Alliance: successes and dangers

The Alliance Party seem pretty pleased with their election. They received almost 51,000 votes, elected 8 MLAs and saw their share of the vote rise by 2.5% from 5.2 to 7.7%. (The council elections were broadly similar with them getting 7.4% and 44 councillors). They gained 1 MLA in East Belfast (from the PUP’s prodigal leader Dawn Purvis) which was the first time they have ever gained more than one seat in a single constituency in living memory. This success along with Naomi Long’s victory in 2010 has put a real spring into Alliance’s step and along with their somewhat undemocratic gaining of a second executive ministry they seem to feel that these results may represent a real frame shift in their electoral fortunes.

There remain, however, some problems: whilst the gain in votes is significant it is largely in the nicer parts of the greater Belfast “Pale.” The three constituencies with increases of the Alliance vote greater than 6% were South Belfast, East Belfast and North Down. South Belfast and North Down are of course two of the “nicest” constituencies one could hope to find in Northern Ireland and are places where Alliance can usually expect to do well. However, in neither constituency did Alliance manage to gain an extra MLA. In South Belfast they did not run an extra MLA and in North Down Anne Wilson just missed out to Steven Agnew. That failure to capitalise on Brian Wilson standing down in North Down must be something of an irritation and a worry as Steven Agnew is young and may well be able to entrench himself with the sandal wearing, recycling brigade of the gold coast; making further gains there more difficult in the future.

In South Belfast Alliance may hope that they can further erode the UUP’s vote and take its remaining seat but that would also be a very big ask especially with DUP transfers. Indeed if unionism within South Belfast ever got itself organised it might begin to take back some ground. In all the other constituencies the increases in the vote were poor (apart from Upper Bann which I will come back to later) and excepting Upper Bann there is absolutely no prospect of significant gains in what have been called the “Middle Constituencies” of East Londonderry or Upper Bann nor in North Antrim.

What we are left with is a party which can consistently gain one seat at Stormont in overwhelmingly unionist constituencies east of the Bann excepting hard line ones such as North Antrim and Upper Bann (plus one in South Belfast and two in East Belfast). This leaves the Alliance Party as it always has been: the choice for nationalists in seats where they cannot get one of their preferred candidates elected and for non aligned voters. Overwhelmingly, however, the gain in Alliance’s share of the vote has been in certain unionist constituencies and largely at the expense of the UUP. The idea of unionist-lite as the main source of Alliance support is difficult to shake off.

Once of course alliance was specifically a unionist party albeit one with a small u. At that time Alliance enjoyed more support than it does now even with its recent gains: for example in 1983 at a Westminster election where they had no prospect of gaining a seat they won 8.0% and over 60,000 votes; 1975 convention elections 9.8%; 1993 local council 8%. More recently, however, there have been attempts to reposition it as a party truly neutral on the union. Alliance’s loss of support in the later 1990s and 2000s coincided with their move away from unionist-lite. Despite the recent successes, that repositioning may make gaining further inroads into the UUP vote more difficult.

The alternative which is clearly seen in the likes of East Belfast is Alliance canvassers and indeed representatives positioning themselves as soft unionists whatever the official position may be. That tendency combined with the UUP vote it is gaining simply feeds back into a soft unionist position. Even if their new gains are not the result of officially moving back towards unionism it is extremely likely that many of their new voters see it that way and that voting dynamic is also very likely to have a gravitational effect pulling Alliance in a more unionist direction.

Nowhere is unionist-lite demonstrated better than the defectors Alliance has gained over the past year: almost to a man and woman they have been ex UUP. Ironically many of these ex UUP types were leading supporters of the Conservative UUP link up: they then jumped ship to an Alliance Party which has, since the Westminster election, been distancing itself from its sister party in GB which has indeed gone into coalition with the Tories. The irony in this is probably lost on most of the defectors who seem to have been much more interested in their personal self advancement and are possibly insufficiently knowledgeable about mainland politics to see any difficulties in all this.

Even when Alliance is very clearly unionist-lite, however, it seems unable to make further inroads outside its heartlands. Harry Hamilton did remarkably badly in Upper Bann. As a UUP candidate he got 25.7% whereas at the assembly elections Alliance (with two candidates) got 6.5%: undoubtedly a good increase from 1.9% in 2005 but in reality a disappointment for the party and a disaster for Hamilton’s desire to change career. Indeed despite the Hamilton factor Upper Bann showed no change in the UUP vote as compared to the 2005 Assembly election.

