Robinson’s hope: the circular firing squad of liberal East Belfast

Moochin Photoman

Splintered’s guides are shaping up to be the blog gem of this campaign, though he’s not got as far as East Belfast yet. The common wisdom is that Robinson is safe. His majority of just 6,ooo majority in 2005 (which is towards the lower end of the scale in Northern Ireland), would be comfortable in normal times. But, for the Robinson family, these are not normal times.

Here’s how it worked out last time amongst the main contenders (the nationalist vote is derisory here):

Peter Robinson (DUP) 15,152 (49.1% +6.6%)
Sir Reg Empey (UUP) 9,275 (30.1% +6.9%)
Naomi Long (Alliance) 3,746 (12.2% -3.6%)

Now, given the instability of the DUP’s political position viz a viz the voters (Dromore and the Euros),  and the various scandals (real or otherwise), the DUP leader could be batting for his political life here. Not least since the TUV will be expected to take votes away from him. How much is unknown, but if they poll anything near that majority figure from 2005, he will be toast.

In fact the TUV here have a coherent strategy which could: 1, see one phase of their double decapitation strategy through; and 2, set them up nicely to take a quota from the DUP/PUP in the next Assembly election.

Robinson’s (who has out on the doors since the campaign began) big advantage is that his opponents are split. The Alliance vote went up considerably in the 2007 Assembly election, when Naomi Long polled 5583 (or 18.8% of the vote). Alliance are confident that with a high profile candidate, Long was Mayor this year (and Slugger’s up and coming politician the year before) that they will take a lot of new votes.

She will almost certainly take votes from the Ulster Unionist candidate (my old mate, Trevor Ringland). And the more she takes the greater the likelihood her party can grab a second quota in East Belfast in the Assembly elections next year. This is a critical part of the party’s plan to grow their Assembly team and substantiate themselves as the definitive party of the centre.

That’s only likely to sharpen their appetite for victory with an east Belfast born and raised (she went Mersey Street Primary, round the back of the Oval) candidate.

Ringland needs, at least, to hold Reg Empey’s vote and, preferably from his point of view, begin slicing back into Naomi’s voter expanding base. He replaces the party leader as lead candidate, who has crossed lough to fish in what is likely to be the much more fertile waters of south Antrim.

Ironically, Ringland’s problem is not Robinson. That job he will have to trust to David Vance and the foot soldiers of the TUV. His real problem is Long, who can point back to the 2007 results to demonstrate she just behind the combined total of Reg Empey and his running mate Michael Copeland.

Long will also argue that the high water point for Alliance here was the near perfect three way split between Bill Craig, Oliver Napier and Peter Robinson when the DUP man took the seat by hundreds of votes, back in 1979. But it is a tall order to grow from 5.5k to where she would be competitive enough to take the seat.

Something that is somewhat reflected in Toal’s (supported by a polling company Lucid Talk) odds at the moment, who make it a rather uneven fight between Robinson (1/4) and Ringland (4/1), with Naomi getting only 14/1.

In short, Ringland needs to convince the voters that Long has no chance of winning the see and therefore putting the squeeze on the Alliance and that a vote for her is effectively a vote for Robinson.

Can he do it? Well, he’s not getting much covering political fire from his partners, the Tories who now have other, more urgent fish of their own to fry. It will be down to the quality and depth of his own on-the-ground campaign. And whether the voters of East Belfast still even remotely care about whether his party lives or dies.

Middle class voter apathy and a tame war between Ulster’s liberals may be the critical dividing line between change and the status quo here.

Still, Robinson is having to field difficult questions on the door steps – not least about the five pound strip which the TUV say is getting some play for them in former hard core DUP areas – that don’t have a one line answer: which is never a good thing for a politician on the hustings.

Whether he keeps the seat or not may depend on an inclusive outcome to that fight between the Alliance and the Ulster Unionists. And of course, events dear boy, events.

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  • Chris Donnelly

    GRRR…that’s the second time I’ve been beaten to my debut thread on the new Slugger…

    You’re right Mick, this one’s a fascinating contest. Hard to see past Robinson though.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve been talking to people there for over a week. I hit my last ‘target’ this morning, so I was keen to get it out.

    I suspect Robbo will get caned in the working class areas of inner east, the Braniel and Ballybeen.

    But this is not enough of a working class constituency to be the ‘deal breaker’ for him.

    Middle class voters are likely to take more nuanced view of where dumping Robbo lands unionism in general…

  • jim

    I had a DUP canvasser on my doorstep last night in Strangford and believe it or not (i didn’t) they are still selling the story that Iris was a great MP and the Robinson family are beyond reproach, even defending the Westminster food bills.

