Politics is a stressful and personal business. Election campaigns doubly so. And it’s the time when the nuts on the emotional wheels sometimes work loose and party tyres are deflated – or metaphorically slashed – causing damage.
Two days before polling was the zenith of NI21’s meltdown back in May 2014. And the TUV’s Jolene Bunting and the DUP’s David McIlveen have marked the moment with their own spirited remarks.
Before today, the campaign had already had some cross-party manoeuvring.
Take the two former Alliance councillors Vasundhara Kamble and Geraldine Rice from Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council who survived years of working in the tense atmosphere of Castlereagh Borough Council only to find their final straw broken at the end of January. They resigned from the mellow yellow party and offered their electoral support to Lagan Valley’s SDLP candidate Pat Catney.
And let’s not forget the subsequent kerfuffle when an internal party Facebook was leaked – presumably by someone in the party who was upset or had fallen out of sorts with the party for some reason – and it was revealed that party leader Naomi Long had referred to the two former Alliance councillors as “balloons”.
Take Henry Reilly who left the UUP in 2007, joined UKIP and became its party chairman and 2014 European Election candidate. He joined the TUV upon his expulsion from UKIP in November 2015, just in time to speak at the TUV conference. [Ed – If Naomi Long thinks the UUP is the “Lothario of Northern Ireland politics”, she might want to consider Henry Reilly as runner-up in the party bedhopping stakes.]
A year later in November 2016, Henry Reilly was absent (in word and presence) from the TUV conference as he had resigned from the party saying that it was “solely” because of his new job in the agricultural sector with a charity which “doesn’t want any political allegiances”.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when the politically unaligned Henry Reilly with no axe to grind against the TUV was feted in the press over his decision to “lend” his first preference vote to Jim Wells of the DUP. Totally ignoring the fact that the STV system (which he should understand from his days as a Euro candidate) would allow him to loyally give a first preference to the TUV candidate, safe in the knowledge that upon exclusion it could pass down in preference to the DUP.
Acrimony was aired early in the campaign in January when the TUV’s Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting was allegedly ‘banned’ from contesting the Assembly election as a TUV candidate. Today, two days before polling, she has finally announced her resignation from the party “with a very heavy heart”.
And to top it all, today former DUP MLA David McIlveen had his own announcement to make. He was forced to play a public game of electoral musical chairs when the party ran four candidates in a three quota race. David McIlveen was excluded ahead of the SDLP’s candidate and lost his seat to newcomer Phillip Logan.
Having criticised DUP leader Arlene Foster in January as being “deeply damaged” and an “electoral liability”, today he endorsed the UUP’s North Antrim candidate Robin Swann. Describing himself as outside the tent” of the DUP, he said he was “backing the underdog … if others want to follow suit it is up to them”.
With six hours to go before midnight – and BBC NI’s leaders’ debate in front of a studio audience at 9pm – who knows what other political madness the night might hold?