Can Election 2014 revive the political fortunes of the PUP?

One of the interesting aspects of the local government elections of May 2014 will be the performance of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party.

The fringe loyalist party was once regarded as a potential electoral and political rival for the two main unionist parties, but whatever capacity it had for punching above its miniscule weight was lost before the passing of David Ervine.

Since then, it has largely been reduced to fulfilling the role of sabre rattler for the UVF, shedding most of the electoral support it had garnered along the way.

In the past few years, though, the PUP has had something of a second wind, and it is clearly pinning its hopes on making an electoral breakthrough later this month to finally announce its emergence as a credible alternative force within unionist politics to the mainstream unionist parties.

Charting its electoral growth and decline over the past 20 years allows us to see how the promise of the early peace process era gradually faded with the passage of time and realization that the party offered little different to the larger unionist parties, save for an association with a military wing in the UVF which has still not exited the scene, and to which much of the sectarian and racist violence of the past number of years has been attributed.

The Rise and Fall of the PUP

The 26,000 votes it received in the 1996 Forum elections represented 3.4% of the vote, a jump from the 2,350 votes (0.37%) in the 1993 local government election in which its solitary councillor, the late Hugh Smyth, was returned.

The 1997 Local Government election saw the party secure 7 council seats on 2% of the vote, gaining representation on four councils (Belfast, Lisburn, North Down and Newtownabbey), setting the party up for the 2 Assembly seats secured in the post-GFA 1998 Assembly election on 2.5% of the vote. David Ervine’s 3.3% in the 1999 European election on 22,000+ votes confirmed the party’s modest upward growth.

Alas, the PUP’s downward decline began with the 2001 Local elections in which it returned only 4 councillors on 12,000 votes, losing representation on all but Belfast of the four councils it had representatives elected to in 1997, but gaining one new councillor in Castlereagh.

The 2003 Assembly election saw the party vote plummet to just 8,000, 1.2% of the overall vote, with Ervine alone returned as MLA.

In the 2005 Local Government election, the party was reduced to just two councillors with a paltry 4,591 votes (1%) and now limited to representation on Belfast City Council alone.

In the 2007 Assembly election, the party retained its solitary East Belfast seat, but with only 3,822 votes at 0.6% of the overall vote.

By the 2011 Local Government election, the party was fighting to merely retain its two Belfast seats, successfully doing so with 3,858 votes on 0.6% of the vote.

The loss of Dawn Purvis left the party with an uphill battle as it sought to retain its record of securing election to the Assembly in each post-GFA election. But the 1,493 votes it secured represented just 0.2% of the overall vote and was less than a number of independent candidates secured on their own.

PUP Electoral Performance: 1993-2011

ElectionVote%Elected Reps ElectionVote%Elected Reps
1993 LE23500.37%1 1996 Forum260823.4%2*
1997 LE120512%7 1998 Assembly206342.5%2
2001 LE122612%4 2003 Assembly80321.2%1
2005 LE45911%2 2007 Assembly38220.6%0
2011 LE38580.6%2 2011 Assembly14930.2%0

Charting the actions of the party in recent times, as it seeks to reinvent itself and revive its electoral and political fortunes, has been revealing.

Monster UVF marches and demonstrations have been used to bolster the party’s credibility within grassroots loyalism.

The September 2012 Covenant Day commemorations included a UVF parade and was followed by the 2013 UVF parade to Fernhill House in which PUP leader, Billy Hutchinson, donned attire to resemble Edward Carson before reading extracts of a speech by the founding father of Ulster Unionism.

The UVF gun-running parade in Larne last month was but the latest attempt by the PUP to muscle its way into the mainstream of loyalist band culture in a way that- they must hope- can generate renewed interest in and enthusiasm for the party within grassroots loyalism.

Party representatives have been busy making presentations to loyalist flute bands in recent weeks to encourage electoral support for the party, and at least one flute band has publicly declared its support.

This is something that the DUP are clearly aware of, and their strategy to usurp the upstart loyalist party has included weaning support from the main rival paramilitary faction within loyalism, the UDA.

This article in January 2013 illustrates how the DUP has sought to cultivate its relationship with the UDA over the past few years, not least in East Belfast, where the loss of the Westminster seat to Alliance’s Naomi Long continues to bite.

Just over a decade ago, Frank McCoubrey was a close associate of Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair as the crazed loyalist wrought havoc on loyalist communities after doing same for the previous decade to catholic districts across Belfast. He is now a DUP councillor. In East Belfast, loyalist and former prisoner, Sam ‘Chalky’ White, is a DUP candidate.

And it is in this context that the entirely cynical and utterly deplorable support from both the PUP and DUP for the Twaddell loyalist camp must be understood. The nightly marches and Saturday rallies are being used to enhance the status of the PUP within the north and west Belfast loyalist community, and the DUP’s continuing support for a camp sited at the peaceline and nightly parades to same interface is as much about checking the advances of the loyalist party as it is the age old desire to assert the supremacist rights of ‘the people.’

Whilst the PUP has sought to use the flag and parade protests to agitate for electoral advance, it has failed miserably to make any attempt to distinguish itself on non-constitutional matters in a way that could pose a challenge to the right of centre economic and moral consensus that exists within political unionism (on that note, there can rarely have been a more depressingly sectarian contribution to the educational debate than this piece from the unidentified PUP “Education spokesperson.”)

