Next Westminster Election in NI – Early Preview

The mid-1990s review of boundaries raised political temperatures to boiling point, with SDLP claims of gerrymandering and human rights abuses. The last review, in the 2000s, was a relatively tame affair, helped by it only tinkering around the edges, and the soon-to-be-abandoned review was also carried out with a notable lack of histrionics. Is it perhaps because Westminster politics is becoming less relevant to a Northern Ireland where devolution seems firmly established?

In any case, I have not seen a comprehensive review of prospects in the now continuing 18 seats anywhere so I thought I would knock one up and hopefully kickstart a bit of discussion. My own thoughts are very much of the finger in the wind school of political journalism.

Let’s start by knocking the easy ones off. West Belfast, Mid Ulster, West Tyrone and Newry and Armagh are safe for Sinn Féin in all eventualities, as are East Londonderry, North Antrim, East Antrim, Lagan Valley and Strangford for the DUP and South Down for the SDLP.

For Sinn Féin to take Foyle from the SDLP would require a Stoop collapse on a scale difficult to envisage in just three years. The SDLP still poll healthy votes in Derry NIHE estates, a surprise to someone from Belfast used to 90%+ SF votes in socially identical areas, and Mark Durkan always puts the work in to get the thousands of Unionist votes he does.

North Belfast – Nigel Dodds is arguably the biggest loser of the boundary review’s collapse. The addition of the three remaining Greater Shankill wards into the constituency would have made him safe for the foreseeable future. As it stands, he must defend a shrinking DUP majority of 2,224 over Gerry Kelly. The 2010 and 2011 elections probably indicate that the DUP have a few more years as the largest party in North Belfast and Unionism overall has a few more years getting more votes than Nationalists here. How many more years is anyone’s guess. Although demographic change in most of the constituency has slowed considerably, it remains rapid in parts of Glengormley, and both Republican and Loyalist areas of the inner city have seen their electorate growing again in recent years after decades of decline. The DUP will doubtless attempt to put a heavy squeeze on the UUP, as SF will on the SDLP, but that already happened in 2005 and 2010, so it’s hard to tell how much more hay there is to be made for the big two from that. How well each of the DUP and Sinn Féin can mobilise their bases will be the deciding factor here in my view, and I think the DUP will probably hold on. But not by a lot.

East Belfast – Naomi Long is another loser from the review’s collapse. The proposals had recommended removing Dundonald, Robinson’s strongest area in 2010, and adding the Ormeau Road and Stranmillis, where DUP votes are relatively thin on the ground, and potential tactical voters for Alliance plentiful. The unique circumstances of 2010 will hardly repeat themselves but Long is now the incumbent and Alliance has about three times the staffing resources available than it had two years ago. If Alliance has any wit, it will once again throw the kitchen sink at East Belfast and encourage activists in other constituencies to spend most of their General Election effort here, a luxury not available to the DUP. The DUP really want this one back, though, and Gavin Robinson, sitting Lord Mayor of Belfast, is clearly being groomed for the nomination and is a savvy and articulate political performer. He would do well to stay away from identity politics – it is hard to see any credible grounds for a Unionist scare campaign in East Belfast these days. This is a coin-flip at this stage but the 2014 elections may well make its destiny clearer.

South Belfast – Alasdair McDonnell just about outpolled both warring Unionist candidates combined in 2010 and now seems safe here in any circumstances where he is the SDLP candidate. When he eventually retires, Assembly and Council voting preferences show a much more fragmented political scene in South Belfast and the DUP might fancy its chances as might Alliance if it can manage Anna Lo’s succession well. But I don’t expect Alasdair to retire at the next election and he will win comfortably even if Sinn Féin puts up against him.

Fermanagh-South Tyrone – if all parties contest FST, Michelle Gildernew is as safe as houses. But will there be pressure for another Unionist pact here? Rodney Connor failed as a joint Unionist candidate by only four votes, the closest result in the UK in 2010, but that election saw the lowest numerical Unionist vote here since the current boundaries came into force in 1996. Could a better joint Unionist candidate have overturned Michelle? In the Assembly elections, the total Unionist vote was almost 3,000 ahead of the Sinn Féin vote, but we also learned from 2010 that Unionist pacts encourage SDLP voters in FST to lend their votes to Gildernew. If there is a Unionist pact, this will be another coin-toss in 2015 but Sinn Féin are probably the favourites by the tiniest tip of their noses.

North Down – Sylvia Hermon obliterated all comers in 2010 and can remain MP for as long as she wants. When she retires, the DUP currently look clear favourites to take the seat. It is hard to see who can reunite the fragmented splinters of non-DUP Unionism on behalf of the Ulster Unionists.

South Antrim – this was UCUNF’s top target in 2010 and had its avoided the nomination fiasco, and confirmed Reg Empey’s candidature in reasonable time, one tends to think that it could have overturned Willie McCrea. As things stand, McCrea’s Westminster majority of 1,183 looks vulnerable on paper, but the DUP vote trended back up into the high 30s% in both 2011 elections, and that looks a bridge too far even if the UUP can continue to squeeze Alliance and the SDLP in Westminster elections, as it has in these parts since the 2000 by-election. The UUP will talk up its chances, though, and must regard this as one of only two real targets. With there being no candidate of commanding presence available to them or likely to emerge, their core party vote must start to return for them to compete, and so far it hasn’t. In the long-term, the DUP have a reasonably deep bench and any of their three sitting South Antrim MLAs could be a credible Westminster candidate when McCrea retires.

