As The Boxes Open…

So…9am. The Morning After the Day Before. Everybody is saying that “something” happened but nobody is sure what it was.

I wonder how many times I have voted since June 1970. I was 18 years old. It was the first time that 18 year olds could vote. I looked like I was 15 years old. The polling clerks looked at each other and one said “do you mind if I ask how old you are?”.

I said….”yes I do mind” and he handed me a ballot paper. He is probably dead now but in so far as he ever thought about it (unlikely) after that day in 1970, I suppose he thought I was a West Belfast “personator”.

From my perspective, he only asked because I looked much younger and it felt “size-ist” and I knew that I had the Law on my side. I think if they had disqualified me from voting that day, I would have received £10 compensation.

Personating? I had heard stories. Themmuns did it more than Usunns and SDLP was never really into that kinda thing and then the Law caught up with “photo ID” and all that.

Of course I heard stories. Clerks  in Belfast Corporation earned a few quid extra as polling clerks. One was on duty in a school in Sandy Row. And a loyalist band marched down the street and into the polling station….and voted. Some hesitatingly read their own names (????) from their own polling cards (????) and got their ballot papers and voted.

It would be a brave polling clerk who challenged a loyalist band. Of course there was a game of bluff going on. It is good fun to be asked your name in a polling station, fake panic as you fumble for your polling card and read it out “Joseph James Murphy….sorry I mean my name is Francis Joseph Murphy”.

By way of balance, I should mention the queue at the nationalist polling station on the Falls Road and fifteen minutes before the polls closed, the unionist agent shouted out “I challenge that man”…..and half the queue ran for the door.

I am not actually sure that this is a true story but in Blogging, “balance” is more important than “truth” so it SEEMS true and it “balances” the loyalist band story, which is really true.

Of course, it wasnt all fun and games. There were two Westminster Elections in 1974 (February and October). I cant remember which one…but I was standing in St Aidans School on the Whiterock Road and about fifteen minutes before the polls closed, some Provos burst in and shot the place up.

That’s odd….I was there and I went home immediately….across the road and within minutes the news story was on TV and to this day, I dont really know what happened. Some said it was an attack on the police….some said an attack on the democratic process …some said an attack on the men, women and children in the polling station.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Those masked men were probably my age or just a little older. Did they spend the 1970s interned? Or did they outlive the Troubles? Or like me…are they grandfathers fond of nostalgia with their own anecdotes? Where were they last night? Sitting watching TV as dissidents and ignoring the election? Or….handing out Sinn Féin leaflets at a polling station in West Belfast? Is St Aidans School still on the polling station list?

I digress. I was in Strabane yesterday. Not much to see. A lot of activity round one large modern school and the Sinn Féin caravan….Sinn Féin must own a lot of caravans.

I went from Strabane to Belfast.After 6pm, I was in St Josephs School in Slate Street…my first primary school and the place where I first voted in 1970. About five or six Sinn Féin people at the door handing out those “dummy” ballot papers. It was raining cats and dogs. I refused the offer of a “dummy” ballot paper…I said that I always voted Sinn Féin but “never again”. There were a few “dummy” ballots around the polling station. The car park was pretty full. One voter joked with a canvasser that he was losing a lot of business because of the rain…clearly he was a taxi driver. And I just went into the polling station and looked around.

Then on to St Peters Youth Centre. About half a dozen canvassers. Same story. I told them “not voting Sinn Féin this time”. Had a few words with the People Before Profit canvasser.

Then the bus to St Theresas, a walk to Holy Child and a “Big Mac” at Kennedy Way and a walk in the rain to St Kevins. Lots of SF canvassers and spirits high. Did my spiel about “not voting SF ” at two of them and a bit annoyed that nobody tried to canvas me at the third one.

Childish of course. I am not a West Belfast voter but when you go into a polling station with the polling card you used twelve hours ago and 25 miles away….people assume you are voting.

