed with Foster personally for having jumped ship from the UUP to the DUP. Hence, any personal ambition she may have to be an MP is unrealistic, at least in the short term, and as such her standing aside is maybe less painful for her than if she had a good chance of being elected. In addition since the DUP’s decision to enter power sharing with the UUP, support for the DUP seems to have dropped in FST. Although Foster herself won the Enniskillen by election, easily defeating the UUP candidate; areas outside that district electoral area seem to have swung more firmly against the DUP. In the European election there was some suggestion that although some small unionist towns like Lisbellaw (within the Enniskillen DEA) stayed loyal to the DUP, others such as Kesh and Ballinamallard and the unionist vote in the border areas of West and South Fermanagh has moved away from the DUP. The South Tyrone part of FST has also been suggested to have become more disenchanted with the DUP following their entry into government with Sinn Fein.

In view of all of this it was quite possible that if Arlene Foster were to stand again against Tom Elliott for the Westminster election, she might come off second best in the intra unionist contest: the opposite result to the 2005 election. Such an outcome would be a bit of a blow to the DUP and, hence, for Foster to offer to stand aside is further good politics as it will then increase the pressure on Tom Elliott to do likewise and help allow an agreed civic unionist candidate to emerge. Although Norman Baxter has ruled himself out, he may come under renewed pressure to reconsider his position and indeed the CUs may be put under pressure to allow some form of words to be devised which could permit an agreed candidate to be less than a fully fledged member of the Conservative Party should they win at the general election.

All the above also leaves aside the effect that an agreed unionist candidate would have on nationalist / republican voting intentions. Although Fearghal McKinney the former UTV presenter has declared his intention of running for the SDLP, this is a seat which would require a seismic shift in voting for the SDLP to win. Rather it is quite possible that an agreed unionist candidate would result in an even larger percentage of the nationalist vote supporting Michelle Gildernew in an attempt to head off a unionist victory. It might also reduce any tendency to a fall in Gildernew’s hard line vote from those who object to Sinn Fein’s supposed compromises. Though few would see Ms. Gildernew as on the moderate wing of Sinn Fein; Fermanagh seems to have amongst the largest percentage of republicans who object to the new dispensation. If there were a single unionist candidate, then the SDLP might, paradoxically find a reduction in its vote despite their new high profile candidate and the election might begin to approximate to the bitter head count battles of 1981 when the SDLP failed to stand against either Bobby Sands or Owen Carron.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I hate to say “I told you so”….but er I told you so.
    The DUP stands aside.
    The UUP has “clean hands” re dodgy pacts with sectarian DUP.

    Gin and tonics…and non-alcoholic drinks all round.

  • Chris Donnelly


    You’ve it right with final paragraph (and I defer to your superior understanding of local unionist sentiment as regards the rest of the post.)

    All of the talk about unionist unity will lead to the SDLP gamble backfiring dramatically. A good candidate, McKinney, will be humiliated, and in all likelihood the SDLP may lose him before the Assembly election.

    This was always a gamble for the SDLP. McKinney has no chance of claiming the Westminster seat but the party clearly saw this as a profiling exercise ahead of the next Stormont elections.

    That may prove to be a costly mistake. McKinney’s background indicates that he did not need to be put up as a profile candidate in an election he could not win and was destined to be marginalised as a bit player, squeezed between Gildernew and the united unionist candidate.

    If he comes out the other side with a sub-Gallagher performance, watch for the George Lee-esque return to media role, tail between legs as he departs.

    Another bad move by the SDLP- this one probably conceived of by the Stalingrad authors….

  • FitzjamesHorse

    And er I also noted that Gildernews majority (4,000) was much less than the SDLP vote and she would need a very substantial share of Gallaghers 7,000 to retain the seat.
    The focus therefore turns to South Belfast to see how a reciprocal “non-pact” would work there.

    If the UUP choose a complete idiot and TUV dont stand it would be the “nod and wink” the South Belfast unionist “family” needs.

  • The best tactics for the DUP is to unilaterally stand aside as FJH (I think) is suggesting and then call on the UUP to do the same in SB. If the UUP dont do so the DUP can blame the UUP for lack of reciprocation if the fenians win in SB.

    This will not result in the loss of any exisitng DUP seats and although it might allow the UUP to make a gain in FST for ‘free’ it should help give the DUP the edge in the other seats where the UUP might challenge them.

    In the longer term Arlene Foster is an excellent operator and surely the next leader and I wonder if the DUP might consider moving her to a safer constituency when one next becomes available.

  • lamhdearg

    East belfast would suit her now, Did peter not say he would stand aside and deal with being first minister.

  • slug

    Since we are moving away from Double Jobbing I think Arlene is right to stand aside.

