Know your constituency: East Derry

2005 results:
Campbell (DUP) 15,225 (42.9%)
McClarty (UUP) 7,498 (21.1%)
Dallat (SDLP) 6,077 (17.1%)
Leonard (SF) 5,709 (16.1%)
Boyle (Alliance) 924 (2.6%)
Samuel (Ind) 71 (0.2%)

2010 declared candidates: Gregory Campbell (DUP), Thomas Conway (SDLP), Barney Fitzpatrick (Alliance), Lesley Macaulay (UCUNF), Cathal Ó hOisín (SF), William Ross (TUV)

Moving along the coast from North Antrim we come to East Derry, which is basically the local government districts of Coleraine and Limavady, plus the rural Banagher and Claudy wards of Derry that were transferred from Foyle in the last boundary review. Coleraine is a decent-sized provincial town, with the NUU campus there; up on the coast you have the resort towns of Portrush and Portstewart; westwards, towards Limavady and beyond, the constituency becomes more rural and more Catholic.

The 2005 results may make things look predictable here, but East Derry is wide open this time round. Again, it’s the result of the Prodiban insurgency, which has led to the scariest comeback since Dracula – yes, it’s Willie Ross! The septuagenarian Monday Clubber, who represented this area for the UUP from 1974 to 2001, has emerged from retirement, become TUV party president and will be the candidate for his new party. The broad masses down in Belfast scratched their heads at this news and said “Jeepers, Willie Ross. I thought he was dead.” Then DUP supporters did a double take and said, “Oh shit.” If Jim Allister is a bad enemy to make, so is Willie Ross, and he would gain a certain grim satisfaction in bringing down Gregory Campbell, who unseated him back in 2001.

Ideology is a factor – Grumpy Gregory has positioned himself alongside Willie McCrea as one of the DUP’s leading hardliners, which might be thought to proof him against mass defections to the TUV, though whether that’s enough to satisfy TUVers who regard the Dupes as basically a Lundy party is another matter. (Conversely, Gregory is perhaps not best placed to woo moderate unionists who want to make the Executive work.) But geography comes into play as well. Willie Ross always had a very firm base of support amongst the dour Prods of Limavady, where there’s quite a strong milieu of dissident unionism. But the more populous Coleraine end of the constituency came to feel neglected, and that’s where there was a big swing to Gregory in the first instance. Word is that this effect may be repeated, since Gregory is a Derry city native without much in the way of local roots – again, note Willie McCrea’s unpopularity in South Antrim – but the Rossite base in Limavady is a complication Gregory did not need.

Back in 2001, the Campbell margin over Ross was quite narrow – less than 5% – but Gregory pulled far into the lead in the 2005 DUP landslide, chipping into the Rossite wing of the UUP while also mopping up support that had gone to local dissident unionists such as Boyd Douglas or Pauline Armitage. The dominance was confirmed by the 2007 Assembly election, which put the DUP just below 40% and the UUP slumping below 20%. So the question will be one of just how much of the DUP vote Willie Ross can hive off. That is anybody’s guess, but a serious surge to the TUV could see three, four, maybe even five parties in contention. Again, you have to grant the DUP incumbency and more of a machine than the other unionist parties, but if Gregory begins to look vulnerable then all bets are off. Never underestimate how much the DUP rely on the myth of invulnerability.

The nationalist vote in East Derry has been creeping upwards to the 35% mark and beyond, and the boundary revision will give it another slight boost. The two nationalist parties have actually been fairly closely matched over the last decade. Sinn Féin first snuck ahead in the 2003 Stormont poll; the 2005 Westminster and local government results were more or less neck and neck; in the 2007 Assembly election SF established a firm lead of 20% to 13%. One caveat is that SF’s Francie Brolly, the uncrowned king of Dungiven, had a very large personal vote in 2007 – the SDLP’s John Dallat is also personally well regarded, though, and has consistently done well in Coleraine for a very long time. However, both nationalist parties have got fresh candidates this time, for reasons of age. SF have opted not to run their Coleraine-based MLA Billy Leonard – which is a disappointment for those who feel an ex-RUC, ex-Orange Order, Protestant republican adds some colour to proceedings – and chosen incumbent Limavady mayor Cathal Ó hOisín, who may not have Francie Brolly’s personal following but is at least plugged in to the SF stronghold around Dungiven. The SDLP candidate is Derry city councillor Thomas Conway, who has strong enough support in the Banagher-Claudy area – although that’s a marginal part of the constituency and one imagines he’ll need to lean heavily on the old Dallat vote in Coleraine.

