I was asked on Thursday by Seamus Martin on Tipp FM who would be the winners and losers in this battle. I, honestly as I could, told him ‘no one’. And indeed, in terms of pure numbers, there has been very little in the way of significant change.
As I argued in the Mirror last week, there was little for the electorate to go on any of the party’s records.
If it was anything it was a reward to both SF and the DUP for keeping stability and exuding an air of competence and unity. There was not much more, not much less. But there’s another story here , which I will try to trick in detail through the afternoon. In a seat for seat contest, the designation totals came up thus:
And the lead party totals:
Sinn Fein 29
So, even allowing for messy vagaries of the STV system, neither under the old rules nor the new did Martin McGuinness stand a pup’s chance of getting the First Minister’s jobs… But the trick of raising it as an issue on the doorsteps undoubtedly worked like a dream, particularly for the DUP.
So, as an issue, it wasn’t one either Sinn Fein and the DUP wanted to talk about in public or to the media. And it wasn’t necessarily one they raised directly on the doorsteps either. In the case of the DUP they were rather more canny than that, as you can see from one of their key election communications,
It came with a clever pitch for assets generally, more MLAs means more Ministers (here, I suspect, Caitriona was a more than useful asset) and getting the senior title (as opposed to job) at OFMDFM…
This may be why the UUP canvassers did not pick up the concern about McGuinness until right at the end as waverers were preparing to vote.
There will now be a strong force applied to the two smaller parties to conform to norms set for them by the two larger ones. These will carry a single message, don’t be negative about your politics, remember the tribe is the most important tie that binds and, more importantly as we head into difficult era of implementation of cuts, keep quiet and don’t cause us any trouble.
The smaller parties have been corralled into a blind tribal canyon escape from which is not going to be quick or easy, when tribalism is seen both to work and bring sustained electoral success. The sheer lunacy of Tom Elliot’s attack (which would probably have got him a red card on Slugger, or at least during the election campaign) on Sinn Fein was a dysfunctional political act that will consolidate rather than disrupt the current, stifling status quo.
The other phantom memes of the election campaign were the UUP ‘meltdown’ and Sinn Fein’s bounce from their electoral success in the Republic, both of which failed to materialise. That’s not to say the UUs don’t have serious trouble, disguised somewhat by the fact that too many of their survivors only just just made it through the door.
But more of that later…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty