East Belfast: where the progressives met their Waterloo

It is the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. These days, however, the French seem to celebrate it as a victory rather than a defeat.

So finally we can celebrate after five horrible years as the bastion of awfulness finally fell: oh yes and it was VE day as well.

Excitement amongst unionists over the defeat of Naomi Long is tempered by the fact that she was hardly a terrorist cheerleader in chief. Rather much of the pleasure is actually the less wholesome one of schadenfreude. This is directed less at Ms. Long herself and more comes from the way in which all too many amongst the unthinking “liberals”, self defined “progressives” and co invested so much in Long’s initial victory and in hopes of her holding the seat. Long’s victory was seen by some as an example of the “new”, “progressive” etc. etc. Northern Ireland they sought. Many of these liberals seemed much more interested in defeating the ghastly unionists than they did defeating nationalists and republicans. Indeed many a liberal seemed to see Sinn Fein as positively wholesome as compared to the DUP.

Those anticipating Long holding the seat had some limited reasons for optimism but not for the reasons they hope (a sudden surge of “progressivism” in East Belfast).

To understand the election one needs to go back to look at the last Westminster election, its unique nature, and also look at Long herself.

Peter Robinson lost the seat at the height of his personal and political problems; the media had turned on him extremely aggressively and his response had been poor. That subsequently Robinson has been exonorated personally and has rebuilt himself is a stunning achievement but at the time that recovery was some way off.

In view of Robinson’s assorted problems there was a feeling that he could be beaten. That was where Long’s next stroke of luck came. The UUP were at that time consumed with the quixotic UCUNF which was an awesomely powerful force which was sweeping all before it – unfortunately only on the internet. The New Farce stood Trevor Ringland who was simply a poor candidate hampered by the New Farce itself and his overconfidence in both himself and the Farce.

In view of this: a severely damaged incumbent and a woeful chief alternative Long had a real chance. In addition she was a well known and popular local MLA.

The problem seems to have been that after that defeat the DUP sat down and thought through how to recapture the seat; Alliance did to a lesser extent and the “progressives” forgot all the special circumstances that produced Long’s victory.

The effects of the flag protests are difficult to judge. Alliance’s support for “Designated Days” probably hurt it in the working class parts of the constituency that supported Long fairly solidly in 2010. On the other hand the criminal attacks on Alliance and threats to Long personally were suggested to have garnered her some support in middle class areas. I am very suspicious of this simplification. It is likely that most working class unionists even the flag protesters did not support the criminality (they have suffered more than anyone from loyalist terrorists). Meanwhile middle class unionists may not admit to it to pollsters but are unlikely to have supported reducing the number of days the flag was flown.

Long was not a bad MP but was inevitably less visible than she had been as an MLA. In addition it was suggested she was a bit unhappy in Westminster: unsurprisingly since she had no colleagues (refusing to take the Liberal Democrat whip). The other major problem was that over the course of the 2010 parliament Alliance became more clearly identified as a non unionist party. Long had presented herself as a soft unionist but she had increasingly been shown to be on the extreme unionist wing of the party (I somehow like the idea of an extreme wing to Alliance) whilst the public centre of gravity of Alliance seemed towards neutrality or even hostility to the union. That Alliance has for years been officially neutral on the union is irrelevant: it has always prospered most in unionist areas and was always regarded by less politically involved voters as soft unionist.

In this election there was a significant attempt to bolster Long. Some on slugger will not like it but it should be pointed out that this website took part in a hustings event which excluded all challengers except Long and Gareth Robinson: downplaying the other candidates could assist only Long. Furthermore much of the twittersphere and internet land supported her failing to notice that the same sort of non existent groundswell of popular cyber support had failed both with the New Farce and NI21. Cyber majorities evaporate when faced with that little pencil on a string in the polling booth. Trevor Ringland rowed in behind her saying “I don’t think my votes would automatically transfer to the DUP” which is likely to be correct for only for a minority of his supporters.

Long herself ran a fairly reasonable campaign. Her aggressive support for homosexual marriage and attacks on Judith Cochrane for failing to support it was probably her only mistake. There is a fair sized liberal evangelical community in East Belfast and they probably backed Long in 2010 but her threats to Cochrane (a fully paid up happy clapper) was a mistake.

Not that such a mistake was likely to be critical. Most of Ringland’s supporters were UUP voters not the imaginary UCUNFers and the vast majority would always have transferred to the DUP. Furthermore the dark personal days of 2009-2010 for Peter Robinson were long gone and he was not even the candidate.