Upper Bann – Another much talked about UUP prospect last time that flattered to deceive. Although the DUP’s majority at 3,361 looks healthy enough, the Ulster Unionist vote at council and Assembly level has not collapsed to the extent it has elsewhere and the party was barely over 1,000 votes shy of the DUP in the Assembly election. Sinn Féin actually outpolled each of the Unionist parties in the Assembly poll, and Upper Bann is starting to move into genuine three-way marginal territory. For Sinn Féin to be competitive, it’ll need to get its vote from the record 27.2% it polled in the Assembly elections up into the thirties. For the Ulster Unionists to be competitive, they’ll need to start to learn what a proper modern ground campaign looks like. The DUP seem favourites from here but this could be one to watch.

  • oakleaf

    Fermanagh and South Tyrone might be affected by the Sean Quinn saga depending on how it ends and how Sinn Fein play the situation.

    North Belfast – Is most of the demographic change not happening in the new builds in the Mallusk ward just across the boundary? Where is the demographic change happening in Glengormley?

    I still think there is continuing change happening in N.Belfast proper around the middle class estates at the top of the Cavehill Road, North Circular-Ballysillan road and also at the top of the Oldpark.

    I wonder what will happen to the Girdwood project now.

  • Demographic change is still fairly rapid around the Carnmoney and Ballyclare Roads. Much less so around the top of the Cavehill and places like the Dales; if anything the pendulum has swung back the other way a bit around the top of the Crumlin Road.

  • oakleaf

    Interesting never thought there be demographic change happening on the Ballyclare Road with the nearby Queens Park and Glenvarna loyalist estates.

  • oakleaf

    South Antrim – If Adrian Watson stood for the UUP they might have a chance as he would pull in the usual uup votes plus he’d attract some hardcore unionist/loyalist vote for his outspoken views.

  • Interesting never thought there be demographic change happening on the Ballyclare Road with the nearby Queens Park and Glenvarna loyalist estates.

    Thinking more of places like Ferndale, Burnthill and especially Archvale and Ashgrove.

    If Adrian Watson stood for the UUP they might have a chance as he would pull in the usual uup votes plus he’d attract some hardcore unionist/loyalist vote for his outspoken views.

    Remember the UUP have put a heavy squeeze on Alliance and the SDLP in the last three Westminster elections in South Antrim. Not sure Adrian is the right candidate to keep that up (although being the anti-Willie McCrea helps).

  • Jim White

    I think Gerry Lynch is right. If you look at council votes, in the Castle DEA the UUP vote stayed exactly the same, which in the context of the 2011 Belfast election was a very good result for them. I presume this is because of the little demographic change in places like Cavehill/ upper antrim road, where I would assume many of the Castle UUP votes come from.
    The DUP, however, lost a significant % and actual no of votes in Castle, from well over 4k to barely 3k between 05-11. Perhaps declining loyalist turnout played a part but surely such a steep decline can only have been the result of significant changes in the Castle area in this period, at least were working-class places are concerned?

  • Jim White

    On the other hand, the Antrim Line DUP % vote was pretty much the same in the last 2 council elections. Here, unlike in Castle DEA, it was the UUP who lost significant ground. But even here its debatable how much changing demographics caused this. It looks as if a lot of ex UUP voters are switching to Alliance in Glengormley while the Nationalist vote is not up a huge amount since 05, as one might expect.

  • Jim White

    Looking at the bigger picture, I do think its time for the UUP to withdraw their candidate from N Belfast Westminsters, its getting to the stage were Dodds will be in serious trouble otherwise. Perhaps the two parties can strike a deal along the lines of we’ll only run two DUPers for the Assembly if you give Dodds a free run? Both parties can only gain from such an arrangement.
    I agree with p much all your analysis for other constituencies except in Belfast. For South, I’m not too sure if McDonnell is safe. He gained a lot of centrist/liberal voters last time who might start to see Anna Lo as a realistic possibility and again the potential of a single Unionist contender would make his job of retention difficult. Sinn Fein are not guranteed to sit the next one out either.
    In East Belfast I’d say the DUP have a better chance of the gain than a toin coss. Last year they polled 45% in a PR election and almost 6k ahead of Alliance. Of course Alliance are the current holders of the seat, but in reality they have a hard task of overcoming the DUP’s vote in the East post-2010.

  • He gained a lot of centrist/liberal voters last time who might start to see Anna Lo as a realistic possibility and again the potential of a single Unionist contender would make his job of retention difficult.

    I think this is a bit oversimplistic. From the box tallies I’ve seen, Lo was taking votes off McDonnell in predominantly Catholic middle-class areas (no-other way to explain the size of the vote she got in some of them), but at the same time McDonnell was polling 10% or so in a lot of working-class Prod areas. I could try and put those votes on the Lower Ravenhill or Sandy Row down to demographic change if it suited me, but how then do you explain the McDonnell’s votes in Taughmonagh and Belvoir?

    Also, if you want to drive liberal/centrist voters away from Lo and towards McDonnell, have a Unionist pact in South Belfast. This is not Fermanagh and the SDLP is not Sinn Féin. Given the massive public sector dependency of the South Belfast middle-classes, McDonnell could even make play of the fact that whatever happens, he won’t be backing a Tory government in Westminster. Not sure where people get the idea that South Belfast is a ‘naturally’ Tory seat – core city middle-class seats are almost universally Liberal or Labour outside London.

    Sinn Fein are not guranteed to sit the next one out either.

