So DUP and UUP have agreed to maximise the votes for the “unionist” family by agreeing an electoral pact in four constituencies.
In East Belfast, Gavin Robinson will stand for DUP. The UUP will not be on the ballot paper. In North Belfast, Nigel Dodds MP (DUP) will not have a UUP challenger.
Meanwhile in Newry-Armagh, Danny Kennedy (UUP) will not have a DUP challenger. And in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, Tom Elliot (UUP) will likely be the only unionist on the ballot paper.
These are four very different elections and whe n the full list of runners and riders is known, I will analyse the four seperately.
First of all, I dont think any reader of “Keeping An Eye On The Czar of Russia” will be surprise at some or all of these electoral pacts. It is how Unionism works and just a week after the death of former UUP Leader, Jim Molyneaux, it is a fitting tribute.
Back to the Future? Is it really only two years since liberal unionist fanzine, Slugger O’Toole was telling us how much the DUP and UUP had changed and Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt were reaching out to Catholic and nationalist voters?
Well I suppose standing four unionists (instead of eight) in four constituencies frees up four other people to take on that whole “outreach” thing on a full-time basis.
While not wanting to get too deeply into any one constituency…East Belfast looks intriguing. In 2010, Naomi Long won the seat for Alliance. She defeated Peter Robinson (no relation to Gavin) who was mired in a scandal and the voters turned against him. For five years, the DUP has been hurting. East Belfast is their heartland and they will go to just about any lengths to do it. The leafleting campaign against Alliance over the Flegs issue in 2012 was a disgrace.
It would have been difficult for Ms Long to retain the seat. In 2010, she won with just 37% of the vote. The combined DUP-UUP vote was 55% and there was a further 5% “unionist” vote. SDLP and SF vote has already been squeezed as nationalists voted for Long as the least unpalatable choice. This time the Green Party will be on the ballot paper.
Naomi Long is already calling foul. The electoral pact is “anti-democratic”.
My views on Pacts are well known. Political Parties have of course a right NOT to stand in a constituency. I would suggest they have a responsibility to so do. It is a gesture of respect to nationalist voters in the small enclave of Short Strand and other nationalists in East Belfast, that SDLP and Sinn Féin put up a candidate. Indeed it is a service to the entire Electorate.
Likewise, unionist voters in the small enclave of Suffolk deserve to see the DUP and UUP field a candidate in West Belfast.
I would also make the point that it is very short-term thinking to withdraw candidates.
But I do not feel sorry for Naomi Long. Long-time readers of this Blog will know my feelings about the Alliance Party and their democratic credentials. In 2011 Assembly election, the Alliance Party got eight MLAs elected, UUP got sixteen and SDLP got fourteen. Each were entitled to one seat in the Executive but thanks to DUP and Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party got an extra seat (the Department of Justice). So as Naomi Long cries crocodile tears about Democracy….well it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the Irony.
Is all lost for Naomi Long? Well against one serious unionist candidate (Gavin Robinson) she needs a lot more than 37% of the vote. Allowing for the fact that PUP and TUV will probably stand and take some unionist votes and that the Greens, Sinn Féin and SDLP will all stand….my back of the envelope figure for DUP and Alliance is that between them, they will get 88% of votes cast. And that would mean, she would need at least 44% to win.
Can she do it? Yes but that means taking a lot of votes that went to Trevor Ringland, the UUP-Tory candidate in 2010. The Flegs issue will affect her in negative (“they tuk oor Fleg”) and positive (“brave Naomi stands against bully boys”) ways. Social issues like Pro-Choice or Pro-Life (I dislike those terms) will be in play, especially with a Green Party in the field. The wildcard could be the Alliance Party and DUP and (sometimes) Sinn Féin supporting (Tory) Welfare Cuts. Who does an opponent of the Cuts vote for….this is certainly an area for the Greens to exploit.
And yet there are other options open to the Alliance Party. Have they anything to trade with another Party? Could any other Party offer anything? The Greens?
And there is the nuclear option. Has David Ford considered withdrawing from the Executive? A warning shot to DUP and Sinn Féin.
It is kinda interesting.