Profile: Upper Bann

The candidates:
DUP: Sydney Anderson. Carla Lockhart.
UUP: Joanne Dobson. Doug Beattie. Kyle Savage.
TUV: Roy Ferguson.
PUP:Sophie Long.
UKIP: David Jones.
Alliance: Harry Hamilton.
Green: Simon Lee.
SDLP: Dolores Kelly.
Sinn Féin: John O’Dowd. Catherine Seeley.
CISTA: Martin Kelly.
NILRC: Emma Hutchinson.
Conservative: Ian Nickles.
Independent: Stephen McCarroll.

This is a constituency where the established pattern is four unionists and two nationalists. The demographic time bomb is talked up, especially by Sinn Féin. In 2011, they openly campaigned on the basis that three nationalist seats was possible but SF/SDLP only managed 40% of the vote. They won few converts with a tactic that claimed “Dolores Kelly is safe” on some doorsteps and “Dolores Kelly is toast” on other doorsteps.
Likewise SF claimed in 2015 that the Westminster seat could be won. All that was needed was for nationalists to rally round Catherine Seeley. As it transpired the SF vote was almost the same in terms of numbers (11,500) but SF lost 2.5% of the vote from 2011 and actually came third behind two unionists DUP and UUP. Crucially in my view, the 2014, the key SF figure is 8,500 votes in the 2014 council elections.
Media talk up reports of SF taking the second nationalist seat at the expense of Dolores Kelly (SDLP).
No three successive elections can ever be the same in terms of votes cast, percentages or quotas needed.
But I do not see any reason for SF optimism.
Consider that a reasonable guestimate of a quota for 2016 is 6,000 votes.
Consider SFs three most recent performances:
2011…11,500 (27%)
2014…8,500 (21%)
2015…11,500 (25%)
Consider the three most recent SDLP performances.
2011….4,800 (11.5%)
2014….5,000 (13%)
2015….4,200 (9%).

Of course the context of the three elections are different…2011 Assembly (PR voting), 2014 Locals (PR election) and 2015 Westminster (First Past the Post).
In view of the fact that the key plank in last years SF platform was borrowing SDLP votes to beat the unionist…the tactic did not succeed but it would be reasonable to assume it increased SF vote and decreased SDLP vote.
It would be reasonable to assume that 11,500 (25%) is an over-statement of SF strength and 4,200 (9%) is an under-statement of SDLP strength. There was little incentive for SDLP voters to leave their homes last year.
Of course the real question is what is the “real” strengths.
I am inclined to think that SF will not break above 10,200 and that SDLP will be around 5,200. Impossible to be precise about quotas but I think that SDLP will be closer to reaching one quota than SF are to reaching two quotas.
At that stage transfers from successful candidates and from eliminated candidates come into play and SDLP seem better positioned to take transfers.
There are of course other factors…the cliche that “there is a good response on the doorsteps” should always be treated with caution. The real point is what the same people said in 2011, 2014, 2015 and this week. It is different. There is effectively a rolling canvas going on over at least three years.
There is an Eastwood “bounce”, an increased footfall in the SDLP constituency office and a feeling that Sinn Féin did not cover themselves in glory with local emergencies such as winter flooding. And of course the issue of Sinn Féin handing Welfare back to London. People who gave SF the benefit of the doubt in May last year are unforgiving.
It is not all about SDLP. It is about Sinn Féin.
Key local activists do not seem to be taking an active part in this campaign.
Why?
Well the 2011 candidate Johnny McGibbon left Craigavon Council (was he leader of SF Group? ). Catherine Seeley seems to be fast-tracked….Co-opted to Council, she became Deputy Chair. And elected to the new Super Council in 2014, is current Deputy Chair. And of course, she was the Westminster candidate.
Of course Sinn Féin would claim that their candidates are being treated equally but I think that Ms Seeley has got a good share of allocated territory to campaign. In contrast, John O’Dowd seems lack-lustre in recent TV performances and has openly said that he will not be coming back as Minister of Education. Maybe he wont even been elected. Shades of John O’Dowd taking running mate Dara O’Hagan’s seat in 2003.
There is a certain SF seat….but O’Dowd or Seeley?

