Monday, 31 May 2010

Finger-pointing and missing the point

Today's Alex Kane column truly sums up the worst of the debate about Unionist Unity. I must admit to be sorely tempted to fisk it. It certainly provides ample material for it even falling into conspiracy theories at the end. I must also admit I am surprised that someone general produces more thoughtful and thought-provoking articles ends up relying on what is standard UUP boilerplate.

However, Alex makes this point:

"Yet the truth is that both the UUP and DUP are losing votes separately, so I'm not convinced that they could increase votes together."

This admits that the present arrangement is not fulfilling the potential, thus if that is the case why is an exploration of something different so bad?

Kane makes the claim:

"It's not the absence of unity which is turning off the unionist electorate"

Elsewhere he expresses concern for evidence so he might care to look at the result in FST were Unionism came within 4 votes of taking the seat and closely matched the 2005 result while in South Belfast a divided Unionism delivered a deteriorated Unionist position. So unity came much closer to delivering an extra seat than division did.

As to the desire for a policy agenda maybe he should see the "unity of added potential" as a means to move towards such a goal. Both unity and a stronger policy agenda are perfectly possible, they are not mutually exclusive. Unionism overall might also be better off if its commentators didn't try to kill a potentially useful debate because of a burden of history and perception or simply list problems but rather engage in creative thinking about possible solutions.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


One budget that escaped the cuts:

"They are moving into the Number 10 flat but will move into the larger one in 11 Downing St - home to the Blairs from 1997 to 2007 - once it is refurbished."

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Garden Centre Prod Myth

In my recent piece on Unionist Unity for the Open Unionism blog (now on sluggerotoole) I gave a brief analysis of the garden centre prod myth:

"Anyone who tries to peddle the myth of a problem with garden centre prods should be taken to such a centre and introduced to a large shovel until they recognise the evidence of box turnout and voter registration shows a working class problem. The core reason the UUP has been unsuccessful in tapping this vote for the past decade or more is because it isn’t there."

In this blog I will try to demonstrate in more detail why it is a myth. The theory of the 'Garden Centre Pod' is sound. It is essentially an Ulster version of 'Mondeo Man'. This is the ability to profile social categories based on their brand preferences and connect that with their voting patterns. This data from the likes of Experian can then be used to target such groups with a tailored political message. However, this is were the GCP theory falls down. It was a term created by a group of people close to the NIO and Ulster Unionists around the time of the referendum of a perceived social group. So unlike Mondeo Man, it had no statistical basis and owed more to a small group imagining their own predispositions were very widespread.

Following the increase in turnout in the referendum the term then took off with estimations of the size of this vote of 100,000 or more. This inter-linking of the GCP theory with the increase in turnout was based on it being a more East Ulster phenomenon that West. However, in the scrum it over-looked a number of central weaknesses in this.

First the turnout was up pretty much everywhere - working class and middle class areas - so it is wrong to interpret the increase as a middle class thing. Second. in East Ulster there are minority Roman Catholic communities whose size means there is little point in voting - in the referendum the circumstances were different so it is wrong to assume it is a 'prod' vote. Third, as Ulster Unionists considered the agreement good for the Union, they presupposed that this was the motivation of voters. This overlooked that the referendum campaign (which predominated over the UUP's) pitched the deal as nothing to do with Unionism and Nationalism but as a vote for peace. This would appeal to voters who reject identification with either ideology or politics in general so it appealed to a centrist vote - so it is wrong to assume it was a Unionist thing. Take all this into account and the estimations of its size of the GCP start dropping significantly.

Furthermore, as pointed out above the GCP theory is undermined by the fact that middle class areas have consistently better turnout and registration rates than working class districts and that if we look back over decades the greatest drops have been in working class Unionist areas.

