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General election predictions…

Below is a comprehensive constituency overview with those all-important predictions…


By John Coulter

NORTH ANTRIM:
Coulter’s Call: TUV’s Allister wins by a whisker
Electorate: over 74,000
Candidates: Jim Allister, TUV; Irwin Armstrong, UCUNF; Lyle Cubitt, Ind; Jayne Dunlop, AP; Daithi McKay, SF; Declan O’Loan, SDLP; Ian Paisley Junior, DUP.
2005 result: DUP Hold, majority 17,965.
Ian Paisley Senior, DUP: 25,156
Philip McGuigan, SF: 7,191
Rodney McCune, UUP: 6,637
Sean Farren, SDLP: 5,585.
This is Unionism’s cock-pit seat. It’s a two-horse race between ex-First Minister Paisley senior’s son, Ian Junior, and TUV boss Jim Allister fighting on his home turf.
If last year’s Euro poll was taken as a benchmark, Allister has North Antrim in the bag and the Paisley dynasty and its 18,000 vote majority is down the tubes.
Expect a ‘no punches pulled, mud slinging’ battle with Allister seeking to maintain his strong European showing.
While this is the first Westminster outing for the New Force of Ulster Unionists and Conservatives, North Antrim is largely a farming and working class Unionist region, so a Tory runner is predicted to take a beating.
Key to the outcome will be the expected massive tactical voting by Ulster Unionists – do they vote Allister to end the Paisley dynasty, or do they vote Paisley to stop Allister’s anti-power sharing bandwagon?
An Allister victory could spell the death knell for the Stormont Executive in next year’s Assembly poll.
Either a Paisley or Allister win could trigger a leadership coup against current DUP boss and First Minister Peter Robinson.
Boundary changes will see a massive dog fight between the SDLP and Sinn Fein seeking to maintain their vote as it means only one Stormont nationalist quota.

SOUTH ANTRIM:
Coulter’s Call: UUP boss Reg to squeak home
Electorate: over 65,000
Candidates: Michelle Byrne, SDLP; Reg Empey, UCUNF; Alan Lawther, AP; Mel Lucas, TUV; William McCrea, DUP; Mitchel McLaughlin, SF.
2005 result: DUP Gain, majority 3,448.
William McCrea, DUP: 14,507
David Burnside, UUP: 11,059
Noreen McClelland, SDLP: 4,706
Henry Cushinan, SF: 4,407
David Ford, AP: 3,278.
Tory/UUP infighting forced Ulster Unionist boss Reg Empey to forego a House of Lords seat and run for this Unionist marginal to prevent popular Antrim Mayor Adrian Watson running as an independent candidate.
This nightmare could have left the UUP with no Commons seat. This is an all or nothing gamble for Empey. He must win to save his leadership.
Gospel-singing DUP MP and Free Presbyterian cleric Willie McCrea is defending one of the smallest party majorities in this safe unionist seat.
In past elections over the last decade, the seat has bounced back and forth from the DUP and UUP. Nationalists have no chance of an upset, so they will be looking to maintain their Assembly quotas.
The intervention of the TUV will benefit Empey, who must overcome the handicap that he has been ‘parachuted in’ from East Belfast to snatch the New Force’s prime target.
McCrea has a high profile because of his role on the Stormont Agriculture Committee. But he will always be haunted by his appearance on a Portadown platform with notorious loyalist godfather, the late Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright.
Even though McCrea was in the Paisley wing of the DUP, he could also suffer vote loss because of his party being in the power-sharing Executive with Sinn Fein.