Perhaps this will come in the event of electoral success and the promotion of new candidates with the time and inclination to articulate policies and devise credible strategies to challenge the DUP/UUP position on issues like same sex marriage and other social/economic matters, but that would require a willingness to engage the unionist political mainstream in a manner that the aspiring minnows of the PUP have deliberately steered clear of to date.

The flagging electoral fortunes of the party since the turn of the millennium has meant that, with the groundwork laid over the past couple of years, the party is all but assured an increase in its vote share this time around, though the key will be whether or not the PUP can convert votes into a cohort of seats which gives them the traction, profile and stature to find a place within the unionist political spectrum distinct from the mainstream parties.

If that distinction continues to boil down to its association with a UVF still waging war on ‘The Other’ as manifested by the minority catholic community of Short Strand and the foreign national population of south and east Belfast, then any electoral breakthrough will be short-lived.

Addressing that elephant will be central to securing a lasting electoral and political role for a grassroots based loyalist party.

Time will tell…..

  • Comrade Stalin

    PUP candidates appear to be trying to ride several horses at once.

    They’re talking up tolerance for the LGBT community – and one of their council candidates has written of her own experiences in this regard; and simultaneously they’re urging people to transfer to other unionists, which would be fine except that both of the two main unionist parties, and one in particular, are outwardly hostile to LGBTs.

    The talk of reconciliation and moving forward is mirrored by the illegal and criminal hooliganism that is promoted front and centre by their party at Twaddell. It was also noted a week ago that one of their Carrickfergus council candidates was arrested on riotous behaviour charges and is due to appear in court on May 21st (one day before the election). Perhaps in an attempt to anticipate this they are running a second candidate in the area in question even though they had a fraction of a quota the last time out.

    I’ve seen the usual crowd of pompous academics on Twitter trying to talk up the PUP as some sort of solution to the problems posed by the DUP. Given that the PUP seem to be trying to compete with the DUP on their own political turf of flags, parades, “culture” and opposing Sinn Féin above all else, they don’t sound like a fresh alternative at all. History suggests, that unionist voters won’t see the PUP as a viable alternative, and certainly won’t plump for those directly associated with rackteering and criminality within their own neighbourhoods. As such I suspect talk of a PUP resurgence is premature.

  • mjh

    An excellent summary of the party’s fortunes and current strategy. But perhaps an alternative title should be, “Can the PUP survive the election of 2014?”

    Electorally it is only clinging on by its fingernails. It gained both of its seats in 2011 on the very last count without reaching a quota. Kyle was only 57 votes away from losing to the UUP in Pottinger. Hugh Smith was 134 votes ahead of the remaining DUP candidate in Court, but he would have built a significant personal vote in the previous 38 years which will not automatically flow to his successor.

    In this context their decision to spread their resources much more thinly in this election could prove to be a disastrous mistake. In 2011 they stood in a third of what is now the new Belfast Council, and ran four candidates elsewhere. This time they are contesting 8 of the 10 District Electoral Areas in Belfast and 13 elsewhere. That will take focus and workers away from where they are needed most.

    They may well increase their share of the vote, but at the cost of winning no seats.

  • Comrade Stalin is right.
    There are TWO PUPs …one is nice and one is nasty.
    Actually Sinn Fein have the same problem.
    But just a few months ago I heard one academic speak about the “right kind” of ex-prisoner and another speak of “”progressive elements” in PUP.
    Which is only the kinda nonsense you hear in Norn Iron. No English academic talks about “progressive elements” in the BNP.
    The PUPs biggest problem is making up its mind what kinda party it actually is.
    David Ervine and Dawn Purves were bigger than the PUP. Personally I think Ervine was over-rated.
    But they have nobody of real substance.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think Ervine was overrated too (nothing like being dead to enhance your reputation). He would have faced the same choice that Purvis did and it’s hard to say which way he’d have gone.

    There is a loyalist seat in East Belfast and I think it’s what they’re aiming for. Last time the vote was split pretty evenly between the PUP rep and Purvis running as an independent, and the two added together made something pretty close to a quota.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t think it is that hard CS.

    He was a UVF man to the core which is why he commanded such loyalty from them. And that, and I know Dawn was acutely aware of this, has been the major drag on their growth.

    In 2011 she had to move up the road so to speak to avail of the strong liberal support that both her and Ervine had, but in chopping off the UVF tail she did not have enough to get through.

    For my money Ervine was a substantial figure in himself. But I think both his strength and weakness were displayed in this interview with Trevor Ringland ( in the run up to the publication of The Long Peace? (

    Here in one question from Ringland is exactly the circle he could not square:

    Tied in with that, can the PUP, UVF, UDA become leaders in their own community?

    Yes, I think they can. They are already leaders in their own community. The question is can they be leaders for good. Can they be leaders for positivity? Absolutely.

    There is no better person to create change, to tell a young advocate of violence or anger, to say, ‘son or young woman, please listen to my story, don’t do this’.

    Something that made me feel ill when I heard it, was when a young person was asked on the Shankill Road what they wanted to do, they wanted to be a paramilitary leader.

