South Antrim report: The most marginal of them all?

The Reverend William McCrea took the South Antrim seat in a by election in 2000, fter the death of the UUP incumbent Clifford Forsythe, and then promptly lost it again in 2001 to David Burnside, thanks in part to a swell of anti DUP sentiment that stretched as far as some Alliance and nationalist voters. McCrea then took the seat back in 2005 winning by just 14,507 to 11,059. As announced by Ivor last night, this may Sir Reg Empey’s one chance to snatch a modest victory for the Ulster Unionists. It looks like one the party’s few chances to nick one back after the loss of their former North Down MP.There are substantial boundary changes to be taken into account, which sees the transfer out of large parts of Glengormley into North Belfast, and the transfer in of Glenavy. But the net effect will be to port a small proportion of nationalist votes out of the constituency. It’s unlikely to affect the overall result.

Declared candidates so far include: Sir Reg Empey (UUP); Alan Lawther (Alliance); Mel Lucas (TUV, formerly DUP); Willie McCrea (DUP). Mitchel McLaughlin is expected to stand for Sinn Fein, but the SDLP will be fielding a new, younger candidate since, this time out, their preferred Thomas Burns is unable to stand for family reasons.

The Ulster Unionist challenger here was a late entrant and a compromise candidate brokered locally when Adrian Watson and his supporters made it clear they would not support the Tories prefered candidate, Danny Kinihan. Kinihan is well liked even amongst his political rivals, but is generally viewed as too recently arrived in professional politics to have made a good fight of it.

Empey has the virtue of being a party leader, and as a Stormont Minister name recognition will surely count for something. And he should gain the whole hearted backing of a constituency association which was in danger of splitting over the perceived interference of London based Tories in the Watson candidacy.

However the lateness of Empey’s arrival must be disturbing for the party given this was always, theoretically at least, their lowest hanging fruit. This constituency was on the party’s radar from the get go, but it may indicate the that Reg’s centralising reforms have not enabled him to exert power from the centre over the edge. By contrast the DUP’s central decision not to run a candidate in North Down bypassed the local association almost completely.

Since 2005 McCrea has been assiduously digging in. Any potential rifts within the DUP with the deselection of the locally popular Paul Girvan as an Assembly candidate in the constituency in 2007 seem largely to have been resolved, and Girvan must fancy his chances of picking up the co-option into the Assembly when Peter Robinson’s pledge to do away with double and triple jobbing kicks in the summer.

As Sammy Morse notes in the comments over at Political Betting, the anti McCrea effect of 2001 has largely burned itself out as nationalists concern themselves more with maximising their own vote in preparation for next year’s Assembly elections.

Key things to keep an eye on. How much can Lucas retain of his respectable local election vote, to take some of the DUP’s lead over the Ulster Unionists? Can Empey galvanise what’s left of the Ulster Unionist base enough to do the rest? And, with a key local candidate for the SDLP out of the race, can Sinn Fein press its way into second place, despite a lapse in the strength of its local organisation?

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  • PACE Parent

    This is now a Celebrity Death Match in South Antrim.
    It is likely that Walnut Willie McCrea will finally feel the effects of the expenses scandal. Folks in the area don’t like to be told who to vote for. the DUP found this out to their cost in the European elections last year. A reinforcement of that displeasure will likely send McCrea packing back to Magherafelt.

  • NMCNSA

    Willie McCrea seems to busy living the ‘good’ life in London to worry about the voters of South Antrim. Lucas is very popular among DUP voters and will hit McCreas vote hard.
    Sir Reg on the other hand is well liked, moderate and will appeal to moderate Unionists and soft Nationalists who don’t want another 5 years of ‘5 job’ Willie.
    Reg has an excellent chance of being in the Tory cabinet as well if they win so lets put South Antrim back in the heart of the Union and end the lies and sleaze of ‘Fun time’ Willie and the DUP

  • slug

    Sir Reg may not be in the cabinet but a slam dunk for a ministerial post.

  • NMCNSA

    Either way it will beat McCreas heckling from the back banch (When he turns up).

  • The UUP South Antrim vote collapsed when many traditional UUP voters moved to vote DUP to get rid of Trimble – send the message. As Reg was DT’s sidekick I am not sure how that changes things, when it was clear that Burnside was standing apart from DT’s policy last time out and managed in some part to stem the voting collapse. Of course we have the DUP breach of trust to match the UUPs since then, though nothing enough to suggest that the issue is any longer pro/anti agreement and that the TUV could break through. Incumbents are strong.

