AE17: A High-Stakes Election for Mike Nesbitt & the UUP

Whilst much of the focus has rightly been on Arlene Foster as the unionist leader feeling the heat in this election campaign on account of the RHI context and her leading role in delivering that catastrophic initiative, Mike Nesbitt could actually be the unionist political leader under the more severe pressure to step aside if the Unionist electorate fail to move in decisive numbers away from Arlene Foster’s DUP and to UUP candidates in order to prevent the Ulster Unionists from being the party which loses out the most from the reduction in overall Assembly seats from 108 to 90.

As things stand, the Ulster Unionists would be favourite to lose no fewer than 6 of their 16 seats due to the relative electoral position they found themselves in at respective constituency levels following last year’s Assembly elections.

The table below illustrates the point. The UUP have a real battle on their hands to simply return with the proportionally equivalent number of seats (13.3) that they currently hold in the Assembly. For them to do so, the intra-unionist swing away from the DUP and to the UUP will need to be quite significant in a number of pivotal constituencies.

With quotas rising to 16.7%, up from the 14.3% figure in the 6-seat constituencies, the party candidates and strategists will know that they face an uphill struggle to hold on to these six seats.

In each case, the UUP will only be able to hold their vulnerable seats at the expense of DUP candidates (although Fermanagh South Tyrone could still be held if unionist turnout and transfer rates prove to be vastly superior to that registered by the larger nationalist electorate.)

 Constituency2016 UUP Vote (%)MLAs2011 UUP Vote (%)MLAs
Strangford6,367 (19.5%)26,046 (20.4%)2
North Antrim4,406 (10.7%)14,707 (11.7%)1
East Belfast4,142 (11.1%)13,137 (9.7%)1
Fermanagh South Tyrone6,028 (12.8%)19,262 (19.3%)1
Lagan Valley8,247 (21.2%)27,253 (20.4%)1
Upper Bann9,884 (21.6%)210,426 (24.6%)2

From an Ulster Unionist standpoint, the corresponding figures for votes and % share taken by party candidates in the same constituencies in 2011 (see table) demonstrates how significant the swing needs to be in order for the party to upset the odds and hold on to seats in even just three of the six constituencies concerned to return with proportionally the same tally of seats.

The unknown factor is the impact of the RHI scandal within the unionist community, and how much that will play on the minds of unionists as they cast their votes.

In 2011 and then 2016, the DUP established and maintained a level of superiority – in electoral terms- within the unionist community which has meant that significant movement will be required from the DUP to UUP in order to impact on overall seat tallies in a way that can cause potentially fatal damage for the leadership of Arlene Foster.

In real terms, the DUP should be on course to return in a proportional sense with 31-32 seats (down from 38.)

However, if a significant shift does occur within the unionist bloc, then that overall tally of seats for the DUP could slip to below the psychologically important 30 figure required to trigger a petition of concern without the support of any other party.

In that event, the likely winners will be Mike Nesbitt’s Ulster Unionist Party, who will stand a much greater chance of holding on to at least half of the six vulnerable seats identified above. Returning with less than thirty seats will be a disaster for the DUP, and pressure could build for a wounded Arlene Foster to be replaced.

If Mike Nesbitt fails, and the party does not electorally capitalize in what must constitute the most conducive of campaign environments conceivable for his party (given the turmoil besetting the DUP in recent months), then Nesbitt’s five year tenure as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, which began in March 2012, could come to a quick end.

 

  • Brendan Heading

    I think you’re right Chris. The UUP has struggled to identify its role, particularly since it was overtaken by the DUP in 2003, and I’m not sure that Nesbitt’s leadership has made progress on the matter.

    Regaining two seats in Westminster in 2015 was an important short term victory, but at the time I couldn’t help feeling that this was more accident than design. Likewise with the 2016 assembly election; the UUP held onto its seat count only thanks to the defection of Jenny Palmer, which allowed Nesbitt to claim that he had at least righted the ship.

