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Analysis: All change or no change? What the results mean to parties

Anna Lo, Jim Allister, Jim Nicholson, Diane Doods and Martina Anderson pictured on stage after the declarations were made at the Kings Hall in Belfast.

Anna Lo, Jim Allister, Jim Nicholson, Diane Doods and Martina Anderson pictured on stage after the declarations were made at the Kings Hall in Belfast.

 

Sinn Fein

This result was an unqualified success for Sinn Fein, particularly given its dramatic breakthrough in key seats across the Republic.

With no progress towards a united Ireland, Sinn Fein needs a narrative and its road towards governing in both Dublin and Belfast has both a romantic and practical appeal for republicans.

However, while Sinn Fein benefited, it saw the total nationalist vote in Northern Ireland fall.

As the lead nationalist party, it bears some responsibility for that. Issues such as its position on abortion and gay marriage have alienated some core Catholic voters.

DUP

Diane Dodds’ 131,163 votes may not have come that close to poll-topper Martina Anderson, but they were an impressive tally after a council election where the DUP will have been concerned at a four per cent vote fall.

A low-key campaign suited the incumbent who, after an awful performance in 2009, will now be difficult to dislodge as MEP after two terms.

Although the DUP saw the TUV take a big vote in this poll, it had the comfort of seeing the UUP vote slide after it made gains in the council elections.

That suggests the absence of a single coherent main opponent of the DUP which, for a party in power for seven years, is unusual, particularly after difficulties in recent years.

UUP

After encouraging, if modest, gains in the council elections, Mike Nesbitt was confidently predicting that the UUP was on the way back up.

Two days later, the European election count raises questions about that claim.

The fall in Jim Nicholson’s vote means that this is almost certainly his final election (if he was not planning to retire anyway).

However, despite the party plumbing new depths in a European election, it still came in more than 40,000 votes ahead of the SDLP.

Of concern to it should be the fact that Jim Allister now appears to be taking votes off them, as well as the DUP. But for financial reasons as well as political ones, retaining this seat was vital.

SDLP

The only one of the five Executive parties to have an unquestionably bad election, with a fall in both its council and European vote, the SDLP now needs to be honest about its problems if it is to be revived.

Leader Alasdair McDonnell has prioritised re-structing the party organisation, but the party’s message has lurched from voting to ban IRA bombers as special advisers to voting to name a children’s play park after an IRA gunman.

Anecdotally, the party’s support for gay marriage hurt it with some traditional Catholic voters.

TUV

TUV leader Jim Allister’s 75,806 votes were reward for his peerless work as a backbench MLA and evidence of the unease felt by a large minority of unionists at the political situation.

Although the DUP’s fiercest critic increased his vote from the staggering 66,000 polled in 2009, an increased turnout meant that his share of the vote – a fairer barometer – was actually down more than 1.5 per cent.

But that will neither dismay the TUV leader nor hearten the DUP, who realise that he has not been dismissed as a grumpy irrelevance.

However, as is already clear, the TUV’s new crop of council candidates will face scrutiny and none are as capable or fleet-footed as the leader.

Alliance

Although a highly competent MLA, Anna Lo and Alliance did not appear to fight a clever or confident campaign, yet the party returned its best ever European election result.

Ms Lo said yesterday that she thought the party’s role in restricting the flying of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall and her comments on supporting a united Ireland had attracted some who once voted for the SDLP.

The party’s transfers certainly suggest that is true. That is a boost for a party which has struggled to shake off its ‘soft unionist’ image.

But it also creates problems in retaining that support while retaining those who care deeply about the Union Flag and the British link.

UKIP

A low-key campaign did not favour a new party such as UKIP, yet Henry Reilly brought home a highly creditable 24,584 votes.

The party will have benefited from Nigel Farage’s UK-wide popularity and its core message is so simple that it is encapsulated in the party name.

Mr Reilly now has sufficient votes to really think that he has a chance of taking John McCallister’s seat in South Down at the next Assembly election. But its vote in the council elections was much lower, meaning that it will be more difficult to get votes outside of elections.

Green

The Green Party’s total vote and share of the vote fell in this election, albeit the presence of more smaller parties may have split the sort of protest vote it attracted then.

Candidate Ross Brown performed strongly when he got airtime during the campaign and has been rewarded by voters with a council seat in Belfast.

In the council elections the party stood fewer candidates than before but concentrated its resources. That pragmatic organisation is a lesson to NI21, which stood too many candidates without support.

NI21

This was an en election so disastrous for NI21 that it will probably end up in political textbooks as one of the ultimate examples of how not to run a campaign.

Complete dysfunctionality at the heart of the new party meant that even before the open civil warfare in the final hours of the campaign, the party was disorganised.

In the end, Tina McKenzie had just 373 more votes than Basil McCrea and John McCallister’s combined vote in the last election. That suggests a party which, although it had potential to really carve out a niche for itself, has really made no headway in persuading voters of its message.

NI Conservatives

After their UCUNF experiment, the Tories rebranded as NI Conservatives but on the evidence of this election, the party has virtually no support.

Local Conservative activists were delighted that Theresa Villiers became the first Secretary of State to campaign for a local party since the 1998 Agreement. But such historic changes made absolutely no impact on voters.

A poll of 4,144 is humiliatingly low, even for a small party. Some capable Ulster Unionists such as Bill Manwaring defected to the Tories after their launch but he returned to the UUP prior to this election. After this result, many more will follow and local chairman Irwin Armstrong will be under pressure.

 

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