It is still likely that unionists will take four seats (it is currently two DUP and two UUP).
DUP are playing it safe, fielding just two candidates, outgoing Sydney Anderson and new candidate Carla Lockhart who is a former Mayor of Craigavon. Both should make it. They will outvote the fringe unionists, who will have some very localised support.
Joanne Dobson (outgoing MLA) has a good reputation locally. She performed well last year. There are two other UUP candidates and it seems that Doug Beattie, the Portadown-based former British Army officer seems favoured. Beattie is hardly aristocratic (he came up thru the ranks) but it is a curious throw-back to the 1960s, when UUP favoured anyone with a prefix “Major” or “Captain”…so UUP seem to have rediscovered the whole “Queen and Country” thing.
Alliance did not get over 4% in 2014 and 2015 but did better in 2011. Popular as Harry Hamilton is (he is Freddie Mercury tribute act…Flash Harry) he wont take a seat.

So prediction….No Change. DUP 2, UUP 2, SF 1, SDLP 1.

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“Plumping”

We are now so used to the Proportional Representation voting, it is difficult for young people to conceive that in 1973, when it was re-introduced after decades…it was considered so new and so confusing that a series of TV adverts was run to explain the process.

For the benefit of readers living outside Ireland, I should explain that there are eighteen constituencies and six MLAs will be elected in each.

The Proportional system ensures that thru a process of reaching a quota or benefitting from transfers from elected or eliminated candidates, people not reaching the quota on the first count can accumulate second preferences in subsequent counts.

Norn Iron politics is a spectrum. The serious parties are Sinn Féin and SDLP who are nationalist, the Alliance Party (letsgetalongerist) and UUP and DUP who are unionist. Smaller parties include TUV, UKIP and PUP who are unionist, Green (pain in the arse) and various left wing Labour splinter groups who consider themselves neutral in constitutional terms. LIke the Conservatives to the right and unionist, they have little chance of a seat. A group calling itself People Before Profit might gain up to two seats.

There is no shortage of choice. Typically in one constituency, there will be seventeen candidates….with varying degrees of likelihood of success chasing six seats.

Therefore if your preferred candidate reaches the quota early or eliminated early, there is an opportunity to make your vote count to elect your second or third choice.

Some electors vote down the card…maybe voting for all (say) seventeen candidates (#1-17) while some might only exercise (say) #1-10 being too indifferent or too hostile to the remaining candidates. A “nationalist” voter might contemplate preferences for SF, SDLP and maybe Alliance, Green or even UUP but draw the line at DUP or TUV. A “unionist” voter might vote DUP, TUV, UUP, Alliance, SDLP but draw the line at SF.

Some completed ballot papers can be unique because of variables like Geography, personal votes and animosity to other individuals.

There are some people who are so hostile or indifferent to other parties that they will only give a #1 to their chosen candidate or just #1 and #2 to their chosen Party. This…the 1973 public information adverts told us…is a process called “Plumping”.

Talking to some younger people this week, this is not a phrase with which they are familiar. Yet I am struck by the number of people who have told me over the past ten days that they only intend to vote for one Party. I suppose with dwindling turn out figures in recent years it is inevitable that those barely motivated to vote cant be bothered voting thru the whole card.

I wonder if the election post-mortem conducted by academics will confirm this as one of the stories of the year. Inevitably I tend to talk to political geeks such as myself.

Reflecting on the South Belfast hustings….it is NOT my constituency and is deemed unusual as it is diverse enought to elect six MLAs from five different parties….I found it unusual that I was impressed or unimpressed beyond the Party label. Inevitably I found myself how would I vote if I lived here.

Looking at the undercard, I was most impressed with Bob Stoker, a decent man in a bad Party. Although unimpressive in terms of Politics, Billy Dickson (Ind Unionist) seemed decent. Arguably the most impressive in terms of Politics was Lily Kerr (Workers Party) but giving any preference to a “Sticky” is something I could not do.