EAST ANTRIM:
Coulter’s Call: DUP’s Sammy Wilson with slashed majority
Electorate: over 56,000
Candidates: Gerry Lynch, AP; Justin McCampbell, SDLP; Rodney McCune, UCUNF; Oliver McMullan, SF; Sammy Morrison, TUV; Sammy Wilson, DUP.
2005 result: DUP Gain, majority 7,304.
Sammy Wilson, DUP: 15,766
Roy Beggs, UUP: 8,462
Sean Neeson, AP: 4,869
Danny O’Connor, SDLP: 1,695
James McKeown, SF: 828
David Kerr, Rainbow: 147.
Another safe unionist seat which will see Executive Minister Sammy Wilson retain the seat, albeit with a reduced majority which could see the constituency become a DUP marginal like neighbouring South Antrim.
Boundary changes are not likely to ‘kick in’ until the next Stormont poll, allowing the SDLP to regain its seat.
Unlike South and North Antrim, the SDLP leads the race for the nationalist vote.
New Force candidate McCune has transferred from North to East for this battle, but the real focus will be on how much the TUV can dent the DUP majority.
Voter apathy is a large factor in the final outcome, as just over half the constituency only voted in the 2005 poll.
The centre ground will be without Alliance veteran and ex-party boss Sean Neeson, which could see tactical voting for both New Force and the SDLP.
Sammy Wilson, a former Belfast Lord Mayor, will want to repeat his 2005 success when he snatched the UUP marginal from veteran MP Roy Beggs senior, who had held the constituency since it was created in 1983.
A spectacular upset would require massive tactical voting for the New Force along with a substantial increase in turnout among unionists.

NORTH BELFAST:
Coulter’s Call: DUP deputy boss Dodds to win with wafer-thin majority
Electorate: over 66,000
Candidates: Fred Cobain, UCUNF; Nigel Dodds, DUP; Gerry Kelly, SF; Martin McAuley, Ind; Billy Webb, AP; Alban Maginness, SDLP.
2005 result: DUP Hold, majority 5,188.
Nigel Dodds, DUP: 13,935
Gerry Kelly, SF: 8,747
Alban Maginness, SDLP: 4,950
Fred Cobain, UUP: 2,154
Majorie Hawkins, AP: 438
Marcella Delaney, WP: 165
Lynda Jean Gilby, Rainbow: 151
Sinn Fein Stormont Junior Minister and party senior negotiator has been steadily closing the gap on sitting MP and DUP deputy leader Dodds.
However, the SDLP’s Alban Maginness revived SDLP fortunes with his good showing in last year’s European poll, and could eat into Kelly’s vote.
The only chance of a major upset – namely a narrow Kelly victory – would require massive tactical voting by nationalists, resulting in a collapse of the SDLP vote.
Dodds originally captured what was previously a rock-solid safe UUP seat from the late Cecil Walker.
Since then, the UUP vote has steadily declined, which could see many UUP voters plump for Dodds to prevent an SF victory.
The area is very much a working class region, so the New Force revival which saw Conservative and Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson win his seat ahead of Dodds’ wife, Diane, will have little impact in this constituency.
Turnout tends to be below the 60% mark, but with the emergence of teenage Independent Martin McAuley, there may be some additional colour in the campaign.
However, the outcome will be a traditional sectarian headcount between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

SOUTH BELFAST:
Coulter’s Call: SDLP’s Dr McDonnell to hold on split Unionist vote
Electorate: over 63,000
Candidates: Paula Bradshaw, UCUNF; Anna Lo, AP; Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP; Adam McGibbon, GP; Jimmy Spratt, DUP.
2005 result: SDLP Gain, majority 1,235.
Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP: 10,339
Jimmy Spratt, DUP: 9,104
Michael McGimpsey, UUP: 7,263
Alex Maskey, SF: 2,882
Geraldine Rice, AP: 2,012
Lynda Jean Gilby, Rainbow: 235
Patrick Lynn, WP: 193.
The SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell caused one of the big upsets five years ago when he capitalised on a split unionist vote and tactical polling by nationalists to snatch the historically rock solid UUP stronghold.
The seat had previously been held by Orange clerics Rev Martin Smyth, who retired in 2005 and Rev Robert Bradford, murdered by the IRA in 1981.
In a bid to spark nationalist unity, Sinn Fein withdrew its candidate, Alex Maskey, a former Belfast Lord Mayor, hoping the SDLP would do likewise in Fermanagh South Tyrone.
DUP candidate Jimmy Spratt offered the UUP his Assembly seat if New Force runner Paula Bradshaw would step aside. The offer was rebuffed by UUP boss Reg Empey.
McDonnell could now count on up to 3,000 SF votes to bolster his slender 1,200 vote majority.
However, Spratt could still squeak the seat if he can encourage enough UUP people to vote tactically. The DUP case is helped with the absence of a TUV runner, although its party boss Jim Allister has asked his supporters to vote UUP in constituencies where the TUV is not standing.
The outcome could also be decided by Alliance voters. Their candidate, Anna Lo, because the first person from the Chinese community to win a seat in a regional parliament in Europe.
She will be looking to maintain her vote for next year’s Stormont poll, but her base could be eroded by tactical voting mainly for McDonnell.

