Will Anna Lo ‘return’ to politics to fight for South Belfast next year?

Brian asked the question of what the last elections added up to. Having done a lot of detailed analysis I’m still teasing that out. Two thing major things strike me about East and South Belfast though that seem to run counter to pre election expectations.

One is the underperformance of Gavin Robinson, someone who was being talked of as the DUP candidate in the next Westminster election, the above expectations of the UUP neither of which necessarily help the sitting MP Naomi Long keep her seat there.

Last time out with a perfect storm in the wake of the Iris Robinson crisis she was able to avoid that circular liberal firing squad by taking votes from everywhere, including the UUP and PUP. One corollary of the flags crisis that those votes are drifting away from them, and Naomi could be the major casualty.

But what demographic politics takes away with one hand it may return with the other.

Where the Alliance is threatening for another Westminster seat just next door in South Belfast where as much as the flags crisis has cooled liberal unionists on the idea of voting Alliance it has warmed liberal nationalists.

Brian Feeney flagged this well before the election, and rightly in my view, pinned much of the progress in the European and Local Elections on Anna Lo’s personal brand rather than the party alone…

Which sets up an interesting question – and one well worth posing long before any decision is taken over who is to run in South Belfast next year.

Ms Lo has made it clear she is leaving politics at the next Assembly elections. And yet everything suggests that if Anna Lo were to run in the next Westminster election she could take the SDLP leader’s Westminster seat and land a major coup for her party.

Her exit makes sense if she is really as disillusioned with the place as she told John Manley she was. And yet she knows that without the headway she’s personally made in courting nationalist voters her party will struggle there next year.

So much is at stake it’s very hard not to foresee a ‘sudden’ change of heart. If so the SDLP leader should maybe dig out an old prayer to St Jude, not least because Ms Lo’s reasons for leaving politics have rather handily shipped her a lot of sympathy in his backyard.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty