Monday, May 10, 2010

General Election 2010 Roundup

Well, I held off from commenting too much until I could see the full results right across Northern Ireland - delayed due to the recounts in the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency which ended up being the smallest majority of 4 votes.

On the unionist side, it looks like the leaders are in trouble - Peter Robinson, Sir Reg Empey,and Jim Allister. Let's look at them in reverse order. Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) had been promising so much, looking to defeat Ian Paisley Junior (who was standing in his retiring father's constituency of North Antrim), and taking a considerable proportion of votes from discouraged DUP voters in the ten constituencies they were standing candidates. Perhaps buoyed by hopes of building on the impressive 13.7% of votes cast in the 2009 European Election.

However, the TUV vote entirely collapsed, with 40,000 voters either not turning out, or giving their votes to another party, leaving the TUV with just 3.9% of votes cast across Northern Ireland. It's not satisfactory to say that the other 8 constituencies would have boosted the TUV figures - there's no way they could account for the other 40,000 missing voters.

So where does this leave the TUV? Jim Allister is probably likely to win a seat in the Assembly election to be held next year, and probably some local government seats in Councils, but the TUV is certainly not a mainstream or viable political party. It appears that most of the unionist population is accepting the current power-sharing arrangements at Stormont, and don't want to see what Jim Allister has been arguing for. While they may hold on, it looks as if the TUV won't be around for much longer.

Reg Empey's position as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party may also be in danger, following the poor showing at the election, both personally and nationally. Empey tackled Willie McCrea in South Antrim, and while coming just over a thousand votes behind McCrea, it wasn't good enough. Nationally, the situation was just as grim - having lost their only MP as a result of the Conservative linkup, the UUP/UCUNF had to take at least one seat to keep the figures balanced, but utterly failed. Indeed, Empey came the closest to winning a seat - most of the other candidates being roughly 4000 - 6000 votes behind the DUP in each of the constituencies the DUP won. For what was at one time the only unionist party to now receive just 15.2% of the total votes cast (far behind the DUP at 25%), the writing appears to be on the wall for Empey's leadership. Indeed, for them, the biggest show in town is now Stormont, for which planning and effective leadership will be needed if they are to survive the onslaught of the next Assembly election in 2011.

Meanwhile, although the DUP performed well across Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson himself appears to be weakened as party leader having been unseated by the Alliance candidate in East Belfast, Naomi Long. Despite him claiming he had not wished to run for election to Westminster, it seems that Robinson had been seeking to have an exception for himself to maintain his dual mandate, at least for the lifetime of this parliament, so that the party leader could be in both Westminster and Stormont.

Naomi Long has relieved him of the pressure of being in two places at once, but it leaves a problem for Robinson and the DUP. Where should the party leader now be working? At Westminster - so that Robinson will have to be deposed, or at Stormont, so that Robinson can continue to be party leader and First Minister. The problems are perhaps enhanced when facing the Assembly election next year with the knowledge that the DUP had changed the rules (at St Andrews) to ensure that the biggest party, not the biggest designation could nominate the First Minister (with cross-community support). Taking this election as an indicator of next year, that would leave Sinn Fein as the biggest party, and the possibility of Martin McGuiness as First Minister.

The question is - if unionist unity is being bandied about, to form a united unionist party made up of the DUP and the UUP, could Robinson lead it? Or would a new leader for the movement need to be found? Could we see Arlene Foster becoming the leader of united unionism? Would that be acceptable to her former colleagues in the UUP, whom she left to join the DUP? Certainly if the unionists are seeking to prevent McGuiness being First Minister, something will need to be done. But then, it's democracy, isn't it?

On the nationalist/republican side, Sinn Fein continued their dominance, winning 25.5% of the vote, compared to the 16.5% for the SDLP. Each party retained the seats it entered the election with - Margaret Ritchie successfully holding off the challenge of Catriona Ruane in South Down (possibly due to many tactical votes from unionists). Both parties will therefore be confident heading into the next elections.

Alliance have perhaps reached their peak already in winning the East Belfast seat through Naomi Long - I think this is probably a one off which won't be repeated elsewhere in Northern Ireland, resulting from much hard work by Long over many years, helped by some tactical voting from unionists and nationalists in the constituency. The question is, of course, if the UK government coalition falters and another election is held in six months, could Long retain the seat against the challenge of (perhaps) another DUP candidate who isn't Peter Robinson? Or will her incumbency be a brief one?

All in all, Northern Ireland's 2010 election was exciting due to the challenges and changes across the province. It will also be remembered for the uncertainty of the overall government, and David Cameron's search for a coalition partner in the Lib-Dems. Even now, things aren't clear if it will all work out. Time will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment