“I like the idea of democracy. You have to have someone everyone distrusts”
– Terry Pratchett
Election pacts, who wants ’em, who needs ’em, who gets ’em? That seems to be the name of the game this week, I’m sure not everybody got what they wanted, but if nothing else, a few party higher-ups have added quite a lot of chapters to their autobiographies. Every cloud and all that jazz…
I don’t get election pacts, it makes no sense to me to potentially give your rivals a helping hand. I’m aware of the phrase “my enemies enemy is my friend” but we are neither dealing with enemies, or friends…half the time in the assembly, the DUP/SF “friendship” seems more stable against the UUP/SDLP enemy. Choose your battles I suppose.
Are they undemocratic? No more or less so than some other political methodologies. Naomi Long said
“The DUP clearly now know that Gavin Robinson cannot win against Alliance in a fair fight, so they have resorted to this anti-democratic move in a desperate attempt to strengthen their position”
I don’t think that on the face of it, not running in an electoral area, is undemocratic. Is it undemocratic that the legalize cannabis alliance don’t run in every ward? What about the people before profit alliance? You do what you can with what you have, in these days of continued (infinite?) austerity, spending money on an election you absolutely know you cannot win, is somewhat wasteful. There are a number of electoral constituencies that are realistically, not going to be changed.
Paul Maskey (Belfast West – Sinn Fein) 57.1% of the vote, majority of over 13,000
Take Brian Higginson of UKIP running in this area, is that not just a complete waste of resources and money?
Ian Paisley Jr (North Antrim – DUP) 29.6% of the vote, majority of over 12,000
In 2010, Alliance party parliamentary candidate Jayne Dunlop received 3.2% of the vote in North Antrim…is she in anyway likely to usurp IPJ? Of course not, would it be undemocratic for the Alliance party to not put a candidate up? I don’t think so. Of course if you don’t run, you don’t know how you would do and you make like difficult in the future when you do choose to run, but there is a certain element of common sense that needs to be included there…which is why the legalize cannabis alliance aren’t running in every constituency in the land.
Additionally to this “undemocratic” concept…If Naomi Long loses her seat to Gavin Robinson, will she be for the dole queue? Or will her political status be utilized by co-opting her into the assembly…at the expense of an existing MLA, the party currently have 3 MLA’s aged 64, a 68 year old and a 72 year old. And amongst those members, Anna Lo has previously stated that she won’t seek re-election due to her disdain at “tribal politics.” It isn’t a particularly outlandish prediction that Long could be moved into a seat-made-vacant and continue as deputy leader of the party in Belfast South, which is a fairly comfortable seat for Lo, being elected at first count with a majority of nearly 2000 over the 2nd count MLA, Alasdair McDonnell. Would this be democratic? The people of Belfast South who elected Anna Lo would suddenly have a new representative that they never voted for, never received election literature, never seen a poster on a lamppost…just a breeze in candidate with a ready made job. I understand that this is a permitted mechanism, but so is a pact, so is a petition of concern. You don’t have to justify it, but it will help you with your electorate if you can.
Which takes me to the pact once more, Peter Robinson and his colleagues have repeatedly mentioned the Sinn Fein policy of abstentionism as a reason for electoral pacts…as has been pointed out, Naomi Long takes her seat in Westminster, what I think is more interesting is South Belfast, where a pact was sought but not agreed. SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell also takes his seat in London. If you combine the votes from the 2010 election of DUP & whatever acronym UUP & conservatives came up with, you still end up 16 votes short of McDonnells vote-share.
What’s the end game of an electoral pact? A continued pact in Fermanagh & South Tyrone offers the best chance of a unionist candidate claiming a seat from Sinn Fein, with Michelle Gildernew and her now famous 4-vote-majority sitting precariously atop the pile. Rodney Connor ran in 2010 and lost by those 4 votes, this time Tom Elliott has been offered up to the electorate…what if Elliott wins? Can the DUP ever run against him in the constituency? Maybe not “can” but “could”? Can they keep integrity in the next general election by putting up their own candidate and criticising Elliott? The DUP will support Danny Kennedy against Conor Murphy in Newry & Armagh, to succeed he will have to pull in more than 10,000 extra votes that Kennedy didn’t receive in 2010… He won’t win, it seems very unlikely, but going forward, he will stand again in the next assembly election, and the DUP will campaign against him with William Irwin being tasked with pointing our Kennedy’s failings… There seems to be a short sightedness in Electoral pacts, if you win in a pact, are you writing off that constituency for the foreseeable future? If you lose, can you keep face whilst criticising the person you supported?
Anna Lo said she was leaving Northern Irish politics due to the tribal nature of the beast… I can see where unionists are coming from when they campaign against nationalists, but when you group “other” parties in with nationalists, you just create the mental image of old battle-weary protectionists, backed into a corner lashing out at all who approach. As I have said time and time again, the border issue isn’t at stake, that will eventually come to the fore with a referendum…until then, it shouldn’t matter one iota what the designation of a party is, it’s what the candidate does that matters. More and more people vote with their heads rather than their flags, unionist pacts aren’t going to stifle that metamorphosis, maybe it will win themselves some seats, maybe they won’t, what they will do though is highlight how little future-proofing is being done in Northern Irish politics. Democracy is arguably a subjective concept, the DUP can call themselves Democratic but so does the DPRK. Other parties need to be very wary of how they respond though, it cannot become “if you can’t beat them, join them”…that tactic has already been taken by DUP/UUP.
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.