    In terms of policy, I’m not sure what it is they’re trying to do. Following the murder of Kevin McGuigan they cynically sought to outflank the DUP on the right by withdrawing from the Executive. Now they’re haphazardly trying a left flank, with Nesbitt moving to embrace Colum Eastwood as a junior governing partner. Unfortunately the decision of other party representatives to pointedly not follow Nesbitt’s example has undermined his authority.

    It also feels like they’ve been poorly positioned to capitalise on the RHI scandal. When the story began to gain traction late last year, Nesbitt sought publicity by immediately calling for Foster’s resignation, which left him nowhere to go as the story continued to expand in significance, and made it look like he had no interest in establishing an inquiry to establish the facts of the matter – especially as it became clear that there were questions to be asked from some of those outside of the DUP.

    The party are in danger of the point where they could conceivably be reduced to an near-Alliance-sized group within the Assembly, an important psychological threshold for the membership of those parties, a possibility which must also be weighing on the minds of some in the SDLP.

  • OPB58

    Is there a minimum size of grouping in the 90 seat assembly that brings the party funding as the official opposition?

  • Jag

    The DUP faces three voter risks (1) they move back to the UUP camp, (2) they don’t turn out to vote and (3) they move to other parties, the TUV, UKIP, the Conservatives

    I still think the last week of the campaign will see all hell break loose with RHI, you can expect more names of grant recipients to be revealed this week, and, as voters make concrete connections with how their money is spent, there will be outrage. The weather forecast is for seasonally normal conditions around 5-10 degrees, and most of the DUP’s base will be feeling the cold while they run up energy bills.

  • Backbencher

    Surprising as it may sound and as the headline alludes, this is a bigger election for Nesbitt than it is for Arlene Foster. Barring a major meltdown in the DUP vote, which I don’t believe will happen, Arlene Foster’s position as leader of the DUP is under no threat. I have heard of no dissenting voices but lots of support.

    Alternatively for Nesbitt, if he can’t deliver in the current circumstances than what hope is there for his declining party.

    I have come to the opinion that Nesbitt has a poor grasp of what the bulk of unionist people think and value. I suspect his judgement is probably swayed too much by the middle class liberal political commentators who inhabit the twittersphere etc. The silent majority will do for him in the end.

  • aperfectstorm1

    It is very difficult to judge how the election will go given the context in which it is occuring. The electoral office report a surge in applications and lucid talk polling report an increased likelyhood of nationalist participation. It is impossible to believe that the DUP will not lose votes from within Unionism given their delinquency. If there is an increase in nationalist and unaligned voter turnout, the UUP will benefit proportionately from transfers and come out smiling at the other end of the election. Its the first election in years where nobody can say with any level of certainty if things will remain the same or change utterly in terms of individual party support. I will stick my neck out here, my feeling just based on anecdotal evidence and conversations with people in general tells me the DUP will be damaged, SF will increase their support and the SDLP will stand still. The UUP will hold firm. Alliance will soar.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Alas I think the UUP will suffer; they (or rather their leaders) have this curse of being lauded for doing the wrong thing and punished for doing the right thing.

  • Madra Uisce

    Agreed AG . The UUP grass roots and quite a lot of the party are still hung up on the sectarian themmuns factor. TV Mikes revelation that he will transfer to the SDLP will not have gone down well with the core vote and a lot of within the party of the mindset of Kennedy and Elliott.

  • Jimmy

    The UUP needs to decide whether it is Basil McCrea Unionist or Tom Elliot Unionist. Mike Nesbitt has tried to be both and has ended up being neither. I don’t think this will be a good election for the UUP or Unionism in general as I believe turnout will be lower from unionists (higher overall) which could lose Unionism seats in Fermanagh and S Tyrone, West Tyrone, Mid Ulster, South Down, South Belfast and North Belfast. I think both Arlene and Mike’s days may be numbered.

