Know your constituency: North Antrim

2005 result:
Paisley (DUP) 25,156 (54.8%)
McGuigan (SF) 7,191 (15.7%)
McCune (UUP) 6,637 (14.5%)
Farren (SDLP) 5,585 (12.2%)
Dunlop (Alliance) 1,357 (3.0%)

2010 declared candidates: Jim Allister (TUV), Irwin Armstrong (UCUNF), Jayne Dunlop (Alliance), Daithí McKay (SF), Declan O’Loan (SDLP), Ian Paisley Jr (DUP)

As we kick off our constituency guide for the Westminster election, there’s no better place to start than North Antrim. This used to be the most predictable of constituencies – held by Big Ian for forty years with unassailable majorities, it’s now become the site of a battle royal for the soul of rightwing unionism.

The constituency centres around the commercial hub of Ballymena, but with a very large rural component, taking in the local government districts of Ballymena and Ballymoney along with most of Moyle. It’s heavily Protestant and, within that, heavily Presbyterian with a strong fundamentalist admixture. Not surprising, then, that it should have been the base for Ballymena native Ian Paisley, whose old-time religion and assiduous work at securing help for farmers made him an unbeatable proposition.

But now the octogenarian Papa Doc is retiring, perhaps to join Eileen in the Lords, and Baby Doc – a living embodiment of the law of diminishing returns – is seeking to replace him. Sensibly, Junior has been taking Dad out on the campaign trail with him; he also has the advantage of the possibility that a lot of culchies will see the name “Ian Paisley” on the ballot paper and not bother to ask which one. However, it’s not written yet that Junior will coast into parliament, as he might have expected in time gone by.

The reason for this is the irrepressible Jim Allister, who has made North Antrim the heartland of his Prodiban insurgency. North Antrim was the core of the original DUP base; and the Traditional Unionist Voice is essentially the Continuity DUP, with less hymn-singing and shorn of the Paisley personality cult. Several local DUP councillors have defected; and TUV tallymen reckoned that in the European election Allister outpolled the DUP in North Antrim. Furthermore, Allister is what’s euphemistically called a “formidable campaigner” – which is to say he’s clever, ruthless and knows where the DUP’s bodies are buried – and clearly fancies his chances against the hapless and gaffe-prone Baby Doc. And he has a message that will resonate with traditional DUP supporters who reacted strongly against power-sharing with the rebels, and are further pissed off by issues ranging from DUP-linked property developers riding roughshod over residents to DUP ministers signing cheques for gay organisations.

Still, you would have to make Junior the favourite, both because of inertia and because the historic DUP vote is so massive. Sunny Jim, though, will put up a stiff fight, quite possibly running him close. Another thing to watch is the UCUNF vote – the old UUP vote in the constituency has declined quite sharply in recent years, and new Tory contender Irwin Armstrong might be vulnerable to a squeeze – even from traditional UUP voters who fancy giving the Paisleys a bloody nose after years of humiliation.

The other thing to watch, as usual in our federal elections, is the intra-nationalist battle. Traditionally, Catholics in North Antrim kept a very low profile, and voted overwhelmingly for the SDLP. Sinn Féin candidates never did much business, but at the 2005 election Dunloy man Philip McGuigan managed to squeeze ahead of the veteran Seán Farren. Demographics is a factor, as is the continued sectarian polarisation in certain villages in the constituency. The two sitting MLAs, long-standing SDLP man Declan O’Loan on the one hand, SF’s youthful Rasharkin native Daithí McKay on the other, are not unattractive candidates in their different ways; but Daithí maintaining or extending the SF advantage would be my bet. This comes into play for next year’s Stormont election, where boundary changes (the loss of a few Glens wards to East Antrim) put a question mark over the second nationalist seat, which is why Declan O’Loan will be fighting hard.

But for North Antrim in general, watch Allister. The TUV’s effect in most other areas it’s contesting will be to slice off some of the DUP vote, to the possible advantage of some other party; in North Antrim, Allister is indisputably a contender in his own right. And he may have a Dad’s Army party with a lack of credible candidates, but then so did Big Ian back in the day.

Rud eile: Just heard earlier this evening that the incomparable Madam Miaow is shortlisted for the blogging section of the Orwell Prize. Congratulations are in order. Update: and congrats also to Penny Red – two lefty women in the final six is going some. Maith sibh!

