The TUV’s disappointing victory

Two years ago Jim Allister scored one of the most stunningly successful defeats of recent Northern Ireland political history: he may have been defeated but his success and share of the vote sent shock waves through Northern Ireland politics. Today the same Jim Allister scored a fairly pyrrhic victory being elected on the final count in North Antrim.

The TUV’s share of the vote was approximately what had been predicted (and what a number of us personally suspected – without boasting I usually come fairly close in my suspicions but keep them to myself). The TUV has pretty even, though limited, support throughout the province: its failure to energise the sorts of numbers of voters who gave Jim Allister that 66,000 vote in 2009 is multi-factorial.

In 2009 Allister had incumbency on his side and he had demonstrated an amazing ability for hard work in Europe which gained him votes. In addition the electorate (especially the DUP core vote) were still smarting from the DUP’s decision to enter into power sharing with Sinn Fein. In addition the DUP seemed just too pleased with what many saw as their political U turn. All this combined to give Allister a massive vote.

The TUV, however, failed to make any significant inroads at the Westminster election. In this election they achieved a similar result.

The TUV critique of the current arrangements at Stormont has essentially been two fold: firstly that allowing ex-terrorists and their cheerleaders into power is unacceptable. The second critique has been of the shambolic system of government with semi detached ministerial fiefdoms, no real collective responsibility and no opposition due to the mandatory coalition imposed upon the parties.

The reality seems to be that although many unionists may not like the current arrangement with Sinn Fein in government they are not willing to try to destroy the system to remove them. Many unionists bitterly resent the fact that ex-terrorist godfathers are in positions of political power but they seem to have accepted the reality of the position. They feel, however, that at the end of the day the unionist electorate cannot tell the nationalist electorate whom to vote for.

The TUV at this election as previously have suggested that allowing ex-terrorists into government lest they go back to violence is accepting blackmail but the majority of the unionist electorate either disagrees or feels that the level of blackmail being operated by SF is not so severe as to risk calling its bluff. On the issue of democratic mandate the TUV have repeatedly stated that it is not that they are telling nationalists whom to vote for but that they (the TUV) are saying that they would refuse power themselves rather that power share with Sinn Fein (they have repeatedly said they would share power with the SDLP). Whether the unionist electorate believe the TUV to be lying and actually be bigots or feel that the argument is too nuanced and impractical the reality is that this argument seems to carry very little weight with the unionist population.

The other argument, however, regarding competence of the government, the lack of opposition and the lack of proper accountability seems to be vastly more widely accepted. Danny Kennedy pointed to this problem on Friday on the BBC, Pete has noted a similar argument being advanced in the Irish News today.

There are now two independents and Jim Allister in Stormont; since Alliance are now part of the governing coalition, that means that there are 3 out of 108 opposition MLAs. This actually means that Allister has a vital role to play and one to which he is well suited. Barristers are very well versed in picking apart spin, nonsense and half truths. The Public Accounts Committee made a fairly good job of delving into the NI Water debacle; Jim Allister also did as good a job from outside Stormont. With him in Stormont his ability to hold government to account will be greatly increased which is to the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.

In terms of creating a more normal system of government with a proper opposition (ie more than 3 opposition members) and the creation of voluntary coalition: all the parties apart from Sinn Fein seem to feel that the “ugly scaffolding” of the agreement is less than ideal. On this as well Allister can argue for and point towards a more sensible and normal democratic future.

Whether people like the TUV or not, Jim Allister can be a major asset to the Assembly and Northern Ireland. In four years time some more people may agree politically with him (or may not) but many more will probably respect his hard work for constituents, his ability at opposition (including constructive opposition) and his personal integrity. Many here may dislike the TUV and may celebrate their poor showing. However, it is only reasonable to respect Allister’s mandate (I agree it is small) and pass judgement on him after seeing what he does.

Update: In deference to Paddy Reilly and pauluk’s valid criticism I have modified the title

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  • There are 4 opposition MLAs in the new Stormont Assembly, now that Steven Agnew has just won the last place in North Down. I doubt he will often agree with Jim Allister, but they are both dedicated to picking apart spin, nonsense and half truths.