    Their ambition in life was not to go to university, not to have an apprenticeship; their ambition in life was to be a paramilitary.

    Now that is shocking in the extreme, but maybe it tells us the possibility of opportunity that they feel they have, if that is all they want to be.

    The problem is that the UVF’s force lies not in popularity but (exactly like the IRA in this regard) its capacity to coerce on occasions when it is required.

    I see much more solid leadership coming just now from Linda who, it seems to me, is less encumbered with loyalty comrades in arms. She, I suspect, is living up to the dream Davy had of freeing people from their pasts.

    Past actions and choices matter. Davy Ervine and the PUP struggle with their past (and present) choices in a similar way that Gerry A and Martin McG will continue to struggle with theirs.

    In both cases comradely solidarity has a much stronger pull on them than any attenuated perceptions of the common good.

  • Turgon


    I think you might be wise to correct that comment about Linda Ervine. She is the wife of Brian Ervine.

  • cynic2

    Politically they are a dead duck

  • Mick Fealty


  • DC

    Comrade Stalin – the PUP riding two horses is a bit rich coming from you as how many horses are the Alliance party riding, the party for everyone don’t forget? The party for LGBT except it can’t even get its own MLAs to back party policy on same sex marriage for instance.

  • Neil

    Alliance is set to grab more seats at Belfast City Hall – defying unionist warnings the party would face ‘meltdown’ after the Union flag protests.


  • Turgon

    I think there are a number of problems with this article. Unionists tend to be very poor at looking at nationalism / republicanism and vice versa tends to be the same. Chris Donnelly’s piece whilst supposedly about the PUP spends a remarkably long time attacking the DUP.

    The article further makes the mistake of claiming the PUP as a socially liberal organisation. It has not always been as simple as that. Brian Ervine when leader opposed abortion (he is I believe an evangelical Christian).

    On the PUP themselves I think it is correct that currently they are trying to project a socially liberal face. However, although social liberalism may be popular with some unionists it is far from clear that that is the case in loyalist communities. This is a problem found throughout the UK. The assumption is made that working class communities are socially and economically left wing. Whilst the latter (economically left wing) is quite often (though by no means always) the case the former (social liberalism) is much more uncertain. The recognition of this has been behind the attempts at Blue Labour especially in England.

    The PUP have always had a problem with support outside greater Belfast. The large unionist towns of Ulster have little in the way of PUP activity despite large and often pretty deprived working class areas. Country and village NI even more so. Take solidly unionist villages in South Londonderry (Tobomore and Garvagh as examples I know of). Until recently at the least I do not recall much PUP activity at all. As such town and country working class NI have not so much been abandoned by the PUP: more they do not realise they exist.

    There is an even more fundamental problem for the PUP and that is one of intellectual conceit. They repeatedly parrot the lines form liberal academia suggesting that the DUP and UUP serve working class unionists poorly and that the working class people are the stupid victims of some sort of semi updated false consciousness. That implication of foolishness or wrongness in voting patterns is likely to be highly insulting to working class unionists. Telling people they are stupid voting for whom the vote for and then try to get their votes is a pretty elementary error.

    Finally the obvious elephant is the fact that the UVF has had a major impact in helping make parts of Belfast (and elsewhere) into sink estates. The UVF with their drug dealing, prostitution rackets, violence etc. are major oppressors of the working class unionist community. It is hardly surprising therefore that working class unionists show little interest in their political representatives.

    Overall the PUP’s strategies seem to be attractive to middle class liberal academics who would like to see working class unionists “break out” from DUP voting. The PUP’s electoral pitches seem more what such people (the academics) would want rather than what working class unionists want. Their pitch is also attractive to some republicans who might want to see the DUP weakened. Working class unionists, however, seem disinclined to vote for those whom the academics (and maybe Republicans) want them to.

  • DC

    Yes Neil, that’s what heavy marketing does for you – marketing yourself as for everyone, people might actually believe that in the end, let’s just see how it works out when they try and deliver on behalf of everyone, didn’t work out very well for their LGBT friends did it? It’s all packaged up very convincingly, proof of the pudding is in the eating!

  • DC
    In fairness to the Alliance Party (and I dont believe I just typed that) they might well be a bit two faced…But neither face they present is as ugly as one of the PUP faces.
    Lest we forget, the Alliance Party is under sustained and vicious attack by anti-democratic fascists in East Belfast.
    Your comparison with PUP is not a good one.

  • DC

    ‘the Alliance Party is under sustained and vicious attack by anti-democratic fascists in East Belfast.’

    Are we not talking about democratic politics here? The PUP are not petrol bombing Alliance offices as much as you and Mick Fealty mistakenly think the PUP are the UVF. Sorry, you are free to believe Elvis is still alive, but it ain’t so.

  • Neil

    let’s just see how it works out when they try and deliver on behalf of everyone, didn’t work out very well for their LGBT friends did it?

    I know, trying to deliver on behalf of everyone. If ever there was a damning statement in Northern Irish politics that must be it. The very idea of it’s enough to put a fella off his cornflakes.

    Oh well, as long as the democratic decision to reduce the fleg, and the subsequent leafleting of East Belfast’s concerned citizens doesn’t matter to the vast majority of people, that’s the main thing.