    Shows UCUNF weakness or lack of depth/thinking in that the only option left was to drop in the Party leader. Reg, however, is not a risk taker. So either he decided it was all or nothing, or private polling shows he is in with a good chance.

    It would strangely ironic if the TUV standing would enable one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement to win.

  • NMCNSA

    The UUP vote in South Antrim collapsed because we had Burnside who moderate Unionists couldn’t stand.
    In Sir Reg we had a unifying figure who will rally support from all shades of Unionism. And he showed his coyrage by voting against devolving Policing and Justice into this dysfunctional assembley!
    DUP may get some help in South Antrim from their new chums & partners in Sinn Fein?
    So DUP whos rolling over now???
    Also after all the fuss about Adrian I wonder if Willie McCrea would let a gay couple stay in his B&B if he owned one?

  • articles

    Others nearer the action will know. Is there a chance that Adrian Watson will fight the seat as an independent? After all he must be like a scone left on a griddle, burned badly and cast aside.

    And in comes Reg for a seat he must have wanted, in his heart of hearts, for a very long time. It’s doable, winnable, and renewable.Surely a conflict of interest or was Sir Reg convinced that Chris Grayling and Adrian Watson merited different treatment.

  • NMCNSA

    No Adrian has thrown his support behind Sir Reg

  • Alan

    This ties up a lot of loose ends for Reg ( Westminster, leadership, Tory link, pos Ministerial post at Westminster, factional fighting at local level, actually winning a seat).

    It’s likely he’ll win and win well, the seat was always a UUP banker. It was only lost because of the backlash against Trimble. The only “query” there is about it is in the length of time it took them to grasp the nettle.

    It is now Reg’s to lose.

  • articles

    Not quite i suggest. Lady H has only to let slip a loose comment and Sir Reg is going nowhere. People think she is that rare beast, fundamentally an honest politician. Think ann widdecombe, think michael howard.

    Adrian Watson should have been the jockey on the UUP pony.

  • NMCNSA

    No such thing as a banker these days. People need to turn out and vote! However Sir Reg has an excellent chance!
    I wonder what Willie is plotting his retirement, hes going thinking of picking up a new trade or possibly working with young people?

  • Willie McRea has always seemed to me to show how far removed the north is to the real UK. Mind you he also shows how far removed some voters are to the rest of Ireland, or even possibly the world!

    Where else on the planet would he be electable?

    I cannot imagine him getting elected again. I cannot imagine why he was ever considered acceptable to any political party!

  • NMCNSA

    Lady H and ‘Sooty’ McFarland are going no where fast! People don’t like betrayal as I’m sure the DUP will find out at the polls

  • PACE Parent

    articles,
    Yet more veiled threats from the malcontents in the “paramilitary wing” of the UU. Your linking of Lady Hermon to Adrian Watson is eight days late for the joke that it is. Ask yourself this question – can Watson, Burnside and co. really afford for their dealings with the DUP to come under intense scrutiny? Ask those around Lord Trimble about his last electoral visit to Antrim and who he thinks was behind the rough reception – the DUP or his ?party colleagues.
    There isn’t a donkey around stupid enough to carry Watson, even if he is draped with the Union Flag.

  • Finn Mc Cool

    Reg is a shoe in for South Antrim. Adrian will not stand as an independant, if he was going to jump ship it would be to another unionist party.

    People should not underestimate the vote Adrian would generate in the Antrim area, I know many SDLP voters who would have voted for him to keep Willie out.

    I do think that the same people will vote for Reg and he will get a lot of support from non unionist voters, simply because the non unionist electorate in South Antrim know that the seat will go to a unionist and they will decide which one.

  • Mick Fealty

    NMCNSA,

    I know there is an election on, but this site has a rule about playing the ball rather than the man. You are not long here, but for every good information driven post we are getting from you there is another containing nothing but personal comments.

  • NMCNSA

    Mick Fealty really don’t see what how long I have been on this has to do with anything and don’t see anything wrong with my posts.
    I am as entitled to my opinions as anyone else so I would like to know why exactly you are singling me out?

  • articles

    Simplified my points are this:

    Local horses for local courses and decentralised decision making is best.

    Lady H has Triple A credit rating, no one else in BTland has anywhere near her credit in the bank.

    None of the above reveals a party political viewpoint.