Clearly in the seats west of the Bann Alliance is little more of a serious contender than the Monster Raving Loony Party. To illustrate the point in 2010 in FST Alliance got barely more than double the vote of the independent John Stevenson whose posters consisted of scrawled felt tip pen on sheets of paper put up in Enniskillen. It is in that context that Alliance’s doubling of the vote in FST as compared to last year needs to be seen.

Although the UUP may be in all sorts of trouble within the Pale its share of the vote seemed pretty solid in the dreary steeples and other places where there be dragons. Even in East Londonderry (where there are quite a lot of dragons) the reality is that its vote held up: it was just that their successful candidate had left the party. As such Alliance inroads into the rest of the UUP’s vote may become much more difficult to achieve.

A further danger is one which only a year ago seemed scarcely credible: that of the DUP. Most of the Alliance vote does seem to be unionist but until very recently they would have been of the opposite variety of unionist to the DUP. However, at the last Westminster election it seemed clear that some of Naomi Long’s supporters were ex DUP protest voters. Since that, as I alluded to previously, the DUP have developed their moderate face to an almost incredible extent. Much of what the DUP have been talking about recently will have been music to many Alliance ears: integrated education, moving Northern Ireland forward; remembering but not obsessing about the past. All these are issues which could easily be on Alliance election literature. Cynics might have suggested prior to this May that these were desperate attempts by Robinson to shore up his vote and prevent slippage to Alliance. That may be so but the attempts have been so spectacularly successful and the DUP is now such a broad church that not preventing slippage but rather eating into Alliance support must be a real and realistic target for the DUP.

The full brilliance of Peter Robinson’s new look DUP is now going to be deployed not only against the TUV and UUP but also Alliance. An openly unionist but modern, moderate, progressive and secular DUP could very easily take Alliance votes. There will be some who would never vote DUP but when Peter Robinson, Arlene Foster and other DUP moderates are promoting such a competent and moderate face many may well be attracted. Alliance’s only defence might be to point to the past but that would be far from modern and progressive looking. Already one sees exactly this sort of voting dynamic. In North Down, home as I mentioned before, to the “nicest” most wealthy unionists in Northern Ireland the DUP had 12,412 votes (44%) and 3 MLAs this time: in 1998 at the assembly elections they had 2,600 votes and no seats.

As mentioned at the start the Alliance Party have had a good election. Their successes, however, underline the perception of them as unionist-lite, a position they had previously, at least theoretically, abandoned. Furthermore, it is difficult to see much room for further gains unless the UUP completely implode: something which is actually pretty unlikely and even if it did occur would be unlikely to benefit Alliance in the seats where the UUP still has mass appeal. In addition until the last Westminster elections the DUP were not competing for their vote nor had they any reason to do so. Now the situation is different and the overwhelming political machine which has almost destroyed the UUP will be turned in all its new charming, liberal but deadly ferocity onto Alliance. Alliance should enjoy its successes: more serious and dangerous challenges lie ahead.

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  • joeCanuck

    Excellent political analysis as usual, Turgon.

  • aquifer

    “Now the situation is different and the overwhelming political machine which has almost destroyed the UUP will be turned in all its new charming, liberal but deadly ferocity onto Alliance.”

    By accusing them of selling out to SF in Belfast City Council or somesuch?

    We are in an interesting situation. For the Union to work there has to be room for a normal non-sectarian party like Alliance, but can the DUP stop scratching the scab off the sectarian sore?

    Maybe they will not be doing the scratching, with an unhinged UUP on the loose and TUV on the sidelines, And with every screeching anti-nationalist jibe we are reminded of the bad old days that brought DUP ascendency and the estrangement of ulster protestants from the British mainstream.

    Why should Alliance not run the place, the Union cannot be safe in DUP hands.

  • Barry the Blender

    I did enjoy this piece, but beg to differ on just a few of the sums.

    In Upper Bann in 2007, the Green party, with no history or electoral machine brought in 1100 odd votes. That’s where the Alliance vote has come from there. Looks like unionists held steady, SF got a swing from the SDLP.

    Apart from targetting 2nd seats in North Down or South Belfast (which may well be soon abolished at any rate), the next most likely gain for the Alliance would, in my view, be North Antrim.
    This may well highlight what Alliance is all about. They would need to be able to attract enough “soft prods” to outpoll the SDLP, and get elected on the stoops’ transfers. The Catholic population rarely vote Alliance whenever they’re used to electing one of their own.