Of the major players obviously I would vote #1 and #2 SDLP…for vote management reasons, areas in South Belfast have been allocated to Claire and Fearghal.

I would not give a preference to Claire Bailey (Green). She has an outside chance of winning a seat and Is therefore a threat to SDLP. Máirtin O’Muilleoir of Sinn Féin will be elected on First Count. A preference for him is without value…and I am glad. Apart from SFs U-turn on Welfare, I cannot warm to Máirtin. Typical Falls Road spoofer….he reminds me too much of myself.

I would not give a preference to UUP…simply too Tory and I think they could well lose the seat they hold (to DUP, Ruth Patterson or even Green) but I would give a preference to Duncan Morrow (mainly because Alliance have a safe seat and Id rather see it go to Duncan than his running mate Paula Bradshaw). Likewise DUP have a safe seat and I would give Christopher Stalford a preference as it might help him beat running mate, Emma Pengelly.

So in South Belfast terms, Id vote SDLP (no surprise) and probably #3 Stalford, #4 Morrow #5 Stoker #6 Patterson.

South Belfast is….different.

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Poster Boys & Girls 2016: #18 Jenny Palmer (UUP)

Jenny Palmer: Lagan Valley.

This poster is located at Govenors Road, Lisburn. Jenny Palmer is a UUP councillor in Lisburn. She is a defection from DUP, going off-message over the Red Sky controversy. She has a lesser known running mate and without Basil McCrea (he took the sole UUP seat before going off to form NI21) in the field, she will possibly have the profile to take the UUP quota. She will take votes from DUP.

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Poster Boys & Girls 2016: #17 Claire Bailey (Green Party)

Claire Bailey: South Belfast.

This poster is located outside the Agapé Centre on Lisburn Road. Claire seems to be more involved in Abortion Rights issues than traditional “green” issues. She had a good Westminster campaign last year.

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Poster Boys & Girls 2016: #16 Trevor Lunn (Alliance)

Trevor Lunn: Lagan Valley.

This poster is located at roundabout Hillsborough Road/ Govenors Road in Lisburn. Trevor Lunn (69) a MLA since 2007 is generally regarded on the right wing (socially and economically) of the Alliance Party. Ironically the poster bears the words “Fast Forward”.

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South Belfast: Hustings

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Rodney McCune (UUP), Claire Bailey (Green), Duncan Morrow (Alliance) Claire Hanna (SDLP), Ruth Patterson (Ind Unionist) and Christopher Stalford (DUP)

After introducing the panel, William Crawley asks the first question. DOES THIS CONSTITUENCY NEED MORE MIGRANTS
Rodney McCune talked about Balance , the duty to Asylum Seekers, free movement within EU and the folks from outside Europe who we may need because of skills.
CLaire Hanna said Migrants into Norn Iron were a net benefit and the other side of migration was people leaving Norn Iron. Duncan Morrow said we should be more forward looking and condemned the Commons vote which banned 3,000 unaccompanied child migrants.
Christopher Stalford paid tribute to the positive contribution of migrants but said that people are badly homed. There needs to be better integration and condemned Hate Crime.
Ruth Patterson echoed this. As a nurse she valued the contribution of migrant workers but mentioned “economic” migrants.

CORPORATION TAX?
Christopher Stalford …is for cutting it and expanding the private sector. He noted for all the bluster Sinn Féin was happy to be a party in a Centre-Right coalition. Possibly the best line of the night.
CLaire Baileyis opposed to reduction.
CLaire Hanna suggested we could have missed the zeitgest. Entrepeaneurs want skills and infrastructure.
Duncan Morrow said we need innovation, skills and infrastructure…and we cant leave EU
Rodney McCune warned any reduction in Corporation Tax would be wiped out by Brexit.
Christopher Stalford noted that when Britain joined EU, the then Common Market accounted for around 30% of worlds economy. Now it is 17%. The Brexit Debate is marked by the fact that none of the leading Remain or Leave advocates (George Osborne and Boris Johnson have been convincing.
Ruth Patterso advocated leaving.
Duncan Morrow stressed NI is a net beneficiary from EU but challenged by William Cawley to put a figure on it. Claire Hanna rescued him
Rodney McCune said that the weakest argument for leaving EU is economic.

