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Posts Tagged ‘Ulster Unionist Party’

Same again, but more so, in Northern Ireland

8 May, 2011 1 comment

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.

Year Unionist Nationalist Other
1998 58

28 UUP
20 DUP
5 UKUP
2 PUP
3 Ind

42

24 SDLP
18 SF

8

6 Alliance
2 NIWC

2003 59

30 DUP
27 UUP
1 PUP
1 UKUP

42

24 SF
18 SDLP

7

6 Alliance
1 Ind

2007 55

36 DUP
18 UUP
1 PUP

44

28 SF
16 SDLP

9

7 Alliance
1 Green
1 Ind

2011 56

38 DUP
16 UUP
1 TUV
1 Ind

43

29 SF
14 SDLP

9

8 Alliance
1 Green

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…

Changing state of Northern Ireland MPs

7 May, 2010 1 comment

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.

Constituency 1992 1997 2001 2005 2010
Antrim East Beggs Beggs Beggs Wilson Wilson
Antrim North Paisley Paisley Paisley Paisley Paisley, Jr
Antrim South Fosythe Forsythe Burnside McCrea McCrea
Belfast East Robinson Robinson Robinson Robinson Long
Belfast North Walker Walker Dodds Dodds Dodds
Belfast South Smyth Smyth Smyth McDonnell McDonnell
Belfast West Hendron Adams Adams Adams Adams
Down North Kilfedder McCartney Hermon Hermon Hermon
Down South McGrady McGrady McGrady McGrady Ritchie
Fermanagh–South Tyrone Maginnis Maginnis Gildernew Gildernew Gildernew
Foyle Hume Hume Hume Durkan Durkan
Lagan Valley Molyneaux Donaldson Donaldson Donaldson Donaldson
Londonderry East Ross Ross Campbell Campbell Campbell
Newry–Armagh Mallon Mallon Mallon Murphy Murphy
Strangford Taylor Taylor Robinson Robinson Shannon
Tyrone West   Thompson Doherty Doherty Doherty
Ulster Mid McCrea McGuinness McGuinness McGuinness McGuinness
Upper Bann Trimble Trimble Trimble Simpson Simpson
Total (Party) UUP: 9
SDLP: 4
DUP: 3
UPUP: 1
UUP: 10
SDLP: 3
SF: 2
DUP: 2
UKUP: 1
UUP: 6
DUP: 5
SF:
SDLP: 3
DUP: 9
SF: 5
SDLP: 3
UUP: 1
DUP: 8
SF:5
SDLP: 3
AP: 1
Ind:1
Community Breakdown Unionist: 13
Nationalist: 4
Unionist: 13
Nationalist: 5
Unionist: 11
Nationalist: 7
Unionist: 10
Nationalist: 8
Unionist: 9
Nationalist: 8
Other: 1

(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.

Text-only version:

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The election in Northern Ireland

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

Leaving the following five, the first three fights between Unionists, the remaining two between Unionists and sitting nationalists:

Read more…

British general election

Of all parties, the Liberal Democrats would be the party in Britain I’d feel closest to. Of course, this is not the 1920s, this is not a three-cornered contest, and there is no immediate prospect of any Liberal Democrat becoming prime minister.

So it is between David Cameron and Gordon Brown for prime minister. I would not always naturally support one of Labour or the Tories over the other. At the moment, I do feel that after thirteen years in which they oversaw the onset of recession, a slow recovery and a deterioration of public finances, the Labour Party do not deserve another five years in office, and certainly not under Gordon Brown. But in any case, this election campaign has not been as exciting as perhaps it could have. Despite the dissatisfaction with the government, there has been no strong public wave behind the opposition, as there was in 1979 and 1997, in part because the expenses scandal hit both large parties in near equal measure.

But there are cultural reasons I’d be cautious to support the Conservatives. I think their decision to leave the Group of the European People’s Party, the European Parliament group of most conservatives and Christian Democrats like Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel, to form the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, was misguided. They confined themselves to an alliance that does not blend well with David Cameron’s attempts to portray the Conservatives as a more modern party, with parties with reservations about homosexuality. I don’t doubt that the Conservatives have changed as a party, on this and other issues, but the votes of their MEPs show the dissonance within the party and how Cameron himself has difficulty maintaining the more progressive image.

Having said that and despite his previous adamant opposition to repeal of Section 28, which forbid promotion of homosexuality in schools, I don’t believe gay people have any serious reason to concern from a Conservative government under David Cameron. I would not consider it the most unlikely thing if legislation to allow gay couples to marry was introduced by the Conservatives. On the most recent gay issue in the campaign, I would actually have to agree with the substance of Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s comments. I think there is less freedom in the country if a private B&B owner is told he must rent his rooms out to a gay couple against his wishes, even if such an owner shouldn’t be let anywhere near a major party ticket.

As The Economist wrote a few weeks ago, the Conservative approach to social issues is misguided and often presumes the most dire and exaggerated situations. Their marriage incentives seem well intentioned, but the wrong approach; it is true that children generally fare better if their parents are married, but funding married couples, including many who are financially secure, seems a strange waste of resources, and it discriminates against those children who have had the misfortune to be born to parents who have since moved apart. It was a small mistake in the course of the campaign, but the fact that the party got the figure of teenage pregnancies wrong by a factor of ten earlier this year shows how out of touch they can be at times.

On the North, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force banner has come to little, with Ladbrokes currently predicting no Tory or Ulster Unionist candidate to be elected (The Times is using their predictions in each constituency on a great gadget on their site). Their strongest chance is in Strangford, the seat left vacant by Iris Robinson, but even there they give the DUP’s Jimmy Spratt a 50% chance of victory. And in Fermanagh–South Tyrone, both Unionist parties stood aside in favour of an independent, Rodney Connor, ending David Cameron’s hope of a Tory-backed candidate in every constituency. Overall as yet, Ladbrokes predict no change in Northern Ireland. Depending on the balance of the major parties in Westminster, the seats here could be of importance.

