The past few weeks have been very odd. We’ve had an election campaign which has had little or nothing to do with the European Union and another election campaign in which the issues surrounding the powers and format of the new ‘super councils’ have barely been mentioned.
Don’t people in Northern Ireland have opinions on these matters?
Oh yes, they do. They just don’t have any confidence in either the willingness or ability of the local parties to deal with those issues as opposed to staring at their own navels and battling over any fluff that dislodges itself.
Even most of those who vote will do so in the knowledge that it is a vote for stalemate and the same-old, same-old. Fair enough: they don’t particularly want change anyway because they think that change will involve some sort of ‘victory’ for the ‘other side’.
They won’t read manifestos, answer the door to canvassers (assuming any bother to turn up, of course), or watch the election broadcasts.
They don’t need to—because their minds were made up a very long time ago.
An awful lot of others (somewhere between 45 and 50 per cent) have simply tuned out. Some of them genuinely couldn’t care less one way or another; they just want to be left alone and in relative peace.
Others want an unspecified something that defines as ‘change’ but they’re not convinced that that option is yet on offer—so they, too, will stay at home on Thursday.
If the polls are to be believed then nothing much will change on Thursday. Sinn Fein will almost certainly top the Euro poll (the Adams arrest will do them absolutely no damage on either side of the border) and run a pretty close second to the DUP in council seats (where shredding of the unionist vote will have less impact).
I would still be surprised if Jim Nicholson lost his seat, but it can’t be ruled out at this point. I’ve always thought that the TUV would do more damage to the UUP than to the DUP (most of whose supporters have got over the 2007-09 ‘shock’ of the deal with Sinn Fein) and if Jim Allister starts pushing towards double figure support —just behind the UUP —it will hurt Nicholson. Also, if Alex Attwood keeps a few percentage points ahead of Nicholson in first preferences then anything is possible.
If Nicholson does lose, though, it would be catastrophic for the UUP (politically and financially). Ironically, it would do nothing to undermine Nesbitt because nobody would actually want the leadership role: unless, of course, it was someone who wanted to speed up and formalise a merger with the DUP!
NI21 is the other one to watch. They need to get an impressive number of new or former voters because it strikes me as pretty unlikely that they will attract many defectors from the other parties. There must have been a moment when they would have been hopeful of drilling into the Alliance and UUP’s softer support, but the chances of that happening have lessened.
That said, they should be reasonably transfer friendly (according to Basil McCrea and Tina McKenzie they are getting a great reception in West Belfast, for example): but that’s going to mean diddly squat if they don’t get enough first preferences to avoid early elimination.
Here’s the only reality that matters for them: if they want to be taken seriously for the 2015 general election and the 2016 Assembly election then they need to be neck and neck with Alliance on Thursday.
How good have the assorted campaigns been? To be honest most of them have passed me by —and I’m a professional observer and commentator! So I can only assume that they will have been missed entirely by vast swathes of voters and potential voters.
Anecdotal evidence suggests, too, that fewer people than ever before have been canvassed (which means knocking doors and talking to people) rather than just leafleted.
The television/radio engagements have been mostly snappy and depressingly uninformative: another indication, surely, that the parties aren’t even making the effort to debate or persuade anyone outside their own circle.
Let me just say something about candidates. There are 905 people standing for 462 council seats, which means that there will be 443 very disappointed people on Friday morning.
It takes a certain amount of courage to put yourself forward for public office, particularly when the chances of winning may not be very high. For three weeks your face is going to be on a poster on lampposts across your district electoral area and an awful lot of people who know you (most of whom have no intention of voting for you) will be only too happy to ‘commiserate’ when you lose.
Better still, your defeat will be reported in complete, humiliating detail in your local newspaper! So yep, even if you don’t like most of them, all candidates deserve a sort of grudging respect for being willing to stand.
My decision not to vote this time (which stirred up one of the most interesting side debates of the entire campaign) hasn’t altered: indeed, to be honest, it has strengthened as the weeks of so-called debate and bad tempered name-calling have rolled on. Nobody tried to inspire us.
Nobody came up with an idea or concept that took me by the scruff of the neck and made me rethink my decision.
Not one single politician or party made a coherent argument for voting: although quite a few made the case for how important it was to vote for them!
But if you think that your vote will make a difference, then by all means, go and vote.
Finally, a mention for the most sensible comment of the entire campaign — from Nigel Farage as it happens. When asked how people here should vote after voting UKIP he replied, “use your second vote as your conscience tells you”.
So much more refreshing than “vote for other unionists of your choice, even the rollover, treacherous, Lundy types” — the sort of answer that the DUP, UUP and TUV tend to trot out.