  • Trapattoni

    The end is close for the PUP, Hutchinson wont hold court, even Hugh Smyth struggled to do that last time. Kyle will hold East Belfast but I doubt he’ll be back at City Hall.

  • Morpheus

    The Alliance Party are the only truly cross community party in Northern Ireland but don’t mistake appealing to both communities as two-faced behavior. They are representative of every workplace and – hopefully by now – every family and circle of friends who get on with life without the green/orange debacle rearing its ugly head at every farts end.

    I for one am glad that it appears that the drug-dealing and drug-fueled activities of the knuckle-dragging thugs and disgusting, cowardly tactics of the DUP/UUP did not work – but i think I’ll wait until the results come out before rushing to any conclusions just yet.

    As for the PUP then if SF are willing to come in from the extremes then I see no reason why the PUP can’t if the will is there but with BH at the wheel I am not sure they have the cerebral ability to do so.

  • Politico68

    Loyalist turnout at elections recently has been pretty weak (bangordub gives a good analysis) but I think the recent fleg protests and the constant if highly exaggerated claims about the erosion of British Culture and the civil rights of marchers; will mobilize many Loyalists who have not bothered voting before. I would be quite surprised if it doesn’t. Despite the redrawing of the Belfast Boundaries apparently bringing in slightly more Catholics than Protestants, I think the PUP will comfortably take two seats. I would also be surprised if NI21 only manage one seat as predicted above, they have a strong image and a clever marketing campaign and they might just manage to offer a home to liberal Unionists and the so-called Catholic Unionist cohort. I would be thrilled to see Alliance do well, they have been crucified by the Main Unionist parties and terrorised by Loyalists, if they increase their share of the seats it will be a right kick in the face for Unionism esp the DUP. Up until recently I thought Sinn Fein and the SDLP might actually lose seats. The apathy within nationalism was palpable, I really got a sense that nationalists seemed to be just ‘getting on with it’. There existed no pressing issues that would get their goat up…….at least until the Adams arrest circus, now I am not so sure. Belfast will be exciting, I wonder how much the percentage DUP vote will slide because of Alliance bashing and the number of Unionist parties in the fight, not to mention the arrival of NI21? Or maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part.

  • Politico68


    I absolutely agree with you, despite being a Shinner I can fully appreciate Alliances position sandwiched between the two blocks and I have certainly warmed to them on foot of Anna’s stated position on Unity, I think that Alliance could well benefit by way of transfers because of it, in fact I hope they do. However, they could run in to trouble in the future if NI21 take a foothold, their message is very progressive and their marketing is both humourous and appealing, especially to those who have lost interest in voting as a result of the Big 5 perceived bickering.

  • Morpheus

    I think there a market for both NI21 and The Alliance Party P68 – NI21 as the moderate pro-UK party, Alliance as the cross-community option and on the other side SF are taking over the moderate nationalist ground from the SDLP who are making themselves more and more redundant with ineffective leader after ineffective leader.

    I am the opposite to you, I vote Alliance because of their cross-community ethos and the strength/integrity they showed despite disgusting, cowardly efforts to run them out of Belfast. I would however consider a transfer to SF in the future – but not in this election cycle, they don’t deserve it yet. To me they are still making too many stupid mistakes, naming a playground in Newry being the number 1 cock-up on my list.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I am not sure what point you are making. I will restate mine, in possibly disjointed fashion.

    In East Belfast there was/is a consistent ~10%ish vote which is pretty much constant from 1998 all the way up to the last election in 2011. It seems clear that there is a solid loyalist vote in the constituency.

    In 2011 that vote split, more or less 60/40 in favour of Dawn when she left. The smaller half of was the UVF vote; the people who will vote PUP no matter what. I’m not convinced those who were on the Dawn side of that split are likely to return to the fold. Dawn’s vote was the working class constructivist loyalist vote, the people who are unionists but want better representation than that which can be provided by the DUP – plus a few of Dr. John Kyle’s neighbours.

    The part where I agree with FJH that Ervine is overrated .. is that I don’t know what side of that split he would have been on. I doubt that he would have been able to prevent the shooting on the Shankill that led to Purvis departing – clearly Purvis herself didn’t accept whatever explanation the UVF told her, and it’s not clear that people such as Billy Hutchinson, Hugh Smyth or John Kyle even attempted to get an answer from them.

    So I think Ervine’s death has made people nostalgic. The joke was that he talked like he swallowed a dictionary, and he certainly talked a good talk. I’m sure he represented people well with the constituency bread and butter stuff. But outside of that I don’t find him especially exceptional. A few years before his death he joined the UUP group in the Assembly, so basically he was taking his orders from the big house, a far cry from the modern image of him as someone who offered a genuine alternative.


    Actually there isn’t a market which can sustain both NI21 and Alliance. There also isn’t a market for the UUP who have few differentiators from the DUP. I also don’t understand how there can be a market for both UKIP and the TUV. SF and the SDLP are a bit of a special case since SF haven’t entirely abandoned their militant aspect.

