Posters, walkthroughs, boundary changes, Facebook – reflections in Lagan Valley

five posters, four parties, one lamppostIn the last of these three posts looking at the campaign in Lagan Valley, I’ll broaden it out from just canvassing to look at a few other things I’ve picked up along the way.

Posters seem to be a necessary evil. The unanimous verdict across the five parties I talked to in Lagan Valley is that as long as one party puts them up, the others will be forced to follow. While a local agreement was put in place to curtail them in the south west (for a by-election?), the only permanent solution to the growing number of cable ties on our lampposts is a ban through legislation.

Trevor Lunn (Alliance) pointed to the expense of the posters and their short shelf life in wet and windy weather. One nationalist poster team reported being intimidated close to a unionist estate, and there seemed to be a lot of tampering with SDLP and Sinn Fein posters.

UCUNF are notable in not printing on the back of their posters. Not sure whether this was to keep costs down, or just an oversight by whoever centrally specified and ordered the posters. But they are alone in not having the candidate’s name emblazoned on the back. UCUNF are also unusual in not putting a giant X mark beside the candidate’s name. Maybe they’re hoping to reuse them!

When I first read the sentence above in an email, my mind turned to a royal or presidential visit. Turns out that a walkthrough is nothing more than the candidate and a group of party workers stretched out across the street like some giant game of Space Invaders or Scramble. The parties see how many people they can talk to by thrusting leaflets into their hands. Some shoppers see how well they can keep their eyes down and pass by untouched … though nearly always looking over their shoulders with a satisfied smirk after they pass!

The UCUNF team canvassing in Lisburn's Bow Street one Saturday morning

We’ll be doing a walkthrough in Lisburn at 11 …

I’ve only seen one poster trailer touring Lisburn – with a giant Daphne Trimble poster on the back . I suspect the DUP have trailed one about too. Note to candidates – it’s only a photo opportunity if the poster trailer is stationary, if it’s in the lane closest to the kerb, and if someone remembers to bring a camera. Thankfully, David ran back to the car for the camera, and the van slowed down just enough to get a non-blurred image.
Daphne Trimble posing in front of an election poster mounted on a trailer

I think you can safely say all parties have their eye on the local elections next year and this is seen as a dry run/rehearsal. Also logistical problems can be sorted and if needs be those who don’t perform can be allocated other campaign jobs for next year.

As that quote from a Lagan Valley candidate highlights, like all elections, it’s half about this result and half about the next campaign. UCUNF are marking voting intentions to start tracking the Lagan Valley mood swings amongst unionism. The SDLP – and presumably Sinn Fein, though they didn’t get back to talk to me – are battling to regroup following the boundary changes that changed the political landscape. The ARK website describes the changes:

Lagan Valley loses the Glenavy ward of Lisburn district to South Antrim, and the Dunmurry ward and the northern part of the Derryaghy ward to West Belfast. This makes the new constituency 6.4% less Catholic, and 6.1% more Protestant than the old, the biggest shift of this kind resulting from the proposed changes. This will put Sinn Fein under considerable pressure to hold their Assembly seat, won for the first time in 2007, with around half of their voters being moved from the constituency.

The media has been quick to badge the 2010 General Election as an online election. I’d beg to differ. The vast majority of voters in the eighteen local constituencies will not be doing any research about parties or policies online. That said, for the political anoraks – yes, that’s you, you’re reading Slugger! – there’s a lot more comment and critique (if still lacking debate) online. Strange then that the NIO Press Office who manage media access to counts are still unwilling to accredit bloggers who don’t hold NUJ cards!

Wandering around Lisburn’s Nettlehill Road with Jeffrey Donaldson last week, he mentioned that Facebook was becoming an increasingly common way for constituents to contact him. He keeps his Facebook profile relatively free of party politics to make it easier for people to relate that way. Unlike emails which get picked up by his constituency office, he personally replies to Facebook messages fairly quickly using his Blackberry. (From personal experience, he perhaps replies a little too abruptly when riled … maybe a case for less haste, less emotion?) While out canvassing, various electronic friends have introduced themselves when he’s called past their houses. Currently it still less than a quarter of his daily electronic correspondence, but he admits that increasing volumes will eventually push it towards a managed solution. Another example of the social media delivering disintermediation.

So finally, having traipsed around with and talked to candidates, I must have a personal opinion about what will be announced in Lagan Valley early on Friday morning? Some of the candidates and election teams certainly could quote the latest Paddy Power odds for the constituency!

  • Turnout will be down on the 2005 general election.
  • Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) will have a much smaller majority, but will still easily top the poll. At this stage, it would take a him to trip on a seismic banana skin to lose.
  • From what I saw on the small sample of doors I stood at, I’d say that Daphne Trimble (UCUNF) will come in well ahead of Keith Harbinson (TUV).
  • The Alliance share of the vote will be down on the 10.9% (adjusted) figure from 2005.
  • There won’t be much between the SDLP and Sinn Fein votes – expect both to sit around 4% share.

(I’ll update the post with some non-UCUNF photos when I get hold of pictures of party posters … pity so few have them online!)

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