    The party has had recent improvements in North Belfast, but in polarised seats like so they seem unlikely to make a breakthrough.

    Both council gains in Belfast came at the expense of the UUP, which ties in with your unionist lite explanation.

    Remember however that as recently as 1982 Alliance was able to win an assembly member in (the 4seater) Belfast West, and able to win council seats on the falls in 1985.

  • To nit-pick: ‘prodigal’ means ‘wasteful’ not ‘lost’. I don’t think Dawn Purvis was wasteful.

    More seriously, I think that Alliance’s ability to eat into the SDLP’s vote is underestimated. It’s not as great as Alliance themselves would like, or as strong as their ability to erode the UUP in Greater Belfast. But the SDLP should have gained a seat in Strangford this month, and did not, as far as I can tell, because their voters shifted to Alliance. (SDLP and SF percentages unchanged, but should have increased by enough to make the gain from boundary changes).

    Also Oran Keenan, who lost his council seat in Antrim, and Andrew Muir, who won a council seat in North Down, are former SDLP members. Agreed that neither is as high profile as some of the UUP defectors (though Keenan had been mayor of Antrim), but they are not completely absent.

    Bayy: “The Catholic population rarely vote Alliance whenever they’re used to electing one of their own.” Quite a lot of Alliance activists – and elected representatives – are in fact Catholics! So their Catholic voters are in fact well used to electing ‘one of their own’!

    Since the consequences of the current redrawing of constituencies will be particularly drastic in the Belfast area where Alliance is strongest, it’s a bit premature to speculate about where the potential for future gains may be. None of the current second tier seats (North Belfast, Upper Bann, East Londonderry, North Antrim with the eye of faith) looks a terribly strong possibility on recent figures, but in the event of Alliance’s vote rising globally, who can tell?

  • Dewi

    Nic – I am now of the opinion that the original Strangford boundary change analysis must have been flawed. None of the post change election results support it.

    Most interesting on Alliance is the council analysis: (From Mr Whyte)
    Antrim 2
    Ards 4
    Ballymena 1
    Banbridge 1
    Belfast 6
    C’fergus 3
    Castlereagh 6
    Coleraine 2
    Craigavon 1
    Down 1
    Larne 1
    Lisburn 3
    Newtonabbey 5
    North Down 6

    1) That’s quite a solid number of councillors.
    2) As per Turgon the geographic concentration is extremely pronounced. No councillors in Fermanagh or Tyrone and only a couple in County Derry.

  • Turgon

    Just to correct the childish nit picking (from the predictable source)

    A prodigal son or daughter is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as one who leaves home to pursue a prodigal life. As such not too bad a description of Purvis. I fail to see what other than wasteful her supposed contribution to helping working class unionists was.

    Do not let being wrong prevent you making foolish and sarcastic remarks though Mr. Whyte. It would be far from the first time.

  • vanhelsing

    Great analysis Turgon – I’m not going near the prodigal debate:)

  • RedTurtle

    @Nicholas Whyte

    A question seldom asked is why the total nationalist vote share since 1997 has remained static when in that period, per evidence self reported on Labour Force Surveys, Northern Ireland has become about 2% more Catholic. Where did that 2% go?

    The idea that some Catholics may have seen the assembly working, said to themselves that they are happy enough to try and make Northern Ireland work and a united Ireland is more trouble than it’s worth, and switched from voting SDLP to voting Alliance, is one possible explanation for where it went.

    An examination of who Alliance voters give their second preference to does not really support the notion of an entirely soft unionist takeover as stated in the article.

    When you see results that say
    1) Nationalist vote steady
    2) Alliance gaining
    3) Unionists falling

    It’s tempting to think that soft unionists are deciding to vote Alliance, but it could well be.

    1) Unionists falling due to demographics
    2) Nationalist vote “should have” gained due to demographics
    3) (Ex?) nationalists switching from a nationalist party to Alliance soaking up any demographic gain for nationalism.

    Both would look the same on the first preference vote tally. Alternatively it could be a mixture of the two of course.

    The problem with this though, on an all Northern Ireland wide basis at least, is that the unionist total vote share hasn’t really changed since 1997 either. It’s hot then it’s cold, it’s in then it’s out, it’s up then it’s down, but it hasn’t really changed, certainly not by 2%. 50.5% in 2010 even despite Naomi Long, almost precisely what it was in 1997. Perhaps Alliance has brought it down in 2011 but I haven’t seen any reliable figures yet for 2011 that aren’t “blog poster on the back of an envelope”.

