Know your constituency: Foyle

2005 results:
Durkan (SDLP) 21,119 (46.3%)
McLaughlin (SF) 15,162 (33.2%)
Hay (DUP) 6,557 (14.1%)
McCann (SEA) 1,649 (3.6%)
Storey (UUP) 1,094 (2.4%)
Reel (Dream Ticket) 31 (0.1%)

2010 declared candidates: Martina Anderson (SF), Maurice Devenney (DUP), Mark Durkan (SDLP), David Harding (UCUNF), Eamonn McCann (People Before Profit), Keith McGrellis (Alliance)

By special request from Jim, our next constituency profile is Foyle, which is the politically correct name for the constituency covering Derry city. Foyle used to be coterminous with the Derry City Council area, but in the latest boundary revision has lost the Banagher and Claudy wards (much of its rural hinterland) to East Derry. I think that makes Foyle a borough rather than county constituency, if that matters any more.

The constituency is around 75% Catholic (the second highest percentage after West Belfast, and growing as the ageing Protestant population migrates east) and also ranks high on deprivation indices (again, following West Belfast). To a very large extent, it consists of massive working-class housing estates, the sort of estates where you don’t go out after eight at night. And yet, it’s the longtime stronghold of the SDLP, which is a bit incongruous given the sociological profile of the Schoolteachers, Doctors and Lawyers Party. It’s a bit like UKIP electing an MP in Hackney. And yet, perhaps it can be explained.

Firstly, Derry always had a firmer and more secure Catholic bourgeoisie than Belfast, let alone somewhere like Newry or Dungannon. Apart from social factors, and the Catholic majority, there was also the fact of the river acting as a sectarian boundary – so the Troubles were largely a confrontation between West Bank nationalists and the Brits, without the multiple sectarian interfaces of Belfast, and with the Prods out of sight and out of mind. Further, it was the Derry traders, via their intervention in the early civil rights movement, who were able to shape that movement and thus shape what became the SDLP. While the SDLP in Belfast relied largely on the personalities of Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin; and while the SDLP in most rural areas (South Down was a bit different, as we shall see) was very much dependent on personal votes for local notables such as head teachers or GPs, with little in the way of organisation; it was in Derry that it most closely resembled an actual party.

The personal charisma of John Hume played an enormous part in this, of course, and the party in Derry was built in his image. Hence the strange situation of a party which you would expect to be a reflection of Derry’s very confident and prosperous middle class, the sort of people who live in big flashy new houses in the city’s more bourgeois areas, and who strain every sinew to get their kids into Lumen Christi – and this is not entirely untrue, but the party still clings quixotically to its left-of-centre self-image, notably on issues such as academic selection, when a Christian Democratic ideology might more accurately reflect its sociological base. This is the Hume legacy, of course, and perhaps helps explain why the SDLP has still retained quite a bit of working-class support.

Which leads us to the battle within nationalism. Before the ceasefire, the SDLP regularly outpolled Sinn Féin here by three to one, with the two parties duking it out on equal terms even in the heart of the Bogside. In more recent years, the gap has been closing, with the SDLP vote in gentle decline while the SF vote has shot up from under 20% to over 30%. Last time out, the Shinners reckoned they could take down Hume’s successor Mark Durkan and decapitate the SDLP; they fell far short, though, and Mitchel McLaughlin has since been shunted off to South Antrim. Those figures tell a story, though.

As noted, the Shinners were on 33% in the 2005 Westminster election and polled a similar amount in the simultaneous local election. But, while Durkan could poll 46% in the general, his party pulled in a notably lower 41% in the locals. Evidently, and we’ll get to this, there was a certain amount of unionist tactical voting for Durkan. In the 2007 Stormont election, where PR obviated the need for tactical voting, the SDLP advantage was a mere 37% to 31%, but that in itself was virtually unchanged since the 2003 Stormont election. The SF vote seems relatively stable now in the low to mid-thirties, while Durkan outpolls his party, and indeed can lift his party.

While the gap has been narrowing over the last decade, it’s hard not to call this for Durkan. He himself, while he isn’t Hume, is a capable representative in his own right and well liked in Derry. SF, meanwhile, have lost Martin McGuinness to Mid Ulster and Mitchel McLaughlin to South Antrim, and their current candidate is Martina Anderson, who often adds colour to Stormont Live with her day-glo wardrobe. Martina – a former member of the Brighton bombing team, and latterly SF’s rather bizarre pick as director of unionist outreach – is a passable candidate, but not the outstanding candidate who would be needed to overhaul Durko’s starting advantage.

There’s also the tactical vote. If we compare the 2005 Westminster figures with the simultaneous local elections, we can see that the SF vote was very similar between the two, but Durkan outpolled the SDLP by nearly 3000. On the other hand, the Westminster results saw the DUP underperform by around 700 and the UUP by 1000 – that is, half the UUP’s local vote didn’t translate to Westminster. It’s not hard to conclude that these were unionists voting tactically for Durkan to keep McLaughlin out. That’s another built-in advantage for Durkan.

