After the election… The UUP..

On Friday at the count, Mike Nesbitt was on a roll and so was his party. I was surprised at the news from East Belfast, particularly Ormiston one of two DEAs making up the most of the coming battleground between the sitting MEP Naomi Long and the DUP.

The drama lingered to the very end, just into Sunday morning when the DUP’s Denny Vitty was edged out by the Green candidate Ross Brown. Having taken two seats further up the count, the UUP, for once sitting proud of the rest of the field.

I think I confessed on Slugger and privately to one UUP friend that I hadn’t seen it coming. Then I asked him what he thought was driving the party’s sudden growth and it quickly became obvious that he couldn’t really pin down any concrete reason why.

In the meantime, buoyed up by his party’s strong showing Mike Nesbitt starting acting up with Ian Paisley on BBC and UTV, making a rather ostentatious show of whether he might or might not do a deal over East Belfast to get a free run at South Belfast.

Then came to the Euro count, when it became very painfully clear that whatever was driving the rise in UUP votes (+0.9%) and seats it was nothing directly to do with what the party had done.

Given a broader choice in an NI wide constituency, Jim Nicholson’s vote dropped four percentage points from 17.1 to 13.3,  just ahead of the SDLP’s Alex Attwood. From that point on, Mike was barely to be seen.

He was powered across the win line by strong transfers from Jim Allister. Relief at getting the seat, surely.

But it may tell us something else, ie that the party’s right ward trajectory if they are attracting mass transfers from the TUV, there is every possibility that they are losing them elsewhere.

Now consider what the weekend would have looked like for Mike if the events had been reversed say if the local results had come after the Europeans? Local seats are for local people, of course. But there may awkward times ahead.

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  • BarneyT

    The uup and their support base in a much broader church than I ever imagined. If I am right they can claim never to have shared power with sinn fein. At the risk of pushing further to the extreme, they can and perhaps and should leverage that particular point. Their only chance of recovery is to go after the dup and to out loyal them. Sad that this has to happen but what other option do they have. Strike while the iron is hot.

  • Charles_Gould


    ” If I am right they can claim never to have shared power with sinn fein. At the risk of pushing further to the extreme, they can and perhaps and should leverage that particular point. ”

    Complete nonsense I have to say. They currently share power with SF as members of the Executive, and have been on the Exec with SF since it was established in 1999. In fact UUP were the first unionist party to come out in favour of power sharing.


    The two elections should be compared with different points of comparison. Euro with 2009 when the DUP were in a great hole, and Locals with 2011 when DUP did better.

    I think if I was UUP I would take more lessons from the Local elections than the Euros. The locals are based on the party’s local base support and a multitude of candidatse. There is no “protest” voting in the locals. The Euros are different: just one candidate (who is past his sell by date) and a protest vote to Jim Allister. (Who imagines that their MEP actually makes much difference?).

    So I think this was a good election for the UUP and their Euro performance was because of the stronger competition from DUP and TUV than last time. A lot of UUP voters have been impressed by Jim Allisters straight talking in the Assembly. He is the unionists’ Farage, without the pint!

  • Mick Fealty

    Spot on CG!!

  • Comrade Stalin

    The European seat is more of psychological significance for the parties than anything else, and the DUP losing their seat would be a huge blow in that sense.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    John McCallister and Mike Nesbitt have became friends on Facebook and John has also became friends with a number of current UUP party members/councillors………

  • Morpheus

    The UUP are the story of the elections for me.

    By adopting a position which made them indistinguishable from the DUP out on the extreme end of the political spectrum the electorate rewarded them for it. This to me is a worrying development because you can be sure that the further they get from the moderate middle ground the more they will be rewarded and that will have serious consequences for a shared future of equals in Northern Ireland.

  • Larne man

    That 4% drop in Nicholson’s vote is concering. Even the council vote was only a very mild increase from what was a dreadful 2011 election. I’m willing to lay anyone 5/1 they win a seat at westminster. They have no chance in East Belfast. And wouldn’t win South Bel or FST even if they were the only unionists standing.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Larne man, if they ar the single candidate in South Belfast then that is their seat.

    FST is too close to call.

    Willie McCrea’s seat looks promising too.

  • Charles_Gould

    They can make inroads in Upper Bann, given that they have some strong candidates there, and a strong voter base.