WEST BELFAST:
Coulter’s Call: Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to win with slightly reduced majority
Electorate: over 62,000
Candidates: Gerry Adams, SF; Alex Attwood, SDLP; Maire Hendron, AP; William Humphrey, DUP; Bill Manwaring, UCUNF.
2005 result: SF Hold, majority 19,315
Gerry Adams, SF: 24,348
Alex Attwood, SDLP: 5,033
Diane Dodds, DUP: 3,652
Chris McGimpsey, UUP: 779
John Lowry, WP: 432
Lynda Jean Gilby, Rainbow: 154
Liam Kennedy, Ind: 147.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has one of the safest seats in Westminster, and is a sure bet to retain his fiefdom with only the size of his majority to be decided.
SDLP veteran Alex Attwood has not been able to make any significant dent in the Sinn Fein vote over the years.
This is a rock solid republican constituency so a unionist upset is an impossibility given the party split.
There is no sign of a significant SDLP revival in West Belfast akin to the days of former MPs Gerry Fitt and Joe Hendron.
Dissident republican voter apathy opposing Sinn Fein’s recognition of the PSNI and participation in the power-sharing Executive with the DUP could be the two main factors affecting the Adams majority. Boundary changes would also tend to benefit nationalism.
Adams’ vote does not appear to have been affected by the recent media spotlight on his brother, or by allegations made in a controversial book by former senior IRA commander Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes.
Although The DUP lost its West Belfast Assembly seat in 2007, it remains firmly ahead of the UUP in votes.
Even with a unionist unity candidate, there would be little chance, too, of a unionist finishing a poor runner up to Adams.
Such is the strength of the Sinn Fein vote in the West, that dissident republicans did not even put up a candidate against Adams.

EAST BELFAST:
Coulter’s Call: Robinson to win, but this is DUP marginal.
Electorate: almost 59,000
Candidates: Naomi Long, AP; Mary Muldoon, SDLP; Niall O Donnghaile, SF; Trevor Ringland, UCUNF; Peter Robinson, DUP; David Vance, TUV.
2005 result: DUP Hold, majority 5,877.
Peter Robinson, DUP: 15,152
Reg Empey, UUP: 9,275
Naomi Long, AP: 3,746
Deborah Devenny, SF: 1,029
Mary Muldoon, SDLP: 844
Alan Greer, Con: 434
Joseph Bell, WP: 179
Lynda Jean Gilby, Rainbow: 172
First Minister and Dup boss Peter Robinson has spent much of this year battling allegations over land deals and the intense media interest in his wife, Iris’s affair with her teenage lover.
Robinson’s losing the East would be the biggest upset of these elections. Ironically, it would be on a par with Robinson first winning the seat in 1979, defeating former Vanguard boss Bill Craig by a handful of votes.
While Robinson’s almost 6,000-vote majority is likely to be significantly dented, the three-way split in the main anti-Robinson opposition should keep the embattled DUP boss in his Eastern stronghold.
Although fellow Executive minister and UUP chief Reg Empey has decamped to South Antrim, Robinson’s main threat still comes from the New Force, sporting former Irish rugby ace Trevor Ringland.
However, the New Force dent into the Robinson majority could be less hurtful with a strong showing for current Belfast Lord Mayor, Alliance’s Naomi Long, and the TUV’s David Vance.
The East is a working class Protestant heartland, so a nationalist upset is impossible. Sinn Fein is currently leading the race for the republican vote over the SDLP.
With Robinson clearly expected to hold the East, results from other constituencies could seriously affect his future leadership both of party and as First Minister.
Likewise, a Robinson victory by only a few hundred votes could be enough to trigger a leadership coup.