  • someone

    It was always the only sensible thing to do (from their point of view that is) for the DUPes to unilaterally stand aside in both FST and SB claiming (as they see it) the “moral” high ground over C&Us;.

    C&U in all 18 seats has always been non-negotiable with Cameron, all that unionist pact stuff was just so much wind from journalists’ and DUPes’ (and sadly some oul’ OO-loving UUP stirrers’) behinds.

    Roll on them announcing the other 9 candidates (hurry up please!) and then roll on May 6th!

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Tactics play a part certainly. But I wouldnt go so far as to say that Foster is not being sincere about wanting a “unity candidate”.
    Essentially its what the “unionist family” wants. They have watched the 12 “apostles” of the 1960s give way to the 12/8 split and they really need to halt or even reverse that.
    Most unionists of any hue would welcome a unity candidate in FST.
    Roughly only 3,000 “Catholic” lead in the FST register means its a shoe in for a unity unionist as about 5,000 of those Catholic voters will just about never vote SF.
    South Belfast is slightly different. Gildnernews victories have been predictable but the SDLP winning in 2005 was more about unionist voters screwing it up than SDLP taking it against the head as rugby people say….similar to Willie Thompson in West Tyrone a decade ago.

  • seamus friel

    Great to see that Arlene is minded to do that for the sake of the umionist cause. The DUP are so principled and work so hard at creating very close relationships with the business community all for the sake of helping Norn Iron prosper.
    They help so many people to get houses!!!

  • Pete Baker


    Except the DUP have not “unilaterally” stood aside anywhere.

    This ‘declaration’ is all about putting pressure on the UUP/Conservative link-up.

    Aided and abetted by those connected with the UUP who are opposed to that move.

    I’m looking at you Baron Maginnis of Drumglass.

  • someone


    I know they have not yet. But its the only thing that they can do that looks like a win within their triabalist worldview.

    As for putting pressure – all 18 seats is a basic non-negotiable from Cameron, repeated many many times, along with no multiple-mandates. The only people feeling pressure are those not keen on the C&U project, who are a small but noticeable minority in the UUP, from what I have read.

  • FJH,

    I agree, Arlene, as would most Unionists would like to see unity cnadidaes if it maximised Unionist votes but she probably knows that unilaterally standing aside in FST will not bring reciprocation in SB because of the public commitments given by David Cameron – so in that sense it is tactical – but I agree she would probably (just about) prefer a UUP MP than a SF one.

    In the longer term it will probably take the shock of Marty as First Minister before unionists actually call a proper family meeeting and axctually sort out the unity issue.

  • someone

    I’m a unionist.

    I do not have a problem with Marty being the FM. OFMDFM is a joint thing in reality anyway so it is no change bar symbolism – if SF win that’s the system we have in place and whoop-tee-do it does not bring the notion of a united Ireland one iota closer.

    The union will be strengthened by normal socio-economic politics and weakened by tribal stuff.

    PS: ItWasSammyMcNallywotdoneit why are you masquerading as “Moderate Unionist” these days?

  • 0b101010

    If it’s intentional, and you can never be too sure, it really is a genius play by the DUP.

    By offering the UUP the prospect of a FST win, they may keep a seat for Unionism, tear apart the flailing UCUNF experiment and ultimately destroy the UUP.

    If the UUP don’t take the bait, they’re seen as opposing a possible Unionist gain which shoots themselves in the foot again, if not the head.

    The irony is that a SF seat has always been more help to the DUP than a UUP seat. This is a whole lot more true since their two-party coalition government within the executive.

  • dwatch

    “Whilst the Conservative Party claims to be a party of the union, their actions don’t suggest such a stance as they oppose unionist pacts in key seats,” she added.

    “Rather than support for the Union it seems they support more seats for Sinn Fein.”

    Read more:

  • granni trixie

    Someone: “from what I’ve read” – but sounds like you are in the thick of it/masquerading?.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Whilst I think the vast majority of unionist in F&ST; would broadly be in support of seeing only one Unionist candidate on the ballot paper, I think most can see this is just another stunt by the DUP to cause trouble for the UUP, so far as I am aware the DUP has never even discussed the issue with the local UUP party officers, and the level of mistrust between the two parties is multiplying due to the DUP stunts. Arelene is still not trusted by most UUP members because of her betrayal and do not see this as a genuine offer but just another stunt to stir up trouble, thereby making any agreement less rather than more likely.