    I did note that. Remember, Sinn Féin voters didn’t exactly troop to the polls to vote for McDonnell last time – what was the turnout in The Markets? I seem to recall it was somewhere in the mid 30s.

    I think McDonnell is safe, but as I admitted at the head of the post, this very much comes from the finger in the wind school of political journalism.

    In East Belfast I’d say the DUP have a better chance of the gain than a toin coss. Last year they polled 45% in a PR election and almost 6k ahead of Alliance.

    If Robinson had just hung on last time, I would agree with your view entirely. The point is, though, Long is now the incumbent and Alliance will (if they have any wit) swamp the constituency with activists from across NI again next time. The ground campaign can make an enormous difference if done right. I do have a pretty good idea why Naomi won in 2010.

  • RyanAdams

    South Belfast will be an interesting race – especially with SDLP/Alliance/DUP all finishing so closely of late and the latter pair up on recent results – Although this tends to be one of the volatile constituencies where one would be foolish to read into any STV results. Selections could make the contest very interesting – SF’s O’Muilleour might damage the SDLP by being a bit more articulate than a typical shinner in the sense he has his own mouth and isn’t afraid to use it – very much semi-detached from the party (and when you control the local media and don’t rely on the “Average Industrial wage you can afford to be) which may allow him to tap into a well of support that Alex Maskey can’t – and SF still have not reached their potential in the Castlereagh end of the constituency. O’Muillouer couldn’t win, but could be enough to take one title off Alasdair McDonnel’s name and one of his numerous jobs from him which from the shinners long term point of view may be no bad thing. It would be difficult to imagine Alliance not selecting Anna Lo – a woman who’s vote is rising at every election. And finally I think the DUP may realise Jimmy Spratt will never get them this seat; infact I don’t think the DUP ever will.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    RyanAdams,

    I think you’re right that those three finished reasonably close to each other, but I think the SDLP build a large coalition at westminster elections to keep out the DUP.

    Most of the socialist,worker’s party, PBP, greeen votes eventually helped Conall McDevitt overtake Ruth patterson comfortably. That and the massive alliance surplus transfer that went to the SDLP well above and beyond every other party. That’s why Gerry is right to say that McDonnell is reasonaly safe, as the alliance votes came mainly from catholic middle classes who mcDonnell will get back. If SF stand they will bring out some of their own hardcore supporters who sat out voting for McDonell but quite a number of the SF student vote and lower ormeau support will still be happy to vote tactically for McDonnell. If they had stood last time, while McDonnell’s surplus would be less hansome, the overall vote cast for nationalist parties would probably have been closer to 44/45% rather than 41%.

  • oakleaf

    If some party could tap into the immigrant vote in south and east Belfast it would make a difference. The same can be said for Dungannon, Portadown, Newry and Ballymena.

    Maybe they would prefer to stay out of local politics for safety reasons.

  • RyanAdams

    Student votes are extremly thin on the ground here since they reformed the registering system. Botanic has around 40% less voters than the standard ward. It went from around 5,000 to less than 2,000 after the changes.

    Think those days will soon be over. Alliance will be eyeing up the second seat in future (if its not already there; at the rate they’ve grown here I wouldn’t be suprised) and the big seat in the longterm.

  • oakleaf

    Students either go home to vote or don’t vote at all. Voting should be held on either on Saturday or Sunday.

  • john

    Foyle- No change here SF may slowly eat away at the SDLP vote but as it gets closer and closer the more unionists will tactiaclly vote.
    South Down – exact same scenario as Foyle but even safer for SDLP
    West Tyrone – No change
    Mid Ulster – No change
    FST – Safe for SF as Connor was a good unity candidate and McKinney was a good SDLP candidate and it still didnt stop SF, expect the SF majority to increase considerably
    Newry and Armagh – SF to win but SDLP to give them a scare as Bradley is a capable politician and Murphy has taken a lot of stick in the last couple of years, potential for large unionist tactical voting although Kennedy did something amazing at the last election and actually increased the UUP vote in the consitituency
    East Londonderry – Gregory is THE big winner if the changes are not implemented as the new Glenshane seat would have gone to SF. Gregory is very safe, a strange constituency in that the Nationalists always struggle to get their supporters out on polling day.
    North Antrim – No change
    East Antrim – No change
    South Antrim – Toss a coin, a lot will depend on how Mike Nesbitt performs over the coming months and Watson most certainly isnt the solution as it will chase away any liberal or tactiical votes.
    North Belfast – The gap has gotten tighter and tighter. I think any talk of a pact or unionist deal will only result in a strengthening of Kellys position. I think Dodds is gone his only hope is if Alban is standing again because Alban can still attract a personal vote of 4-5000 another SDLP candidate and the votes will just be lent to SF.
    West Belfast – No change although interesting to see if SDLP reach a new low and get put into third place by people before profit or even by eirigi!
    South Belfast – McDonnell is safe as houses as already noted in a FPTP election the Alliance votes gained in an STV election will go straight back to McDonnell to keep out the DUP.
    East Belfast – Naomi will have her work cut out – it was a bit of a perfect storm last time and as long as the DUP candidate hasnt a big scandal they should regain the seat comfortably.
    Strangford – No change
    Lagan Valley – No change
    Upper Bann – No change, SF may challenge in a few elections time but like east londonderry they seem to struggle to get the numbers out on election day also if SF look like they will challenge then the UUP vote (which is ok here compared to the rest of the country) will implode and go straight to the DUP.
    North Down – Sylvias seat for life if she was to stand down then easy DUP seat unless some other independent is up for the challenge!

