Gavin Robinson’s speech blunder

Gavin Robinson (DUP) speaks as Naomi Long looks on.'' Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Gavin Robinson (DUP) speaks as Naomi Long looks on.'' Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Gavin Robinson’s blunder in making an aggressive acceptance speech after unseating Naomi Long was still being discussed on social media today.

Early on Friday morning, amid cheering supporters including Diane Dodds, Mr Robinson had talked about the “five long years” of Ms Long’s incumbency.

It was as if he had defeated a dissident republican.

Gavin Robinson’s decision to strike such a tone came just after he shook hands with the Sinn Fein candidate, Niall Ó Donnghaile, the act of a new generation (old school DUP politicians would not countenance such a gesture).

He had also just won by the surprisingly narrow margin of 2,500 votes. In 2010 the combined unionist vote was 20,467 (proportionately low for unionists), compared to 12,839 for Alliance.

This time the tally was 19,500 to 17,000, despite unionists rallying round a single candidate chosen for his moderate image.

It was also despite the Alliance flag vote, which unionists had said would damage her.

If you add up other parties, Gavin was in fact outpolled. This was an unprecedentedly low vote for traditional unionism in a constituency that, despite demographic changes, is still 90 per cent Protestant.

The DUP insisted before the pact that they would win even if the Ulster Unionists stood. If they really believed that, they were disabused of the notion on Thursday night.

The results platform was the obvious time for diplomacy.

It might be that Gavin Robinson felt that fierceness was expected by the party faithful. Nigel Dodds was furious in his speech, but he was accusing Gerry Kelly of dirty tricks. Mr Dodds is from a generation that lived through all the Troubles and he was attacking an ex IRA man.

Gavin Robinson, however, was contradicting his own campaign approach, in which he distanced himself from Peter Robinson’s “dry your eyes” taunt to Mrs Long after a unionist pact was agreed.

Having said all that, Gavin Robinson retreated from his speech in an interview with the BBC’s Mark Simpson.

Most young candidates would lack such confidence, and would hide behind press advisors.

The overall results this year suggest that the DUP will need to push the moderate image they have been cultivating.

Across the Province, traditional unionism prevailed, but less so the closer you get to Belfast.

In South Antrim, which is more traditionalist than most of the greater Belfast seats, the combined UUP-Tory-Alliance vote rose from 12,960 to almost 16,000.

There had been talk about Alliance and SDLP voters supporting Danny Kinahan tactically, but both those parties saw their vote rise (almost 1,000 votes in Alliance’s case).

Despite this, Mr Kinahan – the only UUP or DUP MLA to back same sex marriage – still won.