The Disappearing Green Man (A Mid Ulster Mystery)

Some things you cannot make up.

I was on a bus between Antrim and Belfast when I was alerted to the news that the Green Party had ceased campaigning in Mid Ulster and the candidate is “no longer endorsed” by the Party.

The statement issued by the Greens is very curious

“We have ceased campaigning in the Mid Ulster constituency as the Green Party NI candidate has withdrawn from the campaign.

Whilst he will still appear on the ballot paper, his membership of the party has been suspended, and he is no longer endorsed by the Green Party NI”.

To break this down

1 they have ceased campaigning AS (because???) the candidate has withdrawn…”

presumably this means he withdrew himself rather than been withdrwan by the Party.

2 he will still appear on the ballot paper

Well yes….but have postal votes been issued and have people actually voted for him already?

3 his membership has been suspended.

Well that is clearly a matter for the Green Party. But was he suspended because he withdrew? Or was there some incident leading to withdrawin?.

The most curious aspect is that the Green Party has no further comment to make. The Greens are a bit mouthy and always have comments to make.

In fairness, Stefan Taylor is hardly a household name. He got less than 500 votes in the two most recent Assembly elections.

So is a candidate already on a ballot paper and suspended by his Party a news story? Or is it only a story if it is Sinn Féin, DUP, UUP, SDLP? Can you imagine the Slugger O’Toole headline?

The Greens rightly complained that the BBC was giving more coverage in this election to TUV (one MLA) than to the Greens (two MLAs). I even signed a petition to support the Greens.

They have a right to be heard. And a right to be silent.

But I think that the voters in Mid Ulster deserve a full explanation. We all do.

How many members do the Green Party have? 500? More?

They deserve an explanation and no doudt their WhatsUp group is filled with”What is going on? and “Ssssh dont talk to the Press”

For all their democracy, there is probably a Green inner circle who know the story. And an outer circle that knows some of it. Nothing wrong with that of course. It would be the same in any party.

There might be good reasons why the story is not public. But being embarrassed is not a good reason

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Vote “Muppet”

Odd “election poster” in Downpatrick (South Down constituency) yesterday.

Is Kermit better than Patrick Brown (Alliance Party) ?

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Brave Women…Cowardly Men

All of us who are committed to Democracy will be outraged at the attack on Hannah Kenny of People Before Profit in East Belfast last night.

She was subject to sexist and sectarian abuse. It follows on from the attack on Elsie Trainor (SDLP, South Belfast) a few weeks ago.

Other women like Cara Hunter in East Derry have also been targets.

Big brave men.

This election is marked by two things. On the plus side, I have been heartened to see posters in places once deemed unlikely. And canvassers reaching out. A very good sign. On the reverse side I have heard canvassers abused. Paul Doherty (SDLP) abused on Shankill Road and Conor Houston (also SDLP) billboard vandalised in Newtownards.

To be absolutely clear, I am not making it an issue that is about SDLP. Far from it. As a supporter, these are the stories (and others) that I am most likely to hear about. I obviously do not hear as much about other parties and I suspect for every story of abuse that makes the news or social media, there are scores that do not.

Abuse goes with the territory…literally.

This village is 100% nationalist. There are DUP, UUP, TUV posters within its limits. Also predictably SDLP, Sinn Féin and Alliance.

It reflects well on our village. I am proud of that.

But these attacks on women….are just beyond the Pale.

Charlotte Carson (SDLP East Belfast), her posters have been damaged or stolen (no doubt to decorate a bonfire later in the year). And just how insulting is that? Nobody in politics should pass (possibly with their children) a decorated bonfire and see their image prepared to be burned.

It is pure HATRED and we need legislature to make this a hate-crime that should be prosecuted more thoroughly.

These are brave people.

I am a fully paid up coward. Ahead of the 1973 Assembly Election, I was canvassing with SDLP in West Belfast..on Springfield Road and we decided to demonstrate our anti-sectarian credentials and cross into Ainsworth Avenue.