  • john

    ‘if some party could tap into the immigrant vote in south and east Belfast it would make a difference. The same can be said for Dungannon, Portadown, Newry and Ballymena.’

    Exactly! thats why a few politicians got a bit upset over the whole burning of the polish flag. A few silly acts like that can soon persuade a large population (30000 approx) to vote accordingly

  • oakleaf

    The census results should give us a good idea how close N.Belfast and Upper Bann will get in the near future. As Gerry said turnout will be the deciding factor.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    RyanAdams,

    I’m fully aware that botanic lost a lot from the registration process change. And I think more of them still vote at their home constituencies. I was just referring to those that are left and why I included one of their stronger areas in south belfast as well. What I was really getting at is that a fair bit of SF support in SB is squeezeable for the SDLP where it might not be in other areas.

    John,

    I think you have it the wrong way round with the SDLP constituencies. They stay elect 3 MLAs in Foyle but just 2 in SD. Durkan is well respected locally and this is still a place where John Hume is regarded as god. Ritchie just gets more unionist transfers which balloons her Westminster total.

    Regarding your remark of immigrant support, the SDLP have already begun courting their support by putting up a few Polish and Portuguese candidates. To be honest if i were Polish I would probably stay as far away from local politics as possible, but seeing as the SDLP’s Magdelena Wolska got her poster torched as well as all the Polish flags on loyalist bonfires, I’d probably be infuriated by that intolerance and feel obliged to come out and support someone like SDLP or Alliance who want nothing to do with that. I think Robinson knows that too, otherwise why would he feel obliged to come out and condemn loyalist trolls.

  • Kit_Carruthers

    This article would be much more fun if there were new boundaries to consider, but hey, thanks nonetheless.

    I’ll start with the closest result of the 2010 General, FST, where both top runners hit 45.5% of the vote. The Shinners did well to squeeze the Stoops, where the Unionists failed to quite mobilise enough voters to take the seat.

    A crude look at 2011 shows DUP/UUP on 43.7% & SF on 40.3%. This puts SF 3.4% behind but with the SDLP increasing by 2%. This 2% is likely to be squeezed very easily, making it very close.

    It is clearly going to be close but I think SF will win it with relative ease. I think there is much more room to squeeze the SDLP, especially with new profile figures like Phil Flannagan working the progressive line quite hard.

    Now to the most extraordinary result of the 2010 Generals, East Belfast, where the words “who knows” is as confident one can be.

    There are so many fluctuations & variations involved that cannot be fully pointed out in the figures. There is no doubt that both Naomi & Peter carry large personal votes that will come into play one way or another.

    It is also difficult to quantify the exact consequence of the unique Robinson circumstances in 2010. Add to this the unknown factor of Alliance fighting from the position as incumbents, with all that extra manpower and publicity alluded to by Gerry.

    This is one where both sides can point to figures and trends that back their claim to the throne. I like to think of this one as a Game of Thrones style battle. It may see more bloodshed than you will get in an entire GOT series before it’s all over.

  • john

    Charlie Sheens PR guru
    sorry just to clarify my predictions are purely for Westminster – assembly predictions are a little bit trickier and complicated I dont think my brain could handle it at the minute, they should definitely reduce the number of seats/ consituency, 5 would be great, 4 even better there are far too many MLA’s and in my opinion it is more urgent too cut them than reducing the mp number (which I would also welcome)

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    John,

    yes I got it. I was also referring to just westminster, I was merely remarking that the SDLP has more residual support in Foyle than in South Down. That’s all.

  • john

    Kit
    To be honest the new boundaries were not as exciting.
    Campbell and McDonnell were the obvious losers the constituency map may have looked different but the rest of the MP’s would all have been the same and the new boundaries meant Dodds and Naomi were both very safe, however with the old boundaries those seats are still all to play for!

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Kit,

    Are you sure you got all the numbers for FST? Pat Cox is an ex-SF republican who got 2.1% of the vote. You probably have to add most of that into Gildernew’s column. Likewise there’s also a TUV vote to factor in as well. I reckon SF will just have a leaflet with “!!JESUS CHRIST 4 VOTES!!” written on it to maintain, and further, the squeeze.

    Frankly, I was really saddened in 2010 to see the return of these pacts. Its unbelievably sectarian. To have a cheek about “reclaiming representation” they could have stood aside for the SDLP to challenge SF then that would be credible.

    I hope they have had their go and forget about it now. Its not a unionist constituency, so get over it. Elections shouldn’t be so polarising.

  • Kit_Carruthers

    John – You are right about the new boundaries making it safer for some of the big names. I guess I just automatically see boundary changes as exciting but in this instance it would create fewer close races.

    I’m not convinced Dodds is a goner just yet. It will eventually tip but I think it will be a hard fought DUP win.

    I don’t think DUP will win comfortably in East Belfast. I think that will be tight. The DUP will have to monitor both North & East carefully to make sure they don’t spread resources too thinly and lose to a massive Alliance effort in one or a massive SF effort in the other.

    Charlie – You are right I had a quick glance and didn’t bother looking too far down the list. I didn’t actually realise Pat got as much as 2.1%.

    I don’t agree with John that the SF vote will increase significantly but I do think they’ll win more comfortably before, not that I’m going out on too much of a limb there. Both have the potential to increase the vote but I think SF will do it by 1-2% more.

    ps. I find it funny that you can say “it’s not a unionist constituency” but refer to fighting it on those lines as sectarian. You’re right, it is sectarian politics but it’s always going to be, with or without sectarian pacts.

