Arlene’s triumph: time for others to reconsider their pitches and where that horse is

So the results are all in. The result: nothing has changed and a bit has changed. The fall in the nationalist / republican vote and levels of seats has been analysed and will bear further analysis.

The changes or lack of them on the unionist side are, however, just as interesting.

Ben Lowry and Sam McBride in the News Letter have their analyses and I would demur little from either of them.

Arlene Foster and the DUP’s triumph is marked. It is probably fair to say that the discontent with Peter Robinson last year was over hyped and to an extent if not a media creation, an issue over hyped by the media. That said Robinson was beginning to look tired and his heart attack may have reminded him of the way Paisley, although he had come back from serious illness hung on too long.

People have suggested that Foster has changed the DUP but in reality she and the other UUP defectors had done so already when they joined all those years ago: strengthening the party, broadening its appeal but also moving it to “the left”. Not that they did so alone: remember that Robinson after “Irisgate” came back and moved his and the party’s position. Foster and the other exUUP members simply meant that he was leading the party from the moderate wing rather than out on a personal limb.

Foster has, however, brought a new fresh face and feel to the party reaching out in a way Robinson could not: I have analysed her very impressive contribution previously and will not rehash old ground here.

The DUP played a very canny campaign both presenting Foster’s personal brilliance and also bringing back out the usual bogeyman of Martin McGuinness as first minister. Most expected, however, that the DUP would lose votes and seats to Mike Nesbitt’s resurgent UUP. Nowhere was this said to be more relevant than in South Antrim. After the Westminster election a number of commentators (including some on this site) tried to explain that unionists were moving away from the DUP’s position especially on social attitudes. I demurred suggesting that this was mainly about William McCrea never having truly gelled with South Antrim, him getting past his sell by date and the baggage he had accumulated from a pretty divisive political career.

As it happened in South Antrim there was indeed a modest increase in the UUP vote – almost entirely at the expense of Alliance- where they had proportionally one of their worst results in terms of change in vote (and surely a message that Ford is getting to the end of the best before date on the packaging). Furthermore in Belfast although there is almost no UUP presence left the DUP did not lose much except in East Belfast where their fall in percentage is more likely to be due to Robinson himself standing down (Alliance’s gain being less than half the DUP’s fall and they ran their biggest name and leader in waiting: Naomi Long).

In reality the tiny losses for the DUP and UUP were made up for by the gains in percentage for the TUV and UKIP both of which are perceived to be harder line unionist parties. Jim Allister will no doubt be disappointed by his failure to gain a fellow MLA but Robinson’s jibe of the last election that Allister was elected sub quota now looks pretty weak with Allister topping North Antrim’s poll. That victory will be bittersweet for Allister but the modest rise in TUV (and UKIP) support across the province will not be ignored by DUP strategists who will no doubt feel that further moves to the left would become dangerous.

Hence, the idea that the DUP’s social conservatism on the likes of homosexual marriage and abortion would cost them was proven to be wrong. That is not to say that the DUP has not changed in emphasis on these issues. The views of its members may have shifted little but it seems clear that most of the younger crop of MLAs do not want to make a song and dance about the issues: one cannot see any of the current leadership repeating Ian Paisley junior’s or Iris Robinson’s comments of a few years ago (that said Paisley junior might well not repeat them now either).

Indeed serious DUP strategists seem to have found a few DUP voting Catholic unionist unicorns just as I predicted many years ago. These unicorns have not, however, come from the liberal UCUNF typed wing but rather those socially conservative Catholics for whom issues like abortion are overridingly important. Voters with such views will remember DUP members standing firmly behind Bernie Smyth after her wrongful (and overturned) conviction for assault.

The DUP are very likely still to deploy a petition of concern should any attempt be made to extend the 1967 abortion act to Northern Ireland – any failure to do so would cost them votes. There could be a compromise but that would require compromise on all sides. On the issue of homosexual marriage again the DUP seem to have lost nothing from their current opposition. That said compromise is probably more possible there. Again I would suggest, however, that that will require compromise from the supporters of homosexual marriage. Supporting a conscience clause might be an option (as I suggested previously) though after next week the need for such a clause might be reduced and as such homosexual marriage’s supporters could have lost a bargaining chip.

The reality is that although many inside the Greater Belfast beltway, the metrotextuals and “progressives” may see these issues as vital it seems most of the unionist electorate are pretty unfazed by them or else have “the wrong” view. The DUP would also probably rather not fight on that ground so after this election the ball is actually pretty firmly in the “progressives” court. Compromises may be possible but it takes two to tango (and even at their best / worst the DUP have never tried to ban dancing).