  • I have doubts about Lady Hermon, not about her sincerity or hard work for her community, but rather what she really stands for. Is she an Alliance supporter at heart. Or is she perhaps a ‘semi’ united Ireland supporter. She is not at home in Westminster (no bad thing that) and not at home with Conservatives, which is odd because the UUP were always more conservative than not. perhaps there has been a sea change and I missed it.

    I would not vote for anyone who declared the murder of Jean McConville was not murder, whatever party he stood for…

    My field is narrowing…

  • NMCNSA

    When exactly did Lady Hermon become so popular?
    She has an appalling record at Westminister for both turning up and speaking. People seem to regard her as a good MP because shes always at home which seems strange as they vote for her to go to the Commons!

  • articles

    How revealing, I don’t think Sir Reg knew either.

  • NMCNSA

    I’m shocked at the venom with which some people on this site attack the UU&C party and at how many dismiss the party as ‘Torys’.
    Conservative to me means a vote for family values and to try and fix broken Britain.
    Perhaps people would prefere another 5 years of Brown and New Labour with all their missed placed political correctness gone mad.
    Unionists it is a straight choice of the DUP with there Northern Ireland mini statelet or the UU&C who will fight Northern Irelands corner on the world stage at cabinet level and embrace all colours, creeds and ages!

  • Framer

    Lady Hermon’s track record on the very same good and services regulations that so exercise many of the commentators here is not wholesome.

    In the Commons debate on 17 January 2007 she voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

    Perhaps she felt she was representing the views of the guest house owners of Bangor.

  • YelloSmurf

    NMCNSA, Tory is not a term of abuse, it’s just a shorthand. Pippakin, Lady H is not an Alliance supporter. She is a unionist, but she’s not a hard-liner, and she’s defiantly not a Conservative.

    More generally, on the issue of South Antrim, it seems to be a bit of a desperate act. I thought that Reg had made up his mind to focus on DEL and the assembly, but it now seems that he wants to leave the Assembly and the executive after all (at least, I hope so. Double jobbing’s problematic enough without double jobbing in two different constituencies).

    South Antrim seems to be a place where assorted people from all over the country stand. Reg doesn’t live there, neither does McLaughlin or McCrea. I have nothing against politicians doing this, but I think that, once you’ve been elected, you should commit to the area that elected you.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Mick
    The loss of Burns from the ballot will be keenly felt by the SDLP and expect McLaughlin to extend the lead over the SDLP in the area, though the boundary changes should mitigate against republicans opting for a two candidate strategy at the Assembly elections even with a large lead over the SDLP next month likely.

    This will be a fascinating encounter in South Antrim, with the evidence of the previous bouts between McCrea and Burnside suggesting a significant swing vote within unionism locally.

    Make or break time for Empey.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Yello, it seem she is now a DUP candidate by proxy, must be hardline enough for them.
    If you look at mainland high profile politicians few of them ever got elected in their own area, and the idea of Gordon and Dave fighing for the one seat would be absurd, it just so happens Reg and Peter are from the same area. It does not always work out that a politician is most suited for the area they come from, a “liberal” unionist from Tyrone would prob fare better closer to Belfast, and a “conservative” unionist might fare better in the west.

  • PaddyReilly

    She has an appalling record at Westminister for both turning up and speaking. People seem to regard her as a good MP because shes always at home which seems strange as they vote for her to go to the Commons!

    Then what do people vote for Gerry Adams for? This voting nonsense is being made into a daft religion. Only in a tiny number of cases can it make any difference. When there is a clear Labour majority why should any member of a minor party want to turn up to vote?

    I am more likely to be impressed by an MP is he helps me sort out my dispute with the Council than if he attended all the debates on the Warble Fly Bill.

  • YelloSmurf

    Drumlins, I think that that was the DUP’s doing rather than Sylvia’s doing. I think they saw their chance to hurt UCUNF and took it.

    On the area question, I have absolutely no problem with politicians moving around to get elected, or to find an area where their political philosophy resonates with the voters, but I do think that once you’re elected you have to commit to the area. Sammy Wilson is an example of both how to do it and how not to do it. He certainly committed to East Antrim when the vacancy arose, moving to live and work amongst his electorate. On the other hand, he not only retained his seat on Belfast City Council, but he actively defended it. I would hope that Reg would follow Sammy’s example in the former and not the later.

  • NMCNSA

    Then what do people vote for Gerry Adams for? I have been asking myself that for years PaddyReilly. And the reason the turn up is to fight the corner of every voter who put them there and even those who didn’t!