26 Comments

  1. neilcaff said,

    April 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

    “Baby Doc – a living embodiment of the law of diminishing returns”
    Brilliant

    “the possibility that a lot of culchies will see the name “Ian Paisley” on the ballot paper and not bother to ask which one.”
    Mean, but probably true.

  2. April 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Any idea if all the carry on surrounding young Paisleys leaflet will have any impact?

  3. April 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Just did an interview with Martina Purdy there for the BBC North Antrim profile piece. This will be going out on Tuesday. They’ve also asked a number of people in Ballymena town who they’re voting for. It will be interesting to watch for that alone.

  4. robert said,

    April 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    TUV are right about the undemocratic nature of compulsory coalition, but in a situation where people vote on sectarian lines and one community would be locked into a permanent minority what is the alternative? Apart from a united Ireland that is.

  5. slug said,

    April 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    ““the possibility that a lot of culchies will see the name “Ian Paisley” on the ballot paper and not bother to ask which one.””

    I don’t actually think this is true . People know what’s happening and people differentiate between the two Ian Paisleys. I have a feeling TUV could win it.

  6. Garibaldy said,

    April 16, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I really hope your feeling is wrong slug (did I really just say I wanted the DUP to win an election? Combined with the Icelandic volcano, I’m beginning to think the end is nigh). Best case scenario, Allister receives a sound thrashing, the same is true of the TUV elsewhere, and his organisation loses (its sometimes exaggerated) momentum.

    • slug said,

      April 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

      I’m hearing of Ulster Unionist voters voting for Allister to get IPJ out. There was a lot of coverage of IPJ’s dealings relating to property, in the local media-left a bad taste. I sense there is a lot of anger against the DUP in general and the Paisleys in particular (both father and son for different reasons). IPJ never lived locally and never really seems one of us in Ballymena-unlike other candidates. The idea of people voting IPJ to give Alister a thrashing – your stated hope – don’t seem likely to me.

      • Garibaldy said,

        April 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

        Cheers Slug. I hadn’t meant people deliberately going against Allister, just that I hoped he lost big because people are happy enough with devolved government, and don’t want to risk it.

        Which is what I would say to YC about his wish to see the TUV split the unionist vote. The main result of that would be unionism retreating to the right, and an increase in sectarian wrangling.

      • yourcousin said,

        April 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

        There’s already been a retreat to the right and an increase in sectarian wrangling, it’s the FST constituency. And that is is under the banner of a new and improved civic unionism.

        Who knew that all the along the solution to sectarian politics was to simply take the Tory whip?

    • Garibaldy said,

      April 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      YC,

      This pact thing comes up every Westminster election. It didn’t happen the last few times because the DUP was in 2001 anti-agreement, and in 2005 determined to break the UUP. In many senses this is a return to the norm. Sectarian though the pact is, the more important thing is that the Executive functions properly. The F/ST pact need not affect that. A large number of seats for the TUV next year most certainly would.

      • yourcousin said,

        April 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm

        True a large number of seats most certainly would do that to the assembly, but this is where we differ. I don’t think they’ll get any more than maybe a few. The whole TUV thing is so centered around hating the DUP that I have a hard time seeing them able to take off outside of that niche market. Also they hate the DUP so much that they transfer to the UUP. So by encouraging the radicals you up propping up the “moderates” . See that’s a win, win situation. But hey, if I’m wrong and some how hypothetically the TUV take off and things really go shit at least you can say “I told you so”.

        Also the this pact while a return to the norm for Westminister elections does have a huge impact on how the executive will run. How are the “moderates” of the SDLP and UCUNF supposed to work together now? For all of the talk about trying to counter balance the DUP/SF lash up this pact and election will have serious ramification for all parties in the upcoming Assembly election. The UCUNF image of non-sectarianism is in tatters. The SDLP with their celebrity candidate who never had a chance to begin with will contribute to a pan prod victory under the banner “representing” their voters in Westminister. I mean seriously look at the voting figures they don’t really do shit. At least the Shinners can hide behind the fig leaf of principle rather than just being lazy.

        Short term victory unionism, long term victory SF. But that analysis will have to wait for another time.

      • Garibaldy said,

        April 17, 2010 at 2:01 pm

        I don’t think they’ll get that many YC, but a strong winning a seat at Westminster would certainly make them look more credible. I also think that when it comes down to it, a lot of TUV voters in Assembly elections will transfer to UUP then DUP. It’s still primarily about keeping the other side out for most NI voters.