    Complicating the picture is that in the same period turnout in majority nationalist constituencies has fallen more quickly than in majority unionist constituencies, which suggests (but does not prove) that the nationalist turnout has fallen more quickly than the unionist turnout.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Wrong side of the bed there Turgon, eh ?

  • Turgon

    No I slept very well thank you. No good zombie or werewolf films to watch last night. My comments were motivated by a desire to stop inaccurate “nit picking”. It is always worth pointing out when someone of overwhelming self importance corrects you and is wrong in so doing.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    “The full brilliance of Peter Robinson’s new look DUP is now going to be deployed not only against the TUV and UUP but also Alliance. An openly unionist but modern, moderate, progressive and secular DUP could very easily take Alliance votes.”

    Quite how that can be achieved without leaking votes to a TUV-like party is a bit of mystery and besides you cant sell yourself as ‘modern’ whilst your apostles are still peddaling their anti-science and and anti-gay and anti-Irish pro-Orange produce.

    The Alliance Party are safe enough with the Unionist-lite vote for some considerable time.

  • Turgon

    It was Sammy McNally ,
    I am unsure how correct you are there. The DUP is now an extremely broad church. In its pomp the UUP contained people who would have had no interest in the likes of creationism and also Nelson McCausland. They attracted many liberal unionists.

    Now we have the DUP. I very much doubt you will ever hear a large number of their more liberal voices saying anything fundamentalist: they have McCausland for that.

    In contrast to the old UUP the DUP have the moving forward narrative. I think it highly likely that the DUP will gain significant numbers of Alliance votes in future elections. they will mainly be the new unionist-lit Alliance but the DUP might get a few more established Alliance votes.

    In no way am I being condescending but I do not think you as a republican fully appreciate the frame shift in many urban liberal unionists’ perception of the DUP.

  • Mr Whyte is right. There is an opportunity for Alliance to eat into the SDLP vote…. but not at the same time that it is eating into the UUP vote.
    But if we take his accurate point that SDLP did poorly at Alliance expense in Strangford, it cant explain the East Antrim election where SDLP votes drained to Sinn Féin.

    In mopping up “liberal unionist” votes and “liberal UUP” personnel, it will inevitably APPEAR more unionist and possibly as significantly more “conservative”. Alliance is already a coalition which includes a few “liberal” churchy types and lefty types and the hard nosed Tory types are a mixed blessing.
    Alliance still cant expand beyond Coleraine and Craigavon and the list of councils were AP does not havea representative includes Newry, Armagh, Fermanagh, Omagh and Derry. Not that Alliance know where they are anyway.
    And the stunning election results east of the Bann include a non-stunning 1% of the votes in West Belfast, I cant see AP eating into SDLP votes except perhaps in places where it wont really have an electoral consequence for SDLP. Certainly not west of the Bann.

    The crisis within SDLP is about leadership not policy. The SDLP is trying to do “lets get along-ism” AND Nationalism at the same time….and is failing. The Alliance Party do “lets get along-ism” much better with a more thought out approach to say integrated education. And Sinn Féin have a more thought out approach to Irish Unity.
    That….but more significantly the nightmare that is Margaret Ritchie did for the SDLP.
    Previous significant defections of personnel from SDLP have been to nationalism (John Turnley). Or to Socialist purity (Gerry Fitt & Paddy Devlin). There have been councillors who have defected to Alliance ……but in the euphoria of Alliance success…it might be worth looking at Antrim Council where Oran Keenan who defected from SDLP to Alliance actually lost his seat to Gráinne Teggart of the SDLP.
    Any SDLP personnel defections west of the Bann are likely to go to nationalism. As have the votes. Any SDLP defections in and around Belfast will likely go into forming some ultimately unsuccessful “new left”.

    Ultimately SDLP looking two ways at same time (and Ritchie) was their undoing. And ultimately Alliance will struggle if it tries to be unionist, nationalist…..and agnostic……conservative and liberal economically….and a bit lefty on issues of 11plus…..and have an alternative policy on integrated education.

    Success is of course relative. Back in 1973 AP was successful (even then there was a “cute hoor” Executive formula).
    But in 1973 the AP took 66,000 (over 10%) and 8 Assembly seats from 78. SDLP got 160,000 votes.
    But just a month before….the AP actually outvoted SDLP in the Council Elections (94,000 to 92,000) and AP got 63 council seats.