  • Madra Uisce

    I have had two posts on this thread deleted by whoever is doing the editing tonight.I have carefully checked the commenting policy on Slugger and cannot for the life of me see how either of the posts breached the commenting policy. As a relatively new poster i find this somewhat disturbing as there does not seem to be any explanation given as to the reasons why. Could perhaps some of our more long standing posters maybe explain in case im missing something.

  • rg

    Of course we all know that the SDLP and Sinn Fein could never be described as sectarian, don’t we? It’s a scientific fact surely that only Prods like me can be sectarian. Perish the thought that Catholics can be bigoted. It’s not about religion, it is about the union. Most unionists don’t give a rat’s ass what religion the person is as long as the pencil votes for a unionist candidate. Catholics don’t believe this, but it is true.

  • aperfectstorm1

    If you make an allegation that could be libelous or if you name a person without their knowledge your comment could be deleted.

    If you quote a dodgy source or link to a conspiratorial site then you could be in bother.

    If you are a Shinner and you say anything that makes sense then you are likely to either have your comment deleted or get kicked off the site entirely.

  • aperfectstorm1

    The problem is that the political settlement which is the GFA and the required structure of the institutions therein essentially asks people to do something which is innately against their natural programming.

    As natural as the sectarian approach to voting might seem in these here parts. There is also an underlying force which is stronger and is developed outside the ethnic context. That is the conservative vs progressive construct. Unionism is absolutely conservative on a scale from severe to extreme (UUP – DUP -TUV)

    Nationalism is absolutely progressive on a scale from severe to extreme (SDLP – SF – PBP)

    That divide cannot be crossed. Even if the constitutional question was tossed into the sea, there still would be an idealistic stumbling block that even the most pluralist of political societies would struggle to overcome,

    A coalition of extremes cannot survive no more than a coalition of fire and paper. The fire will either burn up the paper, or the paper will smother the fire. Forcing the two together will inevitably lead to the destruction of one.

    A keeper is required whther or not we like it. As the coal master ensures that there is an equal balance of fuel and heat to keep a steady fire going, we too need a master to ensure our opposite elements play fair. That’s Dublin and London in our case. But they have taken there eye off the ball recently. They need to focus, and quick.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Your opinion seems pretty close to my own Jimmy. But my big question would be after Mike TV is toast would Arlene also be the Jam on top of the toast. To be quite honest Arlene has performed pretty well on recent TV Debates when Interviewers have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at her ! (She might be terrible with figures but she can talk a good game ?) She has scuttled around the country to circle the wagons with good effect and the other shades of Unionism are just not making the required break through necessary to do damage ? With less than 2 weeks left to the ballot box I think it is going to take Stevie (Paul Daniels) Nolan to Pull A Rabbit Out of the Hat to change the result that we are heading for !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “I still think the last week of the campaign will see all hell break loose with RHI” If it does not Jag, Arlene is home on a boat !

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    I think many DUP will transfer to TUV. Two factors commentators seem to ignore is the large conservative evangelical element within NI Unionism and the fact some ( as in the UK with conservatives) are closet DUP suporters. Factor this in , and Arlene is home and dry. 31 -2 seats for DUP, 3 for TUV and 8 for UUP.

  • Karl

    Global warming affecting Fermanagh?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Not a bad start ! How many Posters can you get made ? I will try to get the cash to pay for them in a brown evelope from them Dodgey Funders from England who gave the DUP a few Bob for Brexit ! All perfectly above board off course and within the rules of NI Electoral Legalisation !

  • Jimmy

    It will come down to fine margins, I think their 3rd in South Antrim is gone, but whether they win 3 in North Belfast, will Jonny Bell get re-elected and who will lose out, who will win in South Belfast (Green or DUP) and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I think the DUP buffer (e.g. North Antrim, Strangford and Lagan Valley they all ran 4 last time 3 this time so they have an additional 3,000 – 4,000 to play with) they have in many constituencies is gone because of RHI and Arrogant Arlene. Therefore its comes down to whether the DUP can get the vote out, and whether the opposition parties can do their bit and give a viable alternative. (And in reference to your comment, I think Arlene is doing ok, regarding her situation, but she is a shadow of what she once was. If you compare her in last years debate and this year’s you will probably see a candidate fit for first minister in 2016, and a candidate who needs to take a long hard look at herself in 2017!)