FOYLE:
Coulter’s Call: Ex-SDLP boss Durkan to hold comfortably.
Electorate: over 67,000
Candidates: Martina Anderson, SF; Maurice Devenney, DUP; Mark Durkan, SDLP; David Harding, UCUNF; Eamonn McCann, People Before Profit; Keith McGrellis, AP.
2005 result: SDLP Hold, majority 5,957.
Mark Durkan, SDLP: 21,119
Mitchel McLaughlin, SF: 15,162
William Hay, DUP: 6,557
Eamonn McCann, Socialist Environmental Alliance: 1,649
Earl Storey, UUP: 1,091
Ben Reel, Rainbow: 31
With an almost 6,000-vote majority, ex-SDLP boss Mark Durkan is a solid bet to hold his seat.
And with a hung parliament firmly on the betting slips, too, Durkan could become a major king maker in a future House of Commons.
Sinn Fein MLA and former ‘Ambassador to Unionism’ Martina Anderson is a strong republican runner, but the most she can hope to achieve is to put a slight dent in the Durkan empire.
Durkan’s power base in Foyle is built on the decades of work done in the constituency by his predecessor, both as MP and leader, the joint Nobel Prize winner John Hume.
Sinn Fein may be the lead voice for republicanism across the North, but in Foyle it is the SDLP which shouts loudest.
Although Durkan has handed the reigns of party power to Margaret Ritchie, don’t be surprised if Durkan even extends his personal lead in Foyle over Sinn Fein.
Foyle has a built-in nationalist majority, so a unionist upset is unthinkable, if not impossible.
In the battle for the unionist vote, the DUP is traditionally always well ahead of the UUP, so expect the New Force to have little impact.
The unionist parties will be more interested in using this poll to test the ground for next year’s Stormont elections.

WEST TYRONE:
Coulter’s Call: Sitting MP Pat Doherty to win on slightly reduced majority
Electorate: over 60,000
Candidates: Michael Bower, AP; Tom Buchanan, DUP; Joe Byrne, SDLP; Pat Doherty, SF; Ross Hussey, UCUNF; Ciaran McClean, Ind.
2005 result: SF Hold, majority 5,005
Pat Doherty, SF: 16,910
Kieran Deeny, Ind: 11,905
Thomas Buchanan, DUP: 7,742
Eugene McMenamin, SDLP: 3,949
Derek Hussey, UUP: 2,981.
Once a unionist marginal, Sinn Fein’s sitting MP Pat Doherty has used his 5,000-vote majority to convert this youngest of the North’s Commons seats into a republican stronghold.
Key to Doherty’s majority this time will be where 2005’s runner-up, the popular GP and MLA Kieran Deeney’s 12,000 votes go.
The SDLP will be hoping most of them transfer to its high profile runner, Joe Byrne – a move which could see this seat become a Sinn Fein marginal.
With a split unionist vote, a repeat of the 1990s when the UUP’s Willie Thompson sneaked the seat is highly unlikely.
It would take Deeny’s vote to transfer lock, stock and barrel to the DUP’s Tom Buchanan, plus heavy tactical voting by traditional UUP supporters for the DUP to see this scenario become a possible reality.
The likely outcome is that Doherty will retain his seat comfortably with an increased majority, with Byrne also benefitting from Deeney’s personal vote.
As with many green-dominated constituencies west of the river Bann, the DUP will retain its lead over the New Force, with both parties focused on building their vote for the next Assembly clash.
Anyone else in West Tyrone is an ‘also ran’.