What with demographics and boundary changes, there’s been speculation before that a split unionist vote could see a nationalist come through the middle. I don’t think that’s terribly likely – it would rely on a lot of imponderables, such as the UCUNF vote holding up (but not increasing significantly), the TUV taking a good half of the DUP vote and the nationalist vote consolidating around a single candidate (itself unlikely with the two parties not widely separated in support). Although a nationalist win on a split unionist vote is mathematically possible, there probably isn’t the critical mass yet for a South Belfast scenario. (And yet, stranger things have happened. Look at North Belfast in 1979.) I would add the rider, though, that in areas like East Derry, unionism doesn’t have such an enormous dominance that it can sustain three-way splits indefinitely; and nationalist turnout has a tendency to soar when the smell of victory is in the air.

You can get an on-the-spot overview from Roe Valley Socialist, and the resurrection of Willie Ross has provoked the funniest tweet of the campaign so far, courtesy of engaging UCUNF candidate Lesley Macaulay. What would Matt Smith have to say about that?

18 Comments

  1. slug said,

    April 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Lesley Macaulay does have good lines. On spelling her name – raised because of a spelling mistake on her posters – she tweeted that she “has three “a”s, that’s one for every job Greg Cambell has”, and “of course the DUP prefer words with 3 ‘E’s like ‘ExpEnsEs’ and ‘dEvElopErs’ “

  2. Garibaldy said,

    April 17, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Is the lizard a particular candidate, or is it one size fits all?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      April 17, 2010 at 8:11 pm

      It’s a gila monster. I thought something Jurassic and venomous would be appropriate.

      • Garibaldy said,

        April 17, 2010 at 9:04 pm

        I thought it was your man out of Kiss for a minute. In a move to rival Flash Harry.

      • robert said,

        April 17, 2010 at 10:41 pm

        but is he a protestant lizard or a catholic lizard?

      • harry monro said,

        April 17, 2010 at 11:34 pm

        but its not got its sash on

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        April 17, 2010 at 11:47 pm

        I could swear I’ve seen gila monsters with orange colouring.

      • harry monro said,

        April 18, 2010 at 12:47 pm

        And of course there is that old tune, Gila Bolero

  3. slug said,

    April 17, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Ross will appeal to the hardliners, Lesley Macaulay to the young and the moderates and Cambell falls in between. This one could go any of three ways.

    The UCUs are helped by a strong TUV candidate here but he might be so strong as to beat them.

  4. April 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    the “first past the post”-system = electoral lottery, especially in NI?

    • weserei said,

      April 18, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      Only because of their bizarre insistence that there are more than two possible viewpoints worth entertaining.

  5. chjh said,

    April 18, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I quite liked this http://bobballs.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/dup-thoroughly-spanked-over-billboard-poster/ (via The Bureau of Sabotage).

  6. Mark Victorystooge said,

    April 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Often they do have orange colouring. At first I thought it was a Komodo dragon, but they are much bigger.

  7. April 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm

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  8. April 20, 2010 at 7:24 am

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  9. cushy glenn said,

    April 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Ross’s campaign in 2001 was basically abandoned by the nice Coleraine Unionists and Trimble central. I hear he’s got a very strong team on the ground this time, and underestimate the grey panthers at your peril. Campbell’s organisation is very small this time, and he’s been astonishingly quiet for months. Ross is also picking up a lot more disillusioned Unionist votes than expected to his pleasant surprise. “You were right Willie” is the phrase most often uttered.
    While Macaulay is personable enough, she’s really not cut out for the rural voter, as she’s really an Alliancey type- perfect for Mountsandel but so wrong for Garvagh or Burnfoot. Fitting the Tory template perfectly works in south east England but not here. How well Ross does depends on whether he can persuade enough Unionists that he’s the best one to deliver the protest vote to an unloved incumbent.

    And-as any fule kno- William Hartnell’s Doctor was an old man whose understated decency and cunning gained from centuries of experience often defeated superficially superior foes like the Daleks. He also was over 900 years old and still fighting- be careful whayyou wish for Lesley!!!

  10. April 21, 2011 at 9:27 am

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