I had a busy day yesterday. Breakfast in a shopping mall at Craigavon. Bus to Lurgan. Train to Bangor, getting there around noon. A few hours there in the company of a fellow blogger. At 3pm, I was on a bus to Belfast, via Holywood. At Laganside Bus Centre, I got off that bus and got on to a Newtownards bus…thru East Belfast. At 5pm I was getting a bus out of Newtownards and at 5.45 pm, I was at the Strand Arts Centre….or cimema!!!…for the great Slugger Debate between two of the East Belfast candidates. An hour later, I was in a taxi taking me to Dr Alasdair McDonnells, constituency campaign launch in South Belfast. At 10pm, I was in McDonalds in Lurgan.
A man of my age should be retired. Actually….I am retired.
I love Elections. It is a sacred time. Last night, I was talking to my colleague Mary Muldoon, who has the pretty thankless task of standing for SDLP in East Belfast. She was telling me how in (nationalist) West Belfast in 1977…her first campaign….she was chased by a mob as she and her husband were putting up posters. In those days, candidates used their own ladders. Mary’s ladder was abandoned and the mob made off with it. In Nationalist West Belfast. And two nights ago, Mary was at a hustings in Loyalist East Belfast, making her SDLP case to an audience in a Willowfield Church .That is progress. That is simple decency…an Evangelical Protestant Church extending to SDLP (and indeed Sinn Féin) simple courtesy. And Respect for the Democratic System.
How ironic is it then that Slugger O’Toole could not extend the same basic courtesy. In 1977, a nationalist mob stole Mary’s ladder. Did Slugger O’Toole steal four ladders last night?
At 6pm last night at the Strand “Arts Centre” (its a cinema!!!!) I was on mission to BLAG as much as I was on a mission to BLOG. Bare-faced lying to Brian from Slugger that I was hanging about the foyer, waiting for some tickets. Sneaked into the auditorium as David and Alan were setting up.
Actually I just wanted to know who was attending. Media, a couple of representatives from NIO, only one or two who I recognised from The Golden Halo of LetsGetAlongerism. Brian and David both indicated that there was no problem with me staying. So effectively…I was pushing at an open door.
In practical terms, I could not stay even if I wanted to stay. It clashed with a SDLP event in South Belfast. But clearly I had a problem with the event. It would have been wrong to support the event. Wrong to hear the opinions of just two of six candidates. To me…this is not what this sacred time of Elections is all about.
Again let me emphasise that I was treated with courtesy last night. Let this not appear to be “personal”. David McCann, who reads this blog understood my reservations.
Outside of Slugger O’Toole, there is broad agreement that the Slugger Debate disadvantages at least four candidates …from the Green Party, SDLP, Sinn Féin and Conservatives. I would be surprised if any serious analyst within the Slugger “core team” disagreed with this. They might reasonably claim that the four parties are not potential winners in East Belfast. But votes cast for the small parties can influence the result.
To be frank, Gavin Robinson’s chances of winning the seat for DUP are boosted by the withdrawal of UUP and TUV. Naomi Long’s chances of winning the seat would have been enhanced if the four remaining parties withdrew. She might well be “scathing” about pan-unionist election pacts but if she had heard last week on “nomination day” that any one or more of the small parties had withdrawn….she would not nearly be so scathing.
Slugger might well argue and will argue that the four small parties will maybe not score more than ten per cent of votes cast next month. But Slugger will know those votes are crucial.
If respected analysts can argue that this event boosts the Alliance Party, then there is a clear question for Slugger O’Toole. Their own folks can say “Yes it does” or “No it doesnt” or deploy a default if incredible “Not necessarily”.
If analysts are agreed that Naomi Long and Alliance are boosted and Slugger cant or wont address that belief, then it certainly does open the door for Slugger critics and occasional critics to suggest that boosting Naomi and Alliance was the intention. An honest and bullish response from Slugger might be. “For Gods sake, its not rocket science….we are Slugger O’Toole and our default position is one of supporting “progressives” and naturally we would prefer Naomi to win. can you really be surprised?”.
Yet Politics is a “bubble”. The East Belfast taxi driver who picked me up at the Strand, asked me what was going on there. Frankly he didnt think much of either Long or Robinson. But when we call it the Great Debate…it is hyperbole. It is 6am now and BBC and UTV News will be reporting it all and it might just influence a few people to vote Alliance or DUP at the expense of a smaller party.
But it was not a bad day. Good for Politics that there are a few SDLP (Mary Muldoon) posters in unionist areas of East Belfast. Good for Politics that there are a few DUP (David Simpson) posters in nationalist areas of Lurgan. Of course anti-democrats might well remove them before Election Day.
Quite possibly SDLP posters in East Belfast will end up on July bonfires. It would be ironic if Brian, Alan and David from Slugger condemned it because…lets be honest guys, thats (figuratively) what you folks did to Greens, SDLP, Sinn Féin and Conservatives last night.
Commenting on another thread on this Blog, unionist observer (known only as “Turgon”) says that Slugger O’Toole needs to be constantly reminded of this episode. He is right. It has damaged Sluggers reputation…they will publicly deny or ignore this.
It is a bad error of judgement. But at 3am on 8th May….when the election results are announced and if Naomi Long is declared Member of Parliament for East Belfast, very few LetsGetAlongerists will be remembering a hustings event that many consider favoured Naomi Long.