    When you boil it down, and exclude certain headline grabbers (such as the victims matter) you can’t really get a cigarette paper between NI21 and Alliance in terms of policy in practice; the same applies between the UUP and DUP, and between the UKIP and TUV. Eventually the pretenders will get shaken out. I think Alliance will prevail because they have momentum, experience, well known candidates and a platform which is coherent and makes sense. It takes time to build this up and I don’t think NI21’s collection of newbies will be able to stick it for long. We’ll know for sure soon enough.

  • Red Lion

    The PUP will experience an upturn at these elections. They have a number of aspects going for them.

    -they seem to have got organized with I think 19 branches across NI and seem to be able to draw on core manpower to assist with electioneering.

    -people in working class unionist communities seem to be seeing more and more that the DUP/UUP have done nothing for them

    -flags protests have also served to politicise

    -they are supposedly left of centre which superficially sets them apart from DUP/UUP etc.

    Of course the supposed trappings with paramilitaries may limit any growth, as may identical-to-DUP/UUP unequivocal support for flags protests.

    On the latter flags point PUP totally screwed up. They actually had a 10 year policy of designated day through the 2000’s which they abandoned roughly around the time of the flags protests. Looks to me they were manipulated by DUP big house exploiters of the working class. PUP could have made themselves look very progressive and totally set themselves apart from the usual retro tactics of DUP if they had backed designated days and saved their communities from riots. That would be truer left of centre politics. A community cannot develop on one hand while riots are a never too far away featue of life

    As it is, they have not yet matured their socialism away from unpleasant aspects of (British) nationalism

    I understand that any movement starting out or trying to be reborn has to get its foot in the door. If it does getfew councillors though, it needs to do some intellectual soul searching if it truly wants to lead the loyalist working class away from self destruction. This means letting go of the UVF and explaining that diversity in its communities is good-such as mixed marriages, immigration etc, and has to be hard hitting on all and any forms of sectarianism. It might then have the ability to expand into middle classes and become a true left of centre unionist party-hopefully irrespective of religious or national background. Truer socialism.

    Invariably this will mean leaving an extremist rump behind.

    Does the PUP have the stomach for an intellectual journey, self-critique, for consistent anti-sectarian messages etc etc. Can it explain such a difficult and different message to it supporters and vote whist bringing them along with them?

    Or will it be happy just to bring representation to loyalist districts on social issues (which in itself is a very healthy thing) but not provide an alternative thinking socialist way on flags and parades etc, and be happy to cheerlead to the gallery?

    They have potential, they have young people on board, but can these young people start to think outside the box, or will they just do the DUP’s dirty work for them on flags/parades etc. In some waysthey can learn a lot from Sinn Fein and perhaps some in the PUP aree already aware of this.

  • RyanAdams


    I’m sure you’ll agree with myself when I say I hope the middle ground can sustain 2 centre ground parties in the form of NI21 and Alliance. We can’t be ignorant of the fact that this party has shot up 50 candidates in Alliance’s area, East of the Bann. Obviously May 22 will tell whether that was a good idea or not. But surely as an Alliance member you must be thinking why did these guys not join us?

    There is definitely a market for NI21 now in Lisburn (especially considering Trevor Lunn’s equal marriage vote, but that’s old ground). Wouldn’t you agree Alliance consistently under performs here compared with Castlereagh, Newtownabbey, Carrick etc?

    I think it’s down to fact NI21 seem to be more revolutionary. For example, Alliance are content to operate in an executive where they have very little power. The debacle over David Ford and recruitment of a new chief constable showed that. Is there a section of Alliance that actively contemplates sitting as an opposition?

    Call me destructive and opportunist, but I believe Alliance have a bargaining chip in the form of the justice ministry. Alliance got it because the rest couldn’t trust ‘themmuns’ with it. If Alliance pull the plug, it gives them a platform to show why tribal politics don’t work!

  • DC

    Red Lion, leaving aside the criminality and ASB of certain loyalists, I imagine the PUP’s take would be that people in working class unionist areas are not worth less or lesser souls than others and should be treated equally as they are, not what you and Mick Fealty and others would like them to be, by becoming more worthy by signing up to middle class values, two different social backgrounds entirely. Nor should they sign up wholesale, no harm challenging sectarianism and trying to convert that into reasoned political argument but trying to convert working class unionists into liberal middle class folk to suit your own outlook, can’t see it being attempted.

    Billy Hutchinson never backed the UUP link up on the grounds that comrade has mentioned, I don’t think he was in the assembly at the time though, what wrecked Billy Hutchinson was being seen as associated with Holy Cross which was toxic, but he stood with the people rightly or wrongly and I know he said he was ashamed of what happened it still finished him off around 2003. (10 years or so out of politics has clearly blunted his sharpness eg the news letter interview so I am not sure how things will pan out.) With the flag protests, the PUP it would seem doesn’t do walking away sometimes to its detriment, if it did walk away it would have left the protesters in the arms of Jamie and Willie and Dowson and UKIP etc.