  • joeCanuck

    Although he just squeaked in, it’s fair enough. He will be but a tiny voice in Stormont but he represents a view that deserves to be heard.

  • Correction there are 3 opposition MLAs: 1 Green, 1 TUV and one independent. I was confused by Turgon’s count of 2 independents. So it is going to be a lot of work for 3 MLAs.

  • Jack2

    Jim Allister timeline:

    2001 QC
    2004: MEP
    2007: Failed election as MP
    2011 : Elected MLA

    Downward spiral for Jim.
    Five years time: ?
    Local Councillor?

    I respect his current anti establishment outlook and intellect but he needs to tone down the hatred.

  • Framer

    BBC says Jim Allister is stone-age. But then Tom Elliott will be their prime target for the next couple of years.

    They had written the UUP off despite the results which kept saying otherwise. But numbers are meaningless to the prejudiced.

    The BBC did not even bother telling us the first preference votes on their website. And in the hours of TV coverage, no vote transfer details were permitted.

  • PaddyReilly

    There is, I think, a misuse of terms here. What you have experienced is not a pyrrhic victory. It is if anything, a pyrrhic defeat.

    Similarly you recently misused the word shibboleth, which is strange as you appear to come from a bible reading tradition.

  • pauluk

    Paddy’s right, Turgon. For Jim, ‘victory’, even though he came in last, was well worth the effort.

    pyrrhic (OED)
    n adjective (of a victory) won at too great a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor.

    C19: from the name of Pyrrhus, a Greek king who invaded Italy and defeated the Romans in 279 BC but sustained heavy losses, + -ic.

  • Turgon

    I agree: a fair criticism. What I meant was that the defeat in 2009 was actually a stunning success in terms of the number of votes. This election, despite Jim winning was a disappointment. I will change the title a bit to address this valid criticism.

    However, as the blog demonstrates I contend that Jim has a significant amount to offer the assembly and not just for TUV supporters but for all of Northern Ireland in terms of speaking up for and representing a useful opposition force in the assembly.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I expect he will ask interesting and “niggly” questions.

  • Mac

    It’s nothing like a pyrrhic victory, it was a plain old fashioned drubbing.
    If Clegg had got AV through and suffered the council losses he did, you could argue that was a pyrrhic victory.
    Loose the overladen tolkien, classical and whatever allusions Turgon, they have a horrible habit of making you look less learned when wrongly invoked than you would look if you ditched them all together.

    As for shibboleths, I like when American tourists tell you they are thinking of going to Portglenone to see the monastery.

  • Mac

    Disappointing ‘victory’.

    Spin things too hard and the wheels come off.

  • Turgon

    You misunderstand. I think the election was very very bad for the TUV. However, the simple fact is that they won a seat. That is very hard to put in a single headline.

    Why not just read the blog; it is pretty clear I do not think this was a great success.

    As to the analogies: I have only twice ever used Lord of the Rings analogies. I have also used very many ones from literature and from history. Some like them some do not. if you do not well fair enough but no analogy is actually that accurate.

  • Munsterview

    Turgon : “… Barristers are very well versed in picking apart spin, nonsense and half truths…”

    Yeah Turgon true for you man, Government has not been the same in the South since Brian Lenihan BL, Minister for Finance lost office !

    No one now that we can rely on to tell it to us truthfully like it is since the bold Brian left !

    It has been my experience of Barristers collectively over a decade and a half that they spend so much of their working life persuading others that ‘black is white’ unless of course they need to present ‘white as black’ that they quickly become a tribe without any scruples what so ever in their presentation.

    What other profession gives carte blanche to its membership to deflect, mislead and use every shred of their intellectual capacity to conceal the truth and prevent the facts emerging ? And we are still expected to believe that somewhere in there they still have a functioning moral compass ?

    Incidently good to have you back and nice photo on that car news sheet !

  • Henry94

    The problem for the TUV is that people want the Agreement and will not put it at risk. Even those that don’t vote because they don’t see what difference it makes were not willing to vote against the Agreement.

    What the political system needs now is for the SDLP and the UUP to go into opposition. A political convention needs to develop where the big two from each side form a government and the small tow form an opposition. The opposition can then define themselves against the policies of the executive and make gains in future elections. Eventually they will get their chance in power.

