Are we really witnessing a DUP vs SF run off for votes? #GE2017

Some thoughts culled from the esteemed panel as well as the audience contributions at last night’s Election Punt event in the Dark Horse.

What I heard Alex Kane suggest – and I paraphrase liberally – was that the General Election campaign in Northern Ireland has become a quiet exercise within unionism to reassert its dominance at the ballot box after a scare in March when unionist ‘lost’ its majority of seats in the Assembly and just 1,168 first preference votes separated the DUP and Sinn Féin. [Update – Alex has written about it this morning in the News Letter.]

At the time, Arlene Foster called it “a brutal result for unionism”, but the scaremongering I expected to hear has been very quiet. But perhaps around the doors and Orange Halls the message is being passed on that unionist voters can’t be complacent and can’t ‘allow’ Sinn Féin to take a lead in this election.

Of course, Sinn Féin want to build on the nationalist surge of March and seize the opportunity to stretch further to overtake the DUP.

The graphics departments at BBC and UTV should make sure they have a shiny Unionist / Nationalist / Other graphic to use in the early hours of 9 June.

Realising that this election may have become a DUP vs Sinn Féin run off to tally the most votes – which is a little more sophisticated than a simple sectarian headcount – gives a framework to understand some other aspects of the lacklustre campaign.

In a different situation, Sinn Féin might have been expected to introduce a lesser-known candidate to the South Belfast electorate and do the minimum of campaigning to ensure Alasdair McDonnell keeps the seat for nationalism. In 2010 Sinn Féin withdrew their candidate after his posters had gone up and did not contest the seat. But this time, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir’s team is actively campaigning (though the candidate did slip away mid-campaign to pick up an honorary degree in the US) and trying to maximise their votes – and boosting Emma Little-Pengelly’s chances in the meantime – even though Sinn Féin are not in contention to win.

It explains why big hitters like John O’Dowd are contesting in Upper Bann and Chris Hazzard in South Down. As someone on the panel suggested last night, becoming an abstentionist MP is a poor career move for a capable MLA who was Minister for Infrastructure, yet he’s a serious contender to replace Margaret Ritchie who may not get so many unionist votes in this election.

It gives a context for the UDA’s call in the Loyalist Magazine for voters to back the DUP.

The UUP could do badly in this election as some of their traditional supporters give the DUP a boost. Bad news for Danny Kinahan who soon may no longer be king of the electoral castle in South Antrim. (He’s already moved out of the old the actual castle and it’s up for sale.)

Of course, close to home I don’t see any evidence of the DUP vote maximisation strategy. Other than getting Jeffrey Donaldson’s posters up quickly before the Balmoral Show at the Maze, there has been no evidence of canvassing on my street. Maybe effort is being concentrated in dense loyalist areas first in this safest of seats?

Neither a rising tide nor demographic changes can really be resisted. The DUP don’t need a mini-surge of lent votes. They need a set of policies that attract and sustain voter support.

As one audience member passionately articulated last night, it is depressing that this my party’s vote is bigger than your party’s vote exercise is once again keeping Northern Ireland politics from discussing real issues.

Every day there is a news story about Brexit, the local economy and industry that cries out for a proper strategy to address the skills gaps in the marketplace. But we still have no budget, and no Executive to steer investment towards building the prosperity that politicians so often speak about. The reconfiguration of health services and priorities are further delayed.

And at the time of writing we’re D-27 heading towards the Secretary of State’s deadline to form an Executive or else face rule from London that stops short of dissolving the Assembly and being full Direct Rule.

Of course, a strong DUP (winning Belfast South and South Antrim) and a strong Sinn Féin (winning Fermanagh & South Tyrone and South Down) would allow the two parties to take some risks and do a deal to bring back the Executive.

, ,

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ha! Now I’ll bet we can agree on Motörhead – they tend to be a band everyone can enjoy. Motorhead fan?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    yes there has to be a big caveat on identity questions in surveys, something of a hobby horse of mine. The question is better asked in a way that prompts people to acknowledge multiple strands of identity and encourages them to list all that apply, then allocate importance to each. Even that doesn’t quite capture how identity works because it isn’t like dividing up a pie – identities are often simultaneous and total, not partial. So I am 100per cent Northern Irish but also 100 per cent British, for example. There is no tension or trade-off between the two, they are just different descriptors of the same thing (a British person from Northern Ireland). Perhaps the current system of giving a list and saying ‘tick all that apply’ is the nearest we can get. The fundamental problem is people themselves are poor witnesses often to their own reality, but surveys and Censuses as blunt instruments lack the nuance to get to the real answers. Still, the data is a form of truth and can be enlightening.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think it’s in the DNA of the Republican Movement to agitate and disrupt – to be euphemistic here – and they are never far away from another episode of it. It’s what they do. The rest of us just sigh.

