Could South Down provide the shock of the night?

Chris has taken a look at South Belfast, but one seat that needs to be examined is South Down. At the start of the race, I would have punted that this seat would have been more likely than not to remain in SDLP hands, but as the campaign has progressed it has become much more difficult to call.

We have had a campaign were some of the issues have benefited Hazzard, from the Jim Wells tweet fiasco which would help motivate his base, to the SDLP attack on him for not voting for Special Status for Northern Ireland when it turned out he was meeting the Secretary of State about  Loughinisland whilst the vote was taking place.

There are people within the SDLP who have become concerned that this seat is under real threat from Sinn Fein, add into the mix that there is an expectation within the Unionist parties for tactical votes to the SDLP to fall in this election, it does become much harder for Margaret Ritchie as messages over Brexit are seen as a turn off for voters.

30 years ago this year, Eddie McGrady won this seat from Enoch Powell in a stunning victory that was a real boost to the Nationalist forces locally. Ritchie has held this seat since 2010, but since 2015 the SDLP vote has taken a serious hit in the constituency.


I have punted that Ritchie should hold this seat but with a sharply reduced majority. However, in every Northern Ireland Westminster poll since 2001, there has been a shock seat that we didn’t expect to fall or really come off (East Belfast; 2010, South Antrim 2015 for example). South Down could tick that box in 2017 if the numbers that we saw in March are repeated on June 8th.

For Chris, his task is to get out the vote that backed him and Sinead in March and ensure that nothing happens between now and polling day that makes the SDLP more attractive for tactical votes.

For Margaret, her task is to convince voters that after three decades in SDLP hands that it would be too risky to make a change now.  She may have a difficult task that the tide is just going out for the party which despite her reputation as a hard worker might just cost her this seat.

As Enoch Powell found in 1987, sometimes even the highest profile candidates can run out of road eventually, but this could be the closest race that the constituency has seen in 30 years.


  • chrisjones2

    Eastwood’s overall electoral strategy has potentially thrown Ritchie under the bus.

    She is dependent on Unionist votes aimed to keep out SF but the SDLPs attempt to en-robe itself in the Irish fleg …border poll, pathway to a United Ireland, Special Status to semi-detach NI from the rest of the UK will play badly with the Unionist. It might just be a time where they think he needs to be taught a lesson. Another SF MP is neither here nor there as the Conservatives will have a 60 to 100 majority and they dont attend anyway so better to maximise the Unionist vote overall

    Ritche will be the big loser …but beyond the loss of short money does Eastwood really care?

  • Robin Keogh

    I have just spent the day canvassing in the beautiful Newcastle. A long journey up and down from the bowels of South Wicklow. Fantastic vibe around, the shock will be if Chris Hazzard doesn’t take the seat.

  • Vince

    They were scarcely likely to know that he was meeting the SoS on that serious matter. SF are masters at maximising their own hurt and minimising that of others and this is another example. Jim Wells? I think he works for them.

  • Jag

    Paddy Power put SF as favourites at 4/6 with the SDLP on 1/1. Chris Hazzard has a more solid profile across the constituency, and if the momentum of the March result is maintained, he should edge it. Of all the 18 constituencies, Gezza appears to have devoted more of his time to this one.

    Separately, the NI Conservatives are on 500/1 which presumably, in Short Pants’ opinion, is a “remote chance” of winning, as opposed to the Border Poll about which Short Pants says there isn’t a “remote chance ” of passing.

  • the keep

    Coming up from Dublin how much money did SF slip you? : )

  • Robin Keogh

    Actually I drove up from South Wicklow which is an hour south of Dublin. (Exhausted Now). Sorry to disappoint you but not a shilling was slipped. Our good comrades of Castlewellan provided a fine feast of chicken and chips for lunch, savaged thankfully on the promenade of Newcastle. Simply stunning town.

  • Robin Keogh

    Jesus ! Has anybody seen the survation poll conducted this morning after lasts nights Question Time? Conservs 40, Labour 39, LD 8,UKIP 5.

  • > the Conservatives will have a 60 to 100 majority

    Have you been asleep for the last 4 weeks?

  • North Derry Celt

    Fair play Robin, north men south men comrades all !

  • Robin Keogh

    It was a bigger crowd than even at the Assembly election. Swarms of cars and busses, people on trains also; coming from Cork, Kerry, Tipp, Galway…everywhere, phenomenal stuff. Such an honour to be part of a huge national effort, fingers crossed now.

  • New Yorker

    Did Hazzard vote in the Assembly on Brexit or not. The linked BT article is not clear in that he might have voted against Brexit last June but missed the vote in the Assembly.

  • notimetoshine

    The loss of South Down would be a body blow to the SDLP no doubt about it. To lose part of their political Heimat must put the long term future of the party in doubt.