We got a few leaflets thru doors before we were chased. But I can always claim that I got two leaflets thru doors on Ainsworth Avenue.

There is nothing worse than these vile attacks. We have to ask who is getting attacked. We have to ask who is doing the attacking.

There is a curious imbalance.

We are politically somehow obliged to say that one community is as bad as the other. I am not a politician. If we call a spade a shovel, these sectarian attacks seem like one way.

But I have to be optimistic. Two weeks ago I was in East Belfast. There are still some parts of Lower Newtownards Road where I would consider unwise for me to be. It is a generational thing.

One surprise in East Belfast was the number of People Before Profit posters all along Newtownards Road. And quite a few SDLP posters.

Indeed one of Charlotte Carson’s posters was at Holywood Arches which…yes its a generational thing…surprised me. And a few days ago, I was on a bus coming from Bangor, I looked across fully expecting it to be removed. It was still there. We cant judge people by the bad behaviour of a few.

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DUP: Rumbled At Last?

Some graffiti in Carrickfergus yesterday afternoon. It is just outside the railway station, There is similar graffiti in other parts of the town.

There is much speculation how the DUP will fare in next week’s election.

In loyalist, Carrickfergus, ths graffiti is obviously the work of loyalists.

Where exactly is Unionism?

Certainly (I hold) there is the Alliance Party and whether or not they claim to be neutral, the obvious best hope for unionism is a stable society where people just get along and accept a status quo. That is the only thing that can defeat the Demographics. Even if most unionists cannot see this, you can bet that round the Alliance Party know it.

And the Ulster Unionist Party. Rather like St Augustine who said “Please GOD, make me good …but not yet”….the UUP (as under Doug Beattie now) go thru periods of reaching out to Catholics/nationalists and telling us they have changed. They too know that they cannot do much about the Demographics but not really changing enough to be convincing advocates for “a union of people”.

And the Democratic Unionist Party. The party of unionist protest for five decades…well they cannot change. Time has finally caught up with the dinosaurs. They were riding high when Theresa May’s government needed them as voting fodder. Arlene, Nigel and Jeffrey strutted up Downing Street for the TV cameras like they owned the place…and so briefly they did. Now Arlene is a commentator on GB News (the English equivelant of Fox News), Nigel is Baron Dodds of Duncairn in the House of Lords.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh your leg off at the incompetence.

DUP wanted the hard Border that would actually undermine the relaxed, invisible Border that the Good Friday Agreement produced.

Of course DUP was opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, undermined the UUP and then operated the Agreement (or the bits they liked) when in office as “First Minister”.

I am now laughing my other leg off.

So the Tories have abandoned DUP and introduced a border …in the Irish Sea.

The stupidity of DUP is stunning. The dreaded Protocol…an issue that only resonates with DUP themselves and the protestors that they used to lead.

Do Nationalists really want to bail the DUP out of the crisis they created? Our Agreement and living together only works because no side could win…except if the other side made a mistake, a fatal error…the error that DUP made.

A hard Border was a calculated insult to nationalists. Triumphalism of the worst kind.

I feel like I am a passenger on the Belfast to Cairnryan ferry and as I watched from the viewing deck, someone crept up behind me and tried to throw me overboard. The person who intended to do me harm, slipped and fell over the guard rail and is down in the icy water appealing for me to throw him a lifebelt.

How to respond? Well let me see….if I had a third leg, I would laugh it off.

It really is that simple.

DUP are of course the party founded by Rev Ian Paisley. But his real successors in the “Never! Never! Never!” rhetoric is Jim Allister and the TUV. Traditional Ulster Voice are the true Paisleyites, mostly like Paisley first got to a Stormont and Westminster MP in the towns and villages of County Antrim. Jim Allister and Kate Hoey.

If the TUV…currently Allister is the only MLA make any gains next week, it is likely to be in County Antrim…Paisley Country.

Now TUV are men (mostly) in suits and they don’t do graffiti outside Carrickfergus Railway Station.

