The 2017 Assembly Election has not come at a good time for People before Profit. After making their Assembly breakthrough last year the party was looking forward to using the 5 years until 2021 as an opportunity to build a party infrastructure and establish a media profile which it was doing reasonably well at until the plug was pulled on the institutions.
Incumbency is always an advantage at election time and a number of new MLAs including the Greens’ Clare Bailey along with the PBP Assembly team will soon see how big an advantage that is having served for just 9 months.
People before Profit are already experiencing the same issues that the SDLP and Sinn Féin have had in garnering votes outside what are mainly nationalist – republican areas. Indeed their team of candidates for this election also reflects the problems other parties have here with achieving cross-community reflection in their selection of prospective MLAs. If appeals to DUP working class voters are to be heard then promoting more candidates coming from a unionist background would help.
People before Profit’s major problem however is Brexit and Sinn Féin, eager to regain some of their lost voting base in Derry and Belfast, has already identified this as PBP’s achilles heel.
With debate raging about what a new border will look like families in border areas such as Derry are especially concerned about how this will impact on them. This will dovetail into what is already set to be a competitive contest in Foyle.
Like it or not the fear of having to be stopped every time you drive out the Buncrana Road to do the weekly Aldi run in Letterkenny or simply give the car a fill of cheaper diesel will mean a lot more to people in Derry than a detailed analysis of the EU’s Foreign Policy.
Basing the 2016 results within a 5 seat framework shows that McCann polled 0.6 of a quota in first preferences compared with 1.8 quotas for the SDLP and 1.7 for Sinn Féin. 1.1 unionist quotas should see the DUP’s Gary Middleton safely returned in 2017.
The only certainties in Derry are 1 SDLP 1 Sinn Féin and 1 DUP with McCann battling it out with the SDLP and Sinn Féin to fill the last two seats. Ironically McCann will want to pick up some of the protest vote garnered by anti-abortion campaigner Anne McCloskey in 2016 who is not standing this time around.
The March poll will demonstrate whether the PBP vote last year has become more rooted in Belfast and Derry or was in essence a protest vote against Sinn Féin that will return to their political gene-pool now that republicans are at loggerheads with the DUP.
Gerry Carroll should still be returned in West Belfast. However in Foyle – the most anti-Brexit constituency in the north – the next 3 weeks look set to be Eamonn McCann’s Stalingrad – or should that be Trotskygrad?