MID ULSTER:
Coulter’s Call: Very comfortable win for sitting MP and deputy First Minister McGuinness.
Electorate: over 59,000
Candidates: Ian Butler, AP; Ian McCrea, DUP; Martin McGuinness, SF; Walter Millar, TUV; Sandra Overend, UCUNF; Tony Quinn, SDLP.
2005 result: SF Hold, majority 10,976
Martin McGuinness, SF: 21,641
Ian McCrea, DUP: 10,665
Patsy McGlone, SDLP: 7,922
Billy Armstrong, UUP: 4,853
Francie Donnelly, WP: 345.
Boundary changes allowed Derry’s Martin McGuinness to convert this unionist marginal into one of Sinn Fein’s safest seats with an 11,000 majority.
Like Gerry Adams in West Belfast, Mid Ulster is a sure bet for deputy First Minister and SF chief negotiator McGuinness, with only the size of his majority open for debate.
With the unionist vote split three ways, expect no Willie McCrea-style 70-vote sneak upset.
The SDLP will have an uphill fight to eat into McGuinness’ majority. Runner Tony Quinn may have to rely on dissident republican apathy to have any impact on the Sinn Fein vote.
Given Sinn Fein vote management in the 2007 Assembly and 2009 European polls, expect McGuinness to both push up his vote and majority.
In the unionist camp, the race is on to see who finishes top with all eyes on how much the TUV will dent Ian McCrea’s DUP vote.
A split DUP/TUV vote could allow New Force runner Sandra Overend to pip McCrea.

EAST DERRY:
Coulter’s Call: DUP’s sitting MP Campbell to squeak it in this Unionist marginal.
Electorate: over 59,000
Candidates: Gregory Campbell, DUP; Thomas Conway, SDLP; Barney Fitzpatrick, AP; Lesley Macaulay, UCUNF; William Ross, TUV; Cathal O hOisin, SF.
2005 result: DUP Hold, majority 7,727
Gregory Campbell, DUP: 15,225
David McClarty, UUP: 7,498
John Dallat, SDLP: 6,077
Billy Leonard, SF: 5,709
Yvonne Boyle, AP: 924
Malcolm Samuel, Ind: 71
Sinn Fein has been urging nationalists to vote tactically and use the three-way split in unionism to cause an upset in what has always been traditionally a unionist Commons stronghold.
Usually a safe UUP seat, it became a DUP marginal in 2001. Since then, MP Gregory Campbell has increased his majority over the UUP to almost 8,000.
Ironically, his biggest threat comes from Willie Ross, the UUP MP he dumped out in 2001. Ross is now with the TUV.
But Campbell is seen as one of the DUP hardliners in the peace process, so the most Ross can achieve is to reduce East Derry to a unionist marginal.
Mathmatically, Sinn Fein’s O hOisin could cause an upset if there was a collapse in the SDLP vote, extensive tactical voting by nationalists, or a very even split among the three unionist runners.
However, this is one of the few seats with a significant nationalist minority where the SDLP has edged ahead of Sinn Fein.
The real battle will be to see who from the unionist camp finishes runner up to Campbell.
As with so many other Northern seats, parties in East Derry will be oiling their elections machines for the real battle – the six Assembly seats in 2011.