Beyond the perceived reward of 100,000 votes there were two other reasons why this became popular within Ulster Unionism. In Trimble's grand scheme of cementing the agreement and destroying the DUP, the working class areas were to be left to his new found allies in the UDP and PUP to mop up. The GCP theory meant the UUP could afford to take this electoral hit and maintain if not improve its position. This pincer movement was expected to significantly limit the DUP electorally by undermining its working class base while these new votes would impact the power of its core. This didn't work as the UDP failed utterly and the PUP largely failed while working class UUP voters did not appreciate this de facto abandonment to the hands of the paramilitary parties and they swiftly headed towards the DUP. Meanwhile these 'new votes' did not appear at the ballot box.

The second reason is classism. The idea of spending lots of time with 'nice' middle class people rather than in working class estates that appealed to the social prejudices of some and the laziness of others. There were some of these 'social-climber' undertones in the Tory link-up as well. Although, it would be wrong to portray these as the motivation of many in the UUP but certainly of some. Beyond the UUP, it appealed to the media tyes who live in the 'North Down' bubble.

If we presume I am mistaken on this and the GCP theory has validity there is a simple reason why UUP appeals have not worked. The GCP theory was central in shaping Blair's five pledges:

  • No change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people

  • The power to take decisions to be returned from London to Northern Ireland, with accountable North-South co-operation

  • Fairness and equality for all

  • Those who use or threaten violence to be excluded from the government of Northern Ireland

  • Prisoners to be kept in prison unless violence is given up for good
These five pledges were identified as needed when opinion polling and focus group work that showed a majority of Unionists were likely to vote No in the referendum. (Although again the theory that the concerns these dealt with were restricted to the middle class is mistaken, they were common Unionist concerns.)

The first three pledges were essentially a more Unionist friendly description of elements of the agreement. The other two were to deal with the objections of the No campaign that were resonating with Unionist voters. Four and five were not kept and were never intended too. They were not worth the paper they were written on. It was a classic Blair Campbell move to get the short-term result they needed. If you get a person to a polling station for the first time in a long time (or ever) on pledges that aren't kept then they will not appreciate being conned.

However, the GCP myth does highlight a deeper problem for Unionism. It doesn't have strong profiling of who its voters are and what their motivations are. It is something that it could be worth the two Unionist parties working on.

Cameron backs off 1922 Committee changes

As the arguments about the 1922 Committee dragged on into a second week and continued to lead to much harumphing in the Tory press, David Cameron has backed down over voting changes. This seems sensible as the safety valve of the 1922 committee was more sensible than an increase to increase central control. Such a role is the job of the whips office. Fraser Nelson argues that this is a sign of his Cameron's adaptability and much 'explanation' that what happened was not what was intended. Personally think it is an example of how Cameron's often goes for a bold and grand gesture but lacks a command of the detail, poor at the follow-up and wavers when faced with blowback.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Glamour and politics

A problem in the political culture and intellectual climate of Northern ireland is the tendency for the first answer to be "Government needs to do something". One personal means of trying to escape from that is my subscription to Reason magazine, a libertarian magazine from the USA. However, the most interesting article is this month's issue is not about the size of government but rather the role of glamour in politcs (sadly not online).
In an interview, Virginia Pastrel argues (unsurprisingly) that President Obama's glamour factor helped him get elected. it defines glamour as:

"...a particular form of illusion. It's an illusion that tells a truth about the audience's desires, and it requires mystery and distance."

This illusion and projection of individual desires leads to a dangerous tendency as regards lying:

"Lying is usually a bad thing, but they would would project onto him that he was lying about his positions because he secretly agreed with them: "Anyone that smart has got to be a free trader at heart. He's just saying this to pander to those idiots. He can't really mean it.""
However, the power of being elected on glamour comes at two costs. First, a decision for the candidate to chose between maintaining the glamour and getting things done:

"You've seen, as he's taken office and tried to govern, this back and forth where he is consciously or unconsciously trying to maintain his glamour - which requires a kind of distance from the political process so that people can continue to see him as representing them."

Second, is the flip side of a person who fell for the glamour:

"...there is always this capacity for disillusionment. People have projected so much of what they think, including things that are sort of impossible, onto a glamourous figure, that when any flaw shows up the glamour is dispelled and suddenly he becomes terrible."

Postrel's blog which examines the role of glamour in society is here.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Thorough, Intense and Constructive

This is my personal contribution to the Open Unionism debate on the topic of Unionist Unity. Please comment on this post on the Open Unionism blog.

Regardless of the quality of the individual contributions about the idea of a United Unionism, it has been more a spasm than a proper debate and it is a proper debate that is needed.

Opponents of the idea have been keen to portray a United Unionism as some sort of monster. This is premature considering there had not been anything approaching serious discussion let alone any formal proposals or agreement. They will argue that they are warning of the possible dangers in such a process. However, the dirty rush and negativity seems more to kill the debate at birth.

Others have advocated Unity under a model they personally prefer. However, this approach will hamper the discussion as well. Any examination needs to be as open to a breadth of ideas not bog-downed in an individual model. So what is the basis of the United Unionist debate? What form should the debate take?The Westminster Mathematics

Any debate must be based on honesty and the Assembly projections for both the DUP and UUP based on the Westminster results are reasonable. The DUP are well-placed to retain largest party status and the UUP should maintain their present size with scope for modest growth. Therefore, there is no short-term electoral necessity for it. However, this is not an argument not for trying rather it is an argument for it.

In any negotiation you need a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). This gives each negotiator something to assess any proposed deal against. A negotiation is healthiest when the respective parties have a good BATNA and both the DUP and UUP do. Although, the longer-term strategic benefits of Unionist Unity should prove better than their BATNAs.

Furthermore, a Unionist Unity borne out of short-term necessity could be quite possibly the worst form. It would be a shot-gun marriage most likely destined for a bitter and early divorce.

Known Brands

Beyond the BATNAs there needs to be recognition of the strength of a known brands. The fact the DUP was able to come through the testing times it did in a strong position is a demonstration of the endurance of brand loyalty. Similarly, despite the multiple somersaults and Janus like approach of the UUP in recent years, tens of thousands still go out and vote for them regardless.

Brand development, innovation and amalgamation are perfectly possible. Also neither the DUP nor UUP brand is perfect but any new United Unionist brand has to be clear on how it can be at least as strong as the existing ones and preferably even stronger.

Moving Forward and Reaching Out

The discussion must also examine the two long-term strategic challenges for Unionism – the fall in turn-out and the need to expand beyond its traditional community. It will need to be clear that the fall in turn-out is in working class areas and turning it round will involve serious and sustained work on the ground. Anyone who tries to peddle the myth of a problem with garden centre prods should be taken to such a centre and introduced to a large shovel until they recognise the evidence of box turnout and voter registration shows a working class problem. The core reason the UUP has been unsuccessful in tapping this vote for the past decade or more is because it isn’t there.

The assumption of critics is that the consolidation of unity would take the form of circling the wagons. However, it could equally be a consolidation to create the space and organisational capacity for growth beyond Unionism’s traditional community. Such work must be on a realistic basis. Minority ethnic groups need to be considered as much as the Roman Catholic community. Growth will be limited and slow. The work needs to be through direct engagement with such voters, not using civic society groups as ciphers.

It will also give the opportunity to examine the role of identity politics and whether it is possible to provide credible and compatible messages to different audiences. To suddenly pretend that there isn’t a relationship simply isn’t credible but neither should it be the sole basis of Unionism.

The Value of the Debate

The debate is worth having as Unionism does not do enough internal debate about itself. The debate is worth having at tackling some of the mutual myths about the parties that develop as false barriers. It gives an opportunity to get Unionism beyond than the ‘who did what when and why’ during the peace process. The debate is worth having because regardless of overall success, it should create better and more productive working relationships. The debate would facilitate people to move beyond a guttural reaction to the idea towards something more considered.

The Debate

The debate needs to be structured so that it includes the party officers and representatives, memberships and general public. This is to ensure that any progress is built upon a meeting of minds at all levels. The debate needs to examine the benefits of Unionist Unity, its risks (and potential means to manage them), the different levels of intensity it could take and the organisational options. This should involve the production of public consultation papers, debates and town hall meetings.

The debate also needs to be time-bound. The party conferences in October and November seem to provide a natural and obvious end date. This would enable any new entity the lead-in time it would need before the Assembly election or if it fails sufficient time for their parties to make the necessary preparations for the Assembly.

