Wednesday, February 14, 2007

East Belfast - runners and riders

While AiB makes the (ahem) occasional posting about politics, I deliberately steer well clear of making political comment. It’s not where I want to go, and there are plenty of other blogs if you want any particular partisan viewpoint.

But living in East Belfast, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment on the consistency of local Assembly representation over the last eight years. I'll get this over with in one big long post, and then we can go back to films, books and the media for a while!

(Since this was written, but before I managed to publish it, I’ve been beaten to the post by Sammy Morse’s excellent analysis of the same area. Check out his wisdom: he's professional in his analysis; I'm fairly amateur. There’s also good information about the previous local elections over at the Ark, the NI Social and Political Archive.)

Of the six candidates elected to represent East Belfast in the original 1998 Assembly elections, only two MLAs will be contesting the constituency in March 2007!

Reg Empey (UUP) and Peter Robinson (DUP) are looking to make it three election wins in a row.

But what of the other four?

John Alderdice (AP) retired from Northern Ireland politics in 2004, and continues to sit in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat. His seat is now occupied by Naomi Long who is standing for re-election, and got her posters up first!

Ian Adamson (UUP) still represents the East Belfast Victoria ward in Belfast City Council but didn’t make it onto the ticket for the 2003 election. His place went to Michael Copeland who won in 2003 and is standing again. Jim Rodgers who narrowly missed winning the sixth seat in 2003, is also contesting again for the UUP this year.

David Ervine (PUP) died suddenly in December 2006, having won a seat in 1998 and 2003. Dawn Purvis is running for the PUP this year, though it’s not her first Assmebly election. Back in 1998, when the ballot paper must have looked like a Tesco receipt, she was the second PUP candidate.

Sammy Wilson (DUP) won an East Belfast seat in 1998, but disappeared off to East Antrim in a successful bid by the DUP to capture three of its six seats in the 2003 election. Robin Newton took his place, winning a seat in the 2003 election and is standing again.

And in case it all gets too wordy, I tried to tell the story pictorially … umm.

Five of the 2003 winners are running again. Keeping up so far?

But amongst the other unsuccessful candidates from 2003, some are returning to try again, and others have been swapped out.

Marks for consistency awarded to:

  • The Workers Party’s Joseph Bell is running again, as is socialist Thomas Black.
  • And zany Rainbow George will appear on the ballot again, this time under the banner of Making Politicians History. (Remember the unsuccessful postcard campaign?)

Swap Shop badges pinned to:

  • The SDLP are running with Mary Muldoon instead of Leo Van Es.
  • And Sinn Fein’s Joseph O'Donnell has been replaced on the ballot with Niall Ó'Donnghaile.
  • The DUP have swapped out the unsuccessful Harry Toan for Wallace Browne.
  • The local Conservatives will be represented by Glyn Chambers rather than Terry Dick.

Each time we have an Assembly election, the parties get smarter (never thought I'd say that!) and the number of candidates gets smaller.

Prediction time ...

  • My local predictions would be that four of the sitting candidates who are running for re-election will be returned without too much bother: Naomi Long (AP), Reg Empey (UUP), Peter Robinson (DUP) and Robin Newton (DUP).
  • The fifth and sixth seats will be a battle between Michael Copeland (UUP), Jim Rodgers (UUP), Wallace Browne (DUP) and Dawn Purvis (PUP). While David Ervine (PUP) had a lot of first preference votes, they may not transfer in sufficient quantity to assure the party’s new candidate of a seat. While I wonder whether or not a shrinking UUP vote will be split across Copeland and Rodgers, with neither of them pulling through, if I had to make a bet, I’d say that Michael Copeland and Dawn Purvis will get the last two seats.
Which in gender terms would mean that East Belfast would have gone from all male (1998) to one woman (2003) to two women (2007). If it continued at this pace, by the next election, the local MLAs would actually reflect the gender balance of the electorate!
  • I’d also foresee that the Alliance vote will decrease (though not enough for Naomi Long to lose her seat), while the combined SDLP and Sinn Fein first preference votes will increase, but not enough to challenge for a seat this year.

But the big question remains: will Rainbow George beat his record 65 first preference votes he picked up in 2003?!

1 comment:

John Self said...

You could be right about the Alliance decreasing their share (though they held it in 2005), though I hope not. There are I think enough people in East Belfast who will never vote for a party which aligns itself along sectarian divisions to ensure a maintained presence for the Alliance.

Having said that, even the most ardent anti-Paisleyite would have to accept that the DUP have forced movement from Sinn Féin that the UUP and others never did. As a result the DUP look a little less like a hardline option now.

After my mention of the DUP policy on carbon emissions (they haven't got one, so far as I can see), I checked the other large parties and the UUP and Sinn Féin are also silent on the subject. So I emailed them too, as well as sending off a reminder to the DUP. Will advise of their response, if any. (Alliance makes general reference to compliance with Kyoto in its environment section, and the SDLP has a raft of bullet points on the sustainability issue which manage to be both detailed and vague: and make no specific mention of global warming or carbon emissions.)