  • Madra Uisce

    Good God Granni you are another one who has their head in the Sand re the DUPs over forty year association will loyalist terrorists which has been well documented on this board numerous times. The DUP have had members of their party who were involved in terrorism elected at council level for years so somebody is voting for them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Doctor in Terrorist Apologism (D. Murd.) at the University of Moral Absence, I think.

  • Michael Dowds

    Dunno.

    Don’t think HM Gov have even thought about it TBH.

    What few statements they have made regarding Brexsh*t have demonstrated a striking level of ignorance.

    I’m convinced there will be ‘no deal’.

  • Madra Uisce

    What an utterly defeatist attitude TE. Is that what Working class loyalism aspires to voting for a bunch 17th century bigots who will do absolutely nothing to improve their lives but its all OK cause of Themmuns.

  • mac tire

    Motorhead fan? You bet. I’m a great fan of British heavy metal.

  • Granni Trixie

    I certainly have not my head in the sands re DUP which in my mind I associate with Paisley and not in a good way. What I had in mind was that the PUP/loyalists find little support electorally.

  • Madra Uisce

    The PUP/UVF are not standing in the election which makes it kind of hard to vote for them. Loyalist terrorists and their supporters have nearly always voted for the DUP,or have you missed the whole UDA backing Arlene thing.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The DUP electorate has always been a double decker bus, with the paramilitary aligned on one deck and the religiously conservative on the other. How the the Rev managed to harness both these groups while keeping the morally conscientious oblivious to the support from the other serves as a testament to his skills as a party leader and also reveals the discretion of paramilitaries not wanting to alienate the bigger part of the party’s core vote. Loyalist paramilitaries kinda knew their place after all. But that was in different times and I don’t recall the UDA or any other paramilitary band publically endorsing the DUP in recent years. What we’re seeing now though is the DUP’s position is getting ever closer to that of SF in the 1980s and that might not be too good for them.
    How La Foster manages this is another matter after all she may not welcome the UDA’s statement of support. If UDA endorsement doesn’t damage her party it might not be due to her skills as a politician but instead because unity in fundamentalist unionism is seen as a greater goal than disunity in the face of an increasingly banalised enemy. In short the moral majority of the DUP vote might be opting for the DUP with some disapproval or they might indeed abandon her as Granni says.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Tried my best mate for over 50 years in them Communties ! Comes a time when you lose the heart to fight anymore because you are beat by a bigger force ?

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes the uda are endorsing the DUP in this election (as I stated above.)
    The PUP when they do stand get one or two local councilors elected (unlike sf).

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    As Mick would say if he was here (with apologies to Neil Munro) “unless you can produce an argument to back that up, that’s just a wind up line.”

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    What would ‘a positive case for the union’ look like then, MU? I’d be interested to see it.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Or alternatively, less than you think.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    hear hear

    Unfortunately SF and the DUP have the electorate in a headlock. People feel obliged to vote for ‘their’ one in case the other one ‘wins’. That is the problem, hard to find a way out. Unless one or both of them actually moderate their behaviour a little.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “The Union itself though, rather quietly, retains a strong appeal as the least worst solution for many.”

    Just goes to show “you can fool some of the people all of the time.”

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    If that’s what unionists need to do, then they are well and truly stuffed.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Where does the ‘attractiveness’ of the union come in? (That’s to say, apart from the case of England)

    NB “equality” is a non-starter).

  • John Collins

    The Farmers Party, Clann na Taluin, Clann na Poblactha, Progressive Democrats, the Labour Party and the Green Party all entered Coalition Governments, as junior partners, and they have all disappeared or become irrelevant. The same fate could await Sinn Fein.

  • John Collins

    TE
    Did you write Gavin’s acceptance speech when he defeated Naomi. It reminded many of the ‘Hail Mary’, it was so ‘full of grace’.

  • John Collins

    MU
    Are you seriously suggesting that many born into Catholic families are not now declaring ‘no religion’, after all the massive scandals that have recently hit the Catholic Church?

  • You don’t dispute the concept, just the timing.

  • Madra Uisce

    That is because the North is a sectarian cesspit .Its way past time it was dissolved.

