An election where no party’s total differed by more than two seats from last time. The DUP and Sinn Féin consolidated further their leads against the UUP and the SDLP respectively. And elections are very much still in these terms, as the table below shows. It shows too that the movement between communities in seat totals is far less sharp than if seen through the first past the post Westminster elections. MLAs are required to designate as Unionist, Nationalist or Other on the Assembly’s register, and votes require a support by qualified majority of both Unionists and Nationalists. This does create a systematic bias against Others, which is perhaps balanced by the Minister for Justice being decided by a full vote on a cross-community basis of the Assembly, rather than through d’Hondt, in effect a guaranteed Minister for the Alliance Party. Even without different rules, however, I’d still expect voting to be along community lines at this stage.
There really is no better analyst on Northern Ireland elections than Nicholas Whyte, son of historian John Whyte, so check out his blog and site. Slugger O’Toole is good too. But rather than just present a neat table, I might as well add a few thoughts of my own. Read more…
On the BBC’s results page, they list a summary of the result, which has a figure of 19 Others. This includes all Northern Ireland parties, despite the fact that they give figures for the Scottish Nationalist Party, with less seats than the DUP, and Plaid Cyrmu, with less seats than Sinn Féin and as many as the SDLP. This is a reminder of how little Britain really cares about Northern Ireland, but as parties represented in Westminster, they really should be listed. They won’t act as a unit, and particularly after an election with no clear result, it would informative for them to be considered separately, to consider traditional allegiances with the main British parties. The SDLP, for example, could be trusted to support the Labour Party in most circumstances, as could Sylvia Hermon, who voted more consistently with the government than some Labour backbenchers. The Alliance have had institutional links with the Liberal Democrats so it should fairly much be taken for granted that Naomi Long will support whichever prime minister Nick Clegg decides to support. Sinn Féin’s abstention changes the number required for a majority in the Commons, as the total number taking their seats would be 645 rather than 650. And that would leave anyone looking at the figures able to quickly see the DUP’s eight seats and wonder how they’d act.
And it’s not just about Northern Ireland. Grouping small parties as Others masks at first glance the breakthrough of small parties, such as the Green Party at this election. I wouldn’t really mind either if they listed the change for Respect, down from one to no seats, so we could all have the pleasure of being reminded of George Galloway’s defeat, one of the small comforts of this election.
There have been significant and notable changes in Northern Ireland at all recent elections. Here is a quick glance summary of the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies since 1992. Since then, only 3 constituencies have been represented continuously by the same party, Foyle and Down South by the SDLP and Antrim North by the DUP.
|Antrim North||Paisley||Paisley||Paisley||Paisley||Paisley, Jr|
|Total (Party)||UUP: 9
|Community Breakdown||Unionist: 13
(DUP in Orange, UUP in Blue, SF in Dark Green, SDLP in Light Green, small Unionist parties in Pale Orange, Alliance in Yellow; Source: ElectionsIreland.org)
The 2010 election saw a major upset with the defeat of the DUP leader Peter Robinson in the seat he has held in East Belfast since 1979, losing to the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long. This was the first time an Alliance Party candidate won a seat in a Westminster election, Stratton Mills having defected from the Ulster Unionists in 1974.
It was also the first election in which the Ulster Unionist Party failed to win a seat. They have existed since 1886, when the Conservatives first contested elections on an explicitly Unionist platform, in opposition to Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill. They organized as the Ulster Unionist Council in 1905. From 1974, they no longer took the Conservative whip in Westminster, and they broke all remaining ties in 1885. In 2008, the UUP agreed an electoral alliance with the Conservatives, which ultimately led to the loss of their only MP, Sylvia Hermon, who would not accept the Tory whip.
Of the eighteen seats in Northern Ireland, fourteen are unlikely to change hands. At the moment, the DUP hold 9 seats, Sinn Féin hold 5, the SDLP 3 and one seat is held by the Independent Sylvia Hermon, who was elected in 2005 as an Ulster Unionist. It will be an interesting election to watch from a few perspectives. Will UUP, now standing under the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force banner make any gains? Will Unionist voters be more convinced of the benefit of supporting a likely government party or an unaligned party? Can the SDLP hold their own under their new leader Margaret Ritchie? Will the DUP and Sinn Féin face an ebb in their increased support since 2001?
I would count the following thirteen as safe seats:
- Antrim East, to be held by the DUP’s Sammy Wilson
- Antrim North, currently held by former DUP leader Rev. Ian Paisley, who will most like likely be succeeded by his son, Ian Paisley, Jr.
- Belfast East, to be held by First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson
- Belfast North, to be held by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds
- Belfast West, to be held by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams
- Down North, to be held by Independent Sylvia Hermon
- Down South, currently held by the SDLP’s Eddie McGrady, to be succeeded by the new party leader, Margaret Ritchie
- Foyle, to be held by former SDLP leader Mark Durkan
- Lagan Valley, to be held by the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson
- Londonderry East, to be held the DUP’s Gregory Campbell
- Newry–Armagh, to be held by Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy
- Tyrone West, to be held by Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty
- Ulster Mid, to be held by deputy First Minister Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness
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