It would be helpful if a local newspaper would be interested in facilitating such a debate – although that would have some problems. The News Letter’s reach is not as wide is as needed and the Belfast Telegraph is sceptical of the idea. Although possibly its scepticism could prove healthy and if it proved ultimately persuaded by the debate a worthwhile boon to any developments.

A properly managed debate would reduce the risk that of any failure leading to renewed bitterness and finger-pointing.


The difficulties in such a process should not be under-estimated with many seeking to undermine it throughout and many a bear trap of personality clashes to avoid. However, a thorough, intense and constructive debate threatens no section of Unionism and would be good for Unionism overall.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Things that make you go hmmmmm

In the UCUNF Manifesto, it said:

"In Northern Ireland politics has been scarred by the number of ‘double jobbing’ MPs attempting to carry out dual mandates in Westminster and Stormont. The public is rightly opposed to this. Conservative and Unionist pressure at Westminster has already resulted in ‘double jobbing’ MPs no longer being able to claim two salaries. If elected, a Conservative and Unionist Government will go further and ban double jobbing outright."

Now that they are in government and their commitment to the Union becomes a policy of 'Don't annoy the shinners' they are now according to the News Letter making the case for them:

"If your voters think that you are capable of doing all of the jobs, then there is a serious question over what right legislators have to block that decision."

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Did the Cameroon's rig 1922 Committee elections?

Like the 55% rule, the move on the 1922 committee seemed to be picking an unnecessary fight. It has proven to be a good mechanism for maintaining internal communictaion and discipline in the past and the existence of a tried and tested mechanism made even more sense in a coalition arrangement. However, Cameron wants command and control model rather than the safety valve approach.

It had been interesting to see how many would rebel against the proposal and it seems 118 have. However, what is more interesting is that the majority may have been gained through unentitled voters. This is a Westminster village fight but it is one that will ensure bad internal relationships in the Conservatives from the outset.

Bigger Problem v Answer

One of the more interesting proposals in the ConDem Coalition is the intention to examine the West Lothian Question. If equality of citizenship is to be a core principle of the United Kingdom then it does need to be taken seriously.

Blair's decision that it did not matter was plain wrong and it was interesting how much the issue of Scottish MPs passing English legislation came up even when Labour had large majorities. It is also one would have came under significant focus if Labour had eeked out a few more seats and stayed in power through a coailtion deal with the Liberal Democrats. The Tory or Ken Clarke proposal of a dual class of MPs wasn't much of a solution either.

However, the other proposals of the Coalition deal actually make the West Lothian issue worse. It sets out to implement Calman and potentially increase the powers of the Welsh Assembly. hence it will make the Westy Lothian issues of the consitutional arrangements worse while it looks for answers to the problem.

PS The 55% nonsense is still included in its proposals.

British Bill of Rights

The examination of a British Bill of Rights has made it through the Coalition negotiation process (pdf file) but it does seem to have been diluted somewhat in the process:

"We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties."

However, Fraser Nelson points out how a British Bill of Rights would not solve the perceived problems that the inclusion of the European Convention of Human Rights in law by the Human Rights Act caused. A British Bill does not end the jurisdiction of the ECHR and European Court (nor its influence on the rulings of the European Courts of Justice and thus European Union Law).

The origins of the ECHR is from a firmly British perspective but the role the Court now exercises was not what was envisaged when it was established. This leaves the UK with two options beyond developing its alternative - ignore rulings in the expectation that expulsion mechanism would be highly unlikely to be enforced or withdraw from the jurisdiction of the ECHR. The latter is seen as an unacceptable option for various political reasons particularly as any rejection will be being presented as being anti-human rights and utilised by the nations that are genuinely anti-rights. However, without such a shock to the system and challenege to groupthink, how else will the runaway train that is the human rights industry be curtailed?