Some commentators are suggesting that without a pact Long would have won. That may be the case but is uncertain. After all the hype and obsessing from assorted “progressives” the reality is that East Belfast is a solidly unionist constituency and most of its population have always preferred to be represented by a unionist. In the special circumstances of 2010 it fell to a popular local Alliance candidate who presented herself as a soft unionist. That Long did as well as she did this time says a lot for her personal qualities but her demise was almost inevitable.

The self defined progressives who have been so annoyed by the unionist celebrations and schadenfreude should remember their response when Peter Robinson was defeated in 2010. In politics what goes around tends to come around.

As Long’s tenure as MP for East Belfast recedes into the past a similarly rose tinted view of her defeat may develop as the French view of Waterloo. Already we are having it described as a moral victory. Unionists having tasted two victories of the real sort this time round will probably prefer them.

As a final thought: The one thing that few have noted in this episode is that in one of unionism’s strongest heartlands its major party can be defeated by a mix of scandals. In republican areas Sinn Fein has seemed much more unassailable despite arguably much greater scandals. Whether that continues remains an interesting question.

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  • Catcher in the Rye

    Both of those claims are false, Sharon.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Well Sharon, welcome aboard. It’s a wonderful thing to have another thoughtful contributor from Unionism’s intellectual wing aboard.

    I’m not sure I understand your disappointment at the absence of unionist commentators. You are already a unionist; you already know all the unionist positions and unionist arguments. Yet you are looking for a website where you can read about what you already know ?

    I’m not here in search of other people I agree with. I’m listening to hear about ideas I haven’t heard before, as well as understand the perspectives and arguments of people I don’t agree with.

    What are you here for ? Are you here to expand your mind, or is your interest restricted for concern that your “side” is perceived to be “winning” by force of numbers ?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I see no debate on the union.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    1. winning more votes
    2. persuading people by force of argument
    3. legislating in the Assembly

    The Unionist pact successfully secured the return of two MPs in Belfast. It’s quite likely that it has also secured the return of two or three additional Alliance MLAs to the Assembly, which is where (unlike Westminster) it will be possible to actually do things.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    You’re here for a couple of days and all you want to know is where your team mates are.

  • Sharon Robinson

    I am and thank you.

  • Sharon Robinson

    What do you represent if anything at all?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Up here in the Causeway Coast and Glens the Unionists are poking Nationalists in the eye instead of ensuring that the quality of governance is improved.”
    What’s going on up there Nevin?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Seaan
    Is it true that Walker and Baker asked Lundy to return as governor after Murray et al had him removed?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “It is right and proper that Turgon and I shine a light on them.”

    Bring it on Mr Mooney, if my views* can’t withstand such scrutiny then so be it, I should be forced to reconsider them.

    *I assume that I’m designated as a Letsgetalongerist….?

  • Nevin
  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Cheers Nevin.

    Disappointing and short sighted.

    We’re just discussing about how SF’s eye poking has cost them and now unionists are about to do the same (again).

    So it goes….

    (Yer man des martin in the comments section made a good point too)

  • Cue Bono

    According to the Sunday Times the redrawing of boundaries wil not include a reduction in seats, so I’m afraid what you are describing is fantasy.

  • Cue Bono

    Would you rather have a flag or an MP?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Righto Mr Mooney.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Mainland Ulsterman certainly does Seaan, in addition he answers in a very cordial manner and seldom reverts to whataboutery or man playing.

    He gets stuck into the questions posed to him and is an asset to the site.

  • USA

    He is talking about the DUP. Not all unionists are DUP, so he is not talking about all unionists. And he is right about Naomi Long.

  • USA

    “devoid of Unionist commentators”…. Did you read the opening post Sharon? It was written through Turgon’s TUV tinted glasses. A world where political opponents are routinely described as “terrorists”, where Peter Robinson “has been exonerated”, where Long was lucky to get elected in the first place, where support of “homosexual marriage” is “aggressive”, etc etc etc. But don’t be disheartened, there are also unionists who talk sense. Like this excellent speech from Danny Kinihan http://youtu.be/g65hWu44NA0

  • USA

    The Germans (Prussians) won the Battle of Waterloo.

  • USA

    So now “tactical voting” is sectarian but “pacts” are not? Please….