  • RyanAdams

    Charlie Sheen’s PR Guru,

    Believe me among the SF supporters and Alasdair McDonnell in South Belfast there is not a lot of love lost. See this slugger republicans view on the SDLP there, and believe me hes not the only one in South Belfast who wouldn’t look near them: http://sluggerotoole.com/2011/04/12/ae11-open-thread-south-belfast-bels11/comment-page-1/#comment-838237

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Kit,

    What I mean by that it is, that for some unionist politicans and I suppose SF, the border trumps everthing. There are still some big differences between the DUP and the ulster unionists but when it comes to FST that seems to get ignored. It kind of says “Don’t take us seriously, ignore us when we leaflet you with our policies on academic selection, water charges, green issues, attracting inward investment because its actually a pretence as we only want to get the other side out.

    So when I said its not a unionist constituency I meant that the unionist parties only get 45/46% and if they continue to plump for a pan-prod sectarian champion then they probably can’t complain when the taigs find their sectarian counterweight. I actually wrote to Tom Elliot in 2010 telling if hw wanted Sinn Fein’s vote to skyrocket in FST then standing down and backing Rodney Connor was a good start. Glad to say he now understands that I was right.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Ryan,

    yeah I not only read that thread but I commented on it too!

    I don’t recall disagreeing with that! Its exactly what I said and Gerry Lynch backed with numbers of 30% turnout in the markets that many SF supporters in south Belfast are deeply allergic to McDonnell. I made the point that if SF had posted a candidate in 2010 and all those sit out republicans voted the actual total vote cast for nationalist candidates could have approached about 45%.

    So you made the point for that despite that, McDonnell is still out-polling the two unionists combined. Meaning that when push comes to shove all those Left, Liberal and green supporters are likely to tactically vote for the most progressive, centre-left, educated and non – offensive big hitter that they find and McDonnell wins that contest against Jimmy Spratt and his one trick pony come election time of trying to get every prod to vote for him to beat the other side.

  • Barry the Blender

    What strikes me is Belfast:

    Sinn Fein are strong in West, so can probably flood North, and ignore all other seats for miles.

    DUP are fighting hard for North, they also want East, and might fancy North Down on a good day, and South Belfast on a better one.

    Alliance are fighting hard in East, they might have fancied a serious go at South.

    I suppose that the SDLP could expect that they probably won’t face a massive challenge from other parties in South, focus there and should expect to win.
    The other point to think about is that in North Belfast the result will be a headcount, so canvassing is to pull out the base. In East, the canvassing will be to target swing voters, that could go for either Long or (whichever) Robinson.

    PS. Describing electoral pacts as ‘sectarian’ is getting a little tiresome.

  • Barry the Blender

    As a footnote, I’ll also add that the UUP in Belfast are only there to be squeezed by DUP/Alliance, or even the SDLP, although it seems a little unfair to kick a man when he’s down.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There’s a big gap between Sdlp and Sinn Fein in Newry and Armagh but can that be closed given Murphys remarkable fall from grace. Not just the discrimination but the the whole winter water problems and the general fiasco that was his department. Before that Murphy was seen as a potential future leader of the party. So its a big fall in profile. And he’ll be invisible for the next few years.

    Surely that’s going to be close

  • Sinn Fein are strong in West, so can probably flood North, and ignore all other seats for miles.

    I thought that’s what they would do last time, but I was surprised how relatively short on pesonnel their effort was in 2010. Their organisation in Oldpark is a shadow of what it was 15 years ago and they’ve never really got things going in the Newtownabbey end of the constituency.

    But, you’re right, that’s what they should be doing.

    PS. Describing electoral pacts as ‘sectarian’ is getting a little tiresome.

    Why, because it’s an inconvenient truth for Unionism? Name me any parties in the UK who go into electoral pacts, other than the UUP and DUP?

  • Reader

    Gerry Lynch: Why, because it’s an inconvenient truth for Unionism? Name me any parties in the UK who go into electoral pacts, other than the UUP and DUP?
    Would it be inconvenient to point out the vilification the SDLP received in Fermanagh for not standing down? That betrayed a sectarian (sectoral?) side to the nationalist community. And tactical/tribal voting – as certainly also happened, not just in Fermanagh – that’s sectarian too, isn’t it? And won’t Alliance benefit from sectarian (anti-hun) voting in East Belfast next time round? That’ll be a tricky balancing act on the doorsteps…
    It’s to the credit of Alliance that they oppose designation in the Assembly, but designation does represent a reality on the ground that you can either call ‘sectarianism’ across the board or find another term that doesn’t insult the majority of the electorate.

  • Turgon

    Gerry Lunch,
    “Name me any parties in the UK who go into electoral pacts, other than the UUP and DUP?”

    Answer:
    Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the 1997 General Election in Tatton. Both stood down to give Martin Bell a free run against Neil Hamilton.

  • Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the 1997 General Election in Tatton. Both stood down to give Martin Bell a free run against Neil Hamilton.

    And the last one before that was in 1959, after which the Con/Lib Huddersfield and Bolton Pacts finally broke down. You’re able to pull one example out in 53 years.

    Remember, this isn’t just about the Shinners. The DUP fell over themselves to make it clear how open they were to a pact in South Belfast.

    Unionism is simply British? That’s simply rubbish.

  • Turgon

    Gerry Lynch,
    Let us be clear. You asked which parties had had pacts in the UK. I pointed out that there have been two recently: Labour and the Lib Dems.

