What now, and where now for a Unionist electoral pact?

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!

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  • Joe_Hoggs

    Disappointing but not surprising news. The problem with Unionist unity is that there is absolutely no unity shown during the interim period with both parties delighting in tearing lumps out of each other.

    I think Jonathan Bell is a good choice for South Belfast replacing the rather lackluster Jimmy Spratt who was a terribly uninspired choice. McGimpsey has not learnt from his big brother and as a result will poll weakly even though I don’t see him as a necessarily poor candidate just much weaker than Bell.

    I can see the UUP candidate in North Belfast being obliterated if one is to stand which is completely scorched earth electioneering. Both Unionist parties have been told time and again at the doorsteps that unity is the only way forward and neither have listened to the detriment of Unionism overall.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Is Chris McGimpsey a gay right’s activist?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Thanks Morph, not a lot of experience with Dudgeon, the gay right’s angle is interesting from a Unionist perspective but not enough to break through the 2k mark in my view.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    If Peter and Mike concoct that Belfast is left with no Unionist MP after May it ain’t going to be a very happy fairwell party for Peter and retirement from politics.

  • mjh

    Another possible explanation for the timing is that the DUP know that it would be an uphill struggle for them to win South Belfast (whether or not there were a unionist unity candidate) and they simply cannot afford to delay the start of their campaign any longer.

  • Robin Keogh

    I am not sure that North Belfast is a foregone conclusion. Kelly could take this seat if there is a decent Nationalist turnout especially in the younger age category, moreover the SDLP Westie vote has declined in all ot the last three elections with SF being the benificiary. The total Unionist Vote has been in steady decline also with the exception of the surge in the last Euro/ Local elections. Those loyalists who voted for the first time last time out will have to show up again to keep the seat for Dodds in the absence of a unity candidate.

  • Superfluous

    A Unionist pact is short term gain for long term pain – it’s indicative of the self serving nature of politicians that they probably know this and yet still try to organise pacts. It’s all about the next election and keeping your job, rather than trying to let the whole Unionist vs Nationalist thing die out, so that when the inevitable ‘nationalist’ majority comes politics are less tribal and the Union is safer.

  • GEF

    The sooner this “First past the post” type of election is made defunct, and becomes Proportional Representation (PR) like our assembly and local council elections, the sooner better democratic politics will finally come to Nothern Ireland.

  • tmitch57

    The problem with that is that NI remains a province of the UK and the UK uses first-past-the-post for Westminster elections. So until the system changes for all of the UK or NI ceases to be a part of the UK, you are stuck with it.

  • No mention of UKIP or TUV. UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall met with Robinson lady week.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    The first option- ie replacing FPTP in England- must be a possibility given, variously

    a) it looks increasingly difficult for either of the biggest two parties to form a majority government when long-term poll trends show neither gaining 35% support

    b) STV and other d’Hondt based systems work fairly effectively and deliver close to proportionate results in Scottish, Welsh and NI devolved elections

    c) SNP’s recent surge in Scotland makes independence in the next decade or so a real possibility. Labour particularly won’t want to be hamstrung by FPTP after that

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Not sure about this “unity is the only way forward” thing.

    If unionist voters vote for the DUP and UUP, knowing that failing to support a single candidate might cause the seat to go to a non-unionist .. isn’t that their democratic choice ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Has Nigel Dodds become a nationalist or is Gerry Kely giving Alban a clear run?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Consider the next assembly elections in South Belfast where first time voters are asking who’s the UUP? Where is the incentive to vote UUP if a unity candidate presents the DUP as being the UUP with more voters?

    If the UUP are afraid of splitting the unionist vote, they should really adopt the attitude that Peter Robinson knows best and shut the oldest unionist party down in a heartbeat.

  • Kevin Breslin

    McGimpsey is more of a gay rights activist than Jonathan Bell is. Lol

  • Kevin Breslin

    I thought it was going to be the other way about.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    It is but at Robin Keogh has said Republicans will hit back hard and it
    will hurt.

  • Gaygael

    I am not sure that this is the end of pacts, but I hope it is. I can’t understand them. They will only benefit the DUP. It’s essentially a call to roll over and give us your voters temporarily, and we will return them next time. Promise!
    This is the chance for the other unionist parties to gut the DUP. If uup and pup refuse deals, and ukip follow through on Faranges ‘full slate’ promise, it gives them a great opportunity to really harm the dup.
    The UUP are competitive in south antrim and even more so in upper bann. Tactical and soft unionist and alliance votes can be won by refusing sectarian pacts. There is a flexible alliance vote that seems to switch to uup in south antrim at Westminster and solidly back to alliance in assembly and council. Maximising this tactical vote will help them hugely here, and less so in upper bann. They were closer in upper bann last time and they have remained strong here throughout the worst times and have a formidable electoral machine here. Dobson seems visible, more so than the DUP incumbent.
    So the uup have a chance of taking a seat and a great result would be taking both. They need to throw everything they have at these two.
    But mike could hurt the dup, even more.
    Candidates, even paper ones in east and north belfast can damage the DUP chances of retaking and holding each of these respective seats.

    The PUP could also do some damage. I have said before that if they are serious about assembly breakthrough, they can’t afford to skip these elections. They missed a trick by not standing for Euro (yes it may have been a financial decision) and getting some extra trickle down votes and potentially an additional councillor. They must capitalise on their recent growth and that must focus around areas where they can gain seats. That’s only east and north belfast now. They will have 3 councillors taking seats on the new council soon, and if they really want any of these to have a shot at assembly, they need additional profile. Westminster provides that platform. It will hard for the DUP to call the PUP Lundy. They will not win the seat but they can solidify there vote with an eye on assembly. By standing, they can also seriously damages the dups chances of holding north and retaking east. Unionism loses one seat. But the dup fail to retake the gem, and lose another and possibly more, suits any rival for power within unionism.

