Is David Ford safe this time?

I don’t think we’ve had an open thread on South Antrim yet, but here’s a thought.  A lot of the talk in 2003 and 2007 in South Antrim was over David Ford’s safety, at both elections he was the most vulnerable Alliance sitting MLA.  Indeed a couple of weeks out from 2007 when asked I told him he would lose his seat (which be seemed to think was possible, but my other assertion that both the SDLP and SF would both take seats wasn’t.  I guess you win some you lose some.)  At this election that debate seems to have largely disappeared.

In 2007 a Unionist seat vanished due to poor balancing and poor transferring between Unionist candidates. Four quotas slipped to three seats with on paper McLaughlin picking up the benefit.  However what really happened was that Tommy Burns got pretty lucky.

At this election the UUP should really pick up a second seat, there is no excuse for them not doing so, and this will be in the top three UUP target constituencies.  The seat can only realistically come at the expense of Ford or Burns.  Assessing which seems at first easy.  Tommy Burns has a pretty decent profile in the constituency and is seen as a reasonable sort of bloke, but David Ford has been Alliance leader for going on a decade and spent the last year or so in the Executive.  He appears on the big ticket media events and as a result is probably the biggest name on the ballot.

So what does he need to do to be safe? The short answer is add another 1% of vote share to his 2007 total and he is home on the first count.  That kind of rise is what he achieved between 1998 and 2003, and he added four times that figure between 2003 and 2007, so it should be a simple enough task.  But what if he doesn’t? The 2010 election saw Alliance vote share half since 2007 (though in no way a fair comparison) and drop slightly from 2005.  At the European Election there were enough votes in South Antrim for two nationalist quotas, and only about half an Alliance quota. Boundary changes also seem to indicate that the nationalist electorate will drop slightly from the lucky break in 2007.

So he should be fine.  If (and it is still an if) the UUP pick up a seat, it will probably be from the SDLP. But if they balance properly and Ford remains 500 votes short of a quota, he could just be the first sitting Minister to fail to be re-elected.

I used to write and get paid, now I read and don’t.

Former UUP staffer, currently living in London. @mjshilliday