    Of course there is no more pointless political office in NI than MP but the loss of the Westminster seat would surely hasten their decline in South Down. With the surprising Alliance performance in the last assembly election and a confident SF, I should imagine some very tense nights ahead for those in the constituency.

    What is interesting though, is what the SF ascendency in South Down means in political terms. In places like Warrenpoint and that coastal strip as far as Kilkeel, SF seem to have become ‘respectable’ and a viable choice in elections. Home of the nascent ‘Catholic gold coast’ and full of teachers and commuting professionals, surely no safer SDLP seats existed. It just shows the work put in over the years by Sinn Fein is paying dividends.

    I also find it quite revealing that in the last 3 elections, I have seen SF canvassers at the door and pounding the streets, but not once have I seen the SDLP make an appearance. Complacency? Or just poor organisation.

  • Msiegnaro

    Are you on the register too?

  • chrisjones2

    Watch and see

  • Interesting, seems to contradict the hung parliament/small majority polls of the last week. Which seemed reasonable given how relaxed JC appears compared to the wobbling TM. Although 2015 showed that the Tory vote tends to be under estimated.

    I don’t think Manchester made much of a difference to the polls so I wouldn’t count on this incident.

  • Brian Walker

    Enoch Powell’s defeat by Eddie McGrady by about 700 votes was no surprise and had little to do with his fame – or notoriety. S Down was a smaller and more Catholic constituency as a result of boundary revisions caused by the increase of NI seats from 12 to 17 that Powell had campaigned for.on behalf of the Ulster Unionists. He was a strong integrationist wbo believed that the Union was more secure with more MPs rather than trying to revive Stormont. In one sense then all Westminster candidates today owe that brilliant but utterly perverse man some thanks.

    His perversity knew no bounds.
    At a time when every vote counted, I heard him make a passionate condemnation of capital punishment in front of a silent audience. Not the most popular line to take with unionists especially when the Troubles were at full blast.

  • mickfealty

    There’s some odd gearing in PP’s political odds. It;s like they’re warning people off. I’ve seen one seat in England go from a 1/80 into 1/25, whilst the challenger has gone from 14/1 to 8/1.

  • Pete

    Don’t really think it would be “a shock” for Sinn Fein to win…

  • mac tire

    Meh. Polls/Smolls.
    The Heil on Sunday have a poll with the Tories 1% ahead of Labour. Another poll gives 6%. Yet another 12%.

    They are all over the place, so I’ll await the real poll in a few days.

    Your point about the terror incidents could well be true but some are sure to ask: Why have so many people in Britain died by these violent attacks under May’s watch? They might just think to themselves they don’t feel very secure or defended by this government, that it is not very strong and certainly not stable.

  • Jag

    Take it with a pinch of salt Mick, though none of the odds for the N Ireland constituencies have changed in the past two weeks. The bookmakers appear confident, or else there’s very little betting.

    It’s funny. In this election, traditional media is focussing on N Belfast, thinking Finucane has a chance against Dodds, but PP has written that off with Dodds on 1/3 and Finucance on 13/8 (Dodds four times more likely to win).

    But, in S Down where media thinks Ritchie is home, PP is putting SF favorite. I’m with PP and think SF will edge it because Chris Hazzard has grown his profile enormously while Ritchie, no longer leader, is absentee.

  • Granni Trixie

    I have the impression that what you are calling traditional media are focusing attention on EB and SB.

  • Jag

    Hey GT. I’m probably biased towards southern media, RTE, the Irish Times and today’s Irish edition of Sunday Times for example. The rise of SF is of more interest, I suppose, than Alliance’s fortunes (most southern Irish wouldn’t have a notion about that party) and the fortunes of the SDLP aren’t of much more interest in the post-Hume era.

    SF however is big news, and the possibility of it prevailing against the deputy leader of the DUP is keeping N Belfast in the headlines.

  • Gopher

    Its standard policy to see where the coin falls before making a decision within SF. The manifesto was essentially a blank sheet of A4 whilst the SDLP’s was a trainwreck driven by Durkan on Nolan.This election is not about Brexit, Stormont, the economy or anything else, its about the border. The media has devided along those line and objectivity has evaporated. I firmly believe the BBC will see some serious reform after this election.

    The one certain thing regardless of the result is the vast majority of voters who prefer the union do not want a return to Stormont, that ship has sailed. All room for compromise has gone. It did not work and it wont work.

  • Granni Trixie

    That’s a point work making. My input from th South comes solely from Irish Times on a Sat. No tv input from there whatsoever. However voters in this election are within NI.