SOUTH DOWN:
Coulter’s Call: New SDLP boss Ritchie to hold seat with tactical Protestant support.
Electorate: over 70,000
Candidates: Cadogan Enright, GP; David Griffin, AP; John McCallister, UCUNF; Ivor McConnell, TUV; Margaret Ritchie, SDLP; Caitriona Ruane, SF; Jill Wells, DUP.
2005 result: SDLP Hold, majority 9,140
Eddie McGrady, SDLP: 21,557
Caitriona Ruane, SF: 12,417
Jim Wells, DUP: 8,815
Dermot Nesbitt, UUP: 4,775
Julian Crozier, AP: 613.
This is a ‘must hold’ for new SDLP boss Margaret Ritchie in her first electoral test as leader – otherwise she will face a stalking horse candidate for her leadership.
Ritchie is the strong favourite to take the seat held for over 20 years by SDLP veteran MP Eddie McGrady with a 9,000-vote majority.
Dubbed the Battle of the Ministers, Ritchie as Stormont Social Development Minister will face a tough challenge from her fellow Executive colleague, Sinn Fein’s Education Minister Caitriona Ruane.
For both ministers, the Commons outing will be a referendum on controversial Stormont decisions.
Ritchie stood up to the UDA over decommissioning for freezing grants for loyalist areas; Ruane has dogmatically defended her decision to scrap selection in Northern schools at age 11.
Once a unionist bastion, South Down had for many years as its MP the equally controversial Enoch Powell of the UUP.
On paper, it now looks like South Down has a built-in nationalist majority, but the SDLP’s McGrady always relied on about 4,000 Protestants tactically voting SDLP to ensure Sinn Fein was kept out.
Over the past decade, Sinn Fein has been steadily closing the gap on the SDLP. Had there been an agreed unionist candidate, South Down could once again have become a unionist marginal.
However, with a three-way unionist split, the chance of a Protestant upset is highly unlikely.
All three unionist parties – DUP, New Force and TUV – may see a drop in their vote because of Protestant tactical voting to thwart Sinn Fein.
In the unionist battle, the key fight is to how much the TUV’s McConnell will eat into veteran DUP Assembly member Jim Wells’s vote, and how this ‘dent’ will aid New Force runner and MLA John McCallister.

NORTH DOWN:
Coulter’s Call: Independent Hermon to give her former party a bloody nose.
Electorate: over 63,000
Candidates: Steven Agnew, GP; Stephen Farry, AP; Sylvia Hermon, Ind; Kay Kilpatrick, TUV; Liam Logan, SDLP; Vincent Parker, SF; Ian Parsley, UCUNF.
2005 result: UUP Hold, majority 4,944
Sylvia Hermon, UUP: 16,268
Peter Weir, DUP: 11,324
David Alderdice, AP: 2,451
Liam Logan, SDLP: 1,009
Julian Robertson, Con: 822
Chris Carter, Ind: 211
Janet McCrory, SF: 205.
Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon could leave the blue-nosed New Force with red faces if she holds her seat.
Hermon – widow of former RUC Chief Constable, John – quit the UUP as its sole MP because she refused to take the Tory whip as demanded by the New Force arrangement.
While Hermon enjoyed a 5,000-vote majority over the DUP, the Robinson party has stepped aside and will support Lady Sylvia.
The New Force runner Ian Parsley was Alliance’s European candidate, but jumped ship to New Force after the Euro poll.
Hermon has a strong personal vote in North Down, which has a long history of electing independent MPs, such as the late James Kilfedder and Bob McCartney.
A Hermon victory will also put pressure of UUP boss Reg Empey’s leadership. Tactical voting to keep out New Force will also see low polls for both Alliance and the Green Party.
North Down is an overwhelmingly unionist constituency, so the SDLP and Sinn Fein candidates are ‘also rans’. North Down also traditionally runs a low turnout at just over 50%.
In a hung parliament, a Hermon victory could have major implications for current PM Gordon Brown remaining in Downing Street. She aligned herself with Labour in many issues during the previous parliament.

LAGAN VALLEY:
Coulter’s Call: DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson to hold with majority slashed.
Electorate: over 66,000
Candidates: Paul Butler, SF; Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP; Keith Harbinson, TUV; Brian Heading, SDLP; Trevor Lunn, AP; Daphne Trimble, UCUNF.
2005 result: DUP Gain, majority 14,117
Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP: 23,289
Basil McCrea, UUP: 9,172
Seamus Close, AP: 4,316
Paul Butler, SF: 3,197
Patricia Lewsley, SDLP: 2,598.
Sitting DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson’s strong personal vote will ensure victory as the most his unionist opponents can hope for is to reduce his 14,000 majority to single figures, such as 4,000.
This is a unionist bastion, so the chances of the three-way unionist split allowing a nationalist victory are unthinkable.
Non-DUP voters in the unionist community face a tough choice as to which candidate to vote for to dent Donaldson’s substantial majority.
The New Force runner is Lady Daphne Trimble, wife of the former UUP First Minister and party boss, David. Lord Trimble is now a Tory peer and his wife is one of the strongest advocates in the UUP for the alliance with the Tories.
The other unionist runner is the TUV’s Keith Harbinson, whose Dromore council by-election result started the political chain reaction which led to the eventual resignation of Ian Paisley senior as First Minister and DUP chief.
Boundary changes have reduced the nationalist Lagan Valley community, with Sinn Fein now outpolling the SDLP.
The Alliance vote has been steadily slipping, and could fall further as middle of the road supporters opt for voting tactically for either New Force or the SDLP.

