Reports of the death of the UUP may have been wildly exaggerated…

Not much has changed my view that there was little in play in this election to shift votes, bar the sub rosa appeal (conducted sufficiently far away from the media not to raise awkward questions) to the base, whilst speaking soothing words between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

There was even sight of a number (presumably a very fleeting number) of transfers from Sinn Fein directly to the DUP in West Belfast… Yet despite the widespread predictions of a meltdown in the UUP, we may still only be looking at a loss of three or four seats in an Assembly of 108 seats.

Tom Elliott would be well advised to keep his head after this and not be forced to the exit, by either his party or the media. But neither should he kid himself either that the deciding factor was not that simple and elegant fix that made community designation a party rather than more purely democratic means.

In Newry and Armagh his party’s vote went up, and it may be that John McCallister will withstand the loss of Protestant voters to Strangford, and the import of Catholic voters to South Down. But like gravity, which I’m told is one of the weakest forces in nature, the focus will inexorably shift in future elections to getting the relationship right inside Stormont Castle: ie, inside the Offices of First Minister, and Deputy First Minister.

Whilst the reports of the UUP’s death may be exaggerated, but it will continue struggle to find relevance within a set of institutions where the Castle plays the role of all powerful ‘Whitehouse’, to an emasculated ‘Capitol’ that is slipping a little too conveniently into the role of a client Assembly.

All of which may very well be good for us and for the long term stability of our quirky institutions. But it should not blind us to the fact that it is also a triumph of sorts for a tribalism, which if not of old, is certainly with us for a new era of Northern Irish politics.

Roll on 2016…

  • Fraoile

    It’s been mentioned before but the UUP need to consider their current position.

    They can’t be involved in the asssembly and at the same time snipe from the sidelines. You either in or your not and unfortunately until we get to the stage where we have a government and a true opposition that’s the way it is.

    Not a perfect democracy but hey that’s the way it is and probably the way it’s going to be for the forseeable future.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick, this is a bizarre article. The UUP are on course to lose several seats. That points to a decline that has been more or less continuous since the early 2000s. Tom Elliott is already off begging to David McClarty to come back into the fold (if McClarty has any sense he will not easily forgive the shameful treatment he endured).

    They’re losing because their message is incoherent and people do not like negative campaigning and carping from the sidelines. Some figures in the SDLP will have a few extra white hairs as they sit through electoral near-death experiences over the next day or so – for the same reasons.

  • North Down is in meltdown for the UUP – if it’s replicated across the province is indeed a very bad election for them.

  • Greenflag

    Will Allister make it for the TUV in North Antrim?
    Anyone know?

  • joeCanuck

    Have to agree with you, Comrade. A loss of 3 or 4 seats from where they are at is a significant loss indeed. And I disagree with Mick, Elliot should be doomed. It’s his watch.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fundamentally, in the age of powersharing, I don’t think there is a need for two unionist parties. The UUP are on the path towards extinction, have been for ten years, and I really do not see how they recover from here. The DUP seem to be able to touch more bases than they can, and they seem to be able to continue to attract new blood – how can the UUP possibly do this ?

    Increasingly it is becoming clear that two nationalist parties aren’t really needed either. The SDLP’s decline is somewhat slower but listening to Alban Maginness predicting extra seats and two Executive seats, their capacity for self-delusion remains firmly intact.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Greenflag, it looks like Alistair is likely to squeeze in by a hair in the last count.

  • Newry and Armagh is NOT a vote for the UUP. Its a vote for Danny Kennedy. A genuine, hard working, civil, decent man that people know personally because he goes out of the way to make that the case. A rarity. Its a personal vote.

  • The Raven

    “The DUP seem to be able to touch more bases than they can”

    Really? And yet there are so very many bases within “unionism” that they aren’t able to touch. I’d really like to see someone do the math on the “didn’t turn outs”. And then a wee bit of a focus group/market research.