  • ardmaj55

    Chris Donnelly [2] You’re right about Foster’s motives. I think she knows that in the present climate post Iris, the UUP would have a better chance of taking that seat. The trouble for Unionists making a loud noise on this is that it forewarns nationalist voters of what they need to do to counteract any unionist pact, and this is where i question McKinney and SDLP’s judgement.
    He will be seen by local nationalist voters as an unwitting pawn at best and his motives in splitting the nationalist vote suspected at worst. I can’t see his point in standing at all.
    The SDLP can’t win this seat and can gift it to unionists.

  • cynic47


    How could the Tories find any form of words to justify a unity candidate in FST when they were unable to find suitable words to retain the one and only UUP MP Lady Hermon?

    Listening to Arlene’s stated political ambitions I don’t see any evidence of an early attempt to eliminate double/triple jobbing.

  • cynic47


    How could the Tories find any form of words to justify a unity candidate in FST when they were unable to find suitable words to retain the one and only UUP MP Lady Hermon?

    Listening to Arlene’s stated political ambitions I don’t see any evidence of an early attempt to eliminate double/triple jobbing.

  • dwatch

    Unionists can forget fighting over FST. Its a green seat from now on, look at election result from 2005.

    The Unionists should withdraw both candidates and request their voters to vote for SDLP to keep Gildnernew out. Just like Unionists did to help Joe Hendron win the 1992 west Belfast seat against Gerry Adams.

    FST 2005 election
    Gildernew (Sinn Fein) 18,638
    Arlene Foster (DUP) 14,056
    Elliot (UUP) 8,869
    Gallagher (SDLP) 7,230

    Unionists have a much better chance of winning SB by getting their act together. Even if SF voters vote SDLP they will not beat a joint Unionist candidate. See results 2005

    SB 2005 election
    McDonnell (SDLP) 10,339
    Spratt (DUP) 9,104
    McGimpsey (UUP) 7,263
    Maskey (Sinn Fein) 2,882

  • granni trixie

    dwatch: you know little if you think that the sentiment operating in 1992 which promoted Joe Hendron equates with that which might kick in today for Sfs Gildernew.

    Also, how do you think Anna Lo will affect the results in SB?

  • dwatch

    [i]Also, how do you think Anna Lo will affect the results in SB?[/i]

    Why ask someone who knows little the above question?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I still think FST is a certainty for a single unionist of any hue against two nationalists when there is only a 3,000 Catholic majority in the constituency.
    SDLP vote will not go below 5,000.

    South Belfast is intriguing. AP AND SF have to stand. To keep their profile and ensure the free publicity of standing.
    AP should and prolly have learned that while supporting Joe Hendron in West Belfast was “noble”, they also lost an initiative there (Will Glendinning, Bob Cooper etc) that they have not recovered from.
    Likewise SDLP not standing in FST against Bobby Sands handed the initiative to SF in subsequent elections.
    Attempts at Unionist unity in the 1980s also boosted some parties and marginalised others in some constituencies.

    What Sluggerites still fail to get is that there is a difference between political rivals and enemies.
    Lo could stand aside to boost the SDLP “moderate”
    But the effect would be to strengthen her moderate rival for Catholic votes.
    Maskey could stand aside and boost “nationalist” votes but the effect would be to boost his rival for Catholic votes.

    Frankly there is a big difference between a SF MEMBER and a SF voter (committed or soft)
    And a big difference between an Alliance MEMBER and an Alliance voter (committed or soft).

    In the 2003 Assembly Election in South Belfast.
    SDLP got 23% of vote
    SF got 13%
    and AP 6% (but the vast majority of NIWCs 7% would be natural AP voters) so perhaps around 11% is that level.

    In 2005 SDLP won with 32%. SF slipping back to 9% and AP slipping back to 6%. McDonnell therefore got a lot of their “soft votes”.
    But by 2007 SDLP had slipped back to normality with 27% and AP and SF had both “normalised” on 13%.
    Depending on whether TUV stand and the respective qualities of UUP/DUP candidates, the unionist voter is more likely to be organised.
    I suspect 37% would be needed by McDonnell this time.
    Are there enuff “soft” SF/AP voters to help him.

    Again I go back to the fact that the committed AP and SF voter (AND MOST MEMBERS) would rather see an enemy elected than a rival.

  • granni trixie

    FJH: Thanks for the figures and analysis – will ponder. I surmise that the question of Anna Lo standing aside in SB will not arise.

    But re the differences between member and voter – your point is?

    And believe it or not I actually canvassed for Joe at that election.I was surprised that the SDLP in the area were so astonished at my doing so (it was not ‘nobility’ as yu put it but just seemed a good use of time to help someone I admired,given AP was not standing). Interestingly, on that canvas I picked up a leaflet being circulated from Des Wilson stating: “Why you Should Not Vote for Joe Hendron” which I have kept in my arcive.