        I’d agree about the UCUNF claims to non-sectarian politics being in tatters. As for the putative moderate coalition v the DUP/Provos. I think the tribalism pretty much rules that out anyway. Although more effective coordination might still be possible.

  7. yourcousin said,

    April 17, 2010 at 4:27 am

    Why is it that posts about micro groupings engaged in naval gazing exercises can get you over a hundred comments, but some of the best and most insightful commentary on NI can has a hard time breaking ten comments?

    Though BTW I hope TUV romp home in NA and rejuvenate the TUV base for the Assembly election thereby splitting the unionist vote three ways.

    • April 17, 2010 at 5:52 am

      Precisely because the readers of this blog have a possibility of influencing the internal politics of the Judean People’s Front (Provisional) which they don’t with the Democratic Unionist Party.

    • April 17, 2010 at 8:51 am

      A lot of people following these blogs attach greater political significance to those micro-groupings and the left generally sorting themselves out than neoliberal parties pursuing business as usual. And, of course, GB is a lot bigger than NI, which has much to do with it.

      I agree with your broader point, though. Brilliant analysis as ever. I do wonder if there’s an inch of ground in NI that Splinty doesn’t have an ear to.

    • Ciarán said,

      April 19, 2010 at 1:38 am

      It’ll be a while before anyone else can benefit from a three-way unionist split in a place like North Antrim.

  8. EddM said,

    April 17, 2010 at 11:54 am

    So interesting to read posts like this as someone who knows little about Northern Ireland politics.

    A slightly unrelated question: Is Nothern Ireland having its own leaders debates or is it stuck with the same vacuous crap as the rest of us?

  9. slug said,

    April 17, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Geribaldy

    Thing about devolution – people are not “happy enough” with it to vote DUP. They’d probably see it as worthwhile having an oppositional voice in Stormont and in Westminster. I am not a TUV supporter at all but the lack of an opposition in the system at Stormont has created a vacuum.

  10. neilcaff said,

    April 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Regarding “business as usual” and the perception that there is no efective oposition in Stormont, how will this effect voter turn out?

    One of the things I’ve found striking about door knocking here in London is how little enthusiasm there is for any of the parties, even for people who’ve made up their minds who they are going to vote for.

    From talking to people from the North and reading various posts here, it’s been metioned a few times that there is a certain discontent in the bases of SF and DUP (i.e. SF not really delivering on a united Ireland, DUP too cosy with the Provos etc) and also some of the scandals that have erupted re property developers and so on.

    I’m not saying the alienation from the political parties is as deep in the North as it seems to be in Britain but do you think there will be a big feeling of ‘a plague on both your houses’ in this election or will the sectarian head count, keep the other lot out, nature of elections cut across that?

    • slug said,

      April 18, 2010 at 11:30 am

      neilcaff

      The alienation from the DUP is pretty strong from what I can detect and from all directions of support – the base and the new voters. Discontent focuses on political, expenses, developers, sex, the Robinson family and their double jobbing, etc I would expect that to affect both DUP vote share and their core turnout, with TUV doing a lot of business.

      The TUV and UUP to a lesser extent are the opposition that’s why they can do well. But our system has no official opposition. That leaves a vacuum to be filled by others – perhaps those currently seen as fringe.

  11. April 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    [...] some of the major parties. Hopefuly, Splintered Sunrise will get around to him in the course of his indispensable guides to the Norn Iron [...]

  12. emanonon said,

    April 28, 2010 at 6:36 am

    The electorate in North Antrim is in a volatile state, the level of disgust for the DUP in many areas is remarkable, and Allister seems to becoming deflated in his attempts to get votes. The CU’s without doubt are receiving a much better reception that the elections in 2005 and 7. There may well be a low turnout of voters who no longer have no faith in any politicians.

    It is likely the DUP will survive with a much reduced majority from 25,000 to 3,000 or 4,000 with the TUV and CU’s fighting it out for second place with the CU’s shading it..

  13. April 28, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    [...] I highly recommend Splintered Sunrise’s Know Your Constituency series of posts, especially the one for North Antrim, where Ian Paisley’s seat may be lost by Ian Jr to the TUV leader Jim Allister. The Ulster [...]

  14. April 1, 2011 at 10:31 am

    [...] And Splintered Sunrise’s Westminster profile from last year… « Culture After Conflict: Between Remembrance and [...]


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