On the full and thorough exposition of this argument I'd recommend Dominic Raab's book, The Assault on Liberty: What went wrong with Rights.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Tell us what your really think Adrian

Ulster Unionist Councillor and slighted UCUNF candidate Adrian Watson has provided his considered and measured views of our new Secretary of State:

"I had the misfortune of meeting Owen Paterson and I've no faith in him whatsoever. This is the man who told me, with no hint of irony, that he was eminently qualified to have an opinion on Northern Ireland politics becuase he'd read 22 books on the subject. Armed with that, he made it clear when it comes to life here he reckons he knows what's best for us."

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

An Analogy for Unionist Unity

Last Friday lunch-time I was discussing with some politically interested but uninvolved friends about the possibilities and probablities of Unionist Unity.

I asked them of possible models to enable a positive Unionist Unity conversation. One person told the tale of the creation of the Lutheran Church. When they gathered together to examine the possibility of establishing the church they asked the plain and simple question "What do we agree on?". The answer to this question proved sufficiently broad and strong that from it the Church was established - that points of consensus put the areas of disagreement in sufficient perspective that they ceased to be a barrier.

Rumour Mill: First Tory Backtrack

During the expenses scandal the then Conservatives NI spokesperson, Owen Paterson said:
"It is completely unacceptable for Sinn Fein representatives, who won't even sit in Parliament, to claim hundreds of thousands at the taxpayers' expense. That is why the Conservatives have consistently opposed members who refuse to take their seats receiving the accommodation allowance."
Now that the transition to government has been made the rumour mill is saying this policy has been quietly dropped in the process.

Unwise Choice of Words

During BBC NI's coverage of the Derry v Armagh Gaelic football game, when discussing whether or not an Armagh player had dived, one of the commentators, Shane King, said the following:

"They talk about Armagh snipers. There was definitely a sniper at work there because I didn't see any contact."

Available on BBC iplayer - comment is made 1 hour 13 minutes 50 seconds in.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Unionist Unity - Keep Calm and Carry On

So far the debate about Unionist Unity has been more media based than anywhere else with some contribution by the blogosphere. However, aspects of it are rather tiresome.

First, most of the contributions to the debate have been from those who are opposed explicitly or implicitly to the concept skewing the discourse, whether it be well-known sceptic Owen Polley or the UUP leader (pro tem) Sir Reg Empey with a notable exception of Burke's corner. A consistent theme of critics has been painting Unionist unity as some sort of ethnic circling of wagons, preordaining the outcome before even a single meeting has been held to discuss the idea nor a single piece of paper written. Some of it is also based on an analysis of the DUP that owes more to 1990 than 2010.

The fact that the analysis and predictions of a number of them have been shown to be fundamentally flawed do not seem to act as a barrier to their words being treated with sage reverence, but it was forever thus.

Second, some of the commentary has also engaged in fantasy politics such as the recent News Letter article on an Alternative Voting system being a life-line for the Ulster Unionists - if the Ulster Unionists should take one lesson from this election it is not to fall for simplistic visions of a restoration of its political fortunes. Meanwhile others have decided the debate is almost over when it has barely begun.

Electorally, Unionist Unity is not an electoral imperative. On the basis of the result, it is perfectly possible for the DUP to maintain largest party status and the UUP to maintain its present size with the possibility of a couple of more seats (I use possibility because as a former member, and now electoral competitor, the UUP's ability to make basic electoral mistakes to their own cost has never ceased to amaze).

Many would see this as a disadvantage, without the electoral imperative then it won't happen. I think it is better as it prevents a shotgun marriage hammered out in a rush and not enabling a meeting of minds of leaders, representatives and members. An alliance borne out of nothing deeper than number crunching would be difficult to sustain for any length of time. This present scenario allows for a more considered process that whether it delivered unity or not could offers the potential for sensible co-operation, improve relationships and possibly even the standard of discourse in Unionism.

Friday, 14 May 2010

What's the problem with 50%+1?

When I was reading through the LibCon, ConLib or ConDem (copyright Daily Mirror) coalition agreement, I did consider the proposal for the new 55% confidence meaure plain unwise. The idea of fixed term parliaments is a reasonable one but the addition of this proposal seemed to be the creation of an unnecessary problem. So it appears to have transpired with Tory disquiet at the proposal being expressed. The new coalition certainly didn't need a row as its third day story but the inclusion of this idea has provided it.