  • USA

    C’mon Sergio, BE25 made some valid points. It was an opportunity for dialogue but you chose to attack. I think you just scored an OG.
    1-0 to BE25.

  • USA

    Quite right Carl.

  • USA

    Sorry Nevin, but it wasn’t nationalists who sent out 40,000 postcards in East Belfast. burned Alliance offices, attacked homes of Alliance members, acted as apologists for the fleggers or tried to murder PSNI officers. BTW, how is that “graduated response” thing working?

  • USA

    Totally agree with your comments regarding Turgon and Gavin Robinson.

  • USA

    Correct again Nevin.

  • Nevin

    I’m not privy to the detail of the ‘graduated response’, USA. I was giving an overview on the fall-out from the constitutional tussle. I summed up the flags clash/tug-of-war previously as Nationalists poking Unionists in the eye, Unionists kicking Alliance and Alliance wandering into no-man’s land.

  • Carl Mark

    when a political party produces a leaflet by law it must have the identity of the party/parties who produced it.
    this on didn’t !

  • Carl Mark

    got you Nevin, it was the taigs fault that the leaflet was produced, the flaggers wrecked the place and everybody ganged up on Naomi!
    Nothing to do with Pete wanting the seat back.
    It must be terrible when those Taigs do the old mind control thing and force good decent unionists to act like violent bullys.

  • Carl Mark

    give us a link, but it could hardly be nastier than Gavin’s!

  • Carl Mark

    some nationalists have been removed as well, your point?

  • Carl Mark

    what do you think she should be doing? and how do you know all she is doing is posting on Facebook?

  • Nevin

    You’re quare crack, Carl, but you ain’t got me!

    PS I’ve got McKaig ancestry so that possibly makes me Taig’s son!

  • Carl Mark

    John, I probably fit into this category of “progressive, getalongaist” you refer to and like most of us (how many people voted Alliance) we don’t work in media, public relations, or qango land so it is of no help in my career and I don’t belong to a political party.
    So since you (and Turgon) have nothing but contempt for us can I assume that you are a notgetalongist ?
    It is amusing when you claim,
    Certainly the promotion of the Alliance Party is something that you will notice if you stay on Slugger.”
    are you implying that no other party is promoted on slugger?
    I loved it when you implied that one political party aiming to take votes of other parties (I am quite sure that SDLP voters are not Alliance’s only target demographic target) is somehow sinister.
    So John, tell me why do you think we should all stay in our sectarian camps, what is wrong with people working out how to get along!
    What frightens the likes of you and Turgon (Turgon please feel free to come in with your own answer here) so much about the idea of a tolerant, non sectarian society.

  • Carl Mark

    Ok Nevin tell us how did Nationalists start the whole campaign against Alliance?
    and if its the Flag thing explain how it was OK in unionist controlled councils and not OK in Belfast!

  • Nevin

    Carl, I wasn’t aware that Nationalists had started a campaign against Alliance; I don’t believe they did.

  • Sharon Robinson

    Is she using Twitter too?

  • Sharon Robinson

    My point was that there are few Unionists here and those two who have been banned were named as active members.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed it is, AG! Baker was a professional soldier who had served with both Lundy and Mitchelbourne in Tangier. He had more recently served under poor Lord MountAlexander, the chosen leader of the anti-Tyrconnell army raised in the north in the winter of1688 and had undertaken the all important, but rather thankless task of escorting
    the masses of refugees away from Dromore as that disastrous engagement took place in March, so his standing was high with those who had fled from Down and Armagh to Derry. This probably contributed to his getting the majority of votes when a replacement Governor was elected to succeed Lundy. But Lundy was the man William had just confirmed in letters carried by the two relief regiments! Baker probably begged Lundy to hold on, rather than risk being marked perhaps as a traitor not only to his legitimate King, James, but also to the Prince of Orange, by displacing the man William had put his trust in, through a “rebellion” in seizing his office that no-one but the locals had authorised! Walker was simply the organiser of supplies Baker later appointed, out on a spree to claim the status of Governor after Baker’s death in June, and may safely be ignored as a principal in these actions.

