For convenience I’m lumping the TUV, the Greens, the People Before Profit and assorted independents together in one post.
Two general observations are that although all barring the TUV had a surge, none of them particularly affected the big picture for the large parties. But two, the scale of their rise means that they aren’t necessarily going away any time soon.
Big political parties treasure councillors because they can often yield the MLAs of the future, and helps them to maintain a nimbler presence on the hyper local ground than the average MLA or MP can ever hope to.
The Green Party – +100%/+4
This was a good election for the Greens. When our deputy editor David went out on canvass with deputy leader Malachai O’Hara he was impressed how they used new media to deliver old style politics, using it to build new local canvass teams from virtually nothing.
In Belfast they did particularly well going from one to four councillors. Anecdotally it seem they took a large proportion of young and first time voters looking for a party with some interest in one of the biggest policy issues to break through in both Britain and Ireland this year.
Interestingly, all of the new Belfast seats came at the expense of the Ulster Unionists so the party clearly has a natural draw which pulls naturally across tribal divides.
Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) – 54%/-7 seats
It’s almost certain that the long fingering of Brexit did the TUV (or the faltering UKIP) no favours. Additionally those who are strong advocates for Brexit aren’t necessarily the easiest to get to come out to vote for local councillors. In this election, Brexit was a burst bubble.
It’s failure to get the vote out also likely hurt the Ulster Unionists in a slew of lower preference fights, and gave the Alliance party more of a free run than they’ve had in recent elections to bite further into the heart of that liberal unionist base.
All the good news came in Jim Allister’s North Antrim constituency where they picked up all three of their seats. Not only might that augur well for Jim’s successor at any future Assembly election, but hints at some constituency dissatisfaction with the DUP MP’s recent tribulations
People Before Profit 400% – +4 seats
A huge rise, but only in a small number of places, specifically in the Sinn Féin heartlands of west Belfast and Derry. PBP is a first stop for young and radically minded nationalists, who are disaffected from Sinn Féin and don’t see anything worth drawing her/his attention anywhere else.
They are, in electoral terms at least, to Sinn Féin what the TUV is to the DUP only in many respects they are teetering into a post nationalist, post sectarian space in way that the TUV are still firmly unionist. Their two gains in Belfast came from Sinn Féin and the PUP.
Insofar as it is a protest vote, it comes on foot of a serious neglect of social issues and a general frustration with the biggest team in the local league, ie Sinn Féin. In West Belfast they will provide some welcome support to regain ground lost in the last 2017 Assembly election.
Independents – +50%/+5 seats
One observer suggested to Slugger before the election, if you cannot have a protest vote at a council election, when is one ever going to come. This probably holds good for the rise of independents, most of whom belong in the gene pool of one or other of the bigger parties.
The most notable exception being Michael Stewart, advertising agency owner and admin of the Love Ballyclare Facebook page, who told the BBC that…
“I am one of those people who voted for me, who’ve no interest in politics – they care about holes in their roads, no paper in their schools and that they can’t get an appointment with their health centre.”
This diverse group has spread its across unionist and nationalist areas from the now well established Paul Berry in Armagh to Davy Hyland approved Gavin Malone in Newry and is probably an indication of dissatisfaction. Few, however will pose a genuine threat at the next Assembly election.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty