Strangford report: DUP’s residual infrastructure may make the difference…

We won’t be going in for constituency profiles, since the ones Sammy Morse provided two years ago are as comprehensive a tool as any we can provide. So from time to time we’ll be dipping into the most competitive/interesting races, and occasion dropping in to sample local opinion for ourselves. Today we start with what is on paper could be one of the more competitive races in Strangford. Much of that is based on the departure of its former MP in disgrace at the turn of the year. In actual fact, the hill the Ulster Unionist candidate must climb is rather more difficult than it might seem. In 2007, DUP one 4 Assembly seats to the UUP’s 1 with one going to Keiran McCarthy of the Alliance. As Chris has pointed out the Alliance Party’s McCarthy faces a perennial challenge from the SDLP for that last seat. Carmel Hannah’s daughter Claire is running in this election clearly as a prelude to running against the Alliance man next year in the Assembly election.

But ooking at the distribution of Council seats, the DUP’s advantage looks even more pronounced, with the DUP currently holding 11 seats to the Ulster Unionists 6.

Bare in mind that five of those DUP seats are held by UUP defectors, and you have a sense that the DUP here in Strangford are neither Paisley or Robinson’s men, but old anti Belfast Agreement Ulster Unionists who took longest to defect are probably the less likely to buckle.

It is their hyper local machines that will make the difference in the ground war. Can they get their vote out? And in 2007, it was still a considerable vote, with the party leading the UUs by 48.9% to 18.5%. Had Iris Robinson not left politics under such a dark cloud that no one would consider this constituency in the least competitive on the Unionist side of the fence.

Mike Nesbitt will have to rely on his considerable media profile (and perhaps some stronger messaging than he has shown heretofore) to compensate for poor party infrastructure. In Jim Shannon he is up against a personable councillor with a stable constituency machine. Nesbitt’s been using his blog to some effect

There are few big dividing lines locally, though there is some concern that the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein over educational reform will lead the loss of the local prep department at the Regent House Grammar school.

There are now two TUV councillors, both former Mayors, although the strength of their party mandate will not be tested before the RPA report kicks in. It remains to be seen whether they can create enough interference to affect the eventual outcome in this seat.

In the boundary changes Strangford loses Dundonald and its surroundings (Ballyhanwood, Carrowreagh, Dundonald, Enler and Graham’s Bridge wards) to Belfast East and Carryduff (East and West wards) to Belfast South, gains Ballymaglave, Ballynahinch East and Kilmore from South Down.

The full sheet of candidates so far: Deborah Girvan (Alliance); Claire Hannah (SDLP); Mike Nesbitt (UCU-NF, aka UUP); Jim Shannon (DUP); Terry Williams (TUV).

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