    Baker, probably better than anyone else knew that Lundy was simply engaged in the normal etiquette of war in opening negotiations with King James. This is what happened when a town was “called” by a siege army. After, if the besieged elected to resist, over a series of stages they would have further opportunities to surrender, right up to the breeching of the city walls by cannon fire. If, after that, they elected to fight on, no terms could then save them from sack and slaughter (but this was seldom done even then, except by those such as Cromwell who were motivated by hatred). But the ongoing negotiations permitted both sides to understand where they were at, and what terms those surrendering at any stage might expect. The real clincher as to whether Lundy was actually a traitor to William or not is the bald fact that he was one of those listed as culpable traitors by James’s Dublin Parliament! Not quite how you treat your own friends……

    Adam Murray understood nothing about what was really going on. He was a farmer, not a proper soldier like Baker, simply a six foot six
    local activist , a sort of “proto flegger” who panicked at the word “surrender”. He did not even begin to understand that Lundy was simply engaged in the courtesies of normal warfare. Murray’s “coup” during the negotiations was not thought out much beyond the level of a “No Surrender” slogan, as Murray had no real political or military plan beyond simple resistance. Obviously misplaced moral indignation amongst those with no understanding of what is really going on, goaded by others unscrupulous enough to distort events to gain some political advantage is not something that has only begun with the Flegg dispute. Just as Murray entirely misunderstood what was actually going on, so the Fleggers do not appear to have realised that the Union Flag would perhaps not be flying at all on public buildings without the clever compromise Alliance brokered. So pick an easy target who is trying to do something sensible…

    Our history here is packed to the gills with similar silly misunderstandings, and we all live in their shadow.

  • Carl Mark

    but you have been given a list of unionists who post here.
    Unionists get banned for the same reason nationalists get banned, not following the rules!
    Are you suggesting that Slugger is being unfair to unionists or are you asking for different rules for unionists than for nationalists.
    No one is stopping unionists from posting, when they post something it is debated and they like Nationalists are asked to prove their points (as I asked you for proof about your claim that David Ford was nasty, and you have not supplied as yet) , same rules for everybody.

  • Carl Mark

    Sharon, this is the problem with many unionist posters, you seem to believe that these petty personal attacks are politics (if you think Naomi’s Facebook and twitter accounts are relevant in any why then explain) perhaps a explanation of why the mob went mad against Her when she wasn’t involved in the flag decision and why did loyalists react differentially in Belfast than Lisburn or Craigavon.
    so how about some debate instead of derogatory one liners!

  • Carl Mark

    really then could you please explain this,

    “Carl, the ‘campaign’ you refer to was begun by Nationalist parties when they decided to poke Unionists in the eye in a manner that had echoes of Gerry’s Athboy strategy. Alliance might have been well advised to keep out of a Unionist/Nationalist brawl”

    it seems to directally contradict this,

    Carl, I wasn’t aware that Nationalists had started a campaign against Alliance; I don’t believe they did.”

    If the first one is your opinion then I ask again,

    “Ok Nevin tell us how did Nationalists start the whole campaign against Alliance?
    and if its the Flag thing explain how it was OK in unionist controlled councils and not OK in Belfast!”

  • Carl Mark

    Ah John, never a answer from you is there.
    just for once I would love to see you produce facts to support your musings!
    I think that light of yours could do with the battery being replaced, seems a bit dull

  • Carl Mark

    if its greatest achievement is persuading people it doesn’t exist then it seems to have failed!
    you are of course permitted to scrutinise our opinions and we may scrutinise yours.
    the difference is that I will defend my position with facts, you seem to be unable to do this.

  • Carl Mark

    Catholics voting for a protestant sectarian! care to explain your reasoning there please?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    What is it you want Turgon, a site where nobody ever says anything bad about unionism ?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The same as you Sharon – nothing.

  • Sharon Robinson

    I represent something.

  • Carl Mark

    I think you might be on the wrong site,
    this one is for people debating points of view.
    you expressed one I disagreed and said why I disagree now you are supposed to counter with your argument
    of course you would have to be able to defend them!
    something you rarely do.
    and you care enough about my views to claim that you shone a light on them.

  • Carl Mark

    oh dear John, why do you say these silly things.
    what you are reading now is called a post, people put then on blogs with their views reading these posts informs you of the views of the people posting.
    Now you have stated your view and I replied and now you are supposed (it a adult thing) to reply with your opinion of what is said.
    Now again are you sure you are on the right site?

  • Carl Mark

    John that was very strange! Why do you bother coming on slugger at all.
    Its always the same thing, you make a bold statement someone asks you to defend it and you change (or try ) the subject.
    When will we see a example of this light you claim to have.