    It’s not a voluntary coalition we need but a voluntary opposition. The safety net of full participation would still be there in case of a crisis in the institutions. But it is hard to see now where such a crisis could come from.

    The Alliance party should would have to choose government or opposition.

  • Nunoftheabove

    joeCanuck is right. He may not be much more than a better educated and profoundly more bald and self-loathing version of George Seawright but it’s best nonetheless that we know what that section of the population thinks. Camus’s La Peste comes to mind.

  • joeCanuck


    In principle I agree. However, any possibilty of a SDLP/UUP opposition pact, which would have been a good idea, has been totally scuppered while Elliot remains leader. His rant against, basically, uppity Catholics is too offensive to allow the SDLP to participate.

  • Henry94


    They don’t need a pact. They can act independently. Going into opposition is the right thing for each of them even if the other does not. It would be more effective if they both did it but no agreed policy positions are required. The UUP could flay the executive from the right and the SDLP could attack them from the left

    As for Elliot I assume he us finished. It’s not so much what he said but his failure to control himself that shows he is not up to the job. One wonders how he would have coed with some of the pressures David Trimble had to deal with. Not very well I’d imagine.

  • Mick Fealty


    Would you do a blog post for us with your thoughts/analysis on #ae11?

  • Niccolo

    Jim Allister is a barrister – so what? The leaders of the two largest and most successful parties in Northern Ireland do not even hold university degrees. For me I do not see what he can possibly hope to achieve. What does he bring to the party? Also, I simply do not buy his efficient government and voluntary coalition narrative. It is just a fig leaf to a wrecking agenda. If he could he would bring Stormont down. Sadly, comparisons with another Unionist barrister one-man-band are not apposite in this case. Robert McCartney finally got the message, Jim Allister will not.

  • thethoughtfulone

    Fair play to Eamonn Mallie on UTV for pointing out that in his view there are two Jim Allisters, whereas their other analyst (sorry can’t remember her name) was very obviously NOT a Jim Allister fan!

    Mr Mallies words were along the lines of that if he leaves “Mr Angry” outside, Jim can be a very effective addition to Stormont. This is quite correct, I voted for Jim but the deal is quite simple, if I voted in “Mr Angry” I won’t do it again but if he rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck in to business (which I obviously believe will be the case) then I think my vote will have done some good.

    I have to say that given the woeful performance of our government over the last 3 or 4 years if I hadn’t had the chance to vote for someone with the potential to shake things up a bit, I’d have joined the increasing ranks of those who choose to show their disgust and indifference by not voting at all.

  • gréagóir o frainclín

    What a wonderful result for Jim Allister and the TUV. A great result for the over 40’s and some ‘elderly’ Unionist folk in general.

    But it appears that’s the make up of such conservative Unionist folk, not only are they old but they seem to age prematurely. Maybe it’s their old and odd beliefs, their ‘traditional’ views that psychologically weighs them down.

    I remember seeing a C4 programme on TV way back in the early 1980’s and there was Peter Weir as a mere schoolboy (now of the DUP) expressing his views with other kids on the troubles in NI. However, I couldn’t believe it when he cropped up again in the 1990’s onwards when he emerged as a DUP candidate. Not only was he balding, but he was overweight, dressed like an auld fella in a ill fitting mishapen suit, he just looked so old for his age. An outward manifestation of his inner self and his idealism.

    BTW, I’m 44 years young and loving it. The Catholic Church baggage has long been abandoned.

  • Nunoftheabove

    The UUP has a tradition of ill-fitting suit-wearing now that I think about it. One more reason to ditch the orange connection I guess.

  • gréagóir o frainclín

    Oh, just to add but the face of NI politics as well as the political landscape is definitely changing when ye view the recent results, and what a change since the 1960’s….

  • separatesix

    Jim Allister may have only got in on the ninth count, that dosen’t matter he has been elected to the Assembly and that’s what he had set out to do, his party received no public funding plus he had little exposure in the pro-nationalist media here, It’s a miracle he was elected at all. Good Luck to him.

  • separatesix

    Gregory are you being looksist against Peter Weir? I’m not old and I voted TUV and I’am proud of the thousands that also did whatever the outcome.