  • Drumlins Rock

    if your cattle had been attacked by warble flys you might have a different opinion! Thankfully warble fly has been eradicated from the UK, due to such a bill probably. We elect and pay councillors to sort out your dispute with the council, MLAs to sort out the regional problems, MEPs for many of the decisions made at Europe, and MPs at national levels, surely to ask 18 people (1 per 100,000 of us) to concentrate on the BIG picture is not too much to ask? for example the “mythical debate on warble fly” might have raised many issues that would have become relevant in a national emergency such as Foot and Mouth.

  • YelloSmurf

    The BBC are reporting that Thomas Burns IS the SDLP candidate in South Antrim.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I agree yello, and it seems so does reg, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/northern_ireland/8608573.stm
    he is going to give up his assembly seat it seems, I dont think it is absolutely necessary to live in a constituiency, you must certainly be close enough to commute to work there when not in Westminister. Interestingly Gregory Campbell is still a Derry City Councillor, and lives there despite representing East Londonderry.

    PS. just noticed that the DUP had to get Trevor Clarke to comment on Reg standing, wheres Willie?

  • NMCNSA

    Heard he wasn’t running for family reasons! I think they’ll run Nicola Mallon there, shes a Councillor for Oldpark and lived there for years! Would poll well around Crumlin/Glenavy

  • dodrade

    South Antrim will be to Empey what West Tyrone was to Rodgers in 2001, his political graveyard!

  • british citizen

    “Willie McRea has always seemed to me to show how far removed the north is to the real UK. Mind you he also shows how far removed some voters are to the rest of Ireland, or even possibly the world!

    Where else on the planet would he be electable?

    I cannot imagine him getting elected again. I cannot imagine why he was ever considered acceptable to any political party!”

    Posted by pippakin on Apr 08, 2010 @ 11:00 AM

    To be fair, how many convicted/suspected murderers have we elected to Stormont since 1998?

    A religious fundamentalist is hardly any worse than that!

  • Border Fox

    @ NMCNSA Post 17.

    Don’t be disingenuous. We got the insinuation and yes it will come out in the wash.

  • NMCNSA

    Border Fox there is no 17? And with regard to my post 8 I was referring to Nichola Mallon and Thomas Burns of SDLP who isn’t running for family reasons not the good Reverand!

  • british citizen

    I apologise! but at least the alleged murderers, fraudsters etc pretend to be on the same planet as the rest of us. Besides are not some of those in the, er Rev’s party. I do not wish to hear about his previous boss, who may or may not have ‘seen the light’…

  • Harry J

    it appears the UUP are losing more members. A UUP coucillor has left the party in Strangford and is now supporting jim shannon

  • dwatch

    Harry J, could that be Ronnie Ferguson by any chance?

  • PJM

    Theresa May just self destructed on Radio Ulster during a visit to S. Antrim. Clearly didn’t know about the candidate dispute and had to be prompted as to where the CUNF were running women after she specifically said she had come on air to talk about women candidates. After Patterson’s performances it reflects badly on the Tories’ committment to the link up.

  • Harry J

    i think it is jeff magill – but it sounds like ronnie may not be far behind

  • articles

    It’s funny but that dear old couple of current affairs broadcasting have being doing quite well recently in their own inimitable way. Seamus with his schoolmasterly approach, Wendy with her less prepared free flowing style have both hit the mark. Sir Reg eMPey (in waiting) was all over the place this lunchtime under Wendy’s gentle but astute probing, and poor Theresa May gibbered this evening and that was Seamus on standby mode. Already both of them have made their respective shows completely their own.

  • articles

    Re 18 above. Nothing funny at all. Sorry this was composed on the back of something else written in pompous arseholese, the pompous arsholese just kept coming when I switched.

    What i mean to say, genuinely, is keep up the great work Wendy and Seamus, two local heroes.

  • Drumlins Rock

    She was crap, but hopefully the next one they send over will do his homework for once, and maybe will actually find out where Mid-Ulster is, how many Labour ministers are due to visit?

  • Drumlins Rock

    and yes seamus and wendy are on a par with paxman, and slightly less obnoxious too.

  • Michaelhenry

    why does the posters here say conservative and unionist for sir regs party,but according to any of the news reports that i have seen of england,scotland or whales the posters there just say conservative,is the unionist nametag seen has an embarrassment in the mainland.

  • Driftwood

    reports that i have seen of england,scotland or whales the posters ….

