GE2017 was an elephant fight between SF and the DUP (everyone else as grass)

It’s been a funny election. Judging by its front page the News Letter was convinced it was going to be a low turnout affair, because pretty much no one was watching what passes for politics on the television.

To be fair it might be in some places.

My own home place in North Down has only elected a new MP three times since 1970, so they’re never in a hurry to change their mind once it’s been made up and rarely in a rush to get to the polls.

There are nine other constituencies where incumbency is likely to be uncontested tonight. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be big efforts to get the vote out. The controversial proxy figures are high in Mid Ulster, where SF are clearly preparing to keep it higher if there is an actual fall in voter turn out

Proxies are highest in the tribal war zone of Fermanagh South where some 5000 people will either go postal or have someone else vote on their behalf. I’ve not spoken to anyone who thinks that the incumbent Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott can withstand such an onslaught.

East Belfast polling stations were hitting 20% by noon this morning, suggesting that both Naomi Long’s bid to take that seat and the DUP’s bid to stop here is finding a willing audience.

All Belfast seats should come in relatively early tonight, so news from there and much tighter South Belfast should be between  1 and 2. That said, this is an FPTP election, so indications should hit Twitter much earlier as tallies give a clear indication of who’s in contention who’s not, if not an actual winner.

If there’s a shock in store in Belfast it could come in North Belfast. As Nicholas Whyte said in his piece for the News Letter yesterday, even if you add March’s figures for SF and the SDLP Michael Finucane is still shy of Dodds’ total. If he gets within a thousand, that will be big job done for SF.

South Down is another biggie. When Sinead Ennis came from nowhere in March to take 20% of the first preference votes, the incumbent SDLP MP was shocked and went out the next day to try and figure what had gone wrong. She’s put in a fierce ground war of her own, but tonight will tell if it’s been enough.

But in making herself invisible, she’s sacrificed public mind share to a younger gene pool SDLPer, who’s put in the conversion to SF a lot of his local peers have already taken on with him.  Whatever value incumbency has may save her, but it may only be in counted in terms of hundreds of votes.

The second UUP gain from 2015 Danny Kinihan is under pressure from the DUP candidate in South Antrim. There will be no Willie McCrea effect this time, in which Kinihan was able to pull in Catholics to help him unseat the DUP man. If he loses tonight he may blame that bonfire picture from last summer.

The underlying battle of wills starts on Monday with the re-engagement over negotiations to re-establish the Assembly. Sinn Fein will be looking to harvest enough votes to maintain or even close the gap with the DUP and the DUP in turn will be looking for evidence to that they can open it up again.

That should sure that constituencies where there is no ostensible gain to be had to experience a rise in turnout from the levels of two years ago. I’m not so certain it will maintain the levels of March 2nd.

Whatever happens, even if he drops his two seats, Robin Swann will be secure as leader of the UUP. None of this was his doing, and he’s played a calm, conservative game since taking over. It’s not entirely beyond possibility that Upper Bann might not show as a gain.

Where Colum Eastwood to drop one or two, his position is probably also secure. But questions would likely be raised regarding the party’s future trajectory.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have made this an epic contest about the future of Northern Ireland, and almost everyone else is being treated as so much long flimsy grass at an elephant. With the ball now being withheld by the DUP and SF, they ever get the chance to recover?

No live blog tonight but David will be commentating on Radio Ulster overnight, and I’m in studio in RTE Television with Allison Morris of the Irish News, Gary Murphy of DCU and RTE’s David McCullagh from just after 11 till late (though probably not late enough to get FST and South Down).

  • Skibo

    Selling your loyal followers out for the Euro Mick? Is this a sign of the times?

  • Korhomme

    The commentators suggest that it’s all between the DUP and SF, with others being merely a nuisance. Are we really so polarised now?

  • Gravychipplease

    Sure don’t we all know that the money’s better down south……well Mick????

  • Zorin001

    On TE Lawrences recommendation I have taken DUP to win S. Belfast at a local bookmakers. 15/8

  • Jag

    Well, if there’s no live blog and we have to rely on Twitter….