    2011 AP took 51,000 votes (less than 8%) and 8 seats from 108. And 44 Council seats.
    The Alliance Party are actually doing worse than in 1973. And I cant really see any realistic prospect of them reaching the dizzy heights of 1973.
    For the record the AP had councillors in
    Derry 4
    Newry 4
    Armagh 3
    Strabane 2
    Limavady 2
    Down 2
    Armagh 1
    Coleraine 3
    Craigavon 4

    People forget so quickly.
    Rather obviously the SDLP vote has fallen from 160,000 to 94,000 (around the 1973 Council figure).
    But the Elephant in the room is that in 1973…..that 160,000 votes was just about the entire constitutional nationalist vote.
    This time the 94,000 SDLP votes has to be added to 178,000 SF votes…to show the shift from “lets get along-ism” to constitutional nationalism.
    The SDLP cant trade on being nicer people than SF. That wont work any more.
    But lets not lose the run of ourselves.
    Alliance “success” is relative.
    SDLP “failure” is relative.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    “In no way am I being condescending but I do not think you as a republican fully appreciate the frame shift in many urban liberal unionists’ perception of the DUP.”

    Leaving Ulster out of it for a second – in the rest of Ireland or Britiain it would be inconcievable for a party to call itself, market itself or be perceived as ‘Liberal’ if its spokespeople expressed the type of views oft heard form the DUP – they simply wouldnt say such things or would be oxtered-oot if they did. Equally it is inconcievable that at a Liberal-middle-class-dinner-party anywhere else in these islands anyone would dare utter a profanity regarding the theoretical soundness of Darwin or suggest hellfire and damnation awaited the gay community.

    We may of course have a some confusion over the terminology here – prefixing the word Liberal with the word Unionist may perhaps suggest something different – and allowing for my admitted lack of knowledge of the topic ( something that is never treated by me as an indcation to hold my tongue) I really think there must surely be at least some similarities between the Liberals to be found both inside and outisde Ulster?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m enjoying the new very-pissed-off FJH who devotes so much energy than before to anti-Alliance venom.

    Sammy, Turgon, I would actually say that there is indeed a danger of Alliance losing votes to the DUP. It comes down to my oft-repeated belief that the parties who are doing well at the moment are doing so not because of policy, but because of political competency and because of their reputation for doing work and solving people’s ordinary problems in the constituency. Anywhere you see the Alliance vote going up, it is because the party has worked hard at winning people’s trust on local issues. This is why East Belfast is doing so well, because the Alliance team led by Naomi down there is pretty much a dream team of people who put the hours in.

    When looking at the list of reasons for supporting a political party I personally think in terms of a process of elimination. The DUP would have been eliminated in the past because I couldn’t vote for a wrecker party. I can’t eliminate the DUP on that basis anymore, likewise SF, although they get eliminated a bit later because of their screwups over education and water. If you then have constituency work and problem solving on your list of elimination criteria, it is quite conceivable in some parts of the world that you’ll find Alliance being eliminated before the DUP.

    Regarding the TUV threat .. the DUP need to watch this but I don’t think it will ever be serious outside of North Antrim. The DUP can decapitate the party there quite easily by simply ensuring that Allister can’t outflank them on constituency work. People are less likely to vote for an otherwise lazy and useless local rep whose principles they otherwise agree with.

  • Barry the Blender

    in the event of Alliance’s vote rising globally, who can tell?

    Going by some of the absurd predictions on your website I’d say that you definitely can’t.

  • Dewi,

    I am now of the opinion that the original Strangford boundary change analysis must have been flawed. None of the post change election results support it.

    You give me serious pause for thought.

    My election projections regarding the effects of boundary changes are obviously speculative to an extent, so let’s put them aside; but the census results are not my mistake, if they are a mistake. On the old boundaries, Strangford was 80.0% Protestant, 15.4% Catholic; on the new, 78.8% Protestant, 16.7% Catholic. That’s a 1.2% shift from Protestants and a 1.3% shift to Catholics, from the census rather than my mathematical speculations, but as you very rightly say this has simply not been reflected in the voting figures in that the Natiobnalist vote remained exactly the same despite boundary changes.

    (I encourage others to try it for themselves, and check the published figures at cross-checking with the boundary commission report at – if I did get it wrong I’ll obviously be embarrassed but would rather know for sure.)


