Without wishing either to stretch a metaphor or put literal minded readers off dinner, Northern Ireland’s politics comprise a cramped, crowded, sweaty, incestuous hothouse. This week the hothouse is being strapped to the back of a media lorry and transported down the road to Enniskillen. The council by election which is to take place there will no doubt by minutely dissected and its significance projected endlessly (and speculatively) unto a bigger stage by those parties which feel they have done well. That is the nature of the, frankly vaguely ridiculous, hothouse.
The truth is that this by election will be influenced by a series of peculiarities, local or otherwise, and the significance accorded to its result should not be overstated. The News Letter’s Stephen Dempster is correct when he states that this is not Dromore and that extrapolating the state of unionism from the election is not a possibility. This election is of unfortunate provenance, it features a pressurised battle between Sinn Féin and unionist parties, Arlene Foster (DUP) is a preternaturally well known candidate in comparison to the rest, the TUV have decided not to stand.
I have been reading with interest the arguments and counter arguments pertaining to this election. I find Basil Johnston’s (UUP) argument, that Arlene Foster’s u-turn on double jobbing makes her a poor candidate, compelling. However, I don’t believe that the result will tell us an awful lot about political trends one way or another. The by election is significant for Fermanagh, but will provide little idea how the electorate are thinking elsewhere.