In his memoirs, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable talks of trying out the various parties when in Cambridge. Of the Conservatives, he writes, “Whilst there was a liberal veneer, I knew, because I had seen it first-hand, that their activist base depended on the energies and prejudices of bigoted people like my father, whom they were only too happy to use.” This is still true of the Conservatives. They appear more nice and friendly, but there is still the lingering tolerance for groups like the Young Britons’ Foundation, as long as they stay in the background.

A tight Conservative majority would give inordinate power to such fringes of the party, as John Major found after 1992, so I think if they are to have a majority, better it be higher than the four seats currently predicted on the Times site. But I would still look forward more to a hung parliament, where the Liberal Democrats could exert influence in their more sensible social policies and approach toward the European Union. Depending on their strength, they might even manage to secure electoral reform, which Gordon Brown talked of this week, presumably in the hope of their support. Which party should lead, will then depend very much on the division of seats.

Lady Hermon should stand for Labour

Lady Sylvia Hermon, who has represented North Down as an MP for the Ulster Unionist Party since 2001, did not really surprise anyone by not seeking to be reselected as the party’s candidate for the upcoming election. She has been vocal in her opposition to the alliance between the Ulster Unionists and the Conservative Party, under the label Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force, from the start. Lady Hermon herself has been much more closely aligned with the Labour Party in the House of Commons, and had never considered herself to be a Tory.

Having now confirmed that she does not intend to stand down, it would make sense for her to officially stand as a candidate for the Labour Party. This would give a refreshing choice to the electorate of North Down, between two parties not primarily defined by their position on the national question. Of course, it would do no good for the long-term chances of a united Ireland for them to get used to thinking in terms of British political parties, but it should be welcome nonetheless.

Politics in North Down has long been exceptional, given that the population is so Unionist that it matters less to them than to others in Northern Ireland, such that they elected the only Green Party MLA in 2007, or that political mavericks have been consistently elected at Westminster. From 1970 to 1995, the constituency was represented by James Kilfedder, one-time auditor of the College Historical Society, and leader of the one-man Ulster Popular Unionist Party. He died in 1995, on the day that the Belfast Telegraph featured an article outing him as gay. He was succeeded by Robert McCartney, leader of the one-man United Kingdom Unionist Party, an anti-devolutionist party briefly supported by Conor Cruise O’Brien. Mr McCartney proved that he was no gentleman when he stepped in front of Lady Hermon to speak on the day of the count of the 2001 Westminster election, rather than allowing her give her victory speech.

So North Down politics is not really representative of Northern Ireland, but an election between Lady Hermon for Labour and Ian Parsley, who had stood for the Alliance in the 2009 European election, for the Conservatives, would definitely be one to watch.

Symbolism of Hatfield House

27 January, 2010 1 comment

David Cameron has shown himself aware of Conservative Party history on the Irish question, such as when he declared in 2008 that he had a “selfish and strategic interest” in Northern Ireland.

Hatfield House, home of the Salisburys since 1611

With apologies for going on about the recent meeting between these parties while more serious negotiations are ongoing, the history of the location came to mind. One might wonder about the symbolism of Hatfield House as the location for the talks between the Conservatives, the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists. This is the home of the Robert, 7th Marquess of Salisbury. In no way do I mean to impugn the marquess’s character, a political figure in his own right as a Conservative MP between 1979 and 1987. But it is interesting to remember that his great-great-grandfather, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, led the first Unionist government. When William Ewart Gladstone, then leader of the Liberal Party, gave his support to Home Rule in 1886, his party split, with the Liberal Unionists, led by Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain, aligning themselves with the Conservatives. Gladstone’s government fell and Salisbury led a Unionist government until 1892. It would not be far fetched to think that discussions between Unionists on both sides of the Irish Sea happened in 1886 in Hatfield House, just as they did this year.

I’m sure it was

27 January, 2010 Leave a comment

A piece today on Conservative Home is now taking the line that the talks between the Unionist parties were not about electoral strategy, but about bolstering the peace process.

Or at least, they say it was about both. First off, they defend Ben Brogan’s piece on the Telegraph site David Cameron is a Unionist, remember?, as if to say that even if that was what it was about, that would be ok. Then they say that it was about the Tories putting pressure on the UUP to support the DUP in the event of a deal on policing.

The piece claims “After all, Irish political parties will sometimes discuss politics from a nationalist view with both Sinn Fein and the SDLP, and at the same time”. We do have to concede this in part. Members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour have maintained informal associational ties with members of the SDLP, and all four parties did meet in 1984 at the New Ireland Forum. There have been secret service talks, from the Hume–Adams talks in the early 1990s to discussions on decommissioning in more recent times, something both governments engaged in. What we have not seen is an opposition party south of the border negotiating with both the SDLP and Sinn Féin to discuss politics from a nationalist point of view.

For equivalent reasons, I would be critical of Fianna Fáil moves to establish itself North of the border.

But even if we suppose that they discussed matters like policing, which presumably was on the agenda given the current deadlock, are Conservatives going to claim that the talks in Lord Salisbury’s residence in Hatfield House were “all about trying to bolster peace and security”?

If either of the Unionist parties do stand aside in marginal nationalist constituencies, such as Fermanagh–South Tyrone or South Belfast, will they maintain that this was not discussed at all during these talks?

That this has nothing to do with securing every possible vote in the Commons after the election to avoid the possibility of a hung parliament? I don’t think anyone really believes that.

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