  • Backbencher

    I’m not sure how, but the UUP may come out of this with minimal lose of seats. I predicted earlier they would hold their 2 seats in Upper Bann and this now appears to be confirmed, I also think they will make a gain in Strangford with Nesbitt and McNarry taking the last two seats (SDLP missing out).
    They should also hold the 6th seat in South Down and the 6th Seat in S Belfast.
    All said they could return with 16 seats

    Allister will take the 6th seat in N Antrim without making the quota.

    Does anyone know where you can get access to the figures from the later stages of each count, sites only appear to give the 1st pref figures?

  • youngpolitico

    Okay the UUP might not be dead but with the prices of funerals it would be sensible to start saving up now as it shouldn’t be long until the plug is pulled.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Mick for Tom Elliott to have lost 4 of the UUP’s remaining seats is a loss of over 20% – the UUP just dont have the seats to throw away.

    Now they’ve dropped well behind the SDLP on first preferences, with an Alliance on over 8% breathing down their neck.

    Moderates with broad centrist appeal like McCrea, McCallister, Nesbitt have done well but the UUP as a whole is imploding in places like North Down, East Londonderry, East Belfast etc.

    Tom needs to step aside gracefully, he’s not up to the job and never was. If the UUP and SDLP are to have a future they need to form a strategic alliance, come up with a common statement of shared principles – for starters the UUP needs to definitively chuck it’s sectarian wing (here’s hoping a certain Strangford candidate won’t win a seat) and move back to the centre ground.

    SDLP and UUP if they have a hope of long term survival needs to work together, strategically, and next time they both need to offer up a proper joint centre-ground alternative to DUP-SF instead of just carping negatively about them.

    Otherwise, c’est finit.

  • Kevin Barry

    Some analysis I really don’t agree with is with labelling the SDLP and the UUP as the ‘middle ground’ in NI politics; they’re largely irrelevant and I’m pretty certain the results will show this once again.

    The DUP have stolen the UUP’s clothes years ago, however, it would seem that there will forever be a swathe of unionism that will never vote for them, much like within nationalism and with SF.

    Both of them are a rump who they formerly were and are on the back foot constantly.

    Compare Tommo with David Trimble or Molyneaux and Ritchie with Hume; I ask you, are either of them ‘fit to lace their boots’?

  • dwatch

    Progressive Unionist ‘for starters the UUP needs to definitively chuck it’s sectarian wing (here’s hoping a certain Strangford candidate won’t win a seat) and move back to the centre ground.’

    Even the Strangford electorate (OO affiliated ) who McNarry depended on are beginning to reject him to vote for a more moderate and milder spoken Nesbitt. Did McNarry not come out on TV recently calling for fellow UUP MLA’s McCrea & McCallister to resign. The UUP will be well shot of this assembly member who Empey or Trimble could not control since 1998, if they hope for any survival. after this election.

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    aye, the UUP had a shocker. Far too hard line in this election. The DUP have moved from the right and their’s virtually no difference between them and the UUP. The UUP have again tried to out ‘DUP’ the ‘old’ DUP. But no-one wants that anyone.

    From the other side the alliance are grabbing all the moderates. Alliance could well be the 4th and maybe even 3rd largest party at the next assemby election.

    Basil may be able to do something with the party but it could be too late

  • Zig70

    I hope the wheels come of that bumpkins buses. There is a need for a right sided party that doesn’t have the sectarian baggage. Time for Basil. Though I hope he gives that kid a slap in the count centre. cringing tv moment. It going to take a brave team to try to build a party without baggage. Lots of people i talk to say they have noone to vote for, but maybe they wouldn’t vote in numbers anyway. Should be compulsary.

  • dwatch

    Heard on the radio two UUP candidates elected in Upper Bann. So UUP has held their two assembly seats here, and have up to five MLAs elected now.

