On the face of things, Upper Bann’s eight candidates present a ‘politically correct’ scenario in the general election – three women in the field (the third highest in the province’s female league table); a highly-publicised Conservative Sikh; the sitting MP; all augmented by three men with no hope of making Westminster.
But scratch below the surface of the constituency — which takes in the towns of Portadown, Craigavon, Lurgan and Banbridge — and it’s the same traditional orange-green contest.
The DUP’s David Simpson (the bookies’ favourite) claims that the inclusion of Jo-Anne Dobson (UUP) could leave the door ajar for Sinn Fein’s Catherine Seeley to creep in — “and she wouldn’t occupy the seat, leaving Upper Bann without representation for the first time in its history”.
Dobson retorts that she is determined to win the seat back for UUP, Simpson having trounced David Trimble in 2005. She insists that the numbers don’t stack up for a Seeley victory. Simpson garnered 14,000 in the 2010 poll; Harry Hamilton (UUP) 10,639; John O’Dowd (Sinn Fein) 10,237; and Dolores Kelly (SDLP) 5,276.
Dobson has shied away from the unionist pacts that were hatched elsewhere. “I’ve never lost an election,” she pointed out, “and I have no intensions of losing this one”.
But Simpson countered that Sinn Fein were the highest-polling party in the last Assembly election by 29 votes, “and that’s a summary warning – I’m the only unionist who can win this seat.” Ironically, he will be voting Ulster Unionist on May 7. He lives at Annaghmore, just inside the Fermanagh-South Tyrone constituency where Tom Elliott is the agreed unionist hopeful.
Ms Seeley, Deputy Lord Mayor of the new ABC super council, is fighting a determined fight. After her launch – which included Stormont Minister John O’Dowd and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin — she challenged the voters to “make history happen in Upper Bann”.
Of the remaining four, only Dolores Kelly (SDLP) will make much impact. “I strongly oppose any sort of pact with Sinn Fein,” the party’s deputy leader said. “That’s a recipe for sectarian politics to remain rooted.”
The also-rans include the bearded, blue-turbaned Conservative Sikh, Amandeep Singh Bhogal, who has business interests in his native Punjab and lives in Kent. He despises the type of recent violence in India that saw Sikh against Sikh and Hindu against Hindu, “even worse than the conflict which has plagued Northern Ireland”.
His chances are rated as zero, but he brings unusual colour to an Ulster election.
Completing the line-up will be Alliance’s Peter Lavery, whose party attracted just 1,231 votes five years ago; Damien Harte of the Workers Party (355 the last time they stood in 2005); and Martin Kelly of CISTA (Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol) whose candidacy is regarded as something of an idiosyncrasy.
David Simpson faces a similar problem to his colleague William McCrea in South Antrim — but Mr Simpson unlike the Rev McCrea has the trump card of an alleged Sinn Fein threat which he is playing liberally, writes Sam McBride.
Mr Simpson, like the Rev McCrea, was elected on a wave of anti-Trimble sentiment in 2005 and both men were perceived as members of the Paisleyite old-school DUP which had been demanding ‘sackcloth and ashes’ from the IRA.
Just two years later, Ian Paisley led the DUP into government with Sinn Fein, and led that coalition not by daily battling with Martin McGuinness, but by publicly guffawing with the former IRA commander.
It was to be expected that DUP supporters across the board would struggle somewhat with the new dispensation, but unsurprisingly it was those who had most recently switched from Trimble’s UUP found the sudden change in the DUP’s stance difficult to stomach.
But while the TUV has grown into a significant force in North Antrim through Jim Allister, Mr Simpson and the Rev McCrea will have been quietly relieved that the party has failed to replicate that success in their areas (the TUV is not even contesting Upper Bann this time).
Ironically, given the circumstances in which he was first elected, Mr Simpson’s trump card in this election is Sinn Fein.
The DUP has repeatedly highlighted what it says is a threat to the seat from Sinn Fein.
Although that is disputed by the UUP, such a fear has in the past proved that it can secure votes for the unionist who claims their seat is at risk.
At some point, particularly with the DUP and Sinn Fein working closely at Stormont, that threat of Sinn Fein will lose its sting. But it could prove very important in this potentially close contest.
BHOGAL, Amandeep Singh (Conservatives)
DOBSON, Jo-Anne (UUP)
HARTE, Damien Thomas (The Workers Party)
KELLY, Dolores (SDLP)
KELLY, Martin (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol)
LAVERY, Peter (Alliance)
SEELEY, Catherine (Sinn Fein)
SIMPSON, David (DUP)
• David Simpson (DUP): 14,000
33.8%, down 3.8% on 2005
• Harry Hamilton (UUP-Con): 10,639
• John O’Dowd (Sinn Fein): 10,237
• Dolores Kelly (SDLP): 5,276
• Brendan Heading (Alliance): 1,231
• David Simpson (DUP): 16,679, 37.6%
• David Trimble (UUP): 11,281, 25.5%
• John O’Dowd (Sinn Fein): 9,305, 21%
• Dolores Kelly (SDLP): 5,747, 13%
• Alan Castle (Alliance): 955, 2.2%
• Tom French: (Workers Party): 355, 0.8%
• David Trimble (UUP): 17,095, 33.5%
• David Simpson (DUP): 15,037, 29.5%
• Dara O’Hagan (Sinn Fein): 10,771, 21.1%
• Dolores Kelly (SDLP): 7,607, 14.9%
• Tom French (Workers Party): 527, 1%