  • Karl

    I think a great number of people who reject the union do not want to see stormont return.
    Another level of british administration in NI will only complicate things. Stormint had its chance. It failed. That failure is down to both sides.
    SF can go about opposing the tories and return to the politics of protest, push the equality agenda against an open door of british laws where many of its aims already exist in law and London can get on with governing the place with Dublins input. It makes Brexit negotiations much simpler and allows for deals to be done which unionists wont like one bit. Without an assembly to channel collective authority it will be the dup shouting into the wind.

  • Gopher

    Its beyond the DUP now, the actual electorate are quite happy with direct rule. Nobody wants to see a hard border whether at Heathrow, Cairnryan or Crossmaglen.

  • mickfealty

    The latter I think. SD just shouldn’t be in play, but the long drift in purpose (and the failure of brexit to ignite as anything other than a driver for Nationalist anger) is pushing us into a nasty period of disfunction.

  • Msiegnaro

    I think Theresa May’s speech after the second London attacks has just won her the election.

  • mac tire

    “whilst Well’s fairly banal reference to Rathfriland being a Unionist town gets prominent billing”
    But that was the least offensive part of Wells’ tweet. You left out the part of what he said – that a legal political party shouldn’t canvass that area – being the reason it garnered so much publicity and not merely because Rathfriland is “a Unionist town”.

    Now, I’m sure there are places you have visited that you think are sh!tholes and I’m sure there are areas you would deem Unionist or otherwise. But I’m equally sure you wouldn’t call for a party not to canvass an area or see such as offensive.

    Nice try though, Mick.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    We will know next weekend, Msienaro. I’m avoiding my own smokey quartz crystal ball until then, in case I lay too much “wish fulfilment” unto what it shows me.

    But it would be such a a pity if you’re right. Mrs May is shaping up to be one of the weakest and least decisive Conservative leaders ever. Even her occasional “decisiveness” looks like an attempt to simply project a superficial impression of decisiveness for her public, as in her “no deal” silliness on Europe. For those not members of her diminishing fan club, this looks like an attempt to cover up the reality that Britain holds a hand of some shockingly very low cards for this negotiation. Any deal which even suggests continuing access to the European market for the all important British Financial Services industry who own the Conservative party will necessitate major annual payments to Europe and an acceptance of open borders. Unless we are all having a very, very prolonged nightmare, and somehow manage to wake up in 1896, with the apotheosis of Empire on the eve of the Diamond Jubilee for our Great White Queen-Empress, we are all of us going to be in very serious trouble.

  • 1729torus

    Alliance is of interest if they snatch votes off the UUP and DUP. Don’t forget that the Ulster league and Covenant was spurred by the threat presented by Nationalists and Liberals forming a majority in Westminster.

    While Alliance are mildly pro-Union, they won’t actively exert themselves to keep NI in the UK or stop it from very slowly drifting, nor will they oppose things like bilingual road signs.

  • Vince

    Lucid Talk polls have had a reasonable degree of accuracy in recent times. For what it’s worth, their most recent (although they have their final poll out tomorrow) suggests a swing from SF to SDLP of <2% overall since 2015. SF require a swing of 6.9% to win S Down.

  • Surveyor

    But by how much? A similar majority to what they had before the election would be a disaster for her.

  • Redstar

    Whilst trying to stir excitement/possible shocks in an abysmal dull election campaign is entirely understandable I think we all know the Shinners will not take SD

  • Jag

    That being the case Redstar, call down to Paddy Power and put £10 on the SDLP to win, and on Friday, if the SDLP do win, Paddy Power will give you your £10 stake back plus £10 winnings. The easiest tenner you’ll ever make.

    On the other hand, if you put £10 on SF to win, and SF did win, PP would only give you £6.66 in winnings, reflecting the fact that, as bookmakers, PP thinks SF will edge ahead of the SDLP.

    As below, take PP odds with a pinch of salt, but if you’re so certain, what have you got to lose?

  • Nevin

    Mick, to be fair, Cllr Naomi Bailie has apologised:

    “The comments I made earlier in the week about Bangor, were inappropriate and I withdraw them unreservedly.”

    Might there have been a reprimand from HQ?

  • Granni Trixie

    And also not on for someone from one party to try to pressurise candidate from another party not to appear on a Tv panel. Cheek of PR!

  • Granni Trixie

    Not against Irish culture in itself but the jury’s out re signs etc until costed.

  • Patrick Jones

    AT least 80 the very very minimum

  • Patrick Jones

    “turning the whole of NI …………. into a sh!thole.”

    I thought that was Executive Polciy (provided the cash rolled into the party)

  • Patrick Jones

    Michael Heseltine always said that Thatchers 1979 Manifesto was the best the party ever wrote as there were no policies plans or commitments in it

  • Ciara 007

    The question is really this, how many of SF votes in the recent assembly election might have originated from naturally SDLP leaning voters? The Assembly election saw a rush to SF off the back of Unionist fireworks, no fireworks this time (although nationalists in Rathfriland will most likely turn out for SF in great numbers thanks to Mr Wells) and those vote – lending SDLP folk might prefer to opt for Richie who will take her seat in London. Similar to NB,EB and FST, it will be incredibly close between the two front runners. However, the gap in the assembly election was particularly large, Hazzard will probably win by a wafer, if he wins by a chunk the SDLP are in serious trouble.