STRANGFORD:
Coulter’s Call: TV personality Nesbitt to win on back of Irisgate.
Electorate: over 60,000
Candidates: Michael Coogan, SF; Deborah Girvan, AP; Barbara Haig, GP; Claire Hanna, SDLP; Mike Nesbitt, UCUNF; Jim Shannon, DUP; Terry Williams, TUV.
2005 result: DUP Hold, majority 13,049
Iris Robinson, DUP: 20,921
Gareth McGimpsey, UUP: 7,872
Kieran McCarthy, AP: 3,332
Joe Boyle, SDLP: 2,496
Terry Dick, Con: 1,462
Dermot Kennedy, SF: 949.
The Irisgate scandal involving First Minister Peter Robinson’s wife has thrown this once DUP bastion into the melting pot.
The rock solid unionist seat is becoming a two-horse race between DUP MLA Jim Shannon and New Force’s television news personality Mike Nesbitt.
Mrs Robinson left an impressive 13,000-vote majority behind her before she resigned. The constituency also boasts four DUP out of six Assembly seats.
Shannon has an impressive constituency profile and several hundred votes could divide winner from runner-up.
The impact of the anti-DUP vote for the TUV must also be considered. The loss of his wife’s former seat to New Force would put increased pressure on Mr Robinson’s leadership of the DUP and his post of First Minister.
With a small nationalist vote, there is no chance of Sinn Fein or the SDLP causing an upset.
Although Alliance has an MLA, its supporters could vote tactically for Nesbitt to punish the DUP over Irisgate.
A Nesbitt victory would allow liberal and centre right UUP members to ‘groom’ him as a possible future successor to Reg Empey.
Ironically, a Nesbitt victory in Strangford would greatly assist Empey in remaining as UUP leader for the present.

UPPER BANN:
Coulter’s Call: Sitting DUP MP Simpson to hold in this Unionist marginal.
Electorate: over 76,000
Candidates: Harry Hamilton, UCUNF; Brendan Heading, AP; Dolores Kelly, SDLP; John O’Dowd, SF; David Simpson, DUP.
2005 result: DUP Gain, majority 5,398
David Simpson, DUP: 16,679
David Trimble, UUP: 11,381
John O’Dowd, SF: 9,305
Dolores Kelly, SDLP: 5,747
Alan Castle, AP: 955
Tom French, WP: 355.
Gospel-singing DUP MP David Simpson caused the biggest electoral upset in 2005 when he unseated UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble in what had always been a traditionally ultra safe Ulster Unionist bastion.
Simpson is odds-on to hold his seat, albeit with a reduced majority from his current 5,000 plus, in the face of a tough challenge from New Force’s Harry Hamilton.
Hamilton is better known on the North’s tribute entertainment scene as Flash Harry, one of Ireland’s top Freddie Mercury impersonators.
However, the constituency has witnessed a steadily growing nationalist community, and particularly a growth in the Sinn Fein vote, which easily outpolls the SDLP by almost two to one.
The constituency is also home to the annual Drumcree Orange parade controversy. The Sinn Fein runner is its high profile MLA and leader of its Assembly team, John O’Dowd.
There is the mathematical possibility with an evenly split unionist vote, Protestant voter apathy and strong nationalist tactical voting for O’Dowd, that Sinn Fein could snatch the seat.
However, there is no formal election pact between the two nationalist parties, with the SDLP fielding MLA Dolores Kelly.
With no TUV runner, the odds are again stacking up for a Simpson win. If UUP boss Empey is to prove that the New Force with the Tories is a vote catcher within unionism, Hamilton must unseat Simpson.
Upper Bann had been one of the UUP’s three main target seats to take back from the DUP. New Force failure in Upper Bann could put additional pressure on both Empey’s leadership and could seriously damage the UUP/Tory alliance.

