In fact, if Bob “Cream Bun” McCartney is running in six constituencies, one might say that Grizzly is running in all eighteen. This time more than ever, the Provos are running a determinedly presidential campaign. So, although they are standing a five-person ticket in West Belfast – they should have four safe seats out of six, and last time out weren’t far off a fifth quota – the other four may as well be anonymous. Of course, Sinn Féin Nua do have a slight problem in that their other proven vote-getter, Twinbrook’s Michael Ferguson, is inconveniently deceased. Plus, putting Sue “Shell Dockley” Ramsey on a poster might actually lose them votes.
The main problem the Provos are facing in the West is apathy. Those who bother to vote still vote more or less monolithically for Gerry and his crew, but turnout has been plunging in recent years. Such has been the problem that, when it turned out a few months back that thousands of West Belfast residents had dropped off the electoral register, the Provos flew into a panic and launched a registration campaign that extended to free registration forms being given away with copies of the Andytown News. Now the registered electorate is back up to healthy levels, but the “Who gives a toss?” tendency is growing markedly.
Republican Belfast has been much easier for the Gerryites to control than those restless areas out in the sticks, and mooted republican challenges haven’t gained much momentum. Early moves to draft Brendan Hughes as a candidate ran up against Brendan’s poor health, so the only republican challenger in Belfast is RSF’s Geraldine Taylor, who has a certain profile in her native Poleglass. Geraldine is a tough old lady and necessarily so for somebody who annoys the Provos to the extent she does. But I suspect if Geraldine does manage to pull in some votes – and the odds are against her – it will be less because of her dogmatic republicanism and more because of her hard line against the hoods. Everyone in West Belfast knows that the place is a den of criminality, and this is unlikely to be improved by Gerry’s endorsement of the RUC. In fact, the Provos joining policing structures would just make the West an even closer approximation of Sicily. West Belfast people are fairly pragmatic folk, and there is a substantial body of opinion in favour of beating the shit out of the hoods.
This will not help the South Down and Londonderry Party, who are struggling to hold onto their single seat although, with heroic optimism, they are putting up two candidates and will have to rely on super-efficient transfers. The SDLP’s major pitch is that they were right to endorse the cops in 2001 rather than 2007, and the voters should be thanking them for blazing the trail the Provos are now following. Alex Attwood should ask himself whether that pitch has worked in the recent past. Trouble is, the classic Provo mix of crony capitalism and low-level vigilantism was remarkably popular for a long time, and, while there used to be votes to be had in being the anti-violence party, vying with non-violent Provos on the grounds of being fanatically in favour of the rule of law puts the SDLP on a hiding to nothing.
On the other side, the DUP’s Diane Dodds will monopolise the Shankill vote and be in strong contention to retain her seat. The OUP are running some anonymous numpty and the PUP, despite Hughie Smyth’s years of service at City Hall, aren’t running at all.
Which leaves the odds and sods. I’ve written about the SWP – sorry, People Before Profit’s Seán Mitchell already, and I’ll return to the far left presently. But there is some morbid interest to be had in the Workers Party’s masochistic participation. Every election, you think the WP’s once substantial vote can’t sink any lower, and every time you’re proved wrong. Is it physically possible for the long-suffering John Lowry to get fewer votes than last time? Will we actually see him dip into negative figures?