“DUP Out” is not exactly what I would expect in Carrickfergus. It is a bit like the Romanians turning against Caesescu (sp) in 1988. What does it say about DUP’s electoral prospects next week.

Well this is the reason I have visited twelve constituencies in the last three weeks. Another six to visit plus some follow ups early next week.

Looking at this election is NOT just about useless opinion polls and useful data…it is about gut feeling and being around to see the graffiti.

Anyway, I will be writing up three constituencies over the weekend.

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Assembly Election 2022: Lagan Valley

Lagan Valley is a constituency centred on Lisburn and including Belfast suburb of Dunmurry, the relatively upmarket towns of Hillsborough and and Moira and rural areas at Dromore and Dromara.

Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (2) UUP (1) Alliance (1) SDLP(1). The Alliance member left the Party to become Independent.

It is a Westminster constituency where unionist votes are weighed rather than counted. But recently unionist infighting and the rise of Alliance has added an element of chaos.

I travelled by train to Lisburn.

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 might be high at over 7,500.

As always the problem is untangling the real strength of a party from the unique circumstances of the tactical voting of 2019 Brexit Election.

The DUP have two big hitters here. Jeffrey Donaldson is Party Leader and the current MP for Lagan Valley. Paul Givan was briefly First Minister in the Norn Iron Executive.

It can be expected that DUP will take a hit over Brexit, Protocol and general incompetence. The 2017 and 2019 votes cast are not very different. and probably enough for two quotas.

Givan has been allocated Lisburn City and Donaldson has been allocated (among other places) Moira.

Donaldson has been climbing the slippery pole of loyal Order and unionist politics for decades. Bag-carrier for Enoch Powell in South Down, he moved to Lagan Valley to do much the same for Jim Molyneux. He was then UUP of course but switched to DUP after the Good Friday Agreement. Already a “Sir” , he will in due course become a “Lord”. I expect he will just love that.

But now he has a job to do…saving the DUP. And possibly even saving Norn Iron.

With over 11,000 votes cast for UUP in 2017 and just over 8,500 votes cast for UUP (Robbie Butler) in 2019, the true position in terms of UUP core votes is probably around 10,000.

UUP were effectively squeezed in 2019. Some voters may have decided to shore up the unionist vote and others may have decided that the best way to unseat Jeffrey Donaldson was to vote Alliance.

Laura Turner posters are in Lisburn.

Trevor Lunn (now 75) an Alliance veteran who held his seat in 2017. Since then he has left the Party to be an Independent. He is standing down at this election. It appears that the party hierarchy and local party members were in indecent haste to have him resign and be replaced by a co-option.

Trevor Lunn was over 1,000 votes below quota.

In 2019 Sorcha Eastwood’s vote suggests that Alliance are on course for two quotas. But is it so clear cut? Her 2019 is inflated by tactical voting.

Sorcha Eastwood has been acting that she is already a MLA and that the election on 5th May is just a formality. She is probably right.

But with two likely DUP seats and one likely UUP seat, then David Honeyford has to target the sole SDLP seat of Pat Catney.

SDLP taking a seat in Lagan Valley in 2017 was a major surprise. As I recall I put a bet on Pat Catney to win a seat. It was touch and go with transfers playing a major part. It will be harder this tim with two Alliance candidates and just two from DUP. But I hope that Pat’s record as a MLA will be crucial. He sponsored the Period Products Bill and that is bound to help.

There are probably 2,000 votes available to Lorna Smyth (TUV). But they are really only transfer fodder for DUP.

Gary Hynds is standing as an Independent, having stood as a Tory at Westminster 2019.

Gary McCleave (Sinn Féin) stood in 2019 and got just over 1,000 votes. This was a big drop from 1,800 for Sinn Féin in 2017. There is little interest in Westminster politics for nationalists in Lagan Valley but undoubtedly some tactical voting for Sorcha Eastwood. A chunk of his transfers might help Pat Catney.