The core problem with the proposal is it could create the circumstances of absolute paralysis. The proposal is not helped by the fact that where the figure
55% appears to have come from. The answer seems to be found in the mathematics of the present parliament. If the coalition fell a Tory minority government could continue under this rule. However, it is not a good idea to shape constitutional practice on the basis of a single and rare election result.

Avoidance seems to have been the immediate position the Tory leadership have adopted. David Cameron has simply talked about the idea of a fixed term parliament. The Leader of the House of Commons, Sir George Young defence of the policy simply ignores the concerns about 55%.

Granted arguments about the constitution do tend to raise the general public to even greater levels of disinterest but 50%+1 is a simple concept which will have much natural sympathy. Cameron did once claim to be the heir to Blair, if he continues with this part of his proposals he'll have inherited Blair's trait towards constitutional vandalism.

Shaping the Union

Below is my article from the political review section of today's News Letter.

If a person had offered the DUP membership 25% of the Northern Ireland vote and 8 MPs last summer or earlier this year then the poor soul would have been trampled in the rush. It is an impressive achievement considering the 2009 European result and the recent media controversies. However, there were enough flaws to ensure level-heads are maintained.

On the positive for the DUP it maintained 8 of its 9 seats despite apocalyptic predictions. The overall Unionist Nationalist split remained stable. There were no nationalist gains. Sinn Fein's vote remained relatively static and Ruane received some well-deserved electoral punishment for her failure at education.

On the negative, the principal architect of the party's strategy and its leader, Peter Robinson, lost his seat in East Belfast. In that constituency the party's core vote of 11,500 stayed loyal but a rainbow coalition of Alliance, UUP, PUP, SDLP and SF votes proved enough to unseat him.

This result has not precipitated a leadership crisis because that is not the DUP’s nature. Its many years as Unionism’s second party taught it to react carefully to public opinion. Some shifts are temporary others permanent, identifying which is which is the key. The UUP’s decades of dominance means that skill is lacking and failure tends to lead to a sense of crisis.

Beyond East Belfast, Fermanagh and South Tyrone remained in Sinn Fein's hands by the cruellest of margins and in South Belfast faced with another split ticket, about 3,000 Unionist voters chose to stay at home. The projections for the Assembly election based on last Friday's result show it will be a fight but the DUP is in pole position.

Last week will undoubtedly lead to a re-examination of the idea of greater Unionist Unity and whatever its outcome, it is a discussion well worth having. Such a debate could contribute to defining 21st century Unionism, thinking about the organisational structures needed and how to build the traditional voter base and a realistic vision for expanding beyond it.

Whatever the details of the result, there is still a strong temptation for the most successful party to celebrate. To boast of how well-crafted the message was. To crow about how strong the campaign was. To heap derision on your opponents for the mistakes they had made. However, for the DUP to achieve the result it did there needed to be something deeper than a good billboard or slogan.

The European election result did contribute but was not crucial. The Unionist electorate gave the DUP a clear shot across its bows. Sensibly, the DUP examination of it identified the correct lessons and its campaign dealt with many of their voters concerns. The result also gave the Unionist electorate a glance into what a three way split in Unionism meant. Amidst all the public anger and perceived unimportance of Europe, this had not been foremost in many minds. Afterwards, it did not look a wise option for the future.

However, the deeper reasoning was how do we shape the Union? Unionists here tend to talk about the Union as if it has a singular meaning but the Union adapts in small and major ways. This is how the internal relationships of the UK change to deal with political, social and economic shifts. This has been its inherent strength. In this election the Unionist electorate were faced with a three way choice of approach to managing those relationships – supplicant, dictator and battler.

The underlying tone of the Ulster Unionist message was that the Union exists on the forbearance of others. For the Union to be maintained we must supplicate ourselves to a ‘national interest’ (aka whatever the government wants). The Conservative link-up reinforced this tone. This is not a new phenomenon in Ulster Unionism with it being the ethos of Trimbleism throughout his leadership.