    TUV will not stand anywhere that may jeopardise a unionist seat. That rules out Upper Bann, where a perfect storm could see sf poke through the middle. But that’s very unlikely. They will strip votes from DUP if they stand in south antrim.

    UKIP are holding their cards close and there have been meetings with DUP members and leadership and local polling. They are an unknown, but where they stand they will take votes from ‘genepool’ dup and unionist voters.
    Anyone any data where UKIP transfers went by local council tranfers? I’m thinking TUV marginally ahead then equal across all unionist? That’s euro transfers.

    So if all unionist parties are competitive with the Dup this could be the result.
    UUP take either or both the intra unionist battles. The dup lose north to SF and alliance hold east.
    Net result for unionism is -1 unionist MP, from 9 to 8.
    SF go to 6, SDLP on 3 and Nationalism on 9.
    Other on 1.

    This is a political reality that will come pretty soon anyway. Unionist unity only holds it off for a parliament or two at most. Demographic change is happening.

    But what also happens is that the dup go from 8 thinking they should be 9 to being down to 6. And the behemoth of the dup is slain and other unionist parties can strip away it’s constituent parts.

  • Cue Bono

    An intelligent party which really wanted the seat probably wouldn’t have revved up the unionist voter base via the 12th of July parade and the ‘fleg’ on the City Hall. Republicans have never been able to resist the temptation of short term pleasure over long term punishment.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    An intelligent party which really wanted the seat probably wouldn’t have revved up the unionist voter base via the 12th of July parade and the ‘fleg’ on the City Hall.

    An intelligent party which wanted to retain the seat probably wouldn’t have revved up the non-unionist voter base by distributing 40,000 leaflets, calling crowds onto the streets. The DUP have worked hard to associate themselves with the dispute at Twaddell even though antagonizing nationalist voters in the constituency carries a high risk.

    Republicans have never been able to resist the temptation of short term pleasure over long term punishment.

    You say that as if Unionism is known for its long term view and strategic approach to choosing its battles.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    what have republicans got to do with it ?

    unionist voters faced with two candidates have a choice. Pick the one more likely to win – or don’t. Having an agreed candidate doesn’t significantly effect that decision (FST 2010 being a case in point).

  • Catcher in the Rye

    the *theory* behind a pact is sound. it’s telling voters “throw your support in behind the other guy in order to stop the bad guy”. Many parties have practiced it. The PUP stood aside to support the UUP a few years back. Alliance stood aside a few times to shore up the UUP (North Down is an example I recall). Occasionally it happens in England, eg the election of Martin Bell.

    in practice for unionists it has seldom worked. In FST 2010 the combined candidate got less votes than the combined UUP+DUP vote. Mid Ulster did a bit better. The big problem is that when a big player and a small player enter a pact, the small player is automatically worse off. By stepping aside you’re telling the electorate that when it all boils down the other guys will do the job almost as well. If you’re going to do that, you may as well close up as a political party.

    If you don’t like it when people squeeze in you could always reform the electoral system. Unfortunately both the UUP and DUP opposed that.

  • Cue Bono

    Revving up the unionist voters led to an increased unionist turnout at the last elections, so I’m not sure that the leaflets were the huge disaster that you seem to think they were. The problem for the Sinners is that they are telling their people that they have won. The ‘fleg’ is down and the parade has been stopped. So why bother turning out to vote? Sure isn’t it all in the bag anyway.

  • tmitch57

    The electorate in GB (98% of the UK electorate) seems to have settled on FPTP for Westminster elections. The compromise in much of the area outside of England has been to use other franchise systems for local and Assembly elections, but to retain FPTP for Westminster. The examples of Israel and some European countries tend to discourage tampering too much with the franchise system for Westminster.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    In the last GE, nearly 30% voted for parties that supported replacing FPTP. A similar figure is likely this time. Rather higher than the 2% you imply 😉

    The example of Israel’s electoral system is to discourage trying their system (‘pure’ PR with single constituency and closed list). It’s hardly an argument against STV which works in England’s rather closer neighbors.

  • Davros64

    Be lucky if that happens in our lifetimes though, If you count that as ‘progress’…

  • Davros64

    Except that’s not really a major issue to most of those voters, more of a coincindence than the live issue it should be.
    Oh and it’s ‘neighbours’ FFS. We’re not the 51st state!

  • Turgon

    A sort of PR was defeated by a thumping majority at the referendum on the subject. To reopen that argument would smack of European Union level contempt for the electorate (make them vote again until they get the right answer). As such any attempt to bring in PR would be likely to increase disillusionment with the electoral process far more than it would help.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    I’ve never bought that sort of argument, T. It’s basically saying ‘We’ve had an election, so no need for another ever’. Opinions change, often sharply and quickly. Reflecting that by arguing for a changed system isn’t at all contemptuous, but entirely reasonable. There’s no parallel with your EU example; FPTP will only go if those who prefer PR become sufficiently numerous to either a) affect the result by preventing either of the big two getting a workable majority, or b) build up a convincing case that remaining the old system is untenable.

    Sure, almost all Tory and many Labour voters would likely be annoyed. Not quite the same as disillusioned, is it?