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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.

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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.

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