    When then asked why they threw Iris out of the party, they said they didn’t know, and left. I think they secretly miss her……..are people so stupid to vote for this party led by this man and his extended family.

  • Cynic2

    Robbo was out on the stump here last week. We closed the blinds and ignored the doorbell.

    I think he is severely damaged goods. The problem goes deeper than you suggest. He is also reviled by :

    * those former supporters who were disgusted by the way he denounced Iris on the TV and was seen laughing at the dispatch box while she was being committed after attempting suicide

    * former Paisleyites who detest his ousting of PapaDoc and emasculation of BabyDoc for allegations (later disproved) far less serious that the ones he has faced (and where the jury is still out on the worthless sliver of land)

    * evangelicals who cannot vote for a man so incapable of ordering his own household and controlling his wayward wife in line with biblical demands

    * Methodists appalled that ‘Gods share’ of the dirty money in Irisgate was allegedly to be donated to their church to placate the Almighty

    * rational voters who want honest Government and don’t trust him

    * TUV supporters who see him as selling out to the Shinners

    The best outcome would be for the moderates to unite behind Ringland and out him. That is unlikely to happen so my prediction is that he will get in with a much reduced majority – then will claim this as a vindication even when the CUNF is snapping at his heels.

    The really interesting point would be if the TUV were to pull out and urge their supporters to vote for Ringland. Many Alliance voters might then realise that – good as Naomi is – they could best vote for Ringland to out Robbo and change the entire political order.

    If he were to lose this seat (and I have to say I doubt that he will) he would be toast politically. The DUP men in suits already see him as a liability and are waiting their chance.

  • Ulidian

    Do the Alliance actually think they’ve a hope of winning a second Assembly seat here anytime soon & why? They’re miles short of two quotas & won’t be helped by boundary changes.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    An excellent analysis Mr Fealty.
    Although if you look back in Slugger (and btw I have great difficulty with your new Archive arrangement) you will find I produced a remarkably similar analysis.

    Being wrong in my analysis is of course something I can live with. But Id hate anyone to .er…………….lean too heavily ……so to speak on my analysis.

  • Tim Lemon

    Good analysis by Mick but as the weeks go on I’m finding more and more anger about expenses, developers etc. Extraordinarily I have yet to meet someone on the doorstep in EB who was willing to admit an intention to vote DUP.

    I also doubt if they will be any leakage to the Alliance from the CUs. The Conservative label appeals to a lot of middle-class previously Alliance voters and Trevor’s own background will seal the deal.

    With the TUV making a lot of noise in the bottom half of the constituency Robinson will be squeezed extremely hard.

  • dingdong

    Around the country the view from the doors is that the DUP vote is well down, the TUV doing well, the UUP up a little but not enough and the also rans as was.

    Overall the result will be no great actual change but the DUPs will be the big losers.

    EB unless something dramatic happens will return Robbo but he’s so damaged he’ll not survive the next one (which if we have a hung parliament will be in 18 months to 2 years)

    Some believe Robbo will use this time to disentangle himself from Iris (divorce her) clearing the way for a peerage, without Lady Iris.

    Probably the best he can hope for

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    There are actually almost 1,800 “nationalist/republican” voters in the constituency and this figure has remained the same from 2003 thru 2005 to 2007….in spite of Naomi Longs getting elected on First Count in 2007.

    My analysis of Naomis surplus indicates comparitively few went to SDLP and Sinn Féin indicating she had little support from Catholics.

    To unseat Robinson it would be necessary for a CLEAR alternative to emerge. So those 1,800 votes WONT swing it for Long.

    Not so derisory after all. Possibly the “key” to Long winning and she wont get it.

  • Is the QC advice, which apparently was paid for from Sammy Wilson’s public funds, and which Mr Robinson so very publicly declared would be shared to prove that he is above reproach and suspicion, so flawed as to render the advice from Queen’s Counsel worthless and a waste of good money, or so damning an indictment against Mr Robinson, as to render him likely to prosecution and therefore his public position, untenable, and his party colleagues liable to a charge of conspiracy too, if they are party to the furnished and very secret opinion?

    Publication of the opinion would prevent ignorance electing a possible miscreant ….. and whenever it would so clear the air and dispel all doubt, is the fact that it is withheld and responsibility for its publication or non-publication passed around like a ticking bomb and serially denied by whatever honorable member of the party you would ask, ……… disturbing, to the point of confirming one’s every rotten suspicion?