Getting on with proper politics is undoubtedly what Foster and her colleagues will want to do. That of course, however, brings one back to the dysfunctional nature of the executive. It is possible that the DUP might take education though I suspect they would be foolish. Again, however, it is the DUP’s opponents and partners in Sinn Fein who probably need to think about the way forward. The tired rhetoric of the last 20 years and more has achieved little recently. The Trojan Horse of equality has found itself quietly moved some way from the city walls – by the electorate.

Clearly Foster has massive challenges ahead. Northern Ireland remains far too dependent on public spending; its health service languishes as the worst performing in the UK; its school system, if thankfully not most of its schools, remain, in complete chaos. The DUP have thus far not managed to remedy these issues and eventually the electorate may tire of not the dog whistle but the shipyard horn of the DUP standing up for unionism. Furthermore Foster though shiny young and charismatic will eventually wax stale (Enoch Powell’s dictum has yet to be proven wrong in a democracy). However, at the moment Foster has moved her party very slightly and pitch perfectly: it is for others of all positions to try to sort out their own houses.

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  • Brendan Heading

    yes, because the TUV vote was spread across the country, where PBP concentrated their vote in a couple of targets seats. That isn’t gerrymandering.

    That said, I think there is a case for a combination of constituency seats and a list system, as I think happens in Scotland.

  • Thought Criminal

    There is a station at Sydenham already. The farce is that you just can’t walk in and out of the city airport to the railway stop, rather have to call for a bus to take you around to the other side of the airport (which when I tried it never appeared).

  • Brendan Heading

    This is pretty much a Conservative Party manifesto. You’ll note that they came last, and polled mere handfuls of votes everywhere they stood.

  • Brendan Heading

    how do you figure ?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But their vote percentage went down more than any other party …

    I think there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet, don’t get me wrong – just that their upwards trajectory was always going to reach a natural ceiling in NI due to their violent past and their ethnically chauvinist narrative. They seem to have reached that ceiling. There isn’t much they can do to grow from here other than hope for the complete collapse of non-IRA-apologist nationalism. I think there are too many with memories and moral fibre for that just yet.

  • Katyusha

    A lot of the socailly conservative / right wing elements within the nationalist community hold these views because they are devout Catholics.
    As such, the DUP’s fiery rhetoric towards the Catholic Church in the past would have driven them far, far away from ever voting DUP.

  • jporter

    That would be my guess, maybe not before the next election.

  • jporter

    It looks like a centre right manifesto. Nobody outside the south of England believes that the Tories really stand for any of that.

  • babyface finlayson

    The boggyman sounds even more scary than the bogeyman!

  • Roger

    If the 40 something per cent who didn’t vote were to vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party, that would be an opportunity for them too.

    There’s nothing to suggest they would ever have done so though. Same as SF.

  • Roger

    Yes, I suppose it’s obvious London is irrelevant now….A sort of Thessaloniki.

  • Oggins

    He is, if you go to the peat bog late at night, and shout ‘turf turf turf’ he appears with a turf cutter… Scary stuff

  • Msiegnaro

    In fairness Sinn Fein didn’t try.

  • Granni Trixie

    UUP and Alliance merge – ain’t gonna happen.

  • Msiegnaro

    How can Nesbitt go forward unless he muscles into NI21 and Alliance territory?

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    But if you allow a change in the law which allows a baby with problems to be aborted..where do you stop. Who decides who is perfect? It opens the door to supposed perfection. Thats why I believe that Sinn Fein should reconsider their postion.

  • Gopher

    Nesbitt has three choices

    1/ Merge with the DUP
    2/ Merge with Alliance
    3/ Oblivion when 5 seat constituencies come into play

  • Msiegnaro

    Merging with the DUP has to be a serious option.

  • Granni Trixie

    Alliance has not a pro-abortion policy – its policy is that abortion a matter of conscience for individual representatives. It did promote (unsuccessfully) change in the law to facilitate abortion in cases of FFA. I believe there is also support for some Change/reforms to Medical guidance and possibly in other limited cases. Whilst I’m sure this topic will be revisited internally would be surprised if there was ever consensus to support 67 Act, whatever the price to be paid in terms of votes.

    There is therefore clear blue water between Policy of GP on abortion and that of Alliance so what you claim does not make sense.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    I agree, but I see further decline for Sinn Fein as they become more and more the Republic they will eventually be marginalised as the immigrant population grows steadily. A hundred thousand Muslims in Dublin will concentrate minds south of the border. Non of the mainstream parties I the Republic are prepared to address the issue.

