East Belfast at the next General Election?

Naomi Long - Lord MayorThere’s a bit of talk about “new politics” and people voting across traditional tribal lines in South and East Belfast. But will it be a sustained change?

Alliance are talking up Naomi Long’s positive campaign and pointing to UCUNF’s negative campaigning against Peter Robinson. They point to Naomi’s long record of working hard in the constituency. (The SDLP similarly point to Alasdair McDonnell’s labour in the south of the city.) However, there are a lot of issues external to the party and the candidate that will impact the next result.

How many people used their vote as a protest? A fair number of people may have switched their vote as a one-off protest, or stayed at home and not voted with their traditional candidate. Protest votes may be smaller at the next election. (The TUV proved this phenomenon at this election, losing much of Jim Allister’s Euro support.)

Will the TUV implode? In East Belfast, the lack of a TUV candidate at the next election would releases 1856 votes back into the pot.

Will UCUNF collapse? If there is a UUP candidate rather than a joint UUP/Tory candidate, then some of the 7305 votes that Trevor Ringland brought home for UCUNF may find other homes, and some voters they missed out on this time may return to the fold.

Will Peter Robinson stand again? He hasn’t gone away you know! http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/05/10/robinson-to-remain-ni-first-minister/ There are no big name DUP players other than Peter Robinson active in East Belfast at the moment. A lesser-known DUP candidate is unlikely to capture all of Peter Robinson’s personal vote, much of which will have been secured over his 31 year Westminster tenure. If the election is soon and the TUV are out of the game, he may feel he has a last chance to snatch back his seat? Particularly now that he has his party’s backing to remain as party leader and NI First Minister.

Unionist unity candidate? Unless unity turns out to be disaffecting, it would be a struggle for Alliance to defend their East Belfast seat against a tribal headcount candidate.

On the other hand, maybe the East Belfast electorate will decide to give their new MP a second chance? Perhaps the longer the delay before the next election – so if it’s in 18 to 24 month’s time rather than in early Autumn – the better chance Naomi Long has of proving effectiveness on the Westminster stage and significantly building on her swing. She could do with another 5000 votes to guarantee success at the next poll … and that’s a bigger swing than at this election.

So many unknowns. One thing is for sure, the DUP are unlikely to voluntarily throw in the towel and agree to give Naomi Long a clean run. Update – and contrary to Brian Walker’s post, she’s unlikely to be appointed First Minister in the NI Assembly any day soon!