    The experience also brought home to me why I was in AP and they were in the SDLP.

  • LabourNIman

    any MP is better than a shinner MP.

    granni trixie – Lo won’t stand aside as I doubt she will get as strong a showing during the westminster election than she did during the assembly election.

    Every vote counts in SB and I seriously doubt Alliance has a brains or back bone to make a deal, that would help them in the future, with the main 3 parties

  • granni trixie

    LabourNIman: What you say is nonsensible. Firstly because it goes against the obvious evidence that it takes backbone to be a member of the AP in the context of a country hell bent on dividing people into 2 tribes whether they want to do so or not. Secondly, what would be brainy about doing such a deal in SB?

    Also, for the record on “the mainland” I would be a natural labour supporter myself.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Oh indeed granni trixie, I take the point.
    Necessarily people who join political parties are more committed than those who merely vote for them.
    Necessarily the SF-IRA, DUP, AP, UUP, SDLP MEMBER does not need to be persuaded to vote for the Party.
    One might say that the Member votes for his/her party “because of…”
    but a voter will often vote for a party “in spite of….”
    That category of voter who I am sure you have encountered on the doorstep can be persuaded.

    Thus as Anna Los canvassers go around Balmoral Avenue or Donegall Pass (and Im choosing these steets entirely at random) they will come accross voters who will genuinely be “Alliance at heart” but prepared to vote for SDLP to support the moderate or vote UUP or DUP as the thought of a nationalist is not what they want.
    Likewise in FST, SDLP supporters will encounter “SDLP” at haert voters who are prepared to vote SF-IRA to keep out the unionst.

    Its something that an Alliance or SDLP MEMBER probably would not do. (if their party was standing……indeed its likely they would be thrown out of a party if it was known theyd voted for some other party).

    The great problem with “loaned” votes is the attitude of the winning beneficiary of loaned votes.
    It probably stuck in the craw of some SDLP types (committed voters and certainly members) to hear Owen Carrons victory speech aftr Sands election.

    It might also stick in the craw of AP voters to hear McDonnell proclaim a SDLP break thru.
    Or if we take East Belfast….it might stick in the craw of SDLP types if Naomi Long proclaimed a break thru on behalf of AP on the basis of loaned votes.

    Never say Never I guess.
    But on that basis Id be very relunctant to “lend” my vote to a rival. They appeal to “lend us your vote” They never seem grateful in victory.
    Of course the same is true on the unionist side of the fence.

  • dodrade

    Why is everyone writing off McDonnell in South Belfast? The SDLP strengthened their position in the 2007 assembly election and if there are two unionist candidates he must the the favourite again. I don’t believe Spratt can win the seat for the DUP, but i’m doubtful that the UUP can go from 3rd to 1st in one election.

  • granni trixie

    As someone who has “gone round the doorsteps” of the 2 areas selected at random by U (R words in texts,sorry it sticks), can I say that I myself gave a second preference vote to Carmel Hanna, not only because she is perceived as Alliance lite but because I respect her. It would be a mistake however to assume that her personal votes will transfer to her replacement.

    As regards Naomi, this is as good a chance as any for AP in many years.

  • granni trixie

    For the record, analysists should not underestimate the personal vote for Carmel Hanna

  • Michaelhenry

    the dup will also have to make sure that any unionist unity candidate is a pro agreement person there can be no room for an anti agreement unionist

  • BurnTollet

    After hearing Arlene declaring that she would step aside for an agreed unionist there is a real danger that the sitting MP would be replaced by a puppet for the Orange Order. If that is what the SDLP and Ferghal McKinney acheive by splitting the vote, then I for one will never forgive them.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    With respect you are blaming the wrong person and party (McKinney & SDLP).
    The fault does not lie with them for STANDING.
    It would lie with he DUP for STANDING DOWN.

    The SDLP would have an easier job defending South Belfast if Sinn Féin stood aside. But quite rightly both SF and SDLP are offering themselves for election.

    Blame the squalid sectarinism of the DUP and of course the UUP who are the beneficiary.

  • Comrade Stalin


    It was always the only sensible thing to do (from their point of view that is) for the DUPes to unilaterally stand aside in both FST and SB claiming (as they see it) the “moral” high ground over C&Us;.

    More UCUNF self-delusion. “unilaterally” ?

    If you can’t see that the DUP’s goal here is to put pressure on you by forcing you to either take up the deal or be labelled as vote-splitters in FST, then I suggest you need to find another career outside of politics.


    Why is everyone writing off McDonnell in South Belfast?

    Who, the failed leadership candidate ?

  • granni trixie

    SDLP in SB will miss Carmel Hanna as a vote gatherer – she had quite a personal following (always gave her my second prefs.).