Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Mixed bag for the UUP as the party looks to avoid lost seats.

Cross posted on Open Unionism.

As promised, some reaction to the UUP Assembly candidates list, revealed yesterday.  Like O’Neill, the first name which took my eye was Reg Empey, whose impending elevation to the Conservative benches at the House of Lords has not prevented his selection for East Belfast.

On ‘Unionist Lite’ Michael Shilliday notes that the Lords is neither an elected nor a salaried position and therefore the party treats it as exempt from strictures on double-jobbing.  That will be considered, by most people, to be too convenient a get out.

Simply, if you can’t be a Lord and remain in the House of Commons, neither should you become a Lord and remain at the Assembly.  If the UUP wants to wriggle out on a technicality then there will be criticism and, in my opinion, it will be justified.

It has been suggested that the party’s process has simply not caught up with Empey’s sudden peerage.  I hope that that is the case and that an alternative candidate will be selected in due course.

Looking at the rest of the list - the UUP has 17 Assembly members at the moment - and frankly it’s goal should be to have 17 after the election.  There are very few likely gains on the horizon and a few constituencies where existing seats will be under considerable pressure.

Take East Antrim for instance.  With boundary changes and the continued popularity of Sammy Wilson, Ulster Unionists will do tremendously to retain their two seats.  Rodney McCune kept the vote up well during the general election, but running alongside Roy Beggs jnr, a well known name in the area, he must rely on sweeping up transfers in order to hold on.

Tom Elliott will hope that Rodney can do it, because he badly needs an injection of young talent for his Stormont team.  It’s likely to be a tight run thing.

In North Antrim a perceived safe pair of hands, Robert Coulter, steps aside.  Two candidates, Robin Swann and former Ballymoney DUP man Bill Kennedy, will fight the constituency but, realistically, the UUP needs to concentrate on keeping its existing seat.  Coulter didn’t manage a quota last time and Jim Allister might scrape one in May, so the Ulster Unionists must hope that one of their men takes one for the team and that the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan gets edged out.

East Londonderry is another seat where the UUP returned an MLA under quota last time out.  The party is putting up two good candidates this time, in Leslie Macauley and David Harding.  It’s an odd situation though, because the pair both come fresh to the battle and, realistically, they are competing with each other.  Whether the de-selection of David McClarty, the sitting MLA, will impact upon the campaign, we must wait and see.  It has at least the potential to prove a complicating factor.

By no means is the UUP’s deputy leader, John McCallister, safe in South Down either.  He should be able to hold on, but the SDLP and Sinn Féin will think that there is an extra seat there for either party, if they can organise their transfers cleverly enough.

In South Belfast Michael McGimpsey could be the man to lose out, even though he is a sitting minister.  East Belfast is Empey territory, but (as above) he really should to do the honourable thing, given his impending Lordship.  North Down should theoretically offer a chance of a gain, given that Alan McFarland’s seat was won under the auspices of the UUP, but who would bet on it returning to the Ulster Unionist fold with McFarland standing as an independent?

There are currently two Ulster Unionist seats in Upper Bann, by the skin of their teeth, but can the ticket really sustain a third candidate again, without room for embarrassment?  Meanwhile Danny Kinahan is defending his South Antrim seat, won last time by David Burnside, with the added pressure of rabble-rouser Adrian Watson as a running mate.

Right the way down the slate then there is doubt and pressure.  There are good candidates, but there are others, like Watson and McNarry, who if they were to join the DUP, would slot immediately into its less reasonable wing.

It’s definitely not the worst list the UUP could put together, but it’s still going to be a desperately difficult election for the party.  No doubt the habitual exuberant optimism will kick in as May approaches, but if the Ulster Unionists are realistic, 'what we have we hold' will be a good result.


Anonymous said...

Given the 18 months the DUP has had, "what we have, we hold" is a disastrous performance and it speaks vlumes about Tom Elliott's leadership that people are talking in those terms before th starting gun has even been fired in the contest.

Joanne said...

Think you're missing my earlier intimation, for Reggie to accept a peerage from the PM and sit on the Tory benches might be factually possible, but morally inept. I accept that the listmakers might have been unaware of his impending elevation, but they did actually have time to adjust their list prior to publishing it. I think Reg now has a pressing decision to make. Better for him to withdraw his name than be slapped down by CCHQ -press release in the offing? Or will usual practices by the 'usual cabal suspects' apply?

Anonymous said...

Can't see better than 13 or 14 and if the Tories run it could be worse.

East Antrim, Upper Bann, North Down, South Down, South Antrim and even South Antrim are at risk with maybe a gain in West Tyrone.

Sir Reg cannot be a working peer and an MLA at the same time double jobbing has to end.

Dixie said...

Re,~ Upper Bann;I cannot beleive the best they can do is put up the ole hand Sam Gardener when you had Harry Hamilton doing so well in the last election! and I agree with the comments made about Reg. with this list of canditates i can't see the UUP getting any further out of the mess their in.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks that CCHQ will (a) slap Empey down for anything and (b) actually put an effort in to the forthcoming Assembly elections, is deluding themselves. CCHQ's interest in Northern Ireland was limited to getting a few Westminster seats out of here. When that failed to materialise they dropped the UUP like a hot brick.

Chekov said...

It always amuses me that the startling observation - 'the Tories were involved in the last election in order to win some seats' - is somehow a damning revelation. That's the nature of most political parties' interests.

Anonymous said...

No. They were involved in the last election because it was a WESTMINSTER election. The only thing they cared about was a few extra seats to help Dave over the line in the House of Commons. The UUP failed to deliver that. They (the Conservatives) couldn't give two figs about the Assembly and hence will take no action about Empey double-jobbing, nor will they spend any money or devote other resources on getting people elected to Stormont.

Chekov said...

They fought for seats in Northern Ireland for the same reason as they fought for seats in every other part of the UK. Whether Conservative candidates end up standing at the Assembly or not is irrelevant to that.

Joanne said...

Be very careful, Anon. I always fear that those who spout with such certainty might find themselves riding for a fall. Circumstances can and do change in a heartbeat. A meal of 'eating own words' washed down with a bottle of 'chateau hair shirt' may yet be consumed by yourself. But isn't evading detection and being the centre of social derision the whole point of anonimity?

Lee said...

"Watson and McNarry, who if they were to join the DUP, would slot immediately into its less reasonable wing."

Are you acknowledging there is a reasonable wing to the DUP? ;)

Chekov said...

More reasonable than McNarry and Watson. That might be regarded as faint praise. ;)