    Here’s my forecast:

    N Belfast DUP
    S Belfast SDLP
    E Belfast Alliance
    W Belfast SF

    N&A SF
    S Down SF
    N Down Sylvia Hermon
    Upper Bann DUP
    Strangford DUP
    Lagan Valley DUP

    S Antrim DUP
    N Antrim DUP
    E Antrim DUP

    East Londonderry DUP
    Foyle SDLP
    Mid Ulster SF
    West Tyrone SF
    FST SF

    DUP 8 SF 6 SDLP 2 Alliance 1 Sylvia Hermon 1 (9 unionist 8 nationalist 1 unaligned)

    SF and Alliance will be happy enough
    SDLP and DUP a bit disappointed
    UUP gutted

    See y’all tomorrow.

  • Obelisk

    When were we ever not? The so called moderates have only ever appeared moderate when compared with their more extreme rivals. Now that those smaller rivals are the biggest parties, the ‘moderates’ look hopelessly old fashioned and out of date as a result.

  • Jag

    Good luck Zorin, SF did do more campaigning there than some might have expected and might just have done just enough to split the SDLP vote. Despite what the News Letter claimed, SF had doubled its vote (or at least grown it by 96.67%) and the SDLP’s has halved (or at least fallen by 40.06%) over the past 10 years. If that trend continues, it will only be a matter of time before an agreed unionist candidate wins unless SF and the SDLP can form an understanding/agreement/pact.

  • Obelisk

    The boundary chances will nix any chance of an agreed candidate in future. Southeast Belfast will just drop into the lap of the Alliance party.
    But that’s for the future.
    For tonight, I think everyone is in with a chance.

  • Jag

    Bill them plenty, Mick, you’ll be the best thing on there by a country mile.

  • Paul Culloty

    Lucid Talk have tweeted they’re doing an exit poll tonight – whether it’ll be released at the same time as the BBC one remains to be seen, but surely out before 11.

  • He has an eye on securing a regular spot at what will be the future national broadcaster in the north 😉

  • 1729torus

    Bring in STV or AV.

  • aquifer

    On average, vote SF and get DUP, and vice versa, people may twig or get bored with it, and as 50/50 looms into view the middle matters.

  • aquifer

    Religious and civil liberties and free markets might well seem old fashioned so long as unsustainable fossil fuel extraction, exploitative low wages, and financial speculation can keep the bubble big enough to fund religious and political delirium.

  • SDLP supporter

    Yes, and it seems as if you intended to vote SF, according to previous posts. So, take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror.

  • Korhomme

    I thought long and hard; I had a “Dr Strangelove” attack in the booth, and was unable to put my X for SF.

    You didn’t get it either.

  • Nap McCourt

    It is looking like our future (probably next 20+ years) will consist of a never ending battle along the DUP/SF axes. Our electoral cycle is a lot slower than other functioning democracies and we can now look forward to a groundhog election every couple of years.
    SF will want, and may get, their border poll. However, if they do manage to get their 50% +1 it will be purely based on a sectarian head count. Somehow, I cannot see Unionists jumping ship in support of a united Ireland any time soon.
    But the question then arises “what happens if they are successful in winning?
    Can we expect the unionists to be waiting outside Newry with open arms to welcome Oglaigh na hEireann and Garda Siochana. I think not, but the alternative could be scary.
    Meanwhile, the DUP will continue to use scare tactics to attempt to preserve the status quo which they do not realise is actually being changed by their fellow “countrymen” in England who are happy to reject EU, so a few Irish unionists will not spare them a second thought.
    Little did we know in 1998 GFA “there would be days like this”

  • Skibo

    Look all elections are based on a headcount. Whether it is working class v middle class or Unionist v Nationalist. Lets get it over with and get the 50% +1 and get politics to right v left.
    As far as I am concerned any election in the North is a sectarian headcount.

  • Nap McCourt

    I agree skibo, but I think the sectarian headcount will continue for a long time to come and left v right will not see the light of day in the interim.

  • Zig70

    Lessons for the SDLP. Absentionism is an issue for the media not nationalists, that was the main thing I heard Collum Eastwood mention. Westminster is a different country. The need to find a better reason for getting a vote. Also SF still remains the biggest barrier to a UI. They won’t unite nationalism, they won’t get enough of the middle class vote and they have zero cross community appeal. There is a big hole there for the SDLP to fill and if SF were serious about a UI, they would help them fill it. SDLP need to find some economics in their message.

  • Smithborough

    Will abstention remain a non-issue of the Conservatives are able to form a government with the DUP which only has a majority thanks to Sinn Fein abstention?

  • Zorin001

    Im wishing now that I took 10 or more DUP seats like I considerd 🙁

  • Zig70

    Give unto Caesar etc