Very much behind with posts. Apologies. Yesterday I was out from 7am until midnight. I was in Lisburn, Belfast, Dungannon, Cookstown, Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Belfast again and Downpatrick…then home. All by bus and train.
Today I was in Portadown, Dungannon, Omagh and Lurgan all by bus. And today the wifi on bus was useless.
So I am going out in about two and a half hours. Kings Hall for Belfast Counts. Which means I will be crashing on a sofa from about 3am until about 6am and Getting a bus or train home. The thing is on Sunday I will be 63 and I am really too old for this. My arthritis is killing me these days.
So…here is an Overview, which I will publish (hopefully on the train to Belfast) at around 10pm.
North Antrim…Paisley obviously but very odd that no UUP posters at all in Ballymena or Ballymoney. UUP are invisible here and TUV. Id say TUV might come second. Only one nationalist poster (SDLP) all day. SDLP lost an Assembly seat last time but Im not convinced that there will be any evidence to support regaining it. Personally I would love to have seen Donal Cunningham on the ticket.
East Derry…No surprises. Campbell easily but a nice little under-card contest between SDLP and SF. If Gerry Mullan does well, he might get a second chance in 2016 but that would inhibit the rise of very capable female candidates.
East Antrim. Wilson…but TUV are very visible. Intestingly the SDLP candidate is a former Sinn Féin member.
Strangford…Shannon. North Down…Hermon.
West Belfast…Maskey and SDLP really neec to up their game here.
Foyle…Durkan is head and shoulders above the rest but look at the majority. Is it enough to look like retaining three MLAs.
Mid Ulster and West Tyrone are similar. Elderly sidelined Sinn Féin MLAs faccing a new generation of SDLP. One Daniel McCrossan will likely get co-opted into Assembly before long. A genuine star. Newry & Armagh is different. Sinn Féin are attempting to replace Murphy with another elderly retiree, Mickey Brady but this time SDLP are not lying down.
Dodds will retain North Belfast and Simpson will retain Upper Bann. Certainly the news that Seeley is allegedly trailing Simpson by only two percentage points motivates unionist voters more than nationalist voters. I sense a certain frustration with local Sinn Féin people. There is no inevitability left about their rise…the hardcore SDLP voters are immune. And there is a nasty side to SF. They talk to us about pacts and they talk about “destroying SDLP”. They cant have it both ways. Likewise three SDLP posters went up last night in Maralin, a village near Lurgan. Today there are three Sinn Féin posters. Stealing SDLP posters is inconsistent with “borrowing” votes.
In this campaign, SDLP have landed blows….the Stormont House Agreement, Welfare Cuts U -turns, Mairia Cahill, Victims, Abstentionism. Oddly SDLP have made only one gaffe which made me groan but uncharacteristically Sinn Féin have been making mistakes. They just got careless.
Fermanagh-South Tyrone…I think Gildernew will win. It just isnt a marginal anymore (in demographic terms). SDLP will regain that Assembly seat. Dont be guided by the votes cast but rather the 2014 Council Elections and knowing it is the same dynamic as in Newry-Armagh, Mid Ulster and West Tyrone. And in South Down.
South Down…Margaret Ritchie. Unionists just arent trying. And Chris Hazzard brought in as a bright new thing has been given a torrid time.
Certainly SDLP will be squeezed in Upper Bann and North Belfast. And a degree of Apathy in West Belfast. For years too many have written off SDLPs “managed decline” (as Mick Fealty has called it) and I suspect that there will be a new narrative that SDLP recovery is in the country but the Party continues to lose votes in Belfast. Thats only half-true. First-Past-The-Post and Proportional Representation in multi seats is an entirely different dynamic.
There are clearly problems in West Belfast and North Belfast and you may expect some Slugger “experts” to say the SDLP will be wiped out in these constituencies. Wishful thinking.
But that brings me to three genuine marginals. South Antrim….I would love to see McCrea defeated by Kinahan but I just cant see enough tactical voting to make it happen.
South Belfast….I am by nature a pessimist and Alasdair has held it against the odds and he has built a solid following based on his constituency work. I have watched Alasdair at close quarters now for a month and he is a different person within South Belfast. But he is well regarded by health workers, migrants, business community . Jonathan Bell is the alternative. And McCune is a token UUP challenger.
I dont expect Paula Bradshaw to do as well as Anna Lo. Anna reached parts Bradshaw cant reach. She might be able to divert votes from McCune and Bell but the bottom line with Paula Bradshaw is that if she had been elected as a UUP-Tory five years ago, she would not be pounding the streets of South Belfast, wearing a nice shiny Alliance rosette.
Make no mistake. O’Muilleoir and Claire Bailey (Green Party) cant win but they would be delighted if SDLP Leader was de-capitated. Thats the real target here..
East Belfast….well Naomi Long has her Ginja Ninja Army out there and I dont under-estimate her. I just cant call it.
But there is a price. For Alliance, the entire Westminster Election of 2015 is about one thing…East Belfast and they are concentrating on it….Election broadcasts, Twitter, TV appearances….to the exclusion of every other constituency.
Of course I always enjoy picking up a stick to beat the Alliance Party but to be very serious, they have a heartland in and around Belfast. And they deserve credit for making a stand (as usual) in every constituency. And even parachuting young members like Kate Nicholl into unwinnable seats. But there are no resources to back it up…..in South Down, Newry-Armagh, Mid Ulster, North Antrim, Fermanagh-South Tyrone, West Tyrone, Upper Bann, I never say an Alliance poster. Thats unforgivable.
SDLP position…hopefully holding three seats and a big improvement in vote share.
We articulated the issues. Made our case…for the coalition of the vulnerable that we seek to serve. Win or Lose, we did the right thing. And there is a buzz. We need more foot soldiers like the people who canvassed for Justin, Alasdair, Dan, Mark and Margaret. There is something about us….or maybe just me. We HIDE…like in the upstairs room in Jerusalem. But we landed blows this time. We fought back…and we have a taste for it.
So 8pm and I am going to Belfast in an hour. Shower, Shave….and suited and booted. And I will be trying to keep this ipad charged.