Thursday, 4 October 2007

Don't disenfranchise the moderate unionists of South Belfast

One of the luxuries of commentating on politics, rather than being an active participant, is the ability to stand above the Machiavellian horse-trading that often dictates, more than principle, the actions of a party.

I have already recorded my scepticism regarding rapprochement with the DUP. Fielding single unionist candidates seems to me capitulation to sectarian carve-up and represents a submission to the regressive communal politics right-thinking unionists need to oppose.

Nevertheless I acknowledge that such a deal has its attractions for the UUP, particularly as regards the constituencies of Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast. Not only would the party stand to gain one of the lost Westminster seats from such a deal, but the FST constituency would be wrested from the grip of Michelle Gildernew and its electorate would once again be represented in parliament.

I was less than surprised, however, to discover that the deal likely to be proposed by the DUP, is less advantageous to unionism and more driven by self-interest than the offer which had been expected by most commentators. Journalist David Maxwell is indicating that his understanding is that the DUP will offer to cede Fermanagh South Tyrone to the Ulster Unionist candidate, who will run unopposed by the DUP, on the understanding that South Belfast’s only mainstream unionist candidate is Jimmy “Splitter” Spratt the bellicose, rubicund ex-policeman who let in the SDLP’s candidate McDonnell at the last election.

In a constituency with a high proportion of liberal unionists Spratt will cause votes to be lost to the Alliance and the SDLP. Certainly I personally could not consider voting for such a candidate. The conventional wisdom has always been that the DUP would stand a decent chance of winning FST and that in liberal South Belfast, a UUP candidate would have a greater chance of success.

The real motivation for the DUP’s decision is that they are quite aware that if Tom Elliot or another UUP candidate wins in Fermanagh, it will be viewed as a victory enabled by the generosity of the DUP. If he loses, another crisis will be precipitated for the Ulster Unionists and the seat is unlikely to be seriously contested by the party again.

Accepting this deal would be bad for unionism, bad for Northern Ireland and bad for the UUP. If Maxwell’s understanding of the DUP’s proposal is correct, the Ulster Unionist Party should field candidates in both constituencies, avoiding disenfranchising their supporters in either, and standing a good chance of regaining South Belfast, perhaps with the leader seeking election.


O'Neill said...

Both constituencies are natural UUP territory. Like you I could not, in all conscience, vote for Spratt, even if he was the only Unionist canditate in South Belfast.

Of course, the voters of F&ST have a more difficult situation and all efforts should be made to end their present disenfranchisement. There are more suitable Dupe candidates there than in S Belfast, the logic, if there really must be an alliance to oust the sinner in F&ST, is to have a DUP canditate there and a UUP one in S Belfast.

If Spratt does stand in S Belfast, I wonder if there is any chance of a liberal independent Unionist standing?

Chekov said...

I doubt whether an independent candidate would attract much of the vote O'Neill, presuming that any such candidate would be pretty low profile. I would imagine that the moderate unionist vote would migrate to Alliance or stay at home if such a deal was done (and it looks like all this may be a moot point until 2009 in any case).

Concerning for the future choices of unionist voters also, is that the UUP in North Antrim wouldn't have fielded a candidate had the election been called early.

beano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beano said...

I don't like the DUP, I don't like fundamentalist 'Free P'-ism and I really don't like Jimmy Spratt.

I'll not be voting DUP in south Belfast; I'd sooner see Big Al get back in (and God knows I'm no fan of his either). If the UUP don't run it will only ensure I give my vote to the Conservatives.

O'Neill said...

No, you're probably right (re a liberal candidate in S Belfast).

Concerning for the future choices of unionist voters also, is that the UUP in North Antrim wouldn't have fielded a candidate had the election been called early.

Why not?

Chekov said...

Too expensive and a waste of time.

O'Neill said...

I'm genuinely shocked, if that's their attitude, what's the point in having a branch then, why don't they just close it down?

Chekov said...

I think that the attitude is indicative of disillusionment and marginalisation felt by many provincial branches of the UUP. They feel abandoned by a central organisation which is Belfast-centric and financial concerns have been foremost in the minds of many branches as well.

At the last general election Rodney McCune took as absolute pounding as the UUP candidate for N Antrim, finishing behind SF in solid unionist territory. It costs upwards of £10,000 to contest a general election with serious intent and there is a prevailing feeling that to spend this money and suffer another humiliation is more damaging than not running at all, particularly coming off the back of an unsuccessful Assembly election in the area where a very poor 2nd candidate was eliminated preposterously early.

Personally I think it's a very sad indictment of Ulster Unionism in the area, but I'm afraid that that is the situation as it stands.