    Crikey …. I must try and ask shorter questions.

  • jeep55

    Assembly election. Alliance on 19% SDLP/SF/Socialist/WP/Greens on 10% combined. No hope of a nationalist seat but every hope of transfers resulting in a second Alliance seat.

    And support for Alliance was still returning in 2007. They only have to get to about 22% of the vote to almost ensure that with transfers they will take a second seat. Despite SF plumping!

  • Mr E Mann

    >When then asked why they threw Iris out of the party, >they said they didn’t know, and left. I think they secretly >miss her…

    well, no one could beat her level of constitutent service

  • Mick Fealty

    Don’t worry yourself FJH. I thought I’d try to put a wee bit of meat on your bare bones.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    For the record Sinn Féin dont “plump”…….VOTERS plump. And of course have every right to do so.

  • [quote]Mr E Mann says:
    22 April 2010 at 3:59 pm

    >When then asked why they threw Iris out of the party, >they said they didn’t know, and left. I think they secretly >miss her…

    well, no one could beat her level of constitutent service[/quote]

    A case of Iris falling on Peter’s sword and taking it like a man, Mr Mann?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    And I thank you for crediting it. 🙂

  • jeep55

    It stands to reason that in a predominately protestant constituency the bulk of Alliance transfers are going evetually feed through to Unionist candidates – but only after quite a few have transfered via other middle ground candidates.

    One of the reasons why Steve Agnew of the Greens stayed in the contest as long as he did in 2007 was through Alliance transfers. Thereafter the only other woman in the race – Dawn Purvis – picked up some transfers that helped her get elected.

    The same does not happen the other way round. SDLP votes tend to go down the ticked split fairly evenly between Alliance 2 SF 3 and SF 2 Alliance 3. But as both SDLP and SF will be elliminated these many of these votes would eventually rest with an Alliance candidate if there was still one in the race.

    A few SF votes transfer as far as Alliance but quite a few plump. One of Naomi Long’s tasks this year is to convince the Short Strand electorate that an SDLP or SF vote is a wasted vote.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting FJH. Didn’t Alliance pick up Pottinger in 05?

  • Mick Fealty

    And sentences… 😉

  • stewart

    Was chatting to a Nationalist voter from the East last week, seems they have not forgotten Long’s support for the closure of Maysfield Leisure centre and thus are unlikely to vote tactically for Long

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Not quite Mr Fealty. Proportional Representation is not the same
    They took back the seat they lost in 2001 (the headline in 2001 in Belfast was SF take council seat in EB).
    In 2005 SF lost 300 votes in Pottinger. SDLP gained 200 and Alliance gained a whopping 100 votes (and the seat).
    Im indebted to Ark site here as my own figs have errors but APs share of first preferences in Pottinger was 7.5% (up from 5.3%), SDLP gained 3% and SF dropped 1%).
    Pottinger is after all still a majority Protestant area.
    If we assume that half of APS votes (generously let us say 400 were from Short Strand), it is reasonable to assume that 100% of SFs 944 and SDLPs 670 (or at least 650) came from Short Strand.
    By my highly unscientific reckoning that would be
    Short Strand voting about 1600 for SF/SDLP and about 400 for the AP.
    And of course May 2005 was the perfect storm for AP (and SDLP) in Pottinger.the brutal murder of Robert McCartney just four months earlier.
    You probably recall and possibly reported the fact that Mr McCartneys sisters attributed the loss of the “SF” seat to the reaction to their brothers murder.

  • Re-engaged

    Agree with all the above Cynic 2 bar one thing do you not believe that Naomi’s track profile and record make her a more suitable candidate if we make this a head to head?

    As for PR – once the election is through the DUP will shuffle hime out of the way to give some 12months run at the assembly election and get a chance of working up a pact with whatever is left of the UUP

  • Re-engaged

    Why do canvassers say this – they only go to their heartlands to speak to their own supporters, personnally have never had a person knock my door in 5 years asking for my vote and if they did they wouldn’t find out who anyway. The only time we know in NI how an election will go is when the votes are counted

    Can anyone seriously suggest a reason to vote TUV unless you are a dyed in the wool – not a fenian about the place culchie – they offer nothing to us and will die away as soon as Jim loses interest or North Antrim which ever happens first.

  • Re-engaged

    Good point Stewart – another note and reminder to all the “experts” that all politics is local, just as in Strangford where the DUPe’s claim that Mr Nesbitt being from East Belfast is playing big! As I stated earlier – believe nothing till the votes are counted.

