Election 2017: Strangford fight sees Bell pitted against former colleagues

The Strangford ferry. Strangford will be a keenly-fought constituency
The Strangford ferry. Strangford will be a keenly-fought constituency

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and the DUP’s agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen are likely to coast home in Strangford as they did last May.

Finance minister Simon Hamilton is expected to claim another seat for the DUP – but then things start to get interesting, with the two remaining seats being contested by five viable candidates.

Despite nearly 3,500 first preference votes last time out, Alliance candidate Kellie Armstrong faces a battle to retain her seat.

A key factor will be how voters react to Jonathan Bell’s independent status.

Last May he took a third seat for the DUP with 10% of first preference votes.

If the example of Jenny Palmer in Lagan Valley is anything to go by, Bell could retain supporters despite leaving the DUP and possibly even gain a few votes for speaking out about the RHI scandal.

Bell will be fighting against his former DUP colleague Peter Weir who moves to Strangford having been elected previously in North Down by the skin of his teeth.

UUP’s Philip Smith will also have a tough job on his hands to retain his seat.

He was reliant on transfers to make his Stormont debut in May having polled just 1,694 first preference votes.

Transfers will prove key in Strangford and it will be interesting to see how many UUP voters follow leader Mike Nesbitt’s example and transfer to SDLP over other unionist parties.

If they do, SDLP’s Joe Boyle could make his Stormont debut at the fifth time of asking having narrowly lost out on a seat last time out.

2017 candidates:

• Kellie Armstrong (Alliance)

• Ricky Bamford (Greens)

• Jonathan Bell (Ind)

• Scott Benton (Cons)

• Joe Boyle (SDLP)

• Stephen Cooper (TUV)

• Simon Terence Hamilton (DUP)

• Dermot Kennedy (Sinn Fein)

• Michelle McIlveen (DUP)

• Jimmy Menagh (Ind)

• Mike Nesbitt (UUP)

• Philip Smith (UUP)

• Peter James Weir (DUP)`

2016 results:

• Mike Nesbitt (UUP) 4,673 (14.3%)

• Michelle McIlveen (DUP) 4,663 (14.3%)

• Simon Hamilton (DUP) 3,964 (12.1%)

• Kellie Armstrong (Alliance) 3,499 (10.7%)

• Jonathan Bell (DUP) 3,393 (10.4%)

• Joe Boyle (SDLP) 2,724 (8.3%)

• Harry Harvey (DUP) 2,017 (6.2%)

• Jimmy Menagh (Independent) 1,840 (5.6%)

• Philip Smith (UUP) 1,694 (5.2%)

• Stephen Cooper (TUV) 1,407 (4.3%)

• Georgia Grainger (Green) 924 (2.8%)

• Stephen Crosby (UKIP) 759 (2.3%)

• Dermot Kennedy (Sinn Féin) 661 (2.0%)

• Bill McKendry (Conservatives) 314 (1.0%)

• Rab McCartney (Independent) 107 (0.3%)

Electorate 65,695

Votes cast 33,014 (50.3%)