  • Madra Uisce

    What you think and what is actual reality are two different things

  • james

    Well, please explain to me where I’m going wrong in that case.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Nah John, I think he came overcome with emotion that day a lot of pressure on him that time would expect a more gracious speech this time maybe finish off with The Majority of East Belfast is Unionist always has and always will be ! Now who could take offence to that ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But, T.E., little else………

    You live and learn! I’d not realised that Golf was unknown in Ireland before 1881. Thank you, you’ve helped me by pointing out a footnote I did not know I had to add to a book I’m writing. But Tommy Sinclair was still wrong headed and kept rather worrying company……

    I’m, just reading up on him at the 1892 Unionist Convention for the same book.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I note that Sir James Craig received honorary LLD from Queens University in 1922 and a DCL from Oxford in 1926. As he’d been seemingly unable to recognise the illegality of his challenge in arms to constitutionalism in Ireland it’s rather surprising that they are both law degrees…..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    T.E.:

    “The Majority of East Belfast is Unionist always has and always will be !”

    The anti-partitionist Labour man Jack Beattie won Pottinger in 1925 from the UUP and held it 1929. His solid work to get innumerable ex-service men, both Catholic and Protestant, back into work and the clear indifference of Unionism on such matters probably contributed rather more than his open anti-partitionist policies. But he did not play down his disgust at partition during both campaigns from what I’ve heard. By 1949 the Unionist response was now more organised and Jack was, in his own words, “Stoned by official Unionist mobs and denied the right of free speech in my election campaign tonight. Armed Stormont police took no action” (quoted in Jonathan Bardon’s “A History of Ulster” p 523. He wore a steel helmet during later public meetings!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Granni, any of us who encountered Paisley and his associate Bunting Senior during the late 1960s are unlikely to forget the experience. I was accordingly interested to hear while listening to Paisley’s final interviews with Eamonn Mallie that he clearly stated he’d been forced into government with SF only by the threat of Westminster to effect Irish re-unification if he refused. To be stating this pointer to evident unwillingness to compromise after the “Chuckle Brothers” act had been used to characterise a changed man must put such media capering into a more lucid perspective for any thinking person.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yip the founder of the Royal Belfast Golf Club out at Holywood. An interesting individual

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No I dispute the concept, it’s not a very coherent idea, but respect other people’s right to their beliefs

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not at all, it seems perhaps a quarter of them are, so a good 75,000 people perhaps. Not negligible. Just pointing out only around a tenth of the No Religion cohort have an ‘Irish’ identity. Make of that what you will.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Time will tell!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    This sums it up better than I can: Take a look at this video on YouTube:

    http://youtu.be/smMJi1SrFSE

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The actual highlight being Dizzee Rascal imho … I like being part of this amazing, diverse collection of people, it’s what the UK is for me. No need to conform, be yourself, treat other people with respect but take no sh** either. No better than anyone else but no worse. That to me is worth having.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think I produce more than enough arguments to back that up. Accusing me of under-explaining is a new one!

  • grumpy oul man

    Kinda doesn’t. Great britain is a island of the coast of the biggest landmass on the planet.
    If the British isles where placed in the middle of the Atlantic it would make sense.
    It use the describe the bigger island always reminds me off the famous headline.
    “CHANNEL FOGBOUND, CONTINENT ISOLATED”.

  • runnymede

    Yes you only have to read these threads with references to ‘settlers’ and ‘settler states’ and obscure excursions into ancient Irish racial history to get the picture re. Sinn Fein’s real views about NI Protestants.

  • Granni Trixie

    I knew none of that background – it’s interesting, thanks.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Granni. My grandfather encountered Jack Beattie when similarly trying to get the out of work and needy in east Belfast back into work during the 1920s and they struck up a friendship. My family had continuing links to the old NI Labour Party thereafter, and to was through the NI Labour Young Socialists in the 1960s that I encountered those people who would set up the People’s Democracy. I’m always amused that the PD is “given” hard core Marxist provenance by any number of current historians who seem to be unable to see that the term “Young Socialist” may have more than one significance. But in a world where the reoccurrence of what in Europe would be perfectly normal social democratic policies marks Labour out as some kind of Stalinist plot I suppose even Gladstonian Liberalism would be seen as shocking and revolutionary. I blame those men who fronted their interests with the late Lady Thatcher and dragged us so far to the right that even Harold Macmillan would be sporting a red tie today.

  • The Irishman

    So back it up then.

  • Granni Trixie

    That is even more interesting to know. Post election I must pass on to colleagues in EB.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Granni, I’d see this voting record, and the vote for Naomi, as a simmering expression of that smouldering dissenter tradition whose head has not been entirely turned by the Unionist “Project Fear” since 1911. Why anyone in EB should ever have voted for overt or covert Tory Unionists and their big business interests I simply cannot fathom.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Gosh, I’m impressed! Bowled over, even.