Simon (Si) Lee is unlikely to make an impression except in terms of transfers to SDLP and Alliance.

Amanda Doherty (People Before Profit) is in the same position. Her second preference vote will be more important than the first preferences.

PREDICTION.

None.

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Reunion Concert, Bangor

I saw this in Bangor yesterday.

Baby Protocol, Posh Protocol, Sporty Protocol, Scary Protocol,Silver Protocol

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Assembly Election 2022: North Down

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.

PREDICTION.

None. But if there is any traction at all in an Alliance “surge” this is the key battleground.

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Assembly Election 2022: Strangford

Strangford is a constituency comprising towns like Newtownards, Comber, Ballygowan and Saintfield as well as the Ards Peninsula which includes towns like Portaferry and Kircubbin. So it is a mix of (almost suburban) Belfast and rural areas.

Currently there are five MLAs…DUP (3), UUP (1), Alliance (1).

It is overwhelmingly unionist…a mix of middle class UUP voters and traditional loyalist voters who are usually DUP supporters. Although the SDLP has almost won a seat on a few occasions, Catholics and nationalists have tended to transfer to Alliance.

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.

If there is really disenchantment (Brexit, Protocol etc) on the unionist side, then the quota might be as low as 6,000. How does that pan out?

I was in Holywood and Bangor (North Down) today and went on to Newtownards. Very few posters in the town.

DUP look set to lose a seat. And on 2017 figures, veteran Peter Weir is the most vulnerable but co-opted Harry Hunter is less well known. Michelle McIlveen is probably safe. The party is vulnerable to TUV on its right and a re-organised UUP on its (relative) left. It is hard to see how they can make two quotas.

Peter Weir seems to have been allocated Newtownards.

The loss of Simon Hamilton , once touted as the future Leader of DUP is massive. He was a young and believed more secular than his fundamentalist colleagues.

Alliance are hoping and even expected to gain a seat here. But the Alliance numbers are hard to read. One candidate and only 600 votes below Quota was a safe seat. The Alliance “surge” and tactical voting and Alliance got over 10,500 and that can point to two seats. I put the actual Alliance core at between 7500 and 8000 votes split between two candidates.

And 7,500 to 8,000 votes could be the difference between one seat and two.

Kellie Armstrong is better known but she has courted controversy with her infamous 2019 tweet. “Can Unionists or Nationalists be non-sectarian”. She apologised as people always do and she has fought an election since but it is offensive. Especially as she knocks doors and asks people…unionists and nationalists for a second preference vote.

I know nothing about Nick Mathison but I hope he outvotes his running mate. His posters are in Newtownards.

The UUP are in an odd position. With only one seat in 2017 (Michael Nesbitt retained his seat and Philip Smith lost his seat), they appear to be lost over the last five years.

A combined vote of just 7,800 votes in 2017 was never going to translate as two seats. The UUP fared even worse in 2019 when sole candidate (Smith) got only 4,000 votes. It is pretty obvious that moderate anti-Brexit unionists voted Alliance.

But “TV Mike” and Smith are fully signed up to Doug Beattie’s “union of people” nonsense and if they think that they can get two seats here, then it has to come at the expense of a DUP seat or taking back votes from Alliance.

SDLP has been on the brink of taking a seat in Strangford for some years but always come up just short.

Strangford is geographically and culturally divided. Places like Saintfield are effectively dormitories for Belfast. Places like the Ards Peninsula are more remote, rural. SDLP have a reasonable vote but the key is towns like Newtownards, Comber and Ballygowan where the SDLP vote is small.

It seems like a paradox.

But historically Catholics, nationalists or if you prefer the term “people from a nationalist or Catholic background” in these towns do not vote for SDLP.

There are two reasons. One is that being a minority in these towns is no picnic. Better to keep a low profile and just vote Alliance. Secondly SDLP has made no real effort in these electoral districts at council level.

This is a problem that Alasdair McDonnell the former SDLP highlighted at a SDLP conference in March 2012. He talked about a “horseshoe” of areas around Belfast Lough, Larne to Newtownards where SDLP was invisible.