  • The UUP are doing at least as well as SDLP, who let the nationalist side down last time [as far as executive seats went, although they were stitched up in P&J fix for Ford. They look like their vote management hasn’t improved in the interim. SF are doing the heavy lifting.

  • USA

    Yes the UUP have made some awful errors in recent years, and Tom Elliot is a continuation of that.
    The Alliance party continue to gain ground from the center left. With the DUP moving toward the center from the right the UUP is in huge long term trouble. They are boxed in and cannot win any new votes / seats with their current hardline approach. Retreating backwards is not an option either as we seen from the TUV, the only way out for the UUP is forward.
    A fresh face with cross community appeal is needed. But as TFBTFO said, even if McCrea gets his chance, it may be too late.

    A UUP / SDLP “common cause” approach would be appealing, but very difficult to put together. The McCrea wing of the UUP would need to take control of the party and clean house first.
    Some may argue the Alliance have already taken the centrist ground from any UUP / SDLP move, but such an alliance would have broad appeal as McCrea does have cache as a forward thinking non-sectarian unionist type.

  • Comrade Stalin

    A fresh face with cross community appeal is needed.

    The UUP do not know how to do cross community appeal. In this election they abandoned any kind of attempt to reach across to the moderates and focussed on the tribal vote, which of course shows how cynical and fake the whole UCUNF “let’s change politics” thing was.

    Aside from that, they don’t really know how to do elections. The messages going out are fixed, but on top of that, they just don’t use modern campaigning techniques. They are not honest with themselves either, running many candidates in seats where they have a chance of only winning one.

  • Jack2

    Surprised to hear reports of transfers filtering from SF to DUP and vice versa.
    At the late stages its transfers from rival parties that really matter and you your party over the finish line.
    After the outburst this evening “The scum of Sinn Fein”, Elliott has washed any future transfers from Nationalists down the drain. Its hard to state just how many votes he has thrown away in future elections with the vitriol displayed.
    Its not only transfers lost but they of course will go to a rival party making the road to election even tougher.

  • separatesix

    Feel sorry for Lesley Macaulay she was a strong candidate, even if the electorate didn’t see it, she seemed to be very involved in the community and have a good grasp of the issues facing people, I don’t blame her deciding to give up politics.

  • separatesix

    You have to see the “scum” comment in context jack2. If someone is born into a republican background he or she will support that cause, however if you have been on the receiving end and been made a victim of that paramillitary organisation’s violence you’re going to have a very negative view of that group. As for Elliott’s comment on the republican symbols, as everyone knows Sinn Fein have no respect whatsoever for the union flag even though tens of thousands of unionists in NI still value it, why is Elliott expected to respect symbols of a different tradition when Sinn Fein don’t.

  • Framer

    UUP’s problem is the media and the attempt to appear modern to appease the media, leading to importing media-friendly candidates and consequent friction with old-timers.

    Other problem, aside from indiscipline is purpose. Best just to be practical and traditional, without being a disciplined sect.

    Keeping away from policies is also essential.

    Now that Alliance is a governing party things for them will change and they may be treated as mercilessly as the UUP.

    Perhaps not, given the bias of the BBC and blogosphere.

    Hegemony of DUP/SF will, like the Assads in Syria, come to grief in 40 or 50 years and the media may then even turn against them.

  • separatesix

    In fairness to the UUP this time, they did have some fresh faces, the best unionist candidate I’ve seen in recent years has to be the TUV’s Keith Harbinson he’s bright young and articulate, I don’t think any other party has anyone of his calibre, he represents a new coherent unionism, not the rural ulster nationalist DUP style. If anything Keith’s too good for the parties here.

  • separatesix

    dwatch perhaps UUP will chuck out their “sectarian wing” as you put it when Sinn Fein stop erecting new monuments every other week to “volunteers”. Why are unionists expected to go weak and wooly yet Sinn Fein are allowed to remain the same avowedly republican party they’ve always been

  • Comrade Stalin

    UUP’s problem is the media and the attempt to appear modern to appease the media, leading to importing media-friendly candidates and consequent friction with old-timers.

