#AE16 North Down: UUP’s co-option of Chambers could be the deciding factor

Candidates: [DUP] Alex Easton, Gordon Dunne, Peter Weir. [UUP] Alan Chambers, Chris Eisenstadt, Carl McClean. [Alliance] Stephen Farry, Andrew Muir. [Greens] Steven Agnew. [SDLP] Conal Browne. [UKIP] Bill Piper. [TUV] John Brennan. [NI Conservatives] Frank Shivers; [Sinn Fein] Therese McCartney. [Independent] Brian Wilson. 

This largely middle class, and largely Protestant constituency hugs the southern shoreline of the Belfast Lough and around Orlock Point to Donaghadee. At 11.83%, it has the highest number designating as no religion. Male life expectancy is 78.5, rising to 82.2 in women.

In 1998 there were no DUP MLAs here, but since 2007 they’ve had three. It’s this kind of constituency in which the DUP must pitch Arlene Foster as a ‘liberal’ voice to counter Mike Nesbitt’s rather gentle hike to the ‘left’ in Unionist politics. But it may be too early for that effect to trickle down.

The UUP have drafted in a long time independent candidate Alan Chambers to replace long-serving former Mayor of North Down Leslie Cree to head up what looks like an ambitious three candidate strategy.

The party’s two candidates got them 2,928 (10.4%) in 2011, a thousand votes shy of quota.  Chambers’ poll-topping 1,311 in Bangor East and Donaghadee in 2014 he should comfortably take them up to base camp.

If you factor the modest bounce the party got in 2014’s local elections, then current deputy Mayor Carl McClean looks decently placed (and the third candidate acting as a sweeper) to take a seat away from the DUP and balance the books at 2:2.

Entry of former Green MLA Brian Wilson certainly took former colleagues in the Greens and Alliance by surprise. He’ll take first preferences away from both. As the only independent he’ll have to work out of Bangor West whilst the Greens now have 3 2 councillors in the new super council.3 councillors in the new super council.

On elimination his votes will probably favour Alliance by some considerable way, but it’s hard to see it helping to unseat Stephen Agnew in a constituency where elsewhere the Greens hit an historic high in Alliance’s own stronghold of Holywood in 2014.

Prediction: 2 DUP; 2 UUP; 1 Alliance; 1 Green. Hard to see poll topper Alex Easton or the deeply embedded Gordon Dunne vulnerable to a UUP swing. If there is a loser it’s may be the most talented and longest serving DUP MLA, Peter Weir who will have to wait it out to the end of the count.

Next: West Tyrone.