Canvassers dont really mind a response that “I never vote Alliance/DUP/ Green” whatever but it really pisses them off to hear “I always vote Alliance/DUP/ Green” whatever but “not this time mate”. They hate thinking they lost a vote.

If Sinn Féin canvassers gathered in the Felons last night, one might say “I talked to a wee old fat baldy man who says he has voted for us for years and didnt this year” and maybe a couple of other Sinn Féiners will join in….”aye I talked to a wee old fat baldy man….”.

Like I say….its childish of me. But just my way of shoving a spanner …a very small spanner….in the well-oiled machine.

Well-oiled machine? Is the overwhelming presence of Sinn Féin canvassers “intimidating”? They would say “no” and be offened and others …a minority…would say “yes”. If an innocent SF bystander saw this amount of activity in a polling station in Dee Street or Tigers Bay, they would squeal victimisation.

Do Sinn Féin supporters intimidate? No…well only when they have to. They own West Belfast. And no point owning it, if you cant demonstrate it.

There might be a hierarchy in any Party …MP, MLA, Councillor, member. But Sinn Féin has “activists” and a structure…almost an alternative hierarchy to the visible hierarchy. Sinn Féin has a website and a “who’s who” but the great thing about elections is that you can see “who is really who”

There is an inter-connexion here. The Troubles simply went on too long. The comradeship formed in the trenches, the H Blocks, the funerals, the language classes, the graveyards  span generations. The Troubles defines them in a way that does not define me…there is a networking there that pre-dates Facebook.   “Sometimes its good to be ….where everybody knows your name and theyre always glad you came”. Hi Norm, Hi Cliff, Hi Frasier….nobody is lonely in Sinn Féin. Thats the secret of their success.

Theres always someone who carried your fathers coffin….or was on the blanket with your auntie in Armagh….whatever they think they “won”, they actually “lost” and at election time they need to kid themselves and each other that it was all worthwhile.

There was no wifi on the bus from Strabane to Belfast. The first real “catch up” was on the train home. Turn out high….very high. The middle class voted. Nationalists voted.

Sinn Féin will do well. Alliance will do well although the twin effect will  be SDLP will do ok. DUP will do badly. Schoolkids will vote Green cos Greens are “cool”.

To be honest, I much prefer the Past to the Future. I have no time for this daft “I voted Green/SDLP/ Alliance/ UUP”. Those voters who voted til they boked make me want to boke. But a cool hashtag and if we cant have Politics in Politics, then we can have hashtags.

Taking Politics out of Politics and dressing it up as the “New Politics” just doesnt interest me at all.

Thats one election less for me to worry about.


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44 Responses to As The Boxes Open…

  1. hoboroad says:

    Turnout for West Tyrone is 69.89% – up some 10% from last year.

  2. hoboroad says:

    Strangford vote was 39,239, up over 6,000 from 2016.

  3. Political Tourist says:

    And so to Direct Rule and a hard border………..

  4. hoboroad says:

    Belfast West: 67%, +9%
    Belfast East: 63%, +6%
    Belfast South: 64%, +10%
    Belfast North: 62%, +10%
    North Antrim: 63%, +10%
    East Antrim: 60%, +9%
    South Antrim: 62%, +11%
    Mid-Ulster: 72%, +13%
    Strangford: 61%, +11%
    North Down: 59%, +10%
    Foyle: 65%, +9%
    East Londonderry: 63%, +12%
    Fermanagh and South Tyrone: 73%, up +9%
    Newry & Armagh: 69% +10%
    Upper Bann: 62% +8%
    West Tyrone: 73%, +13%
    South Down: 66.21% +12%
    Lagan Valley: 62.57% +9%

    • I thought that Turnout would be up but not to this extent.
      Sinn Féin got their vote out.
      And the Garden Centre vote (from 1998) and Belmont Bowling Club vote (from 2010) came out.