There may not be many votes in Newtownards, Comber and Ballygowan but the point is that a mere 200 votes could make a difference.

In fairness to veteran, Joe Boyle who is Portaferry based he is very active in Conor Houston’s campaign but it seems a good move to pick Conor (who I have never met). Sexual orientation should not matter but being openly gay and from a background that is not SDLP is a welcome development.

Sinn Féin are weak in Strangford. There is probably less than 1,000 votes for newcomer Róísié McGivern. But most transferrable votes will go to SDLP.

Maurice Maccartney (Green) stood in the 2019 Westminster election. He is probably going to get 1,200 votes, most of which will transfer to SDLP and Alliance.

Stephen Cooper also stood in 2017. The TUV did not stand in 2019 so some of Jim Shannon’s vote is tactical voting from TUV. Probably in excess of 2,000 votes.

The field is made up with Ben King (Independent).

It seems a strange contest. DUP will lose votes to both TUV and UUP. But will UUP lose votes to Alliance. Will Alliance lose votes to moderate UUP candidates and to SDLP. Will SF and Greens transfer in sufficient numbers to put SDLP over the line?

PREDICTIONS

None. I only do Questions. I do not do Answers.

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Assembly Election 2022: North Belfast

North Belfast is a constituency comprising areas like Antrim Road, Crumlin Road, Oldpark Road and Shore Road (the arterial roads leading north from the City Centre.)as far as the old village of Glengormley and Ligoneil. It includes prosperous areas like Antrim Road and working class areas like New Lodge and Ardoyne (nationalist) and Tigers Bay and Ballysillan (loyalist) and some interfaces.

Currently there are five MLAs…Sinn Féin(2), DUP (2), SDLP (1). Significantly Sinn Féin took the Westminster seat from DUP in 2019.

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 is likely to be less than 7,000 votes.

Last week, I took the bus from Belfast City Centre along Antrim Road to Glengormley. And then from Glengormley along the Shore Road to York Road, thru Tigers Bay and New Lodge Road to Antrim Road and to the city centre.

Everything in this constituency seems distorted by the Westminster Election. Dodds of DUP has been losing ground for years but against a divided opposition and the unionist tendency to circle the wagons, the inevitable passing of a once-safe unionist seat to John Finucane son of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane was accelerated by the response to Brexit and the coalition of Sinn Féin, SDLP and Greens in four constituencies.

Nothing succeeds like Success. Nothing fails like Failure. The DUP have the stench of Failure and Decay.

Gerry Kelly posters are in the Upper Antrim Road and Glengormley and Caral Ní Chuilín posters in the New Lodge Road area. Both are former republican prisoners. The Finucane vote in 2019 includes loaned votes from Green Party and SDLP …probably a total of 7,000 votes. That should leave enough for two quotas. But not safe.

Relatively young and moderate DUP newcomers at this level. Brett posters appear at Glengormley and Shore Road and Kingston posters in Antrim Road and Tigers Bay. The Nigel Dodds vote of 20,000 in 2019 is actually a pan-unionist vote. I do not expect the DUP vote to exceed 11,000.

Philip Brett’s brother was shot dead by the UDA as he chatted with Catholic friends near the GAA club in Glengormley

Nichola Mallon is Minister for Infrastructure and Deputy Leader of SDLP. Her higher profile should increase her 2017 votes and bring her close to the quota. The SDLP standing aside in 2019 ensured Finucane’s election. Will Sinn Féin show any gratitude in the form of transferred votes.

Described in some places as “progressive”, Julie Ann Corr-Johnson is a defection from PUP, the party with links to loyalist paramilitaries. I am not sure what this says about Doug Beattie’s allegedly modern “union of people” party. I cant say that I am surprised that our “progressive” media has noticed this.

Still Ms Corr-Johnson got over 2,000 votes as a PUP candidate in 2017 and if she retains the majority of the votes and adds to around 2,500 UUP votes….and with DUP on a losing streak, she could well take a seat here.