    No, the UUP’s problem is shit candidates, shit policy coherence, shit PR and shit election management. If these go unaddressed because you are obsessed with blaming others, then the UUP will disappear beneath the waves. It has managed to obtain the seat count it has only by luck and chance.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Tom Elliott leads his party to it’s worst result in it’s 100-year history – just 13.2% – and then wrecks any chance of future recovery with his disgraceful sectarian comments at the count centre.

    He was rattling on 1980s-style about ‘foreign flags’ before he even said the scum-word – childish, shameful, insulting behaviour (almost difficult to believe this was a party leader speaking and not some sectarian lout) and totally goes against everything unionism should stand for.

    Time for Tom to go, and soon.

  • separatesix

    Perhaps they shoulden’t bother putting the UUP back together at all. At least Tom Elliott articulated well what the rest of think about Sinn Fein no matter how big their “mawndate” is.

  • separatesix

    Sinn Fein supporters were behaving in a triumphalist way as they had during the campaign with sticking their poster on the Enniskillen war memorial., is it any wonder Elliott lost his rag with them, can’t understand why any party needs to do a speech, surely a press release the following day would do.

  • separatesix

    progressives get walked on.

  • Jack2

    Hi SeperateSix.

    “You have to see the “scum” comment in context jack2”

    Voters dont have to see anything the way politicians would like.
    Its up to them to reach out to us. They are salespeople asking for our votes.

    Remember :under the good friday agreement anyone born in the North is entitled to an Irish Passport – its not exactly a foreign country. Its one of the few countries people can be born into dual nationality.

  • separatesix

    So what if Jim Allister squeezed in by the skin of his teeth he was elected and that’s all that matters, in Switzerland multiple identities are born in the one place and they don’t try and change things, disloyal of those nationalists who are born into a state then want to change the border because of some irredentist claim.

  • separatesix

    Does anyone actually own two passports? you’re either British or Irish you can’t be both. An election speech should be banned or the unionists should leave the count centre and let the bigots work themselves up into a tricolour-waving frenzy.

  • ayeYerMa

    @Comrade Stalin – I don’t think that the UCUNF arrangement was “cynical and fake”. There seemed to be genuine people in the UUP that shared the positive UCUNF vision. The problem was that the UUP was never fully 100% behind it, and I’m pretty confident that Tom Elliot is head of the faction that was against it (only those UUP members can shed the light on this 100%). I’ve never rated Elliot – often most of the things he says are correct, but he just does not have the tact or guile that’s needed for a politician (and particularly party leader) to face the ruthless and dishonest media.

  • ayeYerMa

    @Jack 2 – RoI is a foreign country (ask anyone in the RoI if they’re a foreign country from the UK if you want proof of that!). RoI passports are given in NI on an extra-territorial basis – it’s similar to the way that RoI passport holders get the right to vote in UK elections due to the history between the 2 countries.

  • ayeYerMa

    @USA – agree that McCrea would make a much better leader.

    A good current strategy for the dwindling UUP (led by McCrea) and SDLP would indeed for be them to officially go into opposition with the SDLP. It’s in both their interests, as if they don’t do something drastic like this they are both toast. Perhaps they can make a massive comeback if the UUP and SDLP did something as radical as forming a new party? If such a new party could survive for just a few years it would probably eventually fracture into left and right and perhaps give us the normalised politics that many of us have been yearning for?

  • ayeYerMa

    … not to mention that Alliance just don’t have the number of votes needed to make any significant difference to tribal politics in NI. A new party founded jointly by the UUP and SDLP would force the issue by forcing the existing UUP and SDLP electorate behind a non-tribal party.

  • ayeYerMa

    … though a new NI Conservative party might be more realistic (the UUP would need to disband first to avoid a repeat of the UCUNF mess, with members who agree with centre-right politics encouraged to join Cons). The DUP is after all rather more economically left-wing than they let on (viz all the recent parochial squeals of “Tory cuts”).

  • ayeYerMa

    @Zig70 – good point about compulsory voting – it would remove the polarised extremes in a stroke. If all the people who have, understandably, given up hope got together then they’d make a massive differenct.

    Actually, why was a temporary trial of compulsory voting in NI never considered by the Westminster government as a possible part of the “peace process”???????!!!! It would increase the stability of NI immensely.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Remember :under the good friday agreement anyone born in the North is entitled to an Irish Passport – its not exactly a foreign country. Its one of the few countries people can be born into dual nationality.

    Exactly, the South is not a foreign country any Unionist worth her or his salt should recognise that and acknowledge what we have in common across these islands.

    you’re either British or Irish you can’t be both

    Totally not true. Of course you can be both. Being both Irish (or Ulster/Northern Irish) and British is the whole point of Unionism.

    Shame on Tom Elliott for his disgraceful offensive comments. If I as a moderate unionist feel offended I can only imagine what our friends and neighbours in the nationalist community must feel.

    If Tom Elliott had any balls he would man up and apologise to the whole community for his intemperate comments today.

  • Comrade Stalin

    ayeYerMa:

    @Comrade Stalin – I don’t think that the UCUNF arrangement was “cynical and fake”. There seemed to be genuine people in the UUP that shared the positive UCUNF vision.

    No, there weren’t. They either :

    – opposed the idea completely
    – opposed it but were happy to take Ashcroft’s cash
    – saw it as a gimmick that might win them votes

    The UUP never believed in ending tribal votes or sectarianism. A couple of those candidates have left the party; most of them have stayed on through the leadership of a backwards-facing candidate and have just completed a deeply tribal campaign. They clearly did not believe a single word of the non-tribal politics they were promoting a year ago.

    The problem was that the UUP was never fully 100% behind it, and I’m pretty confident that Tom Elliot is head of the faction that was against it (only those UUP members can shed the light on this 100%). I’ve never rated Elliot – often most of the things he says are correct, but he just does not have the tact or guile that’s needed for a politician (and particularly party leader) to face the ruthless and dishonest media.

    Back in my earlier days in the Alliance Party I used to very naively moan all the time about what bastards the media were, and blame them when the party did badly. The fact that I later came to understand is that nobody cares. The media are certainly heartless; if running down or writing off your party is good copy, they’ll do it. If they smell blood they’ll go for it. You need to play them at their own game, run your PR well and try to elect leaders and candidates who don’t put their foot in their mouth every five minutes.

  • ayeYerMa

    @Progressive Unionist, whilst I agree that we have a lot in common with the RoI, and that I regard them as one of the people’s that share a common British Isles identity with us, the people of the Republic chose to become independent – I don’t like that fact but have to accept it.

    Please go and tell some people south of the border that “the UK is not a foreign country” and see the reaction that you’ll receive – if you get away with just verbal abuse after doing that you should count yourself lucky!

  • Hopping The Border

    SS

    “the best unionist candidate I’ve seen in recent years has to be the TUV’s Keith Harbinson he’s bright young and articulate”

    That would be Keith “leprechaun language” Harbinson? Bright and articulate indeed.

  • Hopping The Border

    SS

    Also stop writing about yourself Keith.

  • babyface finlayson

    It is useless and weak to talk of people as scum in any situation. It panders to the lowest common denominator. I don’t think Tom Elliot is thoughtful enough to be a leader.

  • Progressive Unionist

    @ayeyerma – I think the south has moved on an awful lot in recent years and let’s look at what kind of reception our Queen gets when she visits in a few weeks time – that will tell us a lot about how comfortable the south is in relating to the rest of these islands and in respecting the British Unionist identity.

    As for Tom Elliott, he is completely out of touch with the times – decades behind. Sooner he goes the better for unionism.

  • ayeYerMa

    @Progressive Unionist – agreed.