  • separatesix

    Well done the thoughtfulone for voting Jim Allister at least it wasn’t a wasted vote.

  • separatesix

    The UUP have no need to align themselves with the SDLP now that Sylvia Hermon and her ilk have left the party.

  • JAH

    The loyalists rejected all the extremes. PUP on the left and the extreme right wing parties like TUV, BNP and UKIP.

    For once I actually agree with David Vance’s principled acceptance that he’s out of touch with the modern Ulster. Allister and his 2.5% vote represents an irrelevant past.

    Maybe he should find out how George Wallace learned the error of his ways;

    ” In 1979, Wallace said of his stand in the schoolhouse door: “I was wrong. Those days are over and they ought to be over.”

    Old Unionist Ulster with its hypocritical piety, blatant discrimination and noxious far right politics is dead. It is never coming back. Allister could still find a worthwhile constructive role if he can accept that the past is over.

    But I wouldn’t count on it.

  • pauluk

    Gregory, some of your assertions are absolutely hilarious. Not sure if you are being serious, or just silly. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard it suggested that political affiliation can cause baldness and make people age prematurely!

    You’re a real gag, Gregory. You reckon non-religious folks like yourself are never overweight, never go bald and don’t get old before their time? Wonder what Hitchens would think of your thesis.

  • thethoughtfulone

    “Allister could still find a worthwhile constructive role if he can accept that the past is over.”

    I would suggest that you could aim that comment equally fairly at many within Sinn Fein!

  • Turgon,

    Great piece. Interesting idea that Allister could play a useful role as a watchdog against incompetence (even if his motive is to convince people to bring the system down). I think the TUV as an entity will not now ever be more than Allister plus supporters, whereas it looked at the last Euro elections that that might not have been the case.

    Was still a great line about the P45s in 66,000 votes but.

  • radex

    Turgon’s assessment is very good. Jim Allister is right about the fact that we live in a one-party state, with no opposition, and no possibility of a change of government. It is unfortunate that in other respects Allister is a primitive. Nevertheless, I was relieved that he scraped in. I was disappointed that Eamon McCann just failed to get elected. He would have been another thorn in the flesh of the complacent establishment. I think McCann increased his vote by about a third, up from c. 2000 to c. 3000. His problem is the party tribalism of Derry voters. He gets very few transfers.

  • separatesix

    I resent Allister being called primitive, Barry McElduff tends to say very hateful things yet no-one bats aneyelid

  • separatesix

    Well the nationalist community didn’t reject the extremes JAH in this election, UKIP may be right wing but it’s not extreme like the fascist BNP.

  • separatesix

    All this moral outrage about the far right yet no condemnation of the Bogside Butcher being our co-equal first minister.

  • radex

    Separatesix – both UKIP and the BNP advocate withdrawal from the European Union; in other words both advocate secession. Our country, of which we are citizens, is the EU. The definition of treason is the betrayal of one’s country, especially by aiding an enemy. The enemy in this case is the United States and its fifth columnists. Both UKIP and the BNP advocate treason. That seems pretty extreme.

  • separatesix

    What’s extreme about wanting to withdraw from the European Union? some countries like Greece want rid of the euro, and interference from european legislation and red tape.

  • separatesix

    Surely it’s treason to be in Europe and sign the UK’s sovereignty over to an EU superstate, do you realize how idiotic your “treason” statement sounds radex.

  • andnowwhat

    David Vance has just said that Martin Mc Guinness IS a terrorist (not WAS but IS).

    Actionable surely

  • separatesix

    andnowhat anythings possible, does that mean they wear an Armani suit during the day and a balaclava at night?

  • separatesix

    Andnowhat actionable? does that mean I can sue him for shoving Irish flags and billingual street signs down my throat?

  • Reader

    andnowwhat: David Vance has just said that Martin Mc Guinness IS a terrorist (not WAS but IS).
    Actionable surely

    Probably not. After all, once someone has murdered someone, they are a murderer for ever. They don’t need to be still holding the knife. It might be the same for the word ‘terrorist’. Certainly DV would argue that is how he used the word.
    And in more pragmatic terms – how long does MMcG want to spend in court arguing about whether or not he is/was a terrorist?

