As we approach the end of February 2015, the window for electoral pacts is all but shut, with candidates having precious little time to build profile let alone momentum in a campaign. To this end I’ve decided to look at the potential future for the two main Unionist Parties over the next 15 months, leading into the Assembly Elections of May 2016 and after.
May 2015 – All eyes are on South Antrim and Upper Bann. Nesbitt needs a win here to shore up his own position within the Party and ideally 2 wins in order to deliver ‘short money’ to Party coffers to help fund some sort of electoral fightback.
If i were to call it now, the UUP have more chance of winning in South Antrim. Danny Kinahan is a credible candidate, a hard working MLA with a good profile who could just pip William McCrea to the post by no more than a few hundred.
In Upper Bann, Joanne Dobson is a good candidate for the UUP, however, to overcome the DUP incumbent David Simpson who has a track record of hard work and delivery will be a tall order. I expect the DUP to retain Upper Bann by a few hundred votes. But it sets it up nicely for 2020.
So as of lunchtime today, there’s still no word as to what is happening in East and South Belfast. There’s a lot to play for. Mike Nesbitt is under pressure to build on last year’s local government result, Peter Robinson needs to consolidate the DUP vote and fend of Sinn Fein in areas like North Belfast. He will also be mindful of his legacy – this will undoubtedly be his last Westminster election as DUP Leader.
He will want to leave his Parliamentary Party as strong as possible with the greatest prize of all being the return of the East Belfast seat. This is my take on how things will likely stand in the early hours of Friday 8th May:
|Fermanagh & South Tyrone||SF|
|Newry & Armagh||SF|
|North Down||IND U|
I have been kind and suggested that the UUP have one Westminster Seat. It won’t deliver any ‘short money’ but it will pay for a few jobs to help consolidate South Antrim and perhaps take some of the pressure off Jim Nicholson MEP who practically bankrolls their Headquarters. Mike Nesbitt will breathe a sigh of relief but this will be a small success ahead of the next test 12 months down the line.
Come the Autumn, public pressure and the public finances will dictate that the Assembly should be reduced to 90 Members (5 Member Constituencies) and the greatest champion of this will be the First Minster who sees it as the greatest opportunity to consolidate the DUP position by wiping out the Ulster Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This is a credible position when you consider that 5 UUP MLA’s came in 6th back in 2011 (East Belfast, Mid Ulster, Strangford, Upper Bann & West Tyrone). This could practically cut the UUP Assembly Team in half thus depriving the Party of seat on the Northern Ireland Executive for the first time since devolution in 1998 and practically forcing them into Opposition.
This would be calamitous for Mike Nesbitt and the Ulster Unionist Party, an utter failure and probably one that would cost him his Leadership. For Peter Robinson, he would retire from the public life around late-April 2016 on a high, having consolidated the position of the DUP, facing down what was the rise and now plateau-ing of the Sinn Fein vote whilst decimating its unionist rival.
The irony then being that shortly after the 100th Anniversary of the events of Easter 1916, the Assembly election results may force a uniting of the two main Unionist Parties.
Stephen is from East Belfast and has been involved in politics since 2003. Stephen served as Advisor to an MLA in the 2007-11 mandate of the Northern Ireland Assembly, has stood as an election candidate himself and has ran a number of election campaigns across Northern Ireland. His areas of specialism are the relationships between the 2 main Unionist Parties in Northern Ireland and American politics. Stephen is a Member of the Democratic Unionist Party. In his spare time, (whatever that is!) Stephen enjoys spending time with this family, playing golf and supporting his beloved Manchester United FC. Stephen can be followed on Twitter – @Stephen_Warke