Late last night the news broke that the DUP have selected Jonathan Bell MLA to stand in South Belfast in the coming election whilst today the Ulster Unionist Party will announce Cllr Chris McGimpsey as their East Belfast candidate.
These actions have been deemed by the media to mean an end to the pact negotiations between Mike Nesbitt and Peter Robinson. Should this suggestion be true it places Unionism is a much weakened position going into May.
In my previous article I outlined the state of play in East Belfast. It is clear that the UUP are irrelevant in East Belfast, so standing and spending resources (ie money and people) absolutely beggars belief when it would be better utilised in their two key target seats of South Antrim and Upper Bann.
Jonathan Bell is a surprising yet excellent choice. A safe pair of hands, kept Strangford going amidst the Iris Robinson scandal and has risen up the DUP ranks to hold the Junior Minister post in OFMDFM.
Chris McGimpsey is an unsurprisingly poor choice by the UUP. A poor choice in that they shouldn’t be putting anyone forward but someone who is out and out left leaning who refuses to work with the Tories is not the message you want to send out pre-negotiations come May with regards to any possible confidence and supply arrangements.
With no electoral deal, the UUP are significantly weakened, thus damaging their ambitions in South Antrim and Upper Bann. With no deal any chance of regaining Fermanagh South Tyrone is also gone.
With no electoral deal Belfast remains on an electoral precipice. West will go to Sinn Fein. North to DUP.. South with two unionists standing (if not more) will certainly come at a cost with the SDLP and SF vying for the seat, Alistair McDonnell desperately hoping for borrowed votes from Alliance type voters to hold the seat.
In East Belfast, Gavin Robinson will campaign on the basis that every vote cast for the UUP is a vote for Naomi Long and should she make it back the blame will rest solely and squarely with Mike Nesbitt.
Perhaps the talking isn’t over yet, maybe these announcements will spur some desperate last minute negotiations. What I do know is time is short: it’s 85 days to polling day!