    I wouldn’t knock the work of Aaron Edwards the ‘academic’ probably being slated on here, he has provided useful structure for the PUP to build on in a way that would look authentic and in line with the values it had set for itself, social democratic, inclusive, creating a better balance between the civic and ethnic side to the party, than just ethnic and identity focused; but look lets not pretend it should be as civic as the Alliance in its outlook! Structure – well structure is something that the Alliance party is most definitely lacking! It has itself turned into a slutty catch all party for everyone, trading in sovereign unionist symbols in exchange for nationalist favour and appeal, given the burgeoning demographics within nationalism, shamelessly pimping itself, despite people in unionist areas keeping faith with alliance throughout the years! Alliance has seemed to bump its identity on to new ground, if you can call it ground, is it terra firma, I am not so sure as imo they have failed to define it properly if at all apart from being yellow and defining it ‘for everyone’. A long cry from the liberal unionist party it once was and casting off of this identity might not go unnoticed in places like Carrickfergus, at least NI21 has come out as unionist although I do doubt it would have handled flag politics any better. You know being able to spot that the environment had sectarianised and was one not conducive to good relations no matter what you tried in the circumstances, indeed Basil’s arrogance probably would have took over likewise and he probably would have been hell bent on getting his way.

    The Alliance just isn’t kitted out to comprehend let alone manage sectarian politics, it’s too naive, too civic, too detached from the conflict, it always has been. Just not robust enough, as Mick said better working through the middle or working with the more moderates of the ‘extreme’ parties to try and get more suitable outcomes, than relying on Alliance to supply the magic which in this case was supposed to be improved community relations – and it totally backfired!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ryan, fundamentally NI21’s message is the same as that of Alliance. So if we are talking about there being room in the market for both, we are talking about two parties with the same message but presenting it differently and/or with different personalities. That’s where I’m not convinced.

    I do think Alliance is going to have trouble on one major flank if it fails to deal with MLAs who vote against policy on marriage equality. But NI21 won’t build a sustainable following on that platform alone.

    Yes I am concerned about why NI21 members, up to and including their party leader, did not feel Alliance was a good fit. I think some believed they could rise faster there than having to join the queue within Alliance. Others were attracted by NI21’S novelty and will, I suspect, be disappointed when they discover that their “fresh politics” will have to adopt some of the old in order to be successful.

  • Reader

    Comrade Stalin: Yes I am concerned about why NI21 members, up to and including their party leader, did not feel Alliance was a good fit.
    I can’t advise you about what members and activists think, but, as a voter, I am hoping that a moderate pro-union party can ‘steady the ship’, which is a more strategic position than Alliance simply ‘not rocking the boat’.
    I agree that Alliance has important policies, but I don’t see that a pro-union party can’t steal them. In fact, I also don’t see why a nationalist party couldn’t steal them either.
    I’ll still give Alliance my top transfers, but prepare to be squeezed.

  • Red Lion

    DC, I don’t want working class unionists or PUP to particularly become middle class.
    But I would like to see the PUP become truly left of centre which means being less entrenched on national issues flags-parades etc and actually seeing how such issues are destroying the wellbeing of their communities.

  • DC

    It’s the social distance from the conflict, I would suggest working class areas and indeed republican ones were closer to the cut in that context and certain issues mean more to certain sections of the community, whereas less so to middle class ones such as the union flag.

    It’s not lost on me that the person who called it right over the amount of trouble over the union flag was actually Gerry Kelly who told the PSNI that there wasn’t enough police around city hall prior to the decision, he had his finger on the pulse and this might help explain why people fell out over it and why good relations scuppered.

    Alliance would gain more credibility in my eyes if they leveled with the people that it all backfired and to pause the decision and come back to it next term might have been the best approach in the circumstances, which would have blunted the impact of the DUP leaflet.

    Also designated days is not the silver bullet given other councils don’t pay any heed to equality considerations L/Derry never flies the union flag same with a number of others, as you know some even name playgrounds after their own terrorists.

  • Neil

    Alliance would gain more credibility in my eyes

    But you do realise, there are a lot of eyes in belfast? Obviously they would lose credibility in other’s eyes and yet further people’s eyes are in people couldn’t give a monkey’s.

    if they leveled with the people that it all backfired

    Define backfired in the context of a political party. Does backfired equate to electoral gains? Obviously the proof will be in the pudding, but polling suggests Alliance will do well and I think they will. I would never have considered a transfer to Alliance in the past but I would now thanks to the attacks they have suffered at the hands of East Belfast concerned citizens. I just wish Ford would take his teeth off Gerry. 🙂

    Also designated days is not the silver bullet given other councils don’t pay any heed to equality considerations L/Derry never flies the union flag same with a number of others, as you know some even name playgrounds after their own terrorists.

    Yes some councils represent the wishes of the majority of people in their council area, like Derry. And Belfast. Others are I’m sure festooned with flegs all year. That’s democracy. Bowing to threats is not democracy, and it only encourages the thugs to continue creating mayhem until they get everything they want. Just deal with it, you have the Union, you don’t have the fleg in Belfast all year round. You win some, you lose some.

  • Morpheus

    “Alliance would gain more credibility in my eyes if they leveled with the people that it all backfired and to pause the decision and come back to it next term might have been the best approach in the circumstances, which would have blunted the impact of the DUP leaflet. ”

    You do realise that there was 10 YEARS of discussions, investigations. legal input, Equality Commission input etc between the entire council (not just the Shinners) voting to look at the flag flying policy after legal advice from Senior Counsel and the new policy actually being voted on and implemented, right?