    You may have forgotten that or alternatively you may hvae hoped that no one would remember but there you are: two major mainland parties had an electoral pact.

    When in a hole Mr. Lynch stop digging.

  • Barry the Blender

    Why, because it’s an inconvenient truth for Unionism?

    I think it’s also a little one sided to say unionists are the only ‘villains’ in this matter.

  • 15 years ago isn’t all that recent. 53 years ago, which was the second most recent GB electoral pact, is surely ancient history even to you Prodiban types?

    Labour and the LibDems organised a pact against Hamilton because of the cash for questions enquiry. The UUP and DUP organised a pact against Michelle Gildernew because she was a Shinner (and, frankly, not one of the ones with particular questions to answer about their past) even though both parties sit in government with Sinn Féin. The DUP also wanted, or at least claimed that they wanted, a pact against Alasdair McDonnell in South Belfast.

    Doesn’t sound very British to me.

    Net effect of the FST pact last time: Gildernew wins and the SDLP is kneecapped in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, possibly terminally.

    Net effect of the South Belfast pact discussions: record numbers of Unionists vote for the SDLP.

    Congratulations!

  • john

    Good point regarding the pacts Gerry. It amazes me how many politicians call for unionist unity. First of all there is zero logic in an STV election as it only limits options with the result being a smaller turnout and in FPTP election where there is a potential benefit you have already showed us how that has seriously backfired. Poor Doddsy he wont know what to do at the next election!!

  • Turgon

    Mr. Lynch,
    You asked people to “Name me any parties in the UK who go into electoral pacts, other than the UUP and DUP?”

    I did: I do not see what the problem is.

    Actually the DUP and UUP had a pact because unionists in FST demanded a pact. Those are the unionists who suffered more than almost any other group during the Troubles and they wanted Gildernew out. She has always been an unrepentant supporter of the murderers of their kith and kin.

    Incidentally on not standing in seats the SDLP failed to stand against Bobby Sands and of course “nonsectarian” Alliance frequently fail to stand in various places including FST.

    As I said though please do keep digging: “Doesn’t sound very British to me” So now you are the arbiter of what is British?

    Do not worry you will dig down to Australia soon.

  • Barry the Blender

    Mr Lynch, could you please explain why you find unionist decisions to sit out an election so abhorrent? Is it your own community background?

    The UUP and DUP organised a pact against Michelle Gildernew because she was a Shinner (and, frankly, not one of the ones with particular questions to answer about their past)

    The Shinners were game for a pact too.

    You’re also mistaken about UK mainland pacts as well:

    -Haltemprice & Howden by-election 2008 LibDem/Con
    -Wyre Forest 2001 & 2005 LibDem/IKHH
    -Greenwich and Woolwich 1992 LibDem and rival splinter SDP

  • PaddyReilly

    For the past quarter of a century, elections in Northern Ireland for the Westminster Parliament have followed the following pattern. Unionists announce that they are going to win back this or the other seat: they plot, they fulminate, they form pan-Unionist pacts, they move heaven and earth to get their voters out, and then, when the smoke clears and the results come out, they find that they have lost another seat and won back none. For this reason I imagine that the next election will follow the same pattern, and North Belfast will slip from Mr Dodds’s grasp.

    Alliance are like Japanese knotweed; once they creep in somewhere it is well-nigh impossible to eradicate them. There seems to be an unending supply of closet Alliance voters ready to support them when they are in the running with a chance. Alliance, with 9% of the vote in East Belfast in 2003 and 12% in 2005, just is not in the running. That’s not even a quota for a single Stormont seat. It is impossible that they could win a Westminster seat here; and yet they did. Equally, data from local government and Assembly elections shows that Naomi Long cannot win back her seat at the next Westminster election: but I expect that she will. Everyone who is not a DUP supporter will be voting for her.

    However, the continuation of the same boundaries in the Assembly may have the opposite effect. Unionists do manage to win back seats at Stormont; their plots do apparently work here. But I imagine this topic is being saved for a subsequent thread.

  • Barry the Blender – thanks for the comedy!

    Up the thread, you say: “Describing electoral pacts as ‘sectarian’ is getting a little tiresome”. But down the thread, it’s: “Mr Lynch, could you please explain why you find unionist decisions to sit out an election so abhorrent? Is it your own community background?”

    I can’t actually come up with a rational response to this. It’s as self-defeating as a Unionist pact in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

  • Reader

    PaddyReilly: Unionists do manage to win back seats at Stormont; their plots do apparently work here. But I imagine this topic is being saved for a subsequent thread.
    I suppose the difference between a unionist plot and and a SF plot is that the unionist parties can sometimes find a partner, and SF never can. I take it you accept there isn’t a moral difference between the two cases?

  • Turgon

    Barry,
    Very well remembered about those other pacts and recent ones as well. Wyre Forest on two successive general elections. Pacts seem common enough on the mainland after all.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Turgon,

    let it go. From someone who is usually among the more respected contributors, your petty responses have put you in league with Heinz and Strongbow.

    If you want to dance on the end of a pin, you go right ahead and conjure a couple of exceptional one-offs from the last 50 years.

    Meanwhile in the real world, ppl here who know exactly what Gerry is getting at, are referring to the near uniform pan-unionist front that existed right up to the 90s and has reared its ugly head at the last few elections.

    But if you insist on being so anal about it, perhaps I can rephrase and ask “Has there been a time were GB parties have stood aside to keep out a broad ethnic or even political grouping?”