    I find your analysis pretty convincing, and there’s little I can add to it. Myself I’m increasingly surprised that there is so little trace in election results of the demographic shift indicated by the census. I always felt that the late great Horseman was exaggerating the likely effects (as did Sinn Fein’s activists in Upper Bann), but even I would have expected to see more movement. I begin to wonder if the census was actually right? Or if there have been substantial population movements which I am unaware of?


    We’ll have to differ on the extent to which Ms Purvis was recklessly spendthrift. I don’t think that was really what you meant in the original post, but never mind.

  • Driftwood

    Equally it is inconcievable that at a Liberal-middle-class-dinner-party anywhere else in these islands anyone would dare utter a profanity regarding the theoretical soundness of Darwin or suggest hellfire and damnation awaited the gay community.

    Good point Sammy, and the reason I, and a lot of others could not ever vote DUP. Their 6,000 year old Earth and Ken Ham style nutty fundamentalist views rule out anyone with at least GCSE Science even thinking of touching them. That’s possibly why at least 50% the population (east of the Bann) no longer vote. Expect that percentage to grow.

  • Driftwood

    The DUP is now an extremely broad church

    How many DUP MP’s, MLA’s or even councillors are agnostic or atheist, like most mainlanders and mainland political leaders?
    Rev ‘Dr’ Willie McCrea and others are still toxic to most of the electorate. Robinson has pretty much silenced them in terms of hysterical outbursts, but scratch beneath the surface….

  • Barry,

    I’m certainly on record as having advised Alliance to run only one candidate in both North Down and East Antrim, constituencies in fact where they missed a second seat by only a few dozen votes. Experience has taught me that I am better at analysing the past than the future!

  • “I’m enjoying the new very-pissed-off FJH who devotes so much energy than before to anti-Alliance venom”.

    Comrade Stalin,
    Im sure you are. Almost as much as I am enjoying your appreciation of the fact that the Alliance has abandoned the high moral ground…and are proud of it.
    And indeed Im sure many appreciate the fact that you cant find fault in my 1973/2011 figures.
    As I have said before the SDLP is but a brand name currently presided over by incompetence.

    the key thing is that what it actually represents….leftish constitutional nationalism is in a stronger position than ever before.

  • Gopher

    I thought we had cleared Strangford up. The bottom line is Catholics voted for Alliance and First preference Unionists did not transfer to the SDLP this was compounded by the fact that the two major unionist parties combined ran one less candidate which causes less in house transfer disruption. This was all done in a falling turnout which meant quota wise the UUP were in a stronger position with 500 less votes. This in an election whose sole issue was stability. There is absolutely no mystery about Strangford statistics. Everyone tells me the Alliance candidate was an exceptionally popular guy which I know will come as a shock but this kinda transcends nationalism/unionism (In the east of the country anyway). Then of course you have the decisive factor in a multi round election the “non transfer” which was only @ 700 against 1300 in 2007 meaning unionists basically got 600 more votes this time round because of this quirky system relationship with major party candidates.

    As for East Antrim the two major unionists parties combined ran an additional candidate and there were 900 more non transfers than last time that coupled with the transfer shredding that happens proportionately cross party with an increase candidates. This meant .89 of a combined nationalist quota stood a great chance whilst .81 stood none in Strangford and Conal Mc Devitt gets elected in South Belfast.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Im sure you are. Almost as much as I am enjoying your appreciation of the fact that the Alliance has abandoned the high moral ground…and are proud of it.

    In the absence of a decent argument you have to resort to twisting what people say. Sad.

  • Mick Fealty

    Another good debate. Whoever asked question about rising Catholic pop and static nationalist vote is on to something big Alliance have seen much earlier than other players in this game.

    Squalid arguments over what flag flies above city hall may move some bases, but it pisses off Alliance’s would be voters and helps them make the switch, I suspect.

  • Gopher

    Further evidence of this factor can be seen in the boundary change of South Antrim and North Belfast. The Alliance party vote goes down here despite Ford and no green party candidate and the Alliance party vote goes dramatically up in North Belfast.
    Look at the figures for North Belfast UUP, DUP and SF votes all went up in real terms whilst SDLP’s dips. Its pretty obvious what is happening albeit slowly but if stability continues I would expect the trend will increase

  • Meanwhile….. Back in the real world.
    In 2011……Alliance is getting 77% of the votes it got at the 2007 Assembly Election and 54% of the votes it got in the 1973 Council Elections.
    In 2011 SDLP is getting 59% of the votes it got in the 1973 Assembly Elections and higher than votes it got in the 1973 Council Elections.
    Alliance Party finished second in the popular vote in the first Election they fought and are now fifth.