The TUV had the simple message that Unionism should be the sole determinant of what happens here. The regional interest is supreme. However, 40 years of bitter experience has taught Ulster’s Unionists that is no longer achievable. It is also built on the perception of an Ulster that owes more to 1960 than 2010.

The DUP’s message was the middle path. While we cannot dictate, our interests are not served by rolling over either. In the ongoing process that is the Union, to maintain the cohesion of the whole by battling for a balance between the regional and national.

In their good sense the Unionist electorate recognised that the middle path of seeking balance between the regional and the national is the best approach for the Union and Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

NI Election Review - TUV

I'm intending to do a examination of the Westminster campaigns of the different parties in Northern Ireland. I'll start with the Traditional Unionist Voice.
Overall the TUV campaign was a broad failure. The TUV needed to show it could hold on to the 66,000 voters it got last year. It didn't. If you project its performance from the 10 constituencies it contested, then across NI it has a vote of about 35-38,000 votes. This is consistent with what the Dromore by-election indicated was its core vote. The TUV needed to prove themselves viable for at least 6 Assembly seats but to have the real potential to upset Stormont they needed to be into double figures of seats. It didn't. Assembly projections on last week's result reinforced by their difficulty in attracting transfers would have them on 2-3 seats.
So what did they do wrong?
Media - They had difficulty maintaining a media profile since Jim Allister lost his European seat. Also running the party's press officer as a candidate was not a good recipe for a media profile during a campaign either. Media exposure is much more difficult in a Westminster campaign than a European one so the press operation needed to be a central cog not the after-thought.
Candidates - It failed to provide a full raft of credible candidates. This made them unattractive as Westminster candidates. Crucially, as the expectation was these would be the same candidates for Assembly, the TUV looked an unimpressive choice in the longer-term. They also failed to tie these candidates in closely enough with Allister's brand (something UKUP did successfully with Bob McCartney's brand in the first Assembly election).
Message - There was no message progression from the European election. Their campaign was a virtual carbon copy of the 2009 election. This is a strong temptation when a campaign has worked so well but each campaign needs something new about it. It did not or could not adapt to the different message of the DUP its primary source and competitor for votes. If their message changed at all it was to become even angrier despite the public mood having calmed somewhat but not entirely from last year. This was not a recipe for maintaining 'protest' voters nor attracting further 'floating' voters. Their half-endorsement of the UUP also mixed their message to a small degree.
Representation - This is a structural weakness of the TUV with only a small number of councillors and no MLAs. It did not succeed in getting further defections in terms of elected representatives after the 09 result and this all meant on-the-ground to entrench its performance was severely hampered.
What went wrong for them?
DUP - Their primary competitors successfully identified the right lessons from the European election and adapted its message and campaign accordingly. Essentially those that had voted Allister 1 and Dodds 2, and those who sat at home last year, voted DUP X.
Events - First Past The Post encourages voters to plump and the hung parliament narrative encouraged that further. The question was not about Stormont but about who Unionists would send to Westminster. In that context the TUV were also-rans with the choice between a party with freedom of action or a pre-agreed Tory pact with most Unionists preferring freedom to trusting a tory.
Policing and Justice - This was the issue that did not bark (something I must admit surprised me). In terms of what made Unionists frustrated with Stormont, inertia seems to trump anger over Sinn Fein's presence. The overall package must have impressed the average Unionist voter and the DUP successfully keeping the Loyal Orders on board as regards parading legislation prevented it being developed as a wedge issue.
PS I should have a column in the political review section of the News Letter tomorrow - not my best work afraid my brain is only starting to get into gear again after the election.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Quote of the Day

I have just received by carrier pigeon the quote of the day, it is hard to read in candlelight but I believe Ken Clarke has said:

“In the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it’s not the way to run a modern, sophisticated society.”

Ken obviously has problems with Ulstermen, did one bully him at school?
(Apologies for lack of blogging but there is an election on.)

UPDATE Ken's went for the hat-trick:

"The idea of negotiations with Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, Ulstermen and so on fills me with horror."