    Personally believe EB will be PR, NL, TR, DV in that order with PR in with around 1500-2000 to spare – all leaking to DV

  • PaddyReilly

    Alliance it is true won only 18.8% of the first preference vote in the Assembly elections of 2007. But one has to bear in mind that several other parties have votes which they will not be using, for the very good reason that they are too small to do anything with, and that these will be winging their way on transfer to Alliance before they go to any electable Unionist candidate. These are SF (3.6%), SDLP (2.8%) , Green (2.2%), Socialist (0.8%) and Workers’ Party (0.4%) . That brings us to a grand total of 28.6%, and two quotas is 28.57%.

    Ergo, with a little bit of luck, Alliance could win two quotas and an extra seat.

  • Driftwood

    Be strange if the DUP were hyping Mike Nesbitt coming from East Belfast- where was Iris from?

    The bookies have PR odds on, then TR at 4/1, then David Vance at 12/1 and NL at between 14 and 33/1.

    The TV debate tonight maybe a chance for PR to present a more dignified face than recently. This is his chance to answer questions, he’ll be well briefed to be moderate in his responses.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I really DO hope someone prepares a spread sheet on these claims and counter claims.
    I can understand partisans talking up their man/their woman. SOME aspects of Slugger O’Toole are not a lot different from those strange people who phone into “Football” chat on Talk Radio.
    That kinda talking up is understandable.
    But some of the pundritry here by professionals and even political anoraks will give us all a good laugh next month.
    We could start with the Belfast Telegraph polls much beloved by some Sluggerites.

  • jeep55


    Paddy Power Betting have shortened the odds on Naomi Long to 10/1. Others as you state.

  • slug

    At school, the less intelligent pupils were more likely to support DUP.

  • slug

    PR comes across as an embarrassment lately. A ruffian. The comment “are you dense” to the interviewer was extremely rude and has certainly reduced my estimation of Robinson as a person.

  • Cynic2

    I don’t think she can draw from a wide enough base to beat Robbo. Ringland can

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    He does indeed.
    But I recall John Hume saying “Are you stupid?” to Skys Vivienne Kreegor (sp).
    But of course Robinson has “form” for being rude and unpleasant. And frankly our fearless Media has humoured him.
    While we have seen SDLP and UUP (and possibly SF) Election Broadcasts re-played and ridiculed, I dont recall seeing the DUP broadcast (maybe a lapse while I was away) re-broadcast and ridiculed on Slugger.
    Have the AP had one yet.
    Surely in the interests of fairness and to abide by Electoral Law of sorts (the spirit of it anyway) we should get the chance……although Robbos Election Broadcast was beyond ridicule.

  • Cynic2

    Dear 1745. You should remember what happened in 1746. For all the polls and punditry, what really counts is around 100 English marginal seats. I am still betting on a workable Tory majority

  • Cynic2

    Unless he loses it – again – at so,me impertinent question about the Developers Unionist Party

  • DC

    Trouble with Trevor Ringland is that he speaks like a bureaucrat, a downside in terms of connecting with the locals. I’ve seen him at a few events.

    As for Robinson, well he’s just been appearing as a bit of a prat.

    I’ve a one liner for Robinson:

    “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

    Long is articulate if not more articulate than the other two.

    Her best bet would be to play up real change along with Clegg – and steal the Tories fruits, but she may have to land a few digs below the belt of Robbo to hammer home her own strengths and courage of conviction to get rid of him for valid reason – political, personal (in terms of moral hypocrisy re claims of greed) and ideological (pro-liberalism).

    Wouldn’t it be a shame if the fruits from the seeds of change sown into the UK electorate by the Tories of strong anti-Brown rhetoric were enjoyed by others – what a pity (sarcasm).

    Anyone but Brown – say the Tories!

    Okay then, Clegg it is!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    1745 is actually 5.45pm so I dont see your point.
    Frankly I am not THAT bothered about whats happening in England.

  • iluvni

    service with a scowl

  • Cynic2


    My apologies ….I assumed that your were a man of the world and that the 1745 referred to the Jacobite rebellion not the time you posted the comment!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh Im just teasing ya. Jacobitism is one of little interests. But there was no FitzjamesHorse intervention until 1746.
    The 1745 actually refers to a battle on the Continent.

  • Granni Trixie

    I am very surprised that people on Slugger are talking up Trevor Ringland – he has no track record in politics still less in East Belfast and therefore no personal vote.
    The interest is therefore will his party vote hold up despite the mess they have made on issues too numerous to mention?.
    Is Sir Reg wise not to put it to the test in East Belfast himself?