NEWRY AND ARMAGH:
Coulter’s Call: Executive Sinn Fein Minister Murphy to comfortably hold.
Electorate: over 70,000
Candidates: Dominic Bradley, SDLP; William Frazer, Ind; William Irwin, DUP; Danny Kennedy, UCUNF; Andrew Muir, AP; Conor Murphy, SF.
2005 result: SF Gain, majority 8,195
Conor Murphy, SF: 20,965
Dominic Bradley, SDLP: 12,770
Paul Berry, DUP: 9,311
Danny Kennedy, UUP: 7,025
Gerry Markey, Ind: 625.
The past two decades have seen this constituency change from a unionist marginal to a Sinn Fein stronghold.
Stormont Executive Minister Conor Murphy is defending an 8,000-vote majority and is a sound bet to be returned.
However, the constituency has witnessed an upsurge in dissident republican terrorist activity as well as the scandal surrounding the death of republican Paul Quinn. These could affect the size of Murphy’s majority.
The seat was once the bastion of the SDLP’s deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon. Runner Dominic Bradley will be making the severely uphill task to return the seat to the SDLP fold.
Realistically, the most Bradley can hope is to put a noticeable dent in Murphy’s vote – but this would also require tactical voting from Protestants, who have a choice of three unionist candidates.
Although some 2,000 votes ahead of the UUP, the DUP was hit by the Paul Berry sex scandal. William Irwin will be the DUP runner, going head to head with New Force candidate and UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy.
Although there is no TUV candidate, hardline unionists may opt for human rights campaigner Willie Frazer.
The battle in the unionist community seems more about securing future Assembly seats in 2011 than unseating Sinn Fein.

FERMANAGH AND SOUTH TYRONE:
Coulter’s Call: Unionist unity’s Rodney Connor to end nine years of Sinn Fein rule.
Electorate: over 67,000
Candidates: Rodney Connor, Ind; Michelle Gildernew, SF; Vasundhara Kamble, AP; Fearghal McKinney, SDLP; John Stevenson, Ind.
2005 result: SF Hold, majority 4,582
Michelle Gildernew, SF: 18,638
Arlene Foster, DUP: 14,056
Tom Elliott, UUP: 8,869
Tommy Gallagher, SDLP: 7,230.
For the first time in nine years since Sinn Fein captured the seat, unionists have a unity candidate with a split nationalist vote.
Sinn Fein’s Stormont Farming Minister Michelle Gildernew will be trying to hold her seat and 4,500-vote majority, which was gained in 2005 on a split unionist vote.
While she secured over half the nationalist votes, she will face a high profile SDLP candidate in former UTV personality Fearghal McKinney.
Sinn Fein boss Gerry Adams wanted a nationalist election pact after he withdrew his candidate in South Belfast, but the idea was rejected by the SDLP.
Unionist unity candidate Rodney Connor will take the Tory whip if elected. The DUP and UUP withdrew their candidates.
Gildernew will only hold her seat with a substantially reduced majority if there is massive tactical voting by SDLP supporters. This could see her majority counted in hundreds – maybe even dozens – of votes over Connor.
Of Sinn Fein’s five Commons seats, the unionist pact has seen this constituency reduced to the most vulnerable republican one.
In refusing a pact, the SDLP has played heavily on the fact that Sinn Fein refuse to take its Commons seats – a factor which could equally be significant if there is a hung parliament where every Northern MP who takes the oath at Westminster will be politically courted.

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