  • Comrade Stalin

    Electoral pacts in this place are sectarian, there is no doubt about it. It’s about conspiring against the electorate in order to keep the other lot out. This shouldn’t really surprise anyone as it is still the principle basis on which elections are conducted here – the maximization of the sectarian headcount.

    And I’m sorry, but electoral pacts are firmly written into the lifeblood of unionism. We saw this in FST in 2010. Prior to then, the DUP pointedly refused to stand against Ulster Unionists in the more balanced constituencies, such as North Belfast, openly stating that they did not want to split the unionist vote and cause a nationalist victory. They did not change this policy until the early 2000s when it became obvious that the UUP were fatally damaged.

    Sinn Féin are keen on pacts but the SDLP are not, to my knowledge. Gerry Kelly would have been within a whisker of victory in N Belfast had the SDLP stood down.

    When the day comes when we see a nationalist-unionist pact formed to accomplish some sort of greater mission – such as keeping the devolved institutions alive – I’ll agree. Until then there is simply no evidence that electoral pacts are motivated by anything other than plain sectarianism.

  • Jim White

    I find it one of the supreme ironies of NI politics that the very people who blast unionists as nasty, sectarian tribesmen for seeking to increase their democratic representation seem completely comfortable with the next logical alternative.

    Unionist pacts? Oh those sneaky, conniving demonic prods how dare they!

    Ok then. Gerry Kelly, that stalwart of progressive and moderate politics, MP? Ah sure our Gerry’s not a bad spud. When you look past the fact he was a terrorist bomber and killer he’s actually quite cuddly.
    Unbelievable. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so nauseating.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jim,

    I’m one of the strange people who thinks that chosing from the list of people who want to be elected should be done by the voters. It’s called “democracy” and unionist parties claim to practice it.

    As for the past of certain of our politicians, the simple answer is “get past it”. Ian Paisley was doing “burn the Catholics out” speeches to crowds when Gerry Kelly was in short trousers, the rest of us had to put up with him as First Minister. And you know what ? He did quite a good job.

  • Comrade Stalin

    And by the way, I can’t help it if it’s unionists rather than nationalists who have form in actually implementing pacts.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Sorry Jim,

    It’s this contrived false dichotomy that those who are calling out unionists for putting up pacts are themselves backing a nationalist pact.

    Who argued this? No-one. Pacts here are inherently sectarian, accept it.

    You really think that Gerry Lynch, formerly of the Alliance party is secretly rooting for Gerry Kelly? It would certainly be interesting to see a SF/ Alliance / SDLP pact to beat Nigel Dodds particularly to see how East Belfast Alliance would comment on it.

    Sadly it won’t happen, and ppl like you will continue living in dreamland that unionist pacts are totally acceptable and certainly non-sectarian

  • Barry the Blender

    Pacts here are inherently sectarian, accept it.

    That’s just a narrative that makes no sense. Why should any party have to put time and resources into an election it can’t possibly win if it doesn’t want to?

    In response to Mr Lynch:
    I said PS. Describing electoral pacts as ‘sectarian’ is getting a little tiresome.

    You replied “Why, because it’s an inconvenient truth for Unionism??

    When one considers that Sinn Fein withdrew in South Belfast in 2010 and begged the SDLP to reciprocate in FST it just makes me think that you can take the man out of republican North Belfast…

    Turgon:
    The list was far from exhaustive: I left out the UUP & Alliance, North Down 2001

  • PaddyReilly

    First of all, I should point out that I did not complain about sneaky Unionists making pacts, how dare they. I merely pointed out when they do, they invariably contrive to lose: at least in recent times. For the first 50 years of the province Unionist unity was absolute and almost totally effective. I’m not convinced that electoral pacts should be characterised as sectarian, that behaving in a way others call sectarian is always wrong, or that the word sectarian has any meaning in the first place. According to Comrade,

    It’s about conspiring against the electorate in order to keep the other lot out.

    I would say it’s about giving the electorate a straight choice in a major issue. If the choice in Maidstone is between left and right, why would the people of Maidstone want three Socialist parties? Political parties should rationally split and coalesce, so that they eventually exceed by just one the number of members returned per constituency. So if there is just one M.P., as for Westminster, there is room for 2 parties. If six are returned, then we should expect the final number of parties to be seven.

    Gerry Kelly would have been within a whisker of victory in N Belfast had the SDLP stood down

    And if Gerry Kelly had stood down, the SDLP would have won. The general rule about cross party coalitions is that the more centrist of the candidates has a much better chance than the more extremist candidate. Gerry Kelly is very popular in certain circles, and is eminently suited for Stormont, but, as has already been remarked, on the Westminster stage he is a liability.

    Of course one reason why Nationalists have generally been happy to go on splitting their vote is due to the fact that they had no control over the shape of the province and thus were always predestined to lose. But it should be observed that if Doddsie loses his seat, then Unionists will be in a minority. If Nationalists can derive some important political advantage from unity, then maybe they will adopt pan-Unionist tactics.

  • Nordie Northsider

    Paddy Reilly wrote: But it should be observed that if Doddsie loses his seat, then Unionists will be in a minority.

    More like an even share of the 18 seats – 9 Unionist and 9 Nationalist. Even if Alliance hold the East Belfast seat (which I don’t think they will), I’d count them closer to unionism than to nationalism.

