And So…South Belfast?

This is not a return to Blogging. I just cant be arsed anymore. There is a lot of stuff that I just cant be arsed about. Coronation Street, Manchester United and Politics just dont interest me anymore.

I believed in Ireland. I still do. But it is harder. I believed in GOD. I still do. But it is harder.

I was 18 when I voted in 1970. I have voted in every Westminster election since…except i spoiled my vote, rather than vote for Bobby Sands in 1981. I have consistently voted SDLP or Sinn Féin since. I will not be voting on 8th June. David Simpson (DUP) will be re-elected. Sinn Féin will posture that every nationalist can rally round their candidate and win Upper Bann. They have peddled the same lie in 2010 and 2015. Sinn Féin may be committed to a united Ireland. But I have no time for them. Charlatans.

This is a campaign in which I wont be involved. But I hope that SDLP retain their three seats and make some inroads in other places. It reminds me a little of the time when DUP and UUP resigned their Westminster seats to contest bye-elections in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They actually lost Newry-Armagh to SDLP. In the majority of cases in June, there is no real point in voting but obviously in a few places, it can be crucial.

South Belfast? I like Alasdair McDonnell. Despised by the Media of course and the Belfast-based Twitterati and the BLogosphere. Will he be the victim of one last conspiracy?

A diverse constituency, he has done well to hold it. Not least because of a fifth column of anti-Al conspirators within SDLP. There is a genuine threat but Id argue that the March Assembly results do not translate into Westminster, three months later.

So….will there be a contested Selection Conference in South Belfast? Will Claire Hanna throw her Easter bonnet into the Ring?

In basic terms, Al might not be charismatic but he can claim that he has actually delivered against the odds when his SDLP rivals cant. Whatever his shortcomings, I think the SDLP faithful are a bit pissed off with his critics.

The prize is a big one. Holding South Belfast extends the mandate until 2022. The constituency was not going to exist beyond 2020.

SDLP might just be catching another break in 2017.

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Taking A Break

As you can imagine, the past few weeks have been pretty busy and I am a bit exhausted. I have been ordered by my wife and several of my girlfriends to take a break for 48 hours.

So if you post a comment on anything, I apologise that I may not reply for a while.

I will however leave you with two thoughts on the election. The dust has not even settled on this election and people are using the stats to determine the next election. It is of course an interesting exercise. But it is not POLITICAL analysis …it is MATHEMATICS.

One of the issues many have with Slugger O’Toole is the apparent inability to accept any election result. It is always about the next one. This reduces Politics to the level of a spectator sport. It deserves better. Any analysis by eminent academics projecting 2016 results on to 2017 Election….turned out to be rubbish.

Let us all take a moment to congratulate UUP on their sixteen seats and sympathise with SDLP on their seven seats and falling behind the Alliance Party and their ten seats.

The voters voted. Analysts presume to second guess the voters. Apparently it is not good enough to listen to the electorate, we must explain that they did not really mean to vote how they did. The arrogance is all-too believable.

Another point. Lending your vote to another Party …or voting til you boke ….is dangerous. A political party craves your vote (and transfer).  “Lend us your vote” they say but as soon as the vote is counted, the Party that sought it will forget your misgiving. It will be seen simply as an endorsement.

Anyway….see you in 48 hours.


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A Big Yeeeeeeeeeooooo!

You will forgive me saying Yeeeeeeeeeeeeoooooo! The SDLP has not made a net gain since 1998 so gaining two seats (12 from 90 is an improvement on 12 from 108).

This was an unexpected election but I have been predicting the fall of Stormont for so long that I had to be right once (even a stopped clock is right twice a day).

The five-party coalition disguised the dysfunctional nature of the DUP-SF dominated government and without UUP, SDLP (willingly in Opposition) and the Alliance Party (unwillingly in Opposition…they crawled on their belly to stay in government) propping it all up….we were left with what Mark Durkan called “a one party state with a green wing and an orange wing”. That kinda government of  DUP-SF could not withstand scrutiny and….it fell.