    A friend of mine was at Oxford at the same time as Boris Johnson and remembered him quite well. Another friend was a trader at Camden Lock Market and had a lengthy chat with him when he was campaigning to be elected Mayor. He outlined all the ways he would benefit the traders, eliminating this charge and introducing this tax-break. A little research after he departed revealed that none of these things were in the gift of the Mayor. He seems to have kept up this style of electioneering during the Brexit campaign, when he told Indian Restaurateurs, falsely, that Brexit would enable them to import workers (their relations) from the sub-continent. (Wikipedia reveals that he began his career in journalism at The Times but was sacked for falsifying information.)

    Apparently the most popular course in Oxford is called PPE: Politics, Philosophy and Economy with the Truth.

    As for the designation “one of the UK’s leading research agencies”, you will forgive me for suspecting that outsiders might, quite libelously of course, refer to them as “spin doctors”.

  • Skibo

    MU the Unionist large increased turn-out was at the previous Assembly election. There are still areas where the Unionist turn-out is greater than the Nationalist turn-out. Perhaps that will be corrected this time round.

  • Skibo

    Question will be, will that be another U turn she will do or will she actually stick to anything. The EU must be loving this election. Every time that TM looks to be standing firm, the next day she is changing her mind.

  • Skibo

    Britishness is the only confirmation required for people to confirm they are British and people could have picked more than one and about 8% did.
    What I read from the figures that well over 50% are happy with the title of Irish, full on Irish or the Northern version of it.
    You have set out the figures that you wanted to set out and left out the figures that you were not confident with. It is a bit like reading the bible and stopping at the end of the Old testament. Sorry if the biblical reference offends you but I am not sure of the atheist big book.

  • grumpy oul man

    James i don’t ever remember SF saying that any group hasn’t the right to live in NI, and as for self determination they (SF) agreed (along with unionists) that the people will have the right to self determination its in the GFA.(border poll)
    you what mean is that they (along with every other Nationalist) refuses to give unionism a veto.
    As for the terrorist campaign you are aware that unionism fired the first bullets, planted the first bombs and burnt Catholics out of their homes to protect a deeply sectarian state that they ruled over.
    And are you also aware that unionists terrorists are still murdering people, while giving electoral support and working with the UDA/UVF.
    does that help in explaining what happened in the North.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    James, the fulcrum has now passed, and the Unionist Majority has gone to “be one with Carthage and with Tyre….”

    As a pluralist liberal I’d have hoped that Unionism would have re-discovered those “one community” politics they rejected in the 1880s at the very last minute, but they have taken the Prince of Orange’s seventeenth century injunction to “die in the last ditch” too much to heart, it seems. The new boundaries are actually rather fairer regarding population balance than previous boundaries had become……

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So your response to the batting away of your previous ad hominem attack is to launch another one, this time vicariously on my alma mater and industry respectively. Really I’d recommend countering the actual point, rather than engaging in personal attacks.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    He’s a well known SF politician. SF still defends the IRA terror campaign of the 70s, 80s and 90s and thus is a party well-known for terror apologism. Therefore O Muelleoir has a doctorate while being a well-known terror apologist, hence my hilarious one-liner.

    Was that explanation really necessary? Anyway, you have it now.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Ad Universitatem can hardly be Ad Hominem.

    If my learned friend advances Oxford University as proof of his reliability, I think I am entitled to point out that people from that quarter have told the odd fib or two on occasions.

    Ad hominem attacks characteristically adduce some irrelevant fact such as, for example, you are gay, ugly, wet the bed, are overweight, stutter, in an argument which has nothing to do with these personal traits.

    I detect a distinct lack of impartiality in your treatment of Northern Ireland demography. I think you have an emotional investment in the results. I think this leads you to deceive yourself: I am concerned that you should not deceive others.

    I think you should examine carefully the transfer data of the vote of the non-religious Centrist voters: then you will see that they are not all crypto-Unionist.

  • Madra Uisce

    So you just go ahead and back the bigots who dont give a damn about the working classes. There really is no hope for Loyalism

  • Nap McCourt

    Totally agree. If Nolan is what free speech has come to then god help us all. You will note he is excellent at castigating the middle ground (uup, alliance, sdlp etc..) as they have manifestos worth reading. Whereas DUP and SF get the easier ride because they provide the fodder and sustenance for his tabloid show.