  • Madra Uisce
  • Proud Nationalist

    The problem in South Down for the SDLP is that they have been too nice to their political opponents. Given that Health and Infrastructure have been key issues in the constituency and in the last Assembly mandate Sinn Fein held both Health and Infrastructure ministries the SDLP in South Down if they wanted to counter the SINN FEIN surge should be attacking Sinn Fein for failing to deliver. Better still Chris Hazzard who was minister for Infrastructure said publicly in a hustings event in Warrenpoint during this election that there are no good roads in South Down. The same person last year at a Health hustings in Downpatrick stated that if he had the health ministry he would pressure Trust executives at the SET to resume full A&E services at the Down hospital in the county town.

  • mac tire

    Both SF ministers you mention were in the job for 6 months before the last administration ground to a halt. Not sure how anyone can turn all the problems around in such a short time.
    Unionism controlled these ministries for years before that.
    Up until a few days ago I expected Margaret to hold on to the SD seat. I’m not in the constituency but from what I’m hearing I’m not so sure at all now. I’ll go out on a limb here – I think she’ll narrowly lose this seat.

  • Dónall

    I think that this is what was expected after Sinn Féin won the majority of votes in the 2017 assembly election. It is just part of the long process of Sinn Féin replacing the SDLP as the voice of nationalism in the north.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Only after Bobby Butterfly gave her a phone call she could not refuse !

  • Nevin

    Jag, has PP put odds on the SDLP and UUP ending up with no seats at the end of this election?

  • Nevin

    Sam McBride has drawn attention to another small transgression:

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “I firmly believe the BBC will see some serious reform after this election.”

    The BBC is the prime propaganda arm of the UK state (despite all the blather from tories that it is a Leftist organisation). The BBC has lost a huge amount of public confidence in Scotland because of it’s full-on anti-SNP campaign. Despite that, it has not changed. It will not change it’s stance in NI either – it’s another ‘no surrender’ organisation.

  • John Collins

    The public might not be too impressed that police numbers were decreased by a whopping 20,000 during her six year term as Home Secretary

  • Msiegnaro

    Is NB the seat that will most likely change hands?

  • whatif1984true

    Ritchie and Mcdonnell have so low a profile as to be vacant. This is not England where MAY seems to be a presidential type candidate totally overshadowing all other tories in the news.
    Here an MP needs to be very visible in their constituency.
    I’m in S Belfast and McDonnell has been no where to be seen that coupled with the lameness in general of SDLP will I’m sure hit their vote hard.

    I do wish that just once everyone in NI would dump their tactical voting and vote with their proper first choice so that we could finally see what the real situation is, after all what have the politicians achieved in the recent years, very little except tribal head counts.

  • mickfealty

    Of course. It took a day in which the SDLP candidate said nothing. We have to take the apology at face value, but there’s something rotten going on when some one can feel that relaxed about saying something so indefensable about another town in their own county.

  • mickfealty

    It would be shocking if she lost it surely. But there’s always at least one or two we don’t anticipate.

  • Proud Nationalist

    8 months mac, and with regards Health, SF whilst holding health ministry could have held the Trust executives accountable for their failings at recruitment both at Daisy Hill and Down Hospital. They did not even attempt to do this rather they hedged their bets on the Bengoa report that offered little more insight from previous reports. Chris Hazzard as Infrastructure minister could have pushed forward with the Narrow Water bridge project that is a major infrastructure project in the southern end of South Down. If it takes you 6 months or more to do this how can you be trusted to be effective. Time constraints certainly were not the reason for inaction, there was no political will to act.
    You are correct that the ball was dropped under successive Unionist ministers with one also being an MLA for South Down. But that MLA did not make an electoral promise to immediately resolve the issue if his party had the ministry.
    The reason I have specifically highlighted Sinn Fein failure is down to the fact that their Candidate this year had previously made commitments and promises during last years election that were not acted upon, it highlights that they care more about a persons vote than actually delivering services for people.

  • hollandia

    I can’t comment on Daisy Hill or Bengoa, but as an engineer, if you think a major piece of infrastructure can be turned around in just six months, I’d be offering you a job.

  • North Derry Celt

    It would be fun if PP would give back £16.90 lol

  • Ciaran Caughey

    I live in South Down.The massive vote puller for Sinn Fein was dumping Ruane. Their vote has soared since she left.Insane for Sinn Fein to field an outsider here.They detest blow ins here!