From a SDLP perspective, Friday was the proverbial game of two halves. The First preferences were up…but so were Sinn Féin and Alliance. To continue the football theme, consider the 1999 European Champions Cup. As the fourth official held up the board signalling a few minutes of added time, Manchester United were trailing Bayern Munich by 1-0.

It was the same on Friday night. Ten seats would have been ok…it was pro-rata the 2016 result. But Pat Catney in Lagan Valley is an unlikely Teddy Sheringham and John Dallat is an unlikely Ole Gunnar Solksjaer….what can I say….2-1. Back of the Net!!!!!!

The last three constituency profiles that I wrote…West Belfast, Fermanagh-South Tyrone and East Derry…these were the three I was worried about. Hard to write dispassionately. RIchie McPhillips and Alex Attwood were unlucky. They deserved better.

I thought Roisín Lynch might have taken South Antrim but wrote it was partly wishful thinking. But I had a lot of confidence that Pat Catney would win Lagan Valley. My prediction was without qualification. Why was I so confident? Well …his team was working hard for years….this was not about the last month.

And I was totally confident that Dolores Kelly would win back her seat. Enough people who had failed to vote last year had expressed regret and were obviously taking this unexpected opportunity to put it right. It was that simple. I wish I had known that it was possible to get odds of 11/2 on Dolores. The gamblers among you….think of those odds. Many of you would think it was maybe 50-50……

So……yeeeeeeeeeooooooo. I hope SDLP holds a weekend conference without any politics. Just eating, drinking, dancing, slabbering and shouting “yeeeeeeeeeeoooooooo”. Cos this is a good result and we need to celebrate.

Obviously a good result for nationalism. SDLP might have 12 seats and Sinn Féin 27 seats and while the all-Ireland People Before Profit is officially “other” it is effectively 40 seats.

This Blog attempts to both understand and explain nationalism. I may be a member of SDLP but I find the fault-lines between SDLP-Sinn Féin and SDLP-Alliance to be interesting.

A good day for Sinn Féin of course. They managed to spin Incompetence into a virtue and cash in on anger at DUP arrogance. DUP actually galvinised nationalism more than they galvinised unionism.

While acknowledging that SF were victims of intimidation in North Down, they can play a hard game themselves. Do they intimidate? Well….only when they have to do so.

I make no pretence to understand the Alliance Party. If you want to understand the Alliance Party, I can direct you to “Slugger O’Toole”. They had a good election. They held all eight seats.

UUP had a disaster. Had more votes than SDLP and due to the way their vote was distributed only ended up with ten seats. Mike Nesbit has always struck me as a flakey flip-flopper….electoral pacts with DUP in 2015 and proclaiming he will give his second preference votes to SDLP in 2017. Typically he has resigned and the most likelhy people to succeed him, Danny Kennedy and JoAnne Dobson lost their seats.

What is next for Nesbit? Resign from the Assembly and a co-option? Has he really contributed anything?

What next for UUP? I actually see a parallel with 1974/75. brian Faulkner left the Unionist Party to form a pro power-sharing party, UPNI….it got just five seats in the 1975 Convention Election.

I wont labour the parallel because I dont know enough about unionism.

The DUP. Well clearly a disaster. Losing seats….just 28 which when added to UUP (10), TUV (1) and Sugden means that unionism and nationalism have parity or almost parity. Will Alliance Party re-designate themselves as unionist?

Scandal and Arrogance brought down the DUP. A sense of Entitlement.

People might say there is a fault line between a religious DUP and a secular DUP. I think it is NOT about Arlene Foster ….it is about the legacy of Paisley and Robinson.

I am not really familiar with the unionist mindset. But in recent days, I have been thinking about the early 1970s. There has always been a religious dimension to unionism. But curiously a lot of very religious Protestants are not political in the truest sense of the world. They would see it as a choice between GOD and Mammon. My impression of the early 1970s is that such people had reservations about Ian Paisley involving himself too much in Politics.