  • Oggins

    Ian, I see your comment was deleted. Maybe put your hands up and say it was offensive as you highlighted.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    Don’t you agree that Sinn Fein have tried to hijack the Easter Rebellion and air brush the devout Catholicism of the rebels.

  • Oggins

    What has immigration got to do with it? Address what?

    S.F have two options move to the centre, which I see happening or, stagnant.

  • Granni Trixie

    It was a rap across the knuckles to the interviewer and in general at use of “lazy” terms such as the naughty corner

  • Gopher

    Certainly it is a very smart move and would make the brand even more attractive. My personal preference is for a strong centre party that would be more socially liberal but your herding cats in the centre ground in Northern Ireland. Our multiple centre parties have that Weimar Republic feel to them and they will probably end up the same way.

  • Katyusha

    Remind me how Identity Ireland did at the last election, again?

    One thing that has made me proud of Ireland in the last year has been the people’s complete rejection of the kind of extreme-right xenophobic trash that has been taking root across Europe.

  • Msiegnaro

    Democratic Northern Ireland Unionists. Like the idea of this to be honest.

  • mac tire

    “They’d have had to almost completely eliminate the SDLP to do that. They
    were’t within a million miles of anything like that.”

    I pointed out that without eliminating the SDLP they came close to making life very uncomfortable for their leader and putting them under further pressure.

    “They were really
    lucky to hold on to as many seats as they did.”

    Yes, and I was indicating they were just as unlucky in others.

    Relevant enough as you’ll notice I was offering an alternative view to your points. I can do that on here – it’s a discussion board.

  • Declan Doyle

    TUV have candidates all over the North and it did not work for them

  • Tochais Siorai


  • Gingray

    What if the UUP take Alliance over by stealth?

    Much in the same way the stickies became the Workers Party in the South, then Democratic Left, then joined Labour and eventually took over the party.

    All it would take is a few more former UUP candidates and their supporters to jump over and they would be able to get their guys promoted within the party 🙂

  • Croiteir

    Read Ghost by Pearce

  • Vince

    I am glad to hear that although it is not the impression that has been given. The Alliance candidate in North Belfast certainly appeared to have abortion as one of the lynchpins of her campaign and clearly tried to use it to get at the SDLP candidate. The main runner for Alliance in South Belfast is also a professed supporter of the 1967 Act. To many observers there is nothing to choose between Alliance and Greens on the issue – at least that is the perception.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    As the author says, Arlene Foster and the DUP have won a clear victory. They deserve to be congratulated. They have shown themselves far better at presenting the case for unionism than SF and the SDLP have been at presenting the case for nationalism. Also interesting to note that the two parties in Ireland most loathed by the liberal media elites, Fianna Fail and the DUP, have both done well in elections this year. Everybody hates them, it seems, apart from the electorate.

    Nevertheless, unionism would be wise not to be overconfident. The long-term political, economic and social trends still favour much greater economic integration within Ireland and eventually (I’m talking quite long-term here) a United Ireland.

    First, altogether apart from N. Ireland, unionism is in decline in Britain. Scotland is feeling less and less British every year. Its on the verge of independence, likely to become a reality as the older ‘war-generation’ dies out and young Scots take their place. Although not nearly as far down the independence route as Scotland, Wales is getting more and more devolution and becoming more and more Welsh. I was in the centre of Cardiff last week and the main street looks like the Falls Road, huge Welsh flags everywhere and not a sign of the Union flag. In addition, more and more English now identify with England rather than Britain, while London is fast becoming a separate country with an ethnic makeup totally unlike that which exists, or has ever existed, in the rest of these islands. The election for Mayor is a sign of things to come.

    Second, ‘Its the economy, Stupid”, as Bill Clinton used to say. Since 1958 mean annual economic growth in the Republic has been 4.5% – in the U. Kingdom 2.5%. There is no sign whatever of this trend coming to an end. Do the maths yourself. In 2016 GNI per capita will be 10% or more higher in the Republic than in the U. Kingdom. In 10 years, on current growth trends, the gap could easily be 25% (with the gap between the Republic and N. Ireland being higher still).

    Third, the Catholic proportion of the N. Ireland population is increasing and likely to continue to increase. NISRA publishes detailed population statistics for all 26 district council areas in N. Ireland. The age profile of the population is much younger in nationalist-run district council areas (mainly in the west and south) than in unionist-run ones (mainly in the east and north).

