North Down is a constituency running east from Belfast along the southern shore of Belfast Lough. A concentration of dormitory towns including Holywood, Helens Bay, Bangor and Donaghadee.
It is known as The Gold Coast because there are a lot of rich, upper middle class but there are also working class (loyalist) areas in Bangor.
Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2) UUP (1) Alliance (1) Green (1). One of the DUP members left the Party to become Independent.
In political terms it is somewhat isolated from the rest of Norn Iron. Over decades the Westminster seat has been held by Independent (unionists) such as James Kilfedder, Robert McCartney and Sylvia Hermon. The current MP elected in 2019 is the first member of a mainstream polical party (Alliance) and even so is a MP because of Green Party, SDLP and Sinn Féin standing aside to help guarantee an anti-Brexit victory.
I travelled by train to Holywood and spent an hour there before travelling on to Bangor.
The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.
The quota required in 2022 may be just over 6,100 votes.
The defection of Alex Easton means Gordon Dunne who is Holywood based becomes the DUP front runner. DUP are almost certain to lose a seat here. Jennifer Gilmour does not seem likely to be elected.
An odd one. The UUP is allegedly modernising under Doug Beattie. But it seems like it is in transition and the two election posters (Alan Chambers in Bangor) and Naomi McBurney in Holywood mostly) seem to underscore the transition.
Chambers only joined UUP about ten years ago, having been a prominent Independent in the council for decades. He topped the poll in 2017. But standing in the Westminster election and only getting 4,000 votes effectively costing the DUP a seat by splitting the unionist vote might cost him votes this time.
Naomi McBurney looks more in the image of Doug Beattie’s “union of people” rhetoric.
If asked a year ago, if Alliance would gain a seat in North Down, I would have said YES. So would the Alliance Party. Now I am not so sure. Neither is the Alliance Party.
They might be helped if there is a collapse of unionist votes or if unionists are so turned off by Brexit, DUP incompetence, Protocol and internal wrangling. This could mean that turn-out within the unionist community is lower than the more “progressive” elements in the constituency.
We have a situation where there are three unionist MLAs and two (Alliance and Green). Does Farry’s election change the balance in North Down.
Well in 2017, Alliance ran one candidate (Farry) and got safely over quota on the first count. That does not suggest a second seat.
Nor does the Westminster triumph in itself. The 18,000 votes includes 5,000 loaned votes from Greens and about 1,200 from nationalists and maybe some core unionist voters tactically voting against DUP. The bottom line is that Farry only got 45% of the votes cast against 50% for combined unionists.
On the plus side for Alliance is Farry has performed well at Westminster.
The downside is that Farry is not on the ballot paper.
The mantle of Alliance front-runner goes to Andrew Muir. He seems to have the lions share of the election posters around Holywood and Bangor. Running mate, Connie Egan seems to be based in other parts of the constituency. The only posters I could photograph where seen from a bus.
Alliance could take a seat here…but is it the Green seat?
Alex Easton is based in Donaghadee but his posters are in Holywood and Bangor. He left DUP last year, apparently fed up with internal bickering which probably frustrates DUP voters. He already has a constituency-wide profile, having topped the poll in 2017 and been runner up to Farry in the Westminster election.
The position of the Green Party is interesting. Thru Brian Wilson (occasionally Alliance) and Steven Agnew, there is a consistent Green presence in the cinstituency. Agnew was elected in 2011 and was Leader of the party but he left politics in 2019. Rachel Woods was co-opted to replace him. She had been a local councillor.
But as the Greens stood aside in the Westminster election, she is untested at this level. But she has made an impression with legislation to support victims of domestic abuse.
The downside is that while the Green Party are the brand leaders in terms of the “environment”, all parties are now “green” to a limited and more pragmatic level.
The figures…well just over 5,000 votes for Steven Agnew was not too far off a quota. But has standing aside for Stephen Farry (Alliance) in 2019 helped or has it stalled the Green momentum?
John Gordon (TUV). What can I say? His transfers might help Dunne (DUP).
Declaration of Interest. I have met Deirdre. I think she is an excellent candidate.
I have often referenced Alasdair McDonnell’s statement (10th March 2012) that there is a “horseshoe” of towns and villages around Belfast Lough, where SDLP has no real presence.
There are two reasons. The reluctance of (maybe) vulnerable people to raise their heads above the parapet and declare themselves as SDLP candidates or sign nomination papers for those who are willing to stand.
The second reason is I think (and it pains me to say it) acceptance of this by the SDLP hierarchy. I contend that no District Electoral Area should be left uncontested. It is a right…a duty even …for SDLP and every party to offer a manifesto to every voter.
I believe this to be a right and a duty for TUV in Crossmaglen and for Sinn Féin in Bushmills. And certainly for SDLP in Donaghadee. There should be mechanisms to facilitate it…eg the need for the ten supporters to be on a local register.
To some extent, SDLP has tried to resolve this (or made it worse maybe) by nominating candidates from outside the constituency. It has never really worked.
Whether in historic terms …as Irish, as nationalists and as social democrats, a potential SDLP voter in Holywood is no different from a potential SDLP voter in Derry. Yes everyone has a specifically local culture and issues but it all works best when a knowledgeable person FROM the constituency steps forward.
So Deirdre Vaughan is the pathfinder.
Deirdre is not just playing Big Politics here. It is more about cycle ways, beach clean ups and traffic light provision and seems angled towards working mothers and everyday issues.
In the first two General Elections of the 21st century, SDLP got over 1,000 votes in North Down. In three most recent, they have not bettered 700.
Pretty much a similar story in Assembly elections.
So that is the first challenge…….add votes. While never likely to win a Stormont seat, there is the potential to create a SDLP bloc of votes than can influence outcomes.
The focus is largely on the ballot boxes in Holywood. The next local election is only two years away.
But SDLP on Ormeau Road need to play a part. Treat North Down, East Antrim and East Belfast and their representatives as genuine partners.
Ray McKimm posters are all over Bangor and Holywood. He is an Independent councillor. Usually at this level, Independents are limited to a specific issue or a very narrow geographical area. There is a you-tube interview…a bit sychophantic with Nuala McKeever. McKimm’s pitch is that People Before Party, slightly utopian but he makes good points about well-being. He is a maverick and that is typical of politics in North Down.
If it is North Down there has to be a Tory. In 2022 it is Matthew Robinson who got almost 2,000 votes in 2019.
Therese McCartney is standing for Sinn Féin.
And Chris Carter is an Independent.
None. But if there is any traction at all in an Alliance “surge” this is the key battleground.