Of course the Troubles politicised many religious people. But I think a lot of God-fearing folk would have been outraged at the behaviour of DUP since after the Paisley days. In their terms, they will see that Paisleyism ….the sense of Decency was betrayed.

In 2017, there is just too much Mammon and not enough GOD in DUP. Ironically the Media and the Bloggerati praised Robinson for moving towards “secularism”. Wrong again!

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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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Election Day

Well thats it then. The Campaign is over.

Good luck to the candidates involved in the democratic process tomorrow (actually later today). Fair play to them for putting themselves forward.

The odd thing about retiring from Blogging is that the viewing stats for this Blog have gone thru the roof. Thank you.

As you can see from the pic, I am a strictly neutral Blogger.

imageThere was a time when Mrs FitzjamesHorse told me to “smile and look at the birdie”. Now she says “dont smile and hold your wee fat belly in”.

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Assembly Election 2017: Fermanagh-South Tyrone

The key difference between Assembly 2016 and Assembly 2017 is that only five MLAs will be elected from each constituncy. For at least eighteen MLAs and their staff, this election has come four years too early.
The percentage of votes required to get elected…the quota…will be higher but I am not thinking in terms of percentages. Rather I am thinking in terms of votes cast in May last year and the number of votes likely to be cast this year.
Too often …analysts with some justification …focus on the statistics of elections. Arguably this one is different. There might actually be Politics involved.

So …Fermanagh-South Tyrone
May 2016: Quota: 6740
Sinn Féin: (2 seats) 18887
DUP : (2 seats )15405
UUP (1 seat) 6028
SDLP: (1 seat) 4014
Others: TUV 1164, Green 897, Alliance 539, LabourNI 285

2017 Candidates:
Sinn Féin: Michelle Gildernew, Sean Lynch, Jemma Dolan
Gildernew and Lynch are outgoing.
DUP: Arlene Foster, “Lord” Maurice Morrow.
Both outgoing.
UUP: Rosemary Barton.
SDLP: Richie McPhillips.
TUV: Alex Elliott
Alliance: Noreen Campbell.
Green: Tanya Jones
Stood in 2016.
Some Kinda Labour: Donal O’Cofaigh
Tory: Richard Dunn

Likely Turnout.
There are three scenarios.
People will be so disgusted at Stormont itself, that they just dont come out.
They are so disgusted at DUP-Sinn Féin, they will turn out.
DUP and Sinn Féin will play the bogey man card and people do turn out.

My gut feeling is that this election is a little like the 1998 Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. Unlikely people will vote.
I am guessing at most 48,000 votes and a quota of 8,000.
It is hard to see how a turn out of 65% can be improved on.
Cautionary note….in 1973, there were just five seats in the constituency and Sinn Féin abstention meant three unionists and two nationalists (SDLP). A 3:2 split in favour of unionism cannot be ruled out this time. But more likely it will be a 3:2 split for nationalism.
In Fermanagh-South Tyrone, the wagons will circle around Arlene Foster, the local hero and DUP are sitting on just about two quotas. UUP will probably drop a little. But there is a spare unionist vote of about 5,000 (maybe a little extra with TUV)
Nationalism…..SF have more than two quotas and a surplus of maybe 3,000 and SDLP about 4,800.
And the minor parties….the Green vote will break towards nationalism.
Most Alliance transfers likewise to SDLP and UUP.
And the Labour transfers….about even between SDLP and SF.

Margins here are very tight.
But I think…..DUP 2. Sinn Féin 2. SDLP 1

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Assembly Electon 2017: West Belfast

The key difference between Assembly 2016 and Assembly 2017 is that only five MLAs will be elected from each constituncy. For at least eighteen MLAs and their staff, this election has come four years too early.
The percentage of votes required to get elected…the quota…will be higher but I am not thinking in terms of percentages. Rather I am thinking in terms of votes cast in May last year and the number of votes likely to be cast this year.
Too often …analysts with some justification …focus on the statistics of elections. Arguably this one is different. There might actually be Politics involved.