    Michaelhenry
    The whales posters are maybe the green party?

    Or have they given up on the Rainbow Warrior

  • Michaelhenry

    You are good. People do not give you enough credit. I admire the attention to detail, the meticulous misspelling, the almost incomprehensible grammar.

    You must have worked hard to perfect it…

  • Michaelhenry

    i see david cameron in the news nightly and he is always described has conservative,never has conservative and unionist,either the message was ignored or the message was not sent out.

  • PJM

    While I’ve often seen Paxman and Humphreys make themselves look good, I’ve rarely seen them actually get anything out of an interview. The Patterson and May debacles came about because they had to say something coherent and couldn’t just get into a slagging match with the interviewer.

  • Harry J

    i hear more councillors in ards may be about to join Jeff Magill in resigning from the party and supporting Jim Shannon

  • Harry J

    http://www.dup.org.uk/articles.asp?ArticleNewsID=2025

    jim shannon welcomes former UUP councillors support

  • LabourNIman

    Reg is not a moderate, his activity the last two months should be proof of that.

  • Mike

    Michaelhenry

    You’re clearly not paying close attention then.

    The Scottish Conservative manifesto for last year’s European election, to cite but one example, clearly had “Scottish Conservative & Unionist” emblazoned on the front cover:

    http://www.voteforchangeni.com/index.php?command=FILES_DOWNLOAD&download=6576c98e90ca69180fc871a1e563ff8e

  • Michaelhenry

    your only argument to me mike is that well read manifesto in scotland at last years european election, im on about this years election, i thought everybody else was to.

  • Garza

    Tom Elliott backs out of F/ST in support of Unionist Unity candidate Rodney Connor, he says that he thinks Connor will take Tory whip. Ball is in DUP’s court now.

  • Garza

    Have to say if DUP don’t accept Rodney Connor now, their unionist unity scheme will backfire on them.

  • Driftwood

    Garza
    The DUP will need SF permission to such a deal. Possibly SF will grant them such, still hoping to win the seat. But it’s academic given that the DUP are now so in hoc to SF.
    Arlene and Michelle looked like old mates tonight. maybe they are. They both hate the ‘Brits’.

  • USA

    Empey to win SA.

  • Kevin Barry

    NMCNSA

    I have only just looked at page 1 of this thread and it resembles something from the letters page to the Tele. Read into that what you will

  • Harry J

    another broken Tory promise , so much for running in all 18 constituencies

    Lies lies and lies. Typical Tories.

  • Peter Brown

    Can’t wait to see Bert Johnston and Lord Maginnis out cavassing together….

  • Comrade Stalin

    NMCNSA:

    Your sycophantic posts here are comical and are helping to discredit the UUP/CUNF. Please keep contributing.

  • NMCNSA

    Kevin Barry thanks for compliment, I didn’t realise my writing was that accomplished

  • Mike

    Michaelhenry

    The manifestos for this year’s campaign isn’t out yet and the great bulk of campaign literature isn’t out yet.

    But in case you really are that stupid, I’ll spell it out to you – the Scottish Conservatives actively and prominently use the title “Conservative and Unionist” in election campaigns.

  • Michaelhenry

    why then does david cameron describe himself has conservative and not conservative and unionist mike, is he ashamed of the unionist title, by the way mike when people have to resort to name calling to answer a question i know that they have lost the argument.

  • NMCNSA

    Just had a look at Willie ‘Fun Guy’ McCreas expenses claims.
    2007-08 Total expenses £159,852 of which second
    home allowance £20,904.

    2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc
    Minister, Calvary Free Presbyterian Church, Mullaghboy Hill, Magherafelt. £225 per week plus Manse rent allowance and telephone. Hours: 24 hours per week
    Councillor, Magherafelt District Council, 50 Ballyroman Road, Magherafelt BT45 6EN. £440.54 per month (net)
    Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont, Belfast
    8. Land and Property
    Farmland in Co. Tyrone, from which rental income is received.
    Furnished holiday letting in Cotswolds from which rental income is received
    Commercial property in England from which rental income is received
    9. Shareholdings
    Olive Tree International Property Ltd, Swindon.

    Were does he find the time to do all his Constituency work? Oh thats right he doesn’t!

  • Harry J

    More broken tory promises, what happened to running Conservative candidates in every part of the UK, more tory lies

  • Drumlins Rock

    oh dear Olive Tree, had dealings with them, didnt end well, but got my money back at least.