  5. hoboroad says:

    Arlene Foster tops poll in Fermanagh and South Tyrone – but does not reach quota in first count

  6. SDLP activist - North Down says:

    I would like to pay tribute to Alex Attwood. He has served the party loyally and with great energy, skill, and dedication. I am very sorry that he lost his seat.

  7. Political Tourist says:

    Met Alex Attwood a few times over the years.
    Genuinely believe he was an Irish Nationalist.

  8. Vince says:

    It’s a real shame. Another 300 votes or so would have got him ahead of the DUP candidate and then benefited from transfers to get him ahead of Pat Sheehan. They had some momentum going & I think another week would have got them across the line. Just a small team – must have been outnumbered 100 to 1 – nearly pulled it off. It is a loss for West Belfast – representation from 3 parties would have been better.

  9. zig70 says:

    Alex Attwood for me was a part of the problem for the SDLP. A whiny self entitled attitude to nationalist votes. Really the train was moving slowly and he never got on.

  10. hoboroad says:

    Pat Catney SDLP wins last seat in Lagan Valley on UUP transfers

  11. hoboroad says:

    E McCann loses his seat in Foyle

  12. hoboroad says:

    John Dallat SDLP elected in East Derry

  13. hoboroad says:

    Caoimhe Archibald (SF) elected in East Derry
    Pengelly DUP concedes defeat in South Belfast

    • Pengelly is a Robinson protege so a big disappointment for him. Being an ex-SpAd cant have helped.
      What are the chances that a veteran DUP person will retire or get a peerage and Pengelly is co-opted?
      Her hubby is a top man in the Health Service….that cant have helped either in South Belfast….Musgrave, City Hospital, Knock bracken, QUB etc.
      A lot of health service employees were always going to get some revenge.
      CHristopher Stalford…I have a lot of time for him.
      UUP or Green for final seat?
      Normally Id prefer a Green to a unionist, especially with the balance in the Assembly but I think Claire Bailey has under-performed at Assembly level.

      • gendjinn says:


        did you engage with him during his time on slugger? If not you should check his comment history out. Unless there has been a damascene conversion there hasn’t been enough time for maturity to have wrought such tremendous improvements in resolving his anti-Irish bigotry.

      • Not that I recall.
        What I do know is he has been decent to me on the handful of occasions we have met.
        What I do know is that a very excitable member of the audience (a self-declared Alliance Party supporter) at a South Belfast hustings last year, launched into a tirade on Fearghal McKinney (who was not on the panel). The excitable audience member had to be restrained by Duncan Morrow and William Crawley.
        The audience member described Fearghal as sectarian. While no doubt, no member of the panel would agree with that, it was Christopher Stalford who led the defence of Fearghal.
        I have not contributed to Slugger since May 2015.

  14. Turgon says:

    I think Pengelly needs to have a serious talk to her husband. His outrageous suggestion (as chief civil servant for the NHS) that NHS staff should not comment on politics must have cost her votes. Think how many hospital staff must live in South Belfast.

    Her husband’s comments would be a sacking offence for a civil servant in GB and should be one in NI. It looks like an attempt to subvert the democratic process and could be argued to be a breach of human rights legislation

    • I think it is very complex. MR Pengelly did himself no favours. He seemed like a manager in a branch of Tescos warning his staff not to promote Sainsburys on Facebook.
      But really the most likely outcome was always the loss of a DUP seat. I always thought Christopher would win out and when I discussed it with others they agreed.
      He has paid his dues in the City Hall, engaging with residents in his constituency for years and I think that he “deserves” the MLA post more than Pengelly.
      I like the traditional route….council to MLA….to Office.
      I am not a big fan of staffers and advisors being fast-tracked. Blairite staffers and kitchen cabinet types like Mandelson in Hartlepool, Millibands in Doncaster and South Shields….I just dont like it.
      Pengelly was a Robinson protege…a professional. Certainly possible that she will be back as a co-option….Robin Newton perhaps.
      I think Christopher pre-dates professionalism and is motivated by public service.