WATER CHARGES?
Ruth Patterson is against it on the grounds that GOD provides the rain.
Claire Hanna noted we already pay charges and was against further charges. We need to be innovative and mutualisation was maybe an answer.
Claire Bailey was somewhat evasive. It could be an income generator but she was in favour of generous “free”
Duncan Morrow, representing Alliance who advocate water charges was perhaps not grilled enough. He was evasive
Mr McCune was against …no more charges
Christopher Stalford spoke of the effect on pensioners….many in South Belfast are asset rich.
Much of the rest of the session covered social issues such as Gay Blood Ban, Same Sex Marriage and Abortion Law Reform.
To some extent, the Gay Rights argument is already won. Progressives such as Claire Hanna, Claire Bailey, Duncan Morrow and Rodney McCune (Im not sure if Ruth specifically addressed the issue) had no difficulty in condemning the ban on gay blood.
Christopher Stalford claimed the ban was Science-based and would have no difficulty if the Science said it was safe. The audience were not happy.
As for Same Sex Marriage…no problem for SDLP (its in the Manifesto) and Claire Hanna has a good record in Assembly. Likewise Morrow, Bailey, McCune and (I think Patterson).
Again Christopher Stalford drew the ire of the youngish, progressive audience.
Abortion is of course the most emotive of the subjects.
To some extent this is Claire Bailey’s unique selling point but she was surprisingly low key, merely mentioning the “tens of thousands” who have gone to England for abortions and that this discriminated against poorer women.
Ruth Patterson favoured extension of the 1967 Abortion legislation. It was the pragmatic approach. Safer option than unsupervised access to pills on the Internet.
Claire Hanna (SDLP is pro-life) admitted to being conflicted about the least worst option. She hinted at a Referendum being a good idea.
Duncan Morrow said we needed a 2016 Act rather than a 1967 Act. It sounded like a prepared soundbite rather than a policy.
Rodney McCune, a lawyer warned that legislation would be difficult.
Christopher Stalford thought that there was no appetite for extending the 1967 Act. It was not just DUP …SDLP are pro-life as well as many in the UUP and Alliance. There have been 8 million abortions in Britain since the introduction of the 1967 Act.
To some extent, the audience, hostile to Christophers position facilitated the other panelists. It is a difficult issue for everyone….except it seemed the majority of the audiennce. Childishly there was a point made that “how can you represent South Belfast and hold these opinions?” and it was easily brushed aside…Christopher Stalford is seeking a mandate for his views and several people hold them.

There was however one sour note. I am reluctant to mention it but I think in the interest of disclosure it has to be mentioned.
A man in the audience identified himself as an Alliance voter for forty years and openly stated that a member of the SDLP (not Claire) was “sectarian”. To be fair William Crawley said that the individual was not present and could not defend himself against the accusation.
The audience member persisted in trying to make this point and a rather unseemly incident occurred.
I mention it for two reasons….a “holier than thou” attitude among SOME Alliance voters and members that voting Alliance is the only true test of non-sectarianism or anti-sectarianism.
And the second reason that I mention it is that it genuinely shocked the panel . And more so, it was Christopher Stalford who was initiated the defence of the SDLP person…noting that he was a decent person and good public representative. In eleven years in Council, most of the work is done by co-operation.Duncan Morrow also emphasised that having a “constitutional preference” is NOT sectarian
All in all, it was a good night spoiled by one incident.