    It is true that so far the two main nationalist parties have shown themselves monumentally useless at exploiting these trends. As has been noted, many of the younger generation in nationalist areas are currently apathetic about a United Ireland and not turning out to vote. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will always be the case. As the Republic’s economy pulls further and further ahead of the U. Kingdom’s (and even further ahead of N. Ireland’s), it is perfectly possible (although not certain) that SF and the SDLP will fade away and a new SNP-type nationalist party emerge capable of exploiting these trends. As sectarian tensions diminish, and inter-marriage increases, not to mention a significant immigrant population, we may see in 10-15 years a substantial section of the population that is not emotionally committed to or fanatical about either remaining within the U. Kingdom or becoming part of a United Ireland, but will vote for the one that offers them the best economic prospects. At present it seems that this cohort is more in favour of remaining within the U. Kingdom (as Thursday’s election shows), but, if the trend of recent decades of the Republic’s economy growing almost twice as fast as the U. Kingdom’s economy continues (probable but not certain), who is to say they can’t be persuaded to switch? It is also to be hoped that one of the main barriers to a United Ireland at present, namely the fact that the crazy PIRA bombing campaign so damaged the N. Ireland economy that it needs lots of funding from Britain (which the Republic could not afford because of its much smaller population) will diminish over time as the N. Ireland economy itself grows and develops.

  • robertianwilliams

    Yet this was the 1916 centenary year and for all its attempts to hijack the occasion ( and air brush its Catholic nature and ethos) Sinn Fein declined. Many Catholics may sadly contracept but they are still not pro abortion..Meanwhile in the Republic watch Sinn Fein will go from bad to wore, and enter the transgender debacle, Tied to internationalism and socialism they will be ill equipped to tackle the Immigration debate which will start to kick in , in the next ten years.

  • robertianwilliams

    There is also the fact that the voting system in NI is unfair. TUV got nearly 24,000 votes and only Mr Allister was elected. The so called People before profit got 13,000 votes and got two! The Greens also got considerably less votes and got two MLA’s. The Welsh Assembly system is much fairer and simpler to count.

  • robertianwilliams

    No mainstream party is addressing the issue. Even in the most tolerant countries in Western Europe, it has now become central, I think it will also kick in in Ireland, within the next ten years..There was an appalling racial attack in Dublin yesterday, and sadly human nature is the same worldwide

  • robertianwilliams

    The whole issue is offensive, as it goes to the heart of this issue…the voiceless unborn. However I would ask all the thread is removed ,as other readers will not realise the proper context. i still believe I made a valid point. Gerry Adams called for the removal of article eight…and the men and women of 1916 are not with him and neither are most Irishmen and women.

  • Granni Trixie

    Activists such as myself would vote with their feet.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A little ironic in tone, yes, I admit, but I’m actually very interested in music as an historian and in every aspect of our collective culture.

    And having tried once to actually play an old style wooden Orange fife, I’m amazed that anyone can master it. There’s a programme to be made that actually engages with that part of what goes on. I’m thinking of an approach like Rina Schiller’s in depth work:

    or Gary Hastings’ excellent “With Fife and Drum”:

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    This is a very silly article.

    SF surely got a cold shower but it didn’t really cost them in any dear fashion (seats just down -1, whilst Upper Bann +1 and holding East Antrim were definitely positives). Everyone knew their focus this year and last was South of partitition. All-in-all they’ll take that. Shrewd operators knew 30 seats wasn’t on this outing.

    The DUP vote was down also BUT they maintained their seats. The Arlene ‘bounce’ and #ProjectFear enabled them to secure stasis. However that is positive when they’ve lost votes overall. To call that a triumph however, is, well, laughable.

    Will there ever come a time when going straight to the sectarian lowest common denominator will not be the first card Unionism plays? Depressing stuff, but still effective as the ebullient TV performance of Nigel Dodds demonstrated. Stooping to conquer, again, with a smile on your face.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And said very glibly. While I’m sure that many can’t be bothered, most simply know it’ll return the same faces. In such a situation voting for someone whose policies one disagrees with must become collusion with those policies, even f they offer you a few things you may agree with to sweeten (or distract from) the others. If you seriously want to know why I personally don’t vote:

    It’s certainly not from any contentment with what goes on at Stormont.

  • SeaanUiNeill
  • Gingray

    You already have surely? Former UCUNF candidates do not seem to have any problems getting preferential treatment …

  • Granni Trixie

    As I have already explained several times on this forum Alliance have a process of local level selection – there is and was no fast tracking in SB. I respect anyone who goes forward and, as in this case, is selected by their peers. Respect for a fair process is entirely different to that of merging with another political party. Personally speaking, though I tend to be pragmatic, not to the extent that I could ever stay with the cross community Alliance should it decide merge. Can’t see it ever happening.