  • hannibal

    My first post on this site. I must say, I have to laugh when I read of Jim already being consigned to the dustbin of history. There are those who did not vote for TUV (outside of North Antrim) because of the unknown and unproven labels that dogged the TUV candidates. Couple that with a Party that had no MLA, MP, or MEP going into the election, and the electorate could be forgiven for voting for other parties which they deemed more effective in representing them. I also believe that there was voter apathy affecting the TUV vote – the “we’ll never be able to change anything now” mentality.

    Mallie’s synopsis would be my own. If Jim applies his forensic skill to Executive decisions, then heaven help any half-baked ideas and those who dream them up.

    The utterings of Elliott, though daft given his leadership of the Trimbleite Good Friday Agreement Party, prove that below the surface many people are still unhappy with terrorists in government, no matter how many “progressive” platitudes pepper the soundbites from Stormont.

    Remember, Sinn Fein did not top the poll and do not get First Ministership despite DUP scaremongering (I know it’s symbolic – that they are equal before someone points that out). If Allister had been elected into that situation, the DUP would have blamed every Sinn Fein transgression on Jim Allister. He would have been a prime whipping boy to get them off the hook. And, as the cheering and flag waving dies down, we’re now going to see a raft of cuts and debilitating policies which Jim can and should capitalise on. Four years from now there may be a protest vote as a backlash to SF/DUP cuts.

    “Progress” should not mean silencing men like Jim and the people he represents; dismissing them as dinosaurs and pouring vitriol on everything they say only convinces them of the veracity of their words. It should mean listening and addressing concerns and carrying these people forward with us.

  • orly

    I’m sure a lot of assembly members are annoyed Jim made it in. Fact is he’s a more competent thinker and speaker than most of them and if they try to bullshit he won’t be long in calling them out on it.

    I reckon he’ll turn out to be a good MLA.

  • apollo293867

    Hannibal you say

    “The utterings of Elliott, though daft given his leadership of the Trimbleite Good Friday Agreement Party, prove that below the surface many people are still unhappy with terrorists in government, no matter how many “progressive” platitudes pepper the soundbites from Stormont.”

    You say ‘terrorists in power’, as if it wasn’t code for “Catholics in power.” Unionists like Allister pretend that their bluster isn’t a desire for a return to the Protestant ascendency, but the reality is his and his party’s pathetic showing underlines that most Unionists understand the need to move on.

    Sure the GFA isn’t perfect, what agreement could be in the circumstances? However those of us who believe in plurality have spoken and Jim must understand that his lonesome status in stormont is a result of the voice of the people.

  • hannibal

    apollo293867, your blatant attempt to pigeon-hole me into your very English taxonomy is a bit flat. I have no problem with Catholics in power – in fact I welcome it and certainly don’t want to see a cold-house for Catholics ever blight this land. But for Paisley and his ilk we would have had something workable in ’73.

    However, your deflection from “terrorists” is a tell for your convenient amnesia. For those who have employed violence and terror in the past, who will not eschew said violence, and who express willingness to use atrocities again should they feel the urge, are terrorists. Plain and simple, but it’s not obviously part of your “pluralism” vocab.

    Jim is a voice for many who feel marginalised by those who ruthlessly pursue the centre ground. Indeed, I know many who voted DUP because they believed the scaremongering about a Sinn Fein First Minister. They were natural TUV supporters.

    You will see your “pluralism” break down over time if, in your pursuit of this noble aim, you create a cold-house for those who are disenfranchised by the process. In the coming months and years, please watch Jim Allister and his supporters, and let it be lesson in inclusivity – not exclusion.

  • Nunoftheabove


    You appear to think that some form of cosy consensus is the way forward. That’s not pluralism either mate. Jim Allister may be deplorable politically to many however I for one believe he is more useful inside the tent enjoying a good long slash to himself than outside dribbling up the side of the building like some nauseating recalcitrant schoolchild.

    If you actually do know a significant number of people who believed the DUP scaremongering about McG as 1st Minister and voted DUP as opposed to the TUV as a consequence then my advice to you would be to exercise a good deal more discernment in your choice of friends and associates. The ones you have sound as if they’re abnormally credulous. Mind you, I could have guessed that from your second comment anyway i.e. that you would regard the TUV as the ‘natural’ target of their electoral intentions.