So …West Belfast
May 2016: Quota: 5182
Sinn Féin: (4 seats) 19752
People Before Profit: (1 seat) 8300
SDLP (1 seat) 2647
Others: DUP 3766, UUP 654, Workers Party 532, Green 327, Alliance 291.

2017 Candidates:
Sinn Féin: Pat Sheehan, Alex Maskey, Fra McCann, Orlaithí Flynn
All outgoing but Flynn was not a candidate last year. She was co-opted.
People Before Profit: Gerry Carroll, Michael Collins.
Carroll is outgoing.
SDLP: Alex Attwood.
DUP: Frank McCoubrey.
Stood in 2016.
UUP: Fred Rogers.
Alliance: Sorcha Eastwood.
Workers Party: Conor Campbell
Stood in 2016.
Green: Ellen Murray.
Stood last year.

Likely Turnout.
There are three scenarios.
People will be so disgusted at Stormont itself, that they just dont come out.
They are so disgusted at DUP-Sinn Féin, they will turn out.
DUP and Sinn Féin will play the bogey man card and people do turn out.

My gut feeling is that this election is a little like the 1998 Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. Unlikely people will vote.
I am guessing at most 39,000 votes and a quota of 6,500.

So….three words …..TURNOUT…..TURNOUT……TURNOUT.
A low turn-out or a high turn out.
Last year it was about 58% and maybe the same or higher.
I would look at the also-rans first. There is maybe 1,350 lefty/ centre votes with Green, Alliance and the Workers Party and maybe 950 will go back into the mix as transfers.
The UUP vote might well collapse but whatever about Mike Nesbitt, most of the transfers will go to DUP and 4,800 would be short of a quota.
I wont totally ignore DUP claims here but that leaves seven serious candidates (four Sinn Féin, two PBP and one SDLP ) chasing five seats.
Turning to People Before Profit….have they peaked? Is their pro-Brexit stance damaging? Is the second candidate, Michael Collins “weak”? Or is there a momentum to be built on?…a protest vote?
I think there is more than one quota there but I cant see PBP balancing their vote.
I think Collins will be excluded.
DUP unlikely to gain.
Would SDLP on (say) 3,500 first preferences and boosted by some Alliance transfers (and fewer Workers and Greens who will filter thru PBP) be ahead of DUP and fourth SF candidate when Collins votes are distributed?
With vote management, this will be decided from the bottom.

I am of course from West Belfast. I joined the SDLP there in 1973 and was even the Secretary of the Falls Branch in the 1970s. I dont think I stopped being a West Belfast man when the family moved to County Tyrone in 1979. But really when I married a West Belfast woman in 1982 and we decided NOT to live in West Belfast, then I really lost any entitlement to tearfully claim that this is my true home.
Nevertheless it was home to my parents, Uncle Jackie and Auntie Mary and Auntie Sheila and Uncle Charlie …all now dead….who fought the good fight loyally voting SDLP thru the 1970s and 1980s.
Since then Sinn Féin have tried to present West Belfast as a “one-party fiefdom” with their festivals, murals, ex-prisoner groups, their rallies and protests, their canvassers outside polling stations, monuments etc. They have been facilitated by people like me who agonise about West Belfast from the comfort of Carryduff, Glengormley and Crumlin.
People stood up….Paddy Devlin, Gerry Fitt, Desmond Gillespie, Dr Joe Hendron….and Alex Attwood.
Maybe this is the election where the SDLP presence in West Belfast ends.
Maybe it isnt.
But not so long ago, Sinn Féin strived to have six out of six MLAs.
What is it this time…3:1:1….4:1 …..3:2?

Three Sinn Féin, one PBP….and the fifth seat SF or SDLP?

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