    Maybe a better idea would have been for the DUP/UUP to prepare their electorate – like they are supposed to – and not distribute their cowardly leaflet to target Naomi Long – what do you think?

  • Comrade Stalin


    I hear you. I won’t try to change your mind (not really my job anyway) but you probably already know what I’m going to say. In practice, the difference you identify between NI21 (“a modern, plural country within the UK is a good thing”) and Alliance (“a modern, plural country is a good thing and the constitutional matter is in practical terms irrelevant”) is relatively subtle.

    The subtlety of the distinction here is why I’m saying that the two parties are competing with each other for more or less the same space. It will come down to how effective any elected politicians are as representatives, and how well the message is communicated.

    I’m not holding out much hope for NI21 on the basis that it is basically a vanity project. Basil set the party up not because he had substantial differences with any of the other non-sectarian parties, but because he wanted a party of his own that he could control. Granted, that is an approach that worked for Ian Paisley, but I am not quite sure that it is possible to pull off in the non-tribal sphere.

  • DC

    Don’t do it Reader, seriously.

    Only if furthering deeper regulation of Britishness, the British identity and sovereign symbols is your thing well then I guess I can’t stop you voting Alliance.

    Alliance seems to have bought into the SF political narrative that Britishness needs regulated and restricted perhaps totally removed in order to maintain good relations. NI needs a centrist party that accepts British identity, one that is not concerned about others perceiving it as ‘offensive’ / ‘excessive’, it’s an identity that should need no regulation, given its constitutional legitimacy, also a centrist party that doesn’t use the tribal slur would be great!

  • Comrade Stalin


    If Alliance did a reversal now it would be interpreted by those of us who live on planet earth as backing down to threats of violence, appeasing political unionism to gain cheap votes, and implementing a policy which is more unionist than the unionists in Lisburn and Craigavon. It would be a validation of the tactics of roadblocking, rioting and disruption that were deployed by the flag protestors.

    So no. I’m glad Naomi and the other Alliance activists and candidates are holding the line. Northern Ireland needs more people who will do that.

  • DC

    Comrade, well then you need to know Alliance isn’t actually for everyone because those that freely identify as British in NI are hardly going to vote for a party that wants their identity regulated and restricted to accommodate Jim McVeigh and SF.

    Trading in the sovereign flag to accommodate republicans was an attempt by the Alliance to deliver new politics for the city unfortunately it was done using the prejudices of the past, it furthered a bigoted, anti-british-complete-removal-of-flag, motion. Fair enough.

    Now instead if all parties were to have come out together as one and backed designated days at the outset that would have looked much more positive to the wider public and NI populace, that would have been real leadership; but then that’s a different context and political environment entirely in which to judge things. That would be the sort of context in which to implement designated days, it had been designed for that sort of environment, you know a non-sectarian and civic-minded one, rather than to go up in flames after being dropped into a bigoted political firestorm.

    Ps I’m going to tweet Izzy Giles that you’re bad mouthing her party on slugger while all the same flirting with her on twitter, typical Alliancer! All nice to your face, supposedly your mate, your friend, you can trust us, then as soon as your back’s turned – knife’s inserted! And the flag’s gone. 😉

  • Charles_Gould

    On the whole when ALLIANCE people attack Ni21 it seems like bullying. IJP FOR EXAMPLE.

  • Reader

    Charles_Gould: On the whole when ALLIANCE people attack Ni21 it seems like bullying. IJP FOR EXAMPLE.
    No, it’s just politics. I think it was fitzjameshorse1745, a while ago, who pointed out that parties will view their rivals (for the same vote), differently from their enemies (who plan a different future).
    It plays out in this way – Alliance will attack the credibility of NI21; and will attack the policies of the more extreme parties on each side. Nothing to get worked up about.

    DC: Only if furthering deeper regulation of Britishness, the British identity and sovereign symbols is your thing well then I guess I can’t stop you voting Alliance.
    I think you are caught up in superficialities. I don’t care if I never see another flag. The union retains its attraction in spite of the the crass behaviour of the DUP and their UUP hangers-on, not because of them. Parties that don’t spend their energies on the Stormont battle-a-day might actually be able to get on with solving our local problems.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Can someone define “bullying” for me please before we go any further ?

    From what I know, Alliance internally aren’t even vaguely worried about NI21 as they haven’t, yet, put up anything like a credible threat. I’d be more worried about the Greens, and frankly it is the Greens who stand a chance of nicking a liberal seat in East Belfast. I haven’t seen any Alliance officials or elected reps get involved in slagging NI21 at all.

    DC – take your complaints about regulating Britishness up with the unionist parties, including the PUP, who supported designated days when it suited them to do so. BTW this “we can’t be British in our own country anymore” stuff is right out of the UK far right’s playbook. We’ve covered this a zillion times.

    I’m bemused by your threats to tell tales about me on twitter, and even more bemused by the notion that you think I’d want to keep my views expressed here hidden – as if I wouldn’t know how to set up a sockpuppet account.

  • Morpheus


    This again? It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat it, it doesn’t make it true.

    “Alliance seems to have bought into the SF political narrative that Britishness needs regulated and restricted perhaps totally removed in order to maintain good relations.”

    What goes on here is feck all to do with Britishness. Thousands of marches every year to remind other citizens that they are second class citizens in their own country is not British. Burning the flags of other countries and effigies is not British. Flags on every lamppost is not British. I lived in England for 30 years, my wife is a British as they come – not only does she fail to recognise this Britishness but she actually fears it.

    “Trading in the sovereign flag to accommodate republicans was an attempt by the Alliance to deliver new politics for the city unfortunately it was done using the prejudices of the past, it furthered a bigoted, anti-british-complete-removal-of-flag, motion.”

    Gimme strength…you do realise that Alliance found out what the flag flying policy was in hundreds of other councils through the UK and got confirmation of what The College of Arms recommends, right? You do realize that they want to implement the same policy throughout Northern Ireland, right? They didn’t jjust pluck their position out of the air. Just say thanks and be on your way.

    I suspect that even though you know in your heart that they made the right decision for the right reasons you are just pissed because the DUP/UUP were caught with their pants around their ankles and did feck all to prepare their electorate that the flag flying policy might change despite having 10 YEARS to do so.

  • DC

    ‘I don’t care if I never see another flag.’

    Reader maybe you should transfer to Sinn Fein?

    But who has your first preference oh wise one?

  • Comrade Stalin


    DC is pissed off about a number of things that effect his judgment on this matter, but in a week’s time we’ll know what the score is when the election results come out. I think that at the very least Alliance will continue to gain incrementally, just as they were gaining before December 2012. And if/when that happens I hope DC has his explanation ready for why this might be.

  • DC

    That’s right Comrade, you, Mick and Red Lion all know what is best for society and what good leadership looks like the rest are just deluded as a result of their own shortcomings.

  • Red Lion

    Imo, in terms of percentage of vote-

    Alliance will gain modestly (some SDLP votes coming their way though East Belfast vote is harder to predict)

    NI21 will get toe in the door, Green vote goes up slightly

    SDLP + UUP modestly but significantly goes down

    DUP modestly but significantly goes down

    SF slightly goes down (SF only slightly behind DUP)

    TUV holds up

    PUP modestly goes up, get toes back in door

    whan I get chance might try and put figures to these predictions

  • Reader,
    To be clear….
    I make a distinction between Members of political parties and supporters of political parties.
    There is a spectrum.
    Dissident Republican-Sinn Fein-SDLP-Green-Alliance-NI21-UUP-DUP-TUV-PUP
    In this context, people who are in the “middle ground” might welcome the arrival of NI21 but people who are specifically members of Alliance will see NI21 as a potential threat to their vote.
    Realistically people might switch to a “rival” party but never to “an enemy”.
    Nobody deserts TUV to vote Sinn Fein.
    Nobody deserts Alliance to be a dissident republican.
    Alliance did have reason to worry about NI21 but will be breathing easier now that NI21 are really a bit of a damp squib.

  • Politico68

    I dont kow how you can judge NI21 a damp squid seeing as how they have not even presented themselves to the electorate yet.

  • Charles_Gould

    SDLP will go up I think. It has better values than SF.

  • Morpheus

    You sum up the SDLP perfectly CG 🙂

  • Comrade Stalin


    That’s right Comrade, you, Mick and Red Lion all know what is best for society and what good leadership looks like the rest are just deluded as a result of their own shortcomings.

    You said it, not me. I don’t regard people, in general, as being deluded although your contributions on flegs here are pretty close to the dictionary definition of the word.


    Yeah. I actually don’t think anyone in Alliance was ever really worried about NI21, just as they were never worried (despite claims to the contrary) about UCUNF. Back then, I remember David Ford commenting, in response to a question about whether UCUNF were a threat or not especially give their access to Tory funding, that he had no reason to be concerned about any party that had no campaigning presence on the ground. He also predicted at the time that the party would find itself sucked inexorably back into the Ulster Unionist mould. That all turned out to be correct.

    Apart from anything else Basil’s reputation in the assembly as a blusterer goes before him; that rant in the assembly a couple of weeks back, which was referenced briefly in their PEB, was cringe-inducing. This is a person who completely messed up his office costs spending, and the same man who was to be heard a few weeks ago blaming – in public – electoral office workers for a mistake made by NI21 alone in completing their election candidacy forms. Why would anyone be concerned that an organization run by such a person could mount a serious threat ?

  • Good points there that could be teased out Comrade Stalin.
    There have now been three Parties that have tested Alliance supremacy of the “middle ground”
    Arguably Womens Coalition DID deprive Alliance of seats (South Belfast) and influence (Executive post). There is a case to be made that Womens Coalition did adversely affect Alliance. And those “gene pool votes have returned.
    UNFCUP …no….apples and oranges basically. Westminster. And they never convinced anyone as moderates.
    Tory Finances hardly helped (Alliance did better with Rowntree).
    and it turns out Hamilton, Parsley and Bradshaw actually are convinced Alliance people all along.
    NI21….interesting as its a work in progress but only until next Thursday.
    Certainly Alliance would have welcomed McCrea and McCallister, praising their courage etc ….up to the point where they formed NI21.
    At that point they became fair game for Alliance to unleash the attack dogs. But frankly Alliance have been helped by NI21s stunning ability to bite themselves.