Judging the panelists (except Claire Hanna of course)
Rodney McCune UUP 6/10….competent rather than brilliant.
Claire Bailey Green 5/10….strangely subdued as she was in front of an audience, where if a poll was taken, she would win.
Duncan Morrow Alliance 5/10….possibly harsh. But at times he appeared new at being a politician but he compensated with sincerity. There is a safe Alliance seat in South Belfast and I hope he takes it.
Ruth Patterson (Ind Unionist) 6/10…surprisingly liberal sentiments expressed at times. As she said herself in reply to a light-hearted final question , her greatest mistake was that the general public have the wrong image of her.
Christopher Stalford (DUP) 8/10….needless to say that I dont agree with a lot of what he said. But he defended his own position well and without fear (even some humour) in a room that was hostile. There is a safe DUP seat in South Belfast. He has done the groundwork…four elections, three wins, eleven years on council. He deserves the DUP seat.

WIlliam Cawley handled the unpleasant situation well. The questions…he initiated some but the audience initiated most. He did certainly give too much microphone time to some individuals. But curious that in South Belfast…home of the City Hospital, Musgrave Park Hospital and Knockbracken Health Service complex, he did not ask a question on Health.

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South Belfast Hustings: The Undercard.

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A pretty full house at Agapé Centre (South Belfast Methodist Centre) for South Belfast hustings.
Two panels.
An undercard…Sean Burns (some kinda Labour) Bob Stoker ((UKIP), Lily Kerr (Workers Party), Brigitte Anton (Labour in NI) Ben Manton (Conservative) and Billy Dickson (Ind Unionist)
Notables in audience….Alex Kane, Bill White (Lucid Talk), Jamie Bryson, David McCann (from Slugger O’Toole). Quintin Oliver showed up near the end so presumably his Stratagem minions were in the room.

William Cawley…BBC serial LetsGetAlongerist in the chair…or rather on his feet….
The Undercard have been allocated 45 minutes. The main players have been allocated 75 minutes.
Looking round the full room, I saw few recognisable rank and file from the main parties. This looks to be a night when the folks from smaller parties and their supporters will take centre stage.

First Question….Crawley asked
WHAT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO CHANGE?
For Bob Stoker, it was about making things easier. Ms Anton wanted Politics to open up more (she mentioned a Civic Forum…. as the unelectable always do) Billy Dickson said two parties DUP and SF control everything. For Tory Boy Manton, it was about a strong private sector….rates cut etc
For Lily Kerr, Workers Party veteran, Stormont was not fit for purpose and she wanted Left-Right politics.
For Sean Burns it was an end to “dinosaur politics”. It was all about LGBT Rights and Same Sex Marriage and the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Norn Iron.

The first two questions were on Renewable Energy and Water Safety and not surprisingly everybody is in favour of Renewable Energy and nobody is against it. LIkewise everybody prefers safe water to unsafe water.
On Equal Marriage, only Mr Dickson was against it.
Questions were asked on the eighteen years since the Good Friday Agreement.
The consensus was that we had wasted the time since.

SHOULD EDUCATION (AT THIRD LEVEL) BE FREE?
While four members agreed with the premise, Bob Stoker said it should be free for “stem subjects”. Predictably the Tory thought that many 18 year olds did not get to go to Uni and it was unfair that they pay tax to subsidise those lucky enough to get to University. An audience member reminded Mr Manton that in a previous answer he had said this generation was shackling its children and grandchildren with debt and he was advocating shackling students with debt.

On the age of Voting, five panelists favoured reducing the voting age to sixteen. But the Torys curious response was “yes…in time”. He went on weakly to explain that there should be more education on how Politics works at school.
There was some discussion about cuts to benefit. Bob Stoker was particuarly effective on the issue, noting the savage sanctions imposed on some claimants.

Overall impressions. Lily Kerr did well in a 1950s Socialist kinda way. Some good one liners. Ms Anton and her LabourNI are a luxury item. As is Sean Burns and his Labour lot. More left wing show-boating about uniting leftists by forming yet another left-leaning Party.
BIlly Dickson seemed like a decent mainstream unionist, who doesnt seem to fit with Mike Nesbits UUP.
Bob Stoker is a patently decent man in an awful Party (UKIP).
And Ben Manton is a Tory…..nuff said.

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