Nuala McAllister is one of those young Alliance politicians who seem to act like they are already a MLA. A political friend with good judgement says this is exactly the right thing to do. But this kinda thing irritates me and possibly a combination of karma, hubris and schadenfreude (sp) will ensure McAllister gets nowhere near the Assembly.

In pure electoral terms, going from 3,500 votes (2017) to almost 5,000 votes (2019) suggests that she has a chance of taking a seat.

The problem is assessing the true extent of the Alliance vote. A base of 3,500 added to the much hyped “surge” and how potential voters react to Alliance not being part of a broader anti-Brexit coalition.

Did “soft” unionist voters vote for McAllister because they had no wish to vote for Dodds. Did “soft” nationalists turn to McAllister because they did not want a Sinn Féin victory?

Do committed Sinn Féin voters punish McAllister for (as they might see it) almost granting a victory to Dodds?

Is Alliance still thinking a “plague on both your houses” or “one side is as bad as the other”?

Does the rise of the Greens limit Alliance “surge”?

Billy Hutchinson…the loyalist sectarian killer. He was jailed for a double murder, when two Catholics were shot dead in a drive-by shooting. The awkward thing about the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is that we had to tolerate people like him. The defection of Corr-Johnson in North Belfast and John Kyle in East Belfast …both to UUP…means that PUP is stripped of all pretence at Respectability. They will lose votes. A lot of Hutchinson posters around Shore Road and Tigers Bay.

A lot of Ferguson posters. Especially on Antrim Road and New Lodge. I think that the People Before Profit party has lost some impetus. I dont think there will be any real improvement on 1,500 votes.

In fairness, the only leafleters/canvassers that I saw on my trip was two PBP folks at the Antrim Road end of New Lodge. I did shout “Putin Before People” at them.

With two relatively moderate DUP candidates, Ron McDowell stands a good chance of picking up some right wing votes. There was no DUP candidate in 2017 (but Nelson McCausland was a DUP candidate and on the right of the party.

Mal O’Hara talks a good game and active on the doorsteps and could double his vote. The question is where do the Green transfers go.

As for the other candidates.

Lily Kerr (Workers Party) the veteran Unison trade union member stood in South Belfast in 2017. The Stickies have the problem of the People Before Profit party looking 21st century while the Workers Party is still in the 20th century.

The Aontú candidate, Sean MacNiochaill is from County Derry and will not make an impression.

Stafford Ward (unknown to me) is an Independent.

PREDICTIONS

None.

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Assembly Election 2022: West Belfast

West Belfast is a constituency comprising Falls Road, Andersonstown, Ballymurphy, Glen Road. It is mostly nationalist with small unionist areas in the Shankill area and a smaller enclave at Blacks Road. I lived in the constituency from my birth in 1952 until 1979.

Currently there are five MLAs…Sinn Féin (4) People Before Profit (1).

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.

West Belfast is of course considered a Sinn Féin stronghold. It was not always so. In my schooldays, it had a Unionist MP and it was mid 1966 before Gerry Fitt, later a founder member of the SDLP became MP for West Belfast.

SDLP has had a poor record in West Belfast. In 1973, the party only took two of the six seats for the new Assembly. And with the exception of Dr Joe Hendron (1992-97) has been a declining force. Alex Attwood lost its only Assembly seat in 2017.

In some ways, I am torn between writing a nostalgic piece about how much I love West Belfast, the Grosvenor Road area where I lived, sixty years of my parental family in Brighton Street across from An Cultúrlann where the SDLP Campaign was launched last week. The “West Belfast Nostalgia” post might be published after the election. But there would be an element of hypocrisy. In 1979 I was glad to get out to Dungannon in County Tyrone. Other families moved to Carryduff, Glengormley, Glenavy and Crumlin.

Whatever West Belfast is today…a one-party state dominated by Sinn Féin…is in part the fault of people like me.