  15. hoboroad says:

    I say this, risking an avalanche of attack on sexist grounds. In the interest of survival, good health and energy, Naomi needs to lose weight . This is a personal but also a public matter.
    It may be that a little outside pressure would encourage her. I wish her very Well

    Brian Walker on Slugger otoole 30 minutes ago

    • Ouch!
      I take a different tack and I think I have good grounds for doing so.
      I think when Naomi Long walks into a room, the first thing that people will think is that “shes a big girl”.
      I can say that because when I walk into a room people who dont already know me will think “hes a shortarse” and GOD knows I have been called worse).
      Of course what people think and what people say are two different things. People are usually much too polite to actually say something.
      I dont like Naomi Long but the big difference between Naomi and me is that she has the courage to stand up to the potential ridicule.
      One of her predecessors as Leader of the Alliance Party was Sean Neeson, who was also a short man.
      Often in the Assembly, he had to withstand nasty comments….”does Snow White know youre out?” “Stand up….oh you are standing up”.
      Playground stuff. I have heard it all my adult life, often in the most unexpected places.
      I think Brian Dimbleby-Walker crossed a line here. Obviously he prefaces it by pointing out that feminists will jump on him…but really all decent people will jump on him.
      He does himself few favours by allegedly worrying about Naomis health and indeed that her health is a matter of public concern.
      Women politicians DO suffer sexist comments. And some have become adept at turning any legitimate attack into a bogus sexist attack. ….Arlene Foster perhaps.
      To an extent, Margaret Thatcher gave up her Feminity to embrace The Iron Lady persona. That was her right.
      Did Spittin Image (yes a satire show) have the right to present her as more manly and vicious as her cabinet.
      Is gentleness a female virtue?
      Is viciousness a male virtue?
      I think Hillary Clinton was not defeated because she was a woman but did she choose to be seen in trouser suits because it played down the fact she was a woman?
      Was it just a fashion choice.
      I would argue that her age would have been a bigger (and arguably valid) area of discussion than her sex….she was helped by Trump being slightly older.
      But is size….a big boned girl….and a short-arse man the last taboo?
      If Hillary been of Naomi dimensions would she have been even nominated in USA?
      If Donald Trump had been of MY dimensions, would he be President of USA?
      I doubt it.
      I think I am right in saying that James Madison was the shortest USA President. He was about 5ft 4in
      And two hundred years ago was pre-mass media and pre-Twitter.
      Can you really see a Candidate debate in Norn Iron, Britain or USA where the men are 6ft average and we then see a man of under 5ft 6in.
      I just dont think Americans would tolerate a short Commander in Chief shaking hands with Putin or looking up to the Japanese Prime Minister.
      Nor would they tolerate a President who is a big-boned girl. Indeed they wouldnt even accept it in a First Lady.
      I detest the sanctimonious clap-trap of Naomi Long but Dimbleby is a prize ass.
      I remember his TV appearances on BBCNI.
      No oil painting….and I only say that because I am concerned for his health.

      • Rob Patrick says:

        I don’t agree with what you say re height being a prerequisite for men to be successful in politics. It seems that in French and Italian politics being short is an asset. Sarkozy is 5 ft 5 inches or 5 ft 6 inches. Francois Hollande is 5 ft 7 inches. And of the top four French presidential candidates in the polls, Socialist Benoit Hamon is 5 ft 4 inches and Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron are each 5 ft 8 inches. Marine Le Pen at 5 ft 9 inches is taller than her principal male opponents – even without heels!

      • All had a certain ridicule because of their height.

    • DUP were not represented at the South Belfast hustings two weeks ago but were certainly talked about. Most people saw it as Man (Stalford) against the Machine (Pengelly) and there was really only going to be one winner (certainly in preferences).
      Territory is rarely allocated equally. For a start it is not an exact science.
      So Id love to know how DUP allocated the territory and whether both candidates agreed it was fair.
      Id also like to know how many DUP voters followed the script.

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