  • rg

    Yeah, right. All hell break loose? See the story of Connor Murphy and South Armagh in the BT? Trying to keep the scheme going……..

  • Granni Trixie

    Your last “point” is a perception only and “playing the man/woman” is a rule most often breached is one of mine.
    Funny enough as far as I can see inappropriate language seems to be overlooked in deleting as when I drew attention on a thread to constant rude language to refer to people with mental health issues.

  • rg

    Course it was. Anybody could do this. At least it wasn’t funded by a bank raid, but then nobody was funded by a bank raid.

  • Jimmy

    Jonny Bell still has a few stories up his sleeve!

  • Granni Trixie

    From an outsiders perspective It would be a bit insulting not to assume that DUP supporters, voters and yes, MLAs do not think that AF has served them badly and not to mention the country as FM. That you claim the opposite beggars belief. Why would the DUP core stand by her?

  • Granni Trixie

    Would you accept that you are in a minority in thinking AF has performed well on TV etc, last week being a good example. Prior to that she came LAST in LT poll of leaders performance (not that I hold great store by polls but it is indicative of perceptions across the board) .

  • Karl

    Of course they can be sectarian. There are many examples of it. They grew up in an environment where sectarianism and bigotry pass as political policy documents, it would be foolish to think that they wouldnt be affected in some way.

    I would have to say though, they didnt set up an entire state based on sectarian principles to ensure the economic betterment of their ‘tribe’ over their fellow citizens.

    Unionist politicians play on fear of the other, have historical myopia to what was visited upon their dissenter brethren and a lack of self awareness that they themselves are the anthisesis of what Britishness at least aspires to be.

  • Zorin001

    Because for some the question of the Union trumps all, even severe financial mis-management.

  • WindowLean

    Would agree with Jimmy here, compared to the debate last year I thought Foster was a disaster. Confidence looks shot. It’s OK back slapping in an Orange Hall in Brookeborough, but facing the NI electorate in general is another.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yes I would accept that I am in a minority regarding Arlenes performance across all the political sphere of NI but do not accept I am in a minority within the Unionism Forum and if there is to be progressive change this is where it needs to happen ?

  • Jimmy

    If many DUP transfers go to the TUV, then they are likely to be wasted as the TUV candidate will be either eliminated before the transfers come in, or the TUV candidate will have no hope of being elected anyway. Also the DUP, wouldn’t be in the position they are in without transfers coming from more moderate parties, which I think they will lose more than anything else in this election. If Arlene can get the vote out, I agree she will be home and dry, but I think unionist voters feel let down and could perhaps stay at home.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “who needs to take a long hard look at herself in 2017” she already did back in December 2016 and she put on her former leaders military Red Beret ! Good Luck on anyone hoping to see the Assembly up and running again after these elections ?

  • Granni Trixie

    yes, I believe in inclusion as a value and strategy. But that does not mean that I cannot call it as I see it. Then (genuinely) I would like to know why AF is still the preference of some people in the core of DUP supporters. Bear in mind that whilst I am not generally a DUP supporter I had high hopes for Arlene as FM when she took over the DUP. .

  • T.E.Lawrence

    To be quite honest Granni I think this is a DUP Structural thing going all the way back to the Paisley Leadership and Party Formation. The Leader is King or Queen and will be followed and supported into battle at all costs. That is why the internal DUP jury is out on Arlene until they see the result of the election. To date there is only a 2-3% change within Unionism this would be bearable for the DUP Faithful to remain supporting Arlene !

  • Zorin001

    My fear (and also my prediction) is a low turnout overall with the core vote keeping the SF/DUP vote fairly stable. If the UUP can’t show positive forward movement at this point then Mike is gone.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    You don’t seriously believe them nice Provo Bank Robbers threw all the loot into Connelly House ?