But back in 2009 at Queens University, I wrote my dissertation for my degree at Queen’s University.

The story in 2022 is that Sinn Féin holds the Westminster seat and four of the five Stormont seats. It is not just about politics…it is about demographics and boundary changes and the changed nature of Society.

The quota will be short of 7,000 votes with plenty of nationalist/Sinn Féin motivation to secure “First Minister” status and maybe some unionist recognition that the game is finally up….or will be in a couple of decades.

Four Sinn Féin candidates. Two (Sheehan and Flynn) were elected in 2017. Reilly was a co-option and Baker is replacing veteran Alex Maskey who is retiring from politics.

Travelling up the Falls Road, Pat Sheehan has been allocated the area from Castle Street to the Kennedy Centre and oddly an area around the Andytown Leisure Centre. A small area from Kennedy Centre to Kennedy Way has been allocated to Reilly. So I presume she has been allocated Glen Road. The main Andytown to Suffolk area is allocated to Flynn and the area above Suffolk is allocated to Baker.

Hopefully I will travel into Andytown estate, Ballymurphy, Springfield to work this “vote management” strategy out.

“Vote Management” is the great strength of SF. The strategy is to divide the the perceived Sinn Féin into four parts of equal size. They will know the potential vote thru previous pre-election canvassing and the actual votes from individual ballot boxes at previous counts.

It is the point where Politics meets Mathematics.

Although Sinn Féin are the masters of the art form, they do not always get it right. It is not an exact science. In 2017, Sheehan’s vote was 1,500 behind the leading SF candidate.

People Before Profit is a catchy name for a political party but it seems more like a slogan. The party maybe over-estimated itself in 2017. Gerry Carroll was elected in 2016 with 3,000 votes above the quota. Trying for two seats in 2017, the party had less than a quota.

The four PBP members of Dáil Éireann disgraced themselves by not being fully behind Ukraine. This makes Gerry Carroll vulnerable to another slogan “Putin Before People”. On Westminster 2019 figures, there is still a possible quota but has the PBP bubble burst?

Can the decline of SDLP be halted? Paul Doherty was a newcomer in 2019 but will benefit from that experience. He reaches parts that other politicians do not reach. He runs a food bank that feeds 400 families a week. He is from West Belfast and worked in the Royal Victoria Hospital (the area’s largest employer) and was an active trade unionist. He has brought aid from West Belfast to the borders of Ukraine. He has had several posters stolen on the Shankill Road. He replaces them and he is a savvy performer in local newspapers and on social media. There are left-leaning and neutral and possibly unionist transfers in the mix.

Is it….and SDLP policies…enough. The point about Paul Doherty is that he can attract votes from beyond the SDLP…..votes on the basis of “I like his charity work” or “I worked with him at the Royal”. Never under-estimate the non-political votes.

A Declaration of Interest here. The SDLP Campaign launch was at An Cultúrlann and I played my part in Paul’s campaign, putting a leaflet thru the door of my grandparents house.

Frank McCoubrey (DUP) is a regular DUP performer here. But unlikely a quota can be put together from unionist votes.

Interesting to see how UUPs youthful newcomer, Linsey Gibson performs against DUP old stager McCoubrey.

Jordan Doran (TUV)…again its about the internal unionist battle.

If Donnamarie Higgins can muster over 1,500 votes (she got 1,800 at the Westminster election), Alliance would consider it a good result. At best the transfers are crucial.

Gerard Herdman Aontú will perform well. But the problem is whether Aontú votes siphon off votes for Sinn Féin and SDLP or whether they actually return to these parties as transfers.

The Green Party are of course on the rise but in WEst Belfast start from too low a base to be in the hunt for a seat.

In 2022, IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party) seems a curious throw back to the 20th century. Daniel Murphy will be lucky to get 200 votes.

Patrick Crossan represents the Workers Party. They are always with us. But People Before Profit are largely on their pitch.

Three Independents, Tony Mallon, Gerard Burns, Declan Hill make up the field.

PREDICTIONS.

None.

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