    When all is done and dusted they got one more seat in 2011 than they got in 2007………..eight instead of seven.

    With favourable conditions they MIGHT take more seats next time.
    Or they might not.
    Certainly a case could be made for saying a seat in South Belfast is vulnerable.

    If the SDLP seat in Mid Ulster falls will it be to Alliance (398 votes…1% of vote)
    West Tyrone 858 votes (2.3%)
    East Derry 1,905 (5.5%)
    Newry-Armagh 734 (1.5%)
    West Belfast 365 (1.2%)
    which one of the two SDLP seats in South Down is vulnerable to APs 64 votes (2.2%)
    Which one of the three Foyle seats is vulnerable to APs 334 votes (1%)

    Apologists for AP might make a case for North Belfast 2096 (6.3%) and Upper Bann 2765 (6.6%). But they would probably be the same people who were making optimistic predictions for Upper Bann and North Belfast a few months ago.

    Bearing in mind the SDLPs pathetic performance in 2011, it is only natural that SDLP supporters of the “lets all get along” tendency will look for an alternative. But many might prefer a more overtly left of centre one.Some of course might choose Alliance.
    And the constitutional nationalists who voted SDLP will have just as much reason to wonder about the value of a SDLP vote next time.
    But risible to think they would rush to Alliance.

    If SDLP DOES implode…….and they might well do with Ritchie in charge and more actual direction….Alliance apologists would be kidding themselves if they thought they would get the lions share.
    But if its one thing the AP apologists are good at….its kidding themselves.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The only ‘danger’ for Alliance is that the UUP and SDLP could elect better leaders. It’s not really a danger as such either. It’s just that when you look at Alliance’s success you must also note that there are large numbers of traditional UUP and SDLP voters that are completely disenchanted with the leadership of those parties. Whilst some of those will have gone to DUP and SF, others will undoubtedly have moved to Alliance. There has been no real shift from tribal voting to non-tribal voting.

  • Driftwood

    Lionel, yes. The growing non believing, non fundie vote has gone to Alliance, with the caveat that many of the educated-real educated electorate have just switched off. Leaving the rest to vote for well, dummies. Altnagelvin will get it’s radiotherapy (2016 at earliest, so we don’t have to pay until then) and Edwin will announce the loser (s), before he is replaced 2 years from now.
    So it goes….

  • Mr Hutz is of course right about the UUP and SDLP leaders. In the run-up to the Election, it was interesting that not even UUP or SDLP members were making any attempt to say that their leaders were brilliant.
    The Election Debates showed them up as second rate (esp Elliott in first and Ritchie in the second).
    Certainly in the aftermath of the Election many SDLP candidates are candidly admitting that Ritchie was not only a liability…….she was an embarrasment.

    But I think it runs deeper than Mr Hutz would suggest. Certainly in the case of SDLP theres an element of a loss of direction….possibly going back to 1998.
    “Sunningdale for slow learners” as Seamus Mallon said. But he was only half right. The subsequent rise and rise of Sinn Féin and DUP has been “Sunningdale for VERY slow learners”.
    Theresa n aspect of apathy about SDLP. They are selling something “safe” (look we have an Agreement….hooray). But SF is seeking to build on the Irish dimension of that. AP is seeking to build on “lets all get along”.
    Both are entirely logical…….and energetic campaigns.
    In comparison the SDLPs ambiguity (as it is seen)………”proudly Northern, proudly Irish”) is neither fish nor fowl.
    While the SDLP Executive and upcoming Central Council meetings will be interesting to see if margarets blood is on the carpet……it will be interesting to see how an agenda is put forward for the Conference in six months time.
    I doubt if the SDLP membership has any time for “didnt she do well?” type speeches from Alex Attwood or platitudes about “lessons being learned”.
    Id assume that outreach to Dublin politicians and the Human Rights/Community Relations “industry” figures will be ditched.
    Time for SDLP leadership to listen to its own members.

  • Gopher

    The Alliance party increased its vote by 14,000 from 2007 which credit were credit is due was a pretty good performance. When we look back through the mists of time to 1973 we are talking about an electorate that did not own their own homes did not have a car would not have been to university, stayed within their demographic and not possibly have owned their own buissness or be a proffessional of some order or form. Here we are in 2011. The electorate is moving on as the country stabilises.the SDLP appear blind to this evolution.

    As for the effect of boundary changes next time round my initail thoughts are that the will weaken the effect of housing estates as seen with the DUP vote in Strangford and the South Antrim, North Belfast swap..It could be argued that this effect was also apparent in South Belfast.