    I for one am weary pandering to the pudden-headed, the neurotic, the self-pitying, the credulous and the superstitious in this society. Mr Allister, on the other hand, has those people right at the very heart of his political project; they’re his intended support base.

  • Crubeen


    As a comparative nebie, myself, I can feel for your trepidation in entering the ‘snakepit’

    “Progress” should not mean silencing men like Jim and the people he represents; dismissing them as dinosaurs and pouring vitriol on everything they say only convinces them of the veracity of their words. It should mean listening and addressing concerns and carrying these people forward with us.”

    Might I suggest that you invert this statement so that it refers to those that Alister terms “terrorists.” I don’t think that there is a great number of convicted terrorists at Stormont thought there are some with dubious pasts and misdeeds that they would not like to be reminded of.

    Allister only refers to Sinn Fein terrorists as if all those who sit on the Sinn Fein benches are or were terrorists prior to the ceasefires and GFA. Are there no terrorists on the other benches? I do recall photographs of various folks parading in pseudo military uniform, brandishing firearms and even one individual invading (as Tractor Tom defines it) a foreign country and being there arrested, charged and convicted of a criminal offence. Indeed, was not the preceding First Minister a convicted criminal who had served a prison sentence? Apparently there are felons on all sides of the House!

    But I can forgive, if not forget, on a basis that all of these convicted criminals (and they know who they are) have, by signing up to the process permanently eschewed the use of violence to pursue political ends. That is or ought to be an end to it unless any are caught and proven to have avoided or breached their solemn undertaking.

    Besides which, as time goes by and younger people enter the process there are an increasing number on all sides who have no connection with or involvement in historic violence. Let us let them take over and try to improve the place and let the old soldiers fade away … unless, of course, somebody is just trying to make a name for himself.

    If Allister goes on as he went on at the first day back, then his brand of traditional unionism is of relevance only to a diminishing number of tired old farts who hanker for an old day that never was what they imagine it to have been. Traditional Unionism, as practised prior to 1968, was Big House politics that spurned all of the unwashed, Fenian and Prod alike – apart from leading the latter out, for the distasteful though necessary (for the financial subvention) periodic elections. Does Allister define it differently and, if so, what is it? If, however, he is for good government, perhaps he should recognise that is not a virtue traditionally associated with Unionism … at least prior to 1968.

  • Mike the First

    GF –

    Minor point, but back in the 1990s, Peter Weir was a UUP candidate, not DUP…

  • apollo293867

    I’m sorry but I cannot accept this cosy idea that Jim Allister and his party are courageous campaigners for democratic accountability. Go and look at David Vance’s rancid right wing blog. The TUV are the BNP with a sash. I believe strongly that their ‘principles’ are just convenient arguments for wrecking the assembly

  • Nunoftheabove


    And the self-loathing little bald man’s going to do that all on his own, is he ?

  • Alf

    A classic moment at Stormont when Allister was talking to the press and was promptly dropped like a hot turd when the DUP team led by Robinson turned up.

    He will die a long slow political death from ridicule.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Useful to have a few mavericks about the place though, I’m not a fan of cosy consensus politics. Be a help if we had a media with the willingness and ability to interview him – and the rest of them – properly though.

  • View from the Ditch

    “Be a help if we had a media with the willingness and ability to interview him ”

    Yes. However, any other party leader would be called to accunt for the behaviour and views of their party members. Why has this not happened? I have emailed JA asking him for his views on A Tangled Web, the rancid mouthpiece of one of his foremost party members. He has not deigned to respond.

    The TUV does not appear to regard itself as do other parties in this respect and therefore we may take it that A Tangled Web expresses views with which Allister agrees. Hammer him for that!

  • Nunoftheabove

    View From The Ditch

    Allister is accountable to nobody but himself for how he behaves in interviews and in any other respect; he presumably does so entirely consciously and creates the impression he wants to with the watching public. I don’t have a problem with that, the problem I have is the ease with which he and any number of other mediocre representatives appear to be able to bully our obsequious media and their apparent failure to either understand this, still less to give much of a toss about how easy they make life for them.