After #GE2015… The UUP reborn, or just lucky?

Guess what, there’s another UUP success that I didn’t see coming. In my mind, though in retrospect it was a flawed form of thinking, I honestly thought South Antrim would fall to the party quicker than Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

In fact they won both, and nearly took Upper Bann.

Despite my own trepidation last year, if the Unionist pact played to anyone’s strength it was the UUP rather than the DUP. FST came in for them at a relative canter, reflecting perhaps the relative strength of the party in the border areas.

The precipitous actions of the Electoral Office, which forced voters in the Moygashel area to travel in order to cast their votes may have been one of several motivators.

Elsewhere the gains were slow but in contrast with the SDLP, inexorably upwards. In their third target area of Upper Bann the sitting DUP MP has been put on notice that he could lose his seat next time around, and possibly to a woman.

Mike Nesbitt came in from tv, with little lived experience of politics. If he has achieved one thing above all others it is that he has calmed the party right down and got some of it’s people to focus on the basics again, ie winning voters over.

Despite his face-off with Ken McGuinness over his remarks in the House of Lords, Nesbitt appears to adopted a more laissez faire approach to party management which is happy to see a dyed in the wool, red-white and blue politician like Tom Elliott win seats in the west, whilst the more soft spoken liberal-ish Danny Kinahan wins in the east.

The odd thing about the UUP is just how distributed its successes and failures are. Roy Beggs in East Antrim appears to have been squeezed both by Alliance, and possibly UKIP.

But on the whole Nesbitt has done well to have calmed the ship, by letting each candidate choose their own separate pitches to their local audiences.

The fillip to the party whose members probably feel most aligned to Westminster as an institution and mainland Great Britain was evident in the victory speeches of Elliott and Kinahan.

But as the party builds in its strongholds in the south and west of Northern Ireland, the biggest and toughest task remains how to move forward from there, and in particular, how to move back convincingly back into Belfast where more and more that Goldilocks of NI politics the Alliance Party is making itself at home with some of their former voters.

One truism that holds for power on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland is that you cannot hope to hold power if you only hold the city or the country. And if you are lucky enough to to hold both, it is a terrible struggle to keep them together.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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