  • PaddyReilly

    I’d count them closer to unionism than to nationalism

    An interesting question, but where would they count themselves? As I see it, when the party was founded its line was that Catholics and Moderate Protestants should accept majority rule in Northern Ireland, even if that entity was artificial and achieved by force of arms. But the closer we get to having a Nationalist majority, the less dogmatic about the Union they become. They are the party of people who are prepared to transfer from one paradigm to another with the minimum of fuss. And I don’t believe that Lady Hermon is planning to woman the barricades either.

    But as there is no situation in which the M.P.s of Northern Ireland could, on their own, decide any matter for themselves without involving the M.P.s of Great Britain, I don’t see that the matter arises, except in a symbolic kind of way.

  • Comrade Stalin

    That’s just a narrative that makes no sense. Why should any party have to put time and resources into an election it can’t possibly win if it doesn’t want to?

    That is a (wilful, I imagine) mischaracterization of what happens. It’s where a party would ordinarily run for election (irrespective of their assessment of their likelihood of winning) but then deviate from that position by seeking a pact.

    When one considers that Sinn Fein withdrew in South Belfast in 2010 and begged the SDLP to reciprocate in FST it just makes me think that you can take the man out of republican North Belfast…

    Sinn Féin are unquestionably supportive of sectarian pacts, but that doesn’t alter the reality that the notion is far more popular within unionism, to the extent that unionists actually implement pacts whereas nationalists do not. It’s quite fair to characterize pacts as pretty much a unionist phenomenon.

    The list was far from exhaustive: I left out the UUP & Alliance, North Down 2001

    That qualifies. However, Alliance came under severe pressure during this period, on a number of different occasions, to shore up the UUP and by extension the powersharing arrangements. That’s a world away from conniving to keep a fenian out.

    Paddy:

    And if Gerry Kelly had stood down, the SDLP would have won.

    I don’t think so. SF are the larger and better organized party and are far superior at getting their vote out. The SDLP’s appeal, and their election workers, continue to decline. I am not quite sure Alban Maginness is reviled among SF voters in the same way that Alister McDonnell is, but SF would simply pitch this as a case of getting a clean run at a seat to remove Dodds and they’d almost certainly win. Especially if they felt motivated to remove Dodds given the way he behaved over the marching period this year.

    As for “are Alliance unionists”, it’s a bit like asking “are Jews really Protestants”. It’s a question for people who can’t cope with anything other than a black and white view of the world. Alliance are not unionists and I’ve met very few who would describe themselves as such.

  • Comrade Stalin

    BTW I should add that the unionist electorate are clearly nowhere near as enthusiastic about pacts as the unionist parties are. FST should have been in the bag, it was lost because a small percentage of unionist voters were clearly turned off by the pact.

  • Jim White

    Rather than bickering on the rights or wrongs of pacts it might be better to discuss the issue at hand, ie the prospects in the 18 seats at the next Westminster election.
    Not that my opinion, or anyone else’s for that matter, is worth much as it is the people who will decide on their MP, but here’s my take on the constituencies:
    SB- Despite prodding him up the page, I agree with Gerry a likely SDLP hold. Though I stand by my assertion that a single unionist and/or another strong Anna Lo performance might give him something to think about. With SF potentially in the mix next time to add interest, this one is not in the bag for McDonnell.
    NB- Despite DUP difficulties last time coupled with a massive SF assault, they still came up more than 2k short. They fell back somewhat in 2011. I think if Kelly was ever going to win this seat, he had his chance last time and couldn’t do it. I also think the SDLP vote is near its core here; many of Alban’s 4000 or so voters in NB must be of the Upper Antrim Rd/Cavehill variety, who are deeply allergic to SF never mind ‘Bomber’ Kelly. Cobain is even more irrelevant here having lost his MLA seat, his remaining voters will see as such and Dodds will squeeze even more off him next time, if indeed he or the Ulster Unionists bother to contend.
    EB- Difficult to call. On a purely party basis, the DUP are clearly the most popular party, though Long has a considerable personal vote and reputation for solid, constituency work, which counts for much in NI. Though with 44% of the vote in ’11, despite it being a PR election with a multitude of unionist candidates, it’s hard to see past a Democratic Unionist victory in 2014/15.
    SA- DUP were 6,600 ahead of Ulster Unionists at last election, the biggest gap ever between the unionist parties here and more than double the UUP’s vote. Even with continued tactical voting by nationalists and Alliance, a DUP win is almost certain.
    ND- If Hermon stands, yes, otherwise straightforward DUP victory.
    SD- Ritchie to win with huge unionist goodwill, but also even if it was completely absent.
    N and A: I’d give murphy a 90% chance of winning, usually it would be 100% but strangely the SDLP vote appears to have grown here of late and Bradley is a solid candidate. With a fair slice of unionist tactical votes, which may not be forthcoming, who knows…
    Foyle- Durkan will win but a different SDLP candidate would not have the same personal or unionist vote he does, which could make it interesting.
    EL- despite a DUP vote only in the mid 30’s of late, there are no obvious challengers to Gregory, a single nationalist or a single non-DUP unionist would still have less votes than him, so he can rest easy in the knowledge that he will once again be the sole representative of West of the Bann unionism in parliament, thanks to the boundary hiatus.
    FST- after defeating a single unionist last time, its hard to see SF losing to one 5 yrs later. A better candidate, better organised by unionists may bump the vote up a notch, but it would recquire a turnout even greater than usual amongst border prods, who are pretty reliable at going to the polling station as it is. Its a big ask.
    Upper Bann- SF are gaining here, but Simpson will get his vote out and UUP types will back him to prevent O’Dowd slipping through the middle.
    The other seats will stay as they are.