  • file

    In order to be in the opposition you have to give up a potential ministerial seat – so you have to win at least enough seats to earn a ministerial seat, then refuse to take it up and then you are in official opposition. So PBP and TUV are not in the official opposition. The maths for how many seats you need to earn one ministerial seat are beyond me at the moment.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Don’t rely on that ! sure he is transferring his vote to the DUP !

  • file

    According to Danny Kahneman, because of regression to the mean, we are normally punished for praising and rewarded for criticizing … or something like that [but maybe only if we are Israeli fighter pilots or David Moyes?] Worth a read anyway … http://www.thenational.ae/uae/science/regression-to-the-mean-or-why-it-probably-wasnt-david-moyes-fault

  • file

    Hi Granni – did you hear about the Pro-Lifer giving out leaflets outside Mass yesterday in South Antrim? The leaflet gives your man a bit of a pasting, You should get a hold of it.

  • Neil

    He really did pick his moment to separate himself from his herd. We’ll see what happens, it could go either way, but the likelihood is he’ll be punished. It’s a good idea (cross community voting) and has made some people think, but the timing to float the idea in the teeth of an election was risky, probably foolish. An electoral beating now and any leader of the UUP has to go, they can’t really afford to lose any more than they already have.

  • rg

    Good Lord. How could anybody think of such a thing? People will be telling me next that raids on hole- in -the – wall machines, smuggling, fuel laundering and donations from foreign sources are finding their way to political parties in NI. Far too fanciful an idea for me to believe anyone would be involved in that. 😉

    No, I would discount all that. Let’s concentrate instead on a legitimate legal contribution from a UK based organisation that has exactly the same political goal. Shock! Horror!

  • Zorin001

    100%, right idea but wrong time

  • rg

    1 for TUV. There is no chance for them to have anyone other than Jim Allister elected.

    If I had to guess the DUP result I would go for 31, but I wouldn’t say it with any certainty at all. Worst case scenario 28. Best case scenario 34.

    DUP Probables below {Possibles in brackets}

    NA 3
    SA 2
    EA 2 {or 3}
    NB 3 {or 2}
    WB 0
    SB 1 {or 2}
    EB 2
    ND 2
    ST 3 {or 2}
    LV 3 {or 2}
    SD 1
    N&A 1
    UB 2
    FST 2
    MU 1
    F 1
    EL 2 {or 3}

  • Granni Trixie

    i saw a pretty off the wall leaflet on the internet if that is what you are referring to. I used to go to mass but trust that those who still do are people who judge/think for themselves.

    (My man? I suppose on this site you have to get used to interpreting code). .

  • Granni Trixie

    is this information factually accurate or made up? I don’t know and would like to know.

  • file

    Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me? It is information retrieved from my memory, but you could go and have a look at the bill/act the Assembly passed allowing for an official opposition, It does nto include one or two-man parties. To be in opposition, you have to have refused to be in the executive.

  • file

    Your man in South Antrim = David Ford. I found it very very strange to be advised, outside Mass, in an almost completely Catholic town to vote for SDLP, DUP or TUV.

  • Granni Trixie

    I would say party leaders are top dog in all political parties. But when things go wrong it begs questions such as: is that position held at all costs? Are Leaders given a blank cheque? And also how are they chosen and do the rules allow for them to be deselected or someone else to be appointed in their place?

  • rg

    Would you be suggesting that if you are Catholic he should be advising you to vote Sinn Fein? I though SF were saying they were for everyone? Is it strange for him to suggest to vote for SDLP? I thought they came closer to the teachings of the Catholic church than a party who is pro abortion and pro LGBT or did the Catholic Church suddenly reverse their teachings when I was asleep at the weekend?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    As I have said above the DUP are a different political party to the norm and in the same breath so is Sinn Fein ? both are a mirror image of each other regarding Leadership Structure and Selection and Obediance !