  • Larne man

    Incumbent MPs are very hard to dislodge in Northern Ireland. Willie McCrea is safe as houses. I don’t think a UUP single candidate could get all those people who voted DUP, TUV and PUP last week to vote for them in places like South Belfast.
    East Belfast could be lost again if the unionist parties fail to get their act together.
    Upper Bann might be an outside shout for them? Though Davy Simpson always pulls in a bigger vote at Westminster elections to keep Sinn Fein out. I know the Harry Hamilton campaign felt this issue critically wounded them in 2010.

  • Larne man

    I never saw your post, honest!

  • David Crookes

    In general, and aside from their rare and ritualistic condemnations of lawless fleg-associated violence, the DUP, UUP, and TUV have effectively supported two squalid nuisances: flegs and the Belfast OO.

    The UUP is now merely one strand of a three-strand rope.

    All three parties in the rope may have lost the votes of those who expected better of their politicians, but all three parties have gained at least as many and probably more votes from electors whose left brain is filled with flegs and whose right brain is filled with the OO.

    All three parties are pleased with their results, which are thoroughly bad news for the ‘decent people’ whose votes the UUP used to seek.

    Overall the complexion of unionist politics is now more ungenial than ever. The difference between the UUP and its unionist rival parties is insubstantial, and in terms of ‘Britishness’ barely perceptible.

    Not one of the three parties which I have mentioned can be relied upon to provide unequivocal support for the rule of law in all circumstances. The apparent success which the DUP, UUP, and TUV have enjoyed at the polls, together with the UUP’s effective loss of identity, represents a move away from the Britishness which all three parties profess to cherish.

  • snow white

    “…whatever was driving the rise in UUP votes (+0.9%) and seats it was nothing directly to do with what the party had done.”

    I think this is a bit on unfair on the UUP. I think the primary reason they did so well was the fact that they did not have the media storm that is Basil constantly blowing in the background. The party looked united for the first time in years. This has allowed Mike Nesbitt to come across much stronger than he may be.
    Nesbitt has also refused to be drawn into rows but has chosen to not, in his terms “micro-manage” members. The Party’s AGM had a revitalised atmosphere which I’m sure many members took away with them. I think he’s managed to take a stance especially one like the maze and hit the DUP with it. The lack of bad media rather than the lack of good media as only benefited the UUP.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for that, and welcome snow white…

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Snow White,

    I agree with you to an extent but apart from trying to out DUP the DUP, what do the UUP stand for. They are scant on policies and it’s interesting that as you’ve said Nesbitt has avoided arguments that his input was perhaps needed. Some issues for the UUP to confront:

    1. Where do they stand on gay rights?

    2. How do they plan to resolve the dispute over flags and parades?

    3. What are their current plans for the maze site?

    4. Do they feel there should be an opposition within Stormont?

    5. What are they doing to address their very ageing membership profile?

    6. Where do they stand on McConnville’s remarks?

  • Larne man

    In other words ‘how are you different from the DUP?’. That is the question no one has ever adequately answered, and the reason is simple: they aren’t. If the UUP are content to be the runt of the litter for all time, fair play too them. If a few extra councillors, no MPs, an MEP seat along with a whole raft of MLA seats in red danger territory is ‘us on the way back’ all the very best to them.
    I suspect if you’d asked Mike Nesbitt the question instead he’d have no clue either!

  • snow white

    @Joe_Hoggs I think you can find the majority of answers to your questions on the UUP website. As an Ulster Unionist voter I can answer the majority of those for you.

    1. Gay rights, I’m going to take that to mean gay marriage – the policy is that every member may decide on the basis of their conscience. I think this is actually the best policy as no member is forced to vote for or against anything they feel is against their conscience. Jeffrey Dudgeon has just been elected as a UUP Belfast City Councillor, if that answers you any better on gay rights.

    2. Our plan to resolve the dispute over parades, flags and the past can be found here;

    3. ^^^ This deals with the Maze in a way too. I think I remember Mike Nesbitt talking at a time about developing a business enterprise site like the Titantic quarter.

    4. Yes as far as I know the UUP are in favour of an opposition as long as the funding and structures are there to provide one. (I personally would like to see the UUP in opposition asap.)

    5. As a youngster myself I disagree with the suggest young people don’t join the UUP. The Young Unionists had 11 people stand and 9 were elected (All below 25). That’s a pretty good success rate. I also can confirm that the UUP’s youth wing at Queen’s University engulfs the DUPs with over 30 active members. The party is also putting together a Young Unionist Academy that will provide young people not just with skills in politics but with transferable skills they can use in their careers.