  • Skibo

    Not pretending it is a great result but it is not a bad result. East Antrim will probably be a step too far in the 2021 election unless the Nationalist electorate organise. There are a number of constituencies in the east in the same position. Both SF and SDLP have to work seriously on this or draw back behind the green safety blanket.

  • Skibo

    What did you expect SF to do for the centenary. I thought what they did was very professional and well organised. I expect the impetus of this to continue on into 2021.
    SF are an all Ireland party. They draw their support mainly from people who have the same ideals. They do not ask your religion and they do not bar you for not being a Catholic.
    I would hope the that same sex marriage and the abortion issues move to the courts and out of politics. That is where it always should have been.
    The immigration issue will raise its head. SF will not be the only party with a problem. How can the Unionist parties condemn immigration? Without it we would not have a Unionist issue!
    Tell me did you miss h or an s in your wore statement?

  • Gingray

    I do not forsee a merger – I can imagine a scenario where the UUP revert back the hardline of Elliot and Nesbitts early days, perhaps driving away a few more of the liberal UUP members into the welcoming arms of Alliance. Less big bang, more drip drip.

  • Oggins

    It was not your point which was offensive, it was who and how you put it across. It was removed because of this. Also the comment had nothing to do with the thread. It was a sly dig, down in a poor manner

  • Oggins

    Robert, it’s your opinion that it does not work. The voting system is an international system. I suggest you do some reading on this and the history of this state. TUV offer nothing to either Unionism or nationalism, so quite happy they have only the one

  • MainlandUlsterman

    well, there isn’t too much of that, sadly! And Alliance is strong enough to hold what it has. The target has to be mainstream unionists, for whom the default has become the DUP.

    I think he does it by seeing it as a long haul and championing progressive, modern social agenda – so he can leave DUP to be the party only for the conservatives and the UUP the one for more liberal urban and suburban areas. He’ll never out-unionist the DUP, or out-conservative them, but he can own forward-looking, outward-looking, modern cross-community unionism. Yes, cross-community – it is possible in some areas, picking up some of that growing non-aligned vote that currently wouldn’t consider the UUP. Dare I say it, even some rebranding and public re-purposing might be a help in that move.

    That has to be the long term strategy. Everything he does should work towards that, even if it costs in the short term. Problem will be, he may still need to do pacts with the DUP from time to time and that will be tricky to sell.

    Can they as a party be what they need to be? Not sure. But I would have thought by this stage, they have very little to lose in making that shift.

  • Msiegnaro

    A pact in WB would have secured a seat for Unionism this time around, tricks are being missed all the time.

  • robertianwilliams

    I think Jim Allister makes some valid points and he is a very able speaker.Would that the Irish republic had politicians of his character.

  • robertianwilliams

    If the UUP joined Alliance, the conservative majority in the ranks would join the DUP.>

  • robertianwilliams

    The DUP vote went up by 4,000, Sinn Fein went down proportionately more than the SDLP. One hundred years after the Easter rising nationalism in Northern Ireland showed no renewal of interest despite inspiring drama and brilliant documentaries on RTE. Even the centenary march in West Belfast was not attended like 1966.

  • eamoncorbett

    The benefactors in each case could hardly be described as Unionists .

  • Oggins

    Read above again Robert % drop. Your comment on nationalism is related how? The debate was based around how votes were obtained. Fear. If you want to debate that. Please stick to the script. If you want to talk nationalism, offer up an article.

  • robertianwilliams

    Thanks ..what is the link

  • robertianwilliams

    False analogy…600,000 of us speak Welsh , but I think there are only 10,000 Gaelic speakers in NI>

  • robertianwilliams

    Complete denial..that Nationalist vote is on the wane.Its antagonised the extreme left and conservative Catholics. And now it wants to lose more votes for its future referendum by pushing gay marriage,selective abortion and Irish. How to win friends and influence people ( vol 3)!

  • robertianwilliams

    In all fairness they did try..they pulled out every stop, even pretending they were the true heirs of 1916. The Irish media was full of 1916..interesting documentaries on RTE ( even BBC NI)..yet it pulled no heart strings and their vote went down… in contrast to the Republic of Ireland where they tried to fill the vacuum left by Labour.

  • Gingray

    And do you think that happened by chance? At the end of the 19th century the Welsh was suffering, hence the formation of Plaid Cymru, which focused more on reviving the language?

    It also helps that the BBC was broadcasting in Welsh from the 30s, and the earlier interventions from both the UK Government and local government (after pressure from the public).

    The Gaelic language in Northern Ireland is not at that stage – interventions are minimal, but with the appropriate support it has a chance to grow.