I know, I know… We’ve probably done too much on the poor old UUP and not enough on other parties… But this particular train wreck is fascinating in the detail… For instance, I have just been listening to Martina Purdy on Talk Back, when she picked West Belfast as a place where the UUP could mount a comeback…
You can see the reasoning. Bill Manwaring stood there for the second time in the last year and put nearly half as much again as he got last year (which was a doubling of the last total in 2007). Moreover Bill tells Slugger he’s planning to stand there again next time out.
On the other hand Brian Kingston for the DUP (their third candidate in four years) put barely 100 votes on last time out. They are still in poll position, but stuck. The search is on for another Sammy Douglas in order to engage with a particularly alienated working class in what was once a cockpit of Paisleyism.
By contrast in the East, the UUP was busy dumping assets rather than investing in them. Despite a disappointing outcome in the Westminsters, my old mate Trevor Ringland took 20% of the vote, and 7,305 votes. That vote total may have been the reason they ran two candidates rather than one.
Ringland was an early casualty after he rowed publicly with Tom Elliott over his assertion he would not attend GAA matches or Gay Pride events. He spent months trying to clear up the mess in the wake of Ringland’s exit.
Although a former MLA who lost his seat in 2007, Michael Copeland has a profoundly different profile in the constituency from that of the former Irish Rugby International. So in #ae11 that 20% dropped like a stone to 9.7%, and the two candidates between them could not even scrap a quota with just 3,137 between.
And the second candidate, the eminently likeable (and middle class) Phillip Robinson even failed to gain a council seat in largely working class Pottinger…
The two places could hardly stand in greater contrast. Manwaring, left I suspect to follow his own instincts and untroubled by petty power struggles within his own Association is demonstrating that consistency and hard work bring their own rewards.
On the other hand, Ulster Unionism in East Belfast has been all but sacrificed on the altar of whatever the opposite of good sense is. In South, with a drop from Westminster of 17.3% (with a relative unknown, Paula Bradshaw who is now in Alliance) to one of 13.5% Michael McGimpsey has continued successfully to ride the urgent downdraft of his own personal poll ratings.
The party’s old guard Belfast has choked off what had remained of its own successor generation. It will need something close to miracle to prevent its last Assembly representatives, Michael Copeland and Michael McGimpsey, from switching the lights out next time round as they leave the building.
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