    6. I’m not sure what the question is here but I assume you meant Jean McConnville?

    @Larne man
    How is the UUP different to the DUP? Well first of all the UUP allow internal debate, that is something you will not find inside the DUP. It’s a totalitarian party. If you joined the DUP were would your opportunity be to make a difference or were would the opportunity be to contribute to policy? If you disagree with the DUP leadership who do you tell within the DUP that you think they’re wrong? There is always a means to voice concern inside the UUP, it’s called an email and you can send one without fear.
    Secondly, since I’m only a young’un I do not remember anything about how the Northern Ireland government was run before the DUP were in charge. The only thing I do know is that the DUP have not provided much to inspire me to stay in NI. I’m currently studying for a PhD at QUB but that’s only because I had NO job prospects here in NI without moving to the mainland, something which at the time was not possible. The only knowledge of government in NI that I have screams to me that the DUP are self-serving, incompetent and utterly backward. Looking at the UUP I see people who seem to genuinely want to make Northern Ireland work and people who actually want to aspire to a shared future without white-washing the past.

    @Mick, thanks 🙂

  • “Then I asked him what he thought was driving the party’s sudden growth and it quickly became obvious that he couldn’t really pin down any concrete reason why.”

    Here are the UUP figures for the past 5 LEs:

    2014 – 101385 – 16.14% – 88 cllrs

    2011 – 100643 – 15.2% – 99 cllrs

    2005 – 126317 – 18.0% – 115 cllrs

    2001 – 181336 – 23.0% – 154 cllrs

    1997 – 175036 – 28.0% – 185 cllrs

    These figures suggest not so much a sudden growth, more of an arrest on the rapid decline. I think the London and Dublin side-deals with the paramilitaries did huge damage to the political fortunes of both the UUP and the SDLP. Mike Nesbitt is a lot more articulate than his two predecessors and this may have buoyed-up UUP candidates; the latter will have relished his demolition of several SF spokesmen with his ‘persuade me’ tack. He’s also not handicapped, in Unionist eyes, by the presence of Martin McGuinness at his elbow. I doubt very much if the calibre of UUP councillors has greatly improved but at least Robin Swann MLA is now providing a constituency service on the Causeway Coast, unlike his predecessor. The DUP is probably feeling more of a pinch from the TUV and the PUP but it may also have stood too many candidates in the Causeway Coast and Glens.

  • Larne man

    Snown White
    Thank you for that. You claim the DUP does not allow ‘internal debate’? Perhaps your not supposed to be aware of it, since the clue is kinda in the title.
    Whereas the UUP allows both internal and, quite infamously, external debate and has done for a long time. In fact many people cite the very public and personal rows amongst senior UUP figures over any number of years as a big part in their epic decline.
    It is quite clear that the DUP is viewed as a more coherent, cohesive force than their main rivals- and unionists reward that at the ballot box. Mike Nesbitt in fairness has dealt rather effectively in preventing the usual state of public civil war within the party, and has seemingly reaped some mild benefit. In fairness this may simply be because there is no one left to argue with, but nonetheless it is clear what the winning approach regarding party debate is.
    And you can send emails of course. Maybe the DUP are more facsimile types, who knows. But if you see that as a major difference you can campaign on for votes fair play.

  • Gopher

    The UUP simply got lucky in the locals. The 2014 elction was a game of musical chairs. The SDLP vote went to Alliance the Alliance vote went to the UPP simply because there was no other party..

    The UUP need to let Allister gut DUP and while he is doing it they have peace to grab the middle ground. Standing beside the DUP only means Allister is gutting you aswell. Opposition is the way to go. that takes a central plank out of any subsequent attack.from Allister. The moderate ground is now wide open it just takes some party with the guts and ability to take it.

  • IJP

    I don’t think you can say the UUP “simply go lucky” – it was obvious, from my area anyway, that they were more cohesive and actually harder-working. If anything, this was the election where they ejected their complacency that votes would just magically come back!

    Nevertheless, the European result is quite shocking. Would they have retained the seat with a rookie? It was by far the party’s worst ever European vote share (despite Allister having been present for the previous two as well).

    As I myself wrote this morning, there is now a question as to whether Unionism can lose any more “soft” votes than it has already lost, thus the inevitable collective “rightward” drift. I have long argued that there are no Liberal Unionists – you’re one or the other, and at this election people picked which!

    Nevertheless, my own long-term sense is that first Unionists will be penalised by demographics (as, frankly, they have nothing to say to the non-Protestant non-British census majority, or even to some British Protestants like me); and second the higher Unionist turnout will prove a blip as increasingly Unionists become disillusioned by promises made for a majority that cannot be kept by a minority.