  • file

    rg, I am not suggesting anything. I am stating that I found it very, very strange for a woman who (unrequested) identified herself as a Roman Catholic, to be advising me, when I asked her to clarify her original advice about choosing a Pro-Life candidate, to vote for either SDLP, DUP or TUV. There is so much difference between those three parties that their juxtaposition in one sentence was very unusual for me.

  • Granni Trixie

    Certainly looks like it. But (.sorry to be turning into a nag here) I suppose what I was getting at is that I refuse to stereotype DUP supporters – I cannot believe that in their hearts they believe it’s right to behave as AF has. Not to mention that it’s not in the DUPs interests to have her representing them.

    Re sf – I agree. A good example of adherence to party line on the past is the form of words used ostensibly by their candidate in Lagonvalley on the murder of Edgar Abraham.
    His bio was indicative of change in Sf bit doesn’t look like it. I’m crediting him with having misgivings not least because of the griief he is getting.

  • Granni Trixie

    From experience of canvassing in many areas I am expecting a larger turnout. Instead of apathy I find anger. Few are saying that they will not vote but where votes will tend to go is another matter.

  • Granni Trixie

    I think giving out political leaflets outside a church is a no,no. There ought to be a division between politics and religion,

  • T.E.Lawrence

    On your first point a lot of my friends who our strong DUP Supporters know that Arlene has messed up badly but it has taken me (like you Granni constantly nagging at them) to finally drag that out of them and admit that she was wrong and her behaviour very damaging not only to Unionism but to NI as a whole, however they will always circle the wagons to protect her. That is the mindset of these people and always will be.
    On the second point I remember very well that sad day of the assination of Edgar Graham up at Queens. It is disappointing that Peter Dornan got himself embroiled in the issue. Sometimes it is better leaving the Past in the Past. It brought back to me and the communities who live next to Queens the memories of hearing how students cheered in the Student Union Building on hearing the murder of Edgar. To reopen that wound again was painful for people like me who still remember the sorry event.

  • Granni Trixie

    In essence the leaflet advocates that people vote on the basis of the candidates stance on abortion,is that right? Well as you may know I try to vote in the round not on one particular issue.

  • Granni Trixie

    SHe obviously thinks it is more important to agree on abortion than any other issue ( see above).

  • Zorin001

    I hope your right Granni, we can’t go on like this.

  • file

    Oh I realise that; I just found the juxtaposition of partied to vote for unusual.

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes, reminding us of families behind the scenes who are quietly dealing with the debris of th troubles.
    As an aside – Do we know if this ‘shout’ in the students union actually occurred or is it by this time a myth? I remember at the time talking to a former pupil then doing law and she talked in horror of the murder and how it had poisoned the atmosphere at QUB,
    She resented being treated with suspicion when it was not of her doing and she did not support the IRA.

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    SDLP support gay marriage……Catholics who love their faith as the revealed will of God could not possibly vote for that agenda.

  • file

    Yeah but this woman and leaflet was a one-issue thing: anti-abortion. Thus the advice to vote for one of the three (strange) amigos.

  • john millar

    “I would have to say though, they didnt set up an entire state based on sectarian principles to ensure the economic betterment of their ‘tribe’ over their fellow citizens.”

    Indeed they had no part in the ROI set up and were soon effectively eliminated

  • Westie tyrone

    That will be interesting then .the heat will be off the dup .then .because if the media are fair which they are not .folk will see that all the partys are up too there necks in this .foster is taking the wrap because she was minister .as for the election .fosters vote is strong she will win the day at the moment .trimble got many chances .foster is getting one more .but its just one .

  • Westie tyrone

    You missed one west tyrone dup a shoe in but your not far off the mark there

  • Westie tyrone

    Oh your spot on .hes about the golf club too much .foster will win easy.folk are saying shes the best off a bad bunch .come 3 off march the unionist people will have voted and it wiil be heavy in fosters favour

  • Robert ian Wiliams

    abortion..is for respect and equality for the unborn child.

  • rg

    Correct. I apologise to the West Tyrone’s for the omission.