    The cut in constituencies will help Alliance in assembly elections due to the nature of transfers.

  • IJP

    I think it’s important to look at the unbiased facts here.

    Firstly, the Alliance Party was actually the only Assembly party to score more first-preference votes in 2011 than it did in 2007. That cannot be other than a good thing.

    Secondly, those votes came from every available source – yes, “soft unionists”; but also “soft nationalists” (look at South Belfast for the most obvious evidence, and also at Alliance transfers); and, most importantly of all but rarely mentioned, first-time voters.

    Thirdly, vote gains in other places (like Upper Bann) can partially be attributed to Green withdrawals, but not entirely – upon elimination, typically only about half of Green votes go to Alliance, so we can only posit that about half of those would vote Alliance in the absence of a Green candidate.

    Boundary changes are very difficult to call – going to 16, it becomes utterly unfeasible to maintain four Belfast seats yet you still suspect they may try. My suspicion, for all that, is that we overstate the effect of boundary changes – the real trick to winning elections is to get votes!

  • Turgon. Alliance real face will be seen in the attempt by the non-unionist bloc in Belfast council to thwart the unionist stitchup a la Castlereagh. It’s encouraging for nationalists that the DUP and UUP are getting so desperate they are revealing their real attitude to democracy. The union might be safe for a good few years yet, but the real significance in the second century of the statelet is, that by the actual centenary, NI will be nationalist controlled. .

  • Another unbiased fact to add (and Im grateful to IJP for his) is that the Executive has one less unionist seat than before.
    Four DUP, One UUP on the unionist side.
    Three SF, one from the SDLP on the nationalist side.
    Two from a Party which is agnostic, nationalist, unionist or both or neither.
    The Government may not be more “Green” but certainly less “Orange”.

    Another unbiased fact might be that the Alliance Party had no council seats in Coleraine in 2005. But thanks to a by-election in one DEA, picked up a seat with a stunning 28% of the vote share.
    The by-election caused thru disqualification of DUP man.
    In 2010 the successful candidate more than doubled the AP vote share to 5.5% leading to some specualtion on Slugger that AP could gain a seat there.
    As it turned out the AP vote was static. And Barney Fitzpatrick was nowhere near a seat.

  • Gopher

    In Belfast’s four constituencies Alliance polled 1000 more votes than the SDLP. I think that speaks volumes about the bad choices the SDLP have made

  • Comrade Stalin

    Turgon. Alliance real face will be seen in the attempt by the non-unionist bloc in Belfast council to thwart the unionist stitchup a la Castlereagh.

    I’m not sure if you are suggesting that Alliance are going to act to create a unionist majority bloc in Belfast, but if you are, it is patent bollocks. For a start Alliance have gone right against the grain in Belfast for years. The election of Alex Maskey is a case I can think of.

    Unionists systematically exclude Alliance in other councils such as Castlereagh and Newtownabbey and have never once, not a single time, accepted any Alliance proposals to nominate nationalists for positions in those councils.

    It’s encouraging for nationalists that the DUP and UUP are getting so desperate they are revealing their real attitude to democracy.

    This comment reveals your own utterly sectarian thinking. Your best solution is to wait for the unionists to screw up, despite the tentative signs showing that they are improving on their ability to work with others. There is nothing encouraging about unionists becoming desperate; it diminishes us all.

    The union might be safe for a good few years yet, but the real significance in the second century of the statelet is, that by the actual centenary, NI will be nationalist controlled.

    Ah yes, the old “we’ll get our own back on those bastards” argument. Sad that it’s still being trotted out.

  • Seandoc

    Patrick Clarke another former SDLP member jumped ship to Alliance just before the election and won a seat for the party at the expense of the SDLP in Newcastle for the first time in twenty years. That with the other examples already mentioned adds some force to the argument that Alliance’ s boost came from both sides of the political fence!

  • Well hardly.
    Patrick Clarke only won back the Alliance seat that was in the hands of the Rown-Hamilton in the 1970s.
    Oran Keenan who defected in Antrim lost his seat.
    As Ive pointed out AP had 2 councillors in Down in 1973………and have only two thirds of the Council seats they had in 1973.
    In May 1973 AP was the second biggest vote winner in Norn Iron. Now its the fifth biggest.
    Reports of the deaths of some parties are exaggerated.
    Reports of Alliance rising Lazarus like from the grave are also exaggerated.