Over on the unionist side, the DUP has long been dominant up here, and can count on at least four-fifths of the unionist vote – that which doesn’t go tactically to Durkan. Although city councillor Maurice Devenney has been drafted in to take Assembly speaker Willie Hay’s place on the ballot paper, that’s unlikely to change. The UUP is virtually extinct in the city, and realistically the main task for David Harding – who hails from far-off Portballintrae – will be to fly the UCUNF flag, and hope to grow the vote a little with the Assembly and supercouncil elections in mind.

Finally, the odds and ends that make Derry more interesting. Foyle saw a rather strong performance at the Stormont election for dissident republican candidate Peggy O’Hara, with a campaign backed by the IRSP and Republican Sinn Féin. Assuming there is no dissident candidate this time, many of her 1800 voters will stay at home; others will go to either Martina Anderson or to the People Before Profit Alliance. This last is represented by popular teevee personality Eamonn McCann, who knows everybody in Derry and has forty-plus years of radical activism behind him. What with the decision of The Workers Party to sit this one out, Eamo will probably be the only explicitly socialist candidate in the north. He’s a very attractive candidate – perhaps the only such personality the left has – but he will once again be looking to build the base rather than be in contention. Eamo’s previous electoral forays have established a ballpark of between 1500 and 2000 votes, which is respectable enough; he may be tactically squeezed in a first-past-the-post contest, although since his STV transfers tend to divide equally between the SDLP and SF, it would be a two-way squeeze that wouldn’t affect the outcome.

Barring an earthquake, then, Durkan should hold on; the SDLP’s real problems will be elsewhere.


  1. jim jepps said,

    April 20, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Thanks for this – very useful!

  2. Mark P said,

    April 20, 2010 at 2:12 am

    A more optimistic take on McCann’s prospects was given by the man himself at a recent public meeting in Dublin. The video of his speech is on Indymedia. From what I recall, the target they have set is 5,000 votes and the idea seems to be to get McCann into the Stormont Assembly.

    Quite early on he mentioned his vote and that of O’Hara as the existing left vote, although also saying that they weren’t quite the same. That at least seemed to indicate that they hope that he could get a chunk of those votes.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      April 20, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      Heh. If you add together the McCann and O’Hara votes that takes you up to about 4000, and I suppose 5000 could get you elected with a decent level of transfers – although I give Foyle two safe SDLP seats, two safe SF seats and one safe DUP seat, so that would be relying on SDLP/SF voters to transfer to McCann over and above their third candidate. Possible, but optimistic with both parties fighting hard for that final seat.

      The interesting thing about Mrs O’Hara’s candidacy was that she pulled 1800 votes out of nowhere without the McCann vote going down (although the PSF vote was down very slightly). That indicates a different source I think. Some of it from RSF or IRSP types who wouldn’t normally vote, some from disgruntled PSF supporters registering a protest with their first preference. I’m sure some of them might support McCann – more likely in a PR election, this – but to get more than a slice, you’d have to think about appealing to that audience, and I’m not sure Eamonn would want to appeal specifically to that audience.

      The other thing to watch would be whether there was another dissident candidacy for Stormont, and different groups will be examining their options. Still, no harm in being ambitious; but the Derry/Strabane supercouncil might be a more realistic target.

      • Mark P said,

        April 20, 2010 at 5:11 pm

        I was pretty startled by his bit about the O’Hara vote being a left one. Some of it probably is left, but its primarily a dissident republican vote, a category which stretches from left republicans all the way across to Gerry McGeough. If those people had been primarily looking for a left candidate to back, they’d have voted McCann in the first place. They were not and they did not.

        And yes it poses a bit of a strategic dilemma for the SWP/PBPA – how much of a nod and a wink are they willing to give the dissidents in return for the lend of a vote? Their general motion over decades has been away from left republicanism and I wouldn’t expect to see a substantive shift back in that direction, but there might be some temptation to get the dog whistle out.

  3. remaunsell said,

    April 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

    martina anderson she of the
    ” poles not real Catholics”

  4. April 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for this profile, very informative.

  5. ejh said,

    April 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    The Workers Party

    That should be “the Workers’ Party”.

  6. Garibaldy said,

    April 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I think you’ve made that point before EJH, if I remember right, and SS said he reckoned it was a hangover from Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party. It serves as a form of emphasis however it got started.

    Anyway, pedantry aside. I think Mark P’s point is an interesting one. 5,000 votes is an ambitious total, given McCann’s last vote was 2,000, with about 1,700 I think for Peggy O’Hara. Even if McCann is right, and this is a left vote, that’s still a big leap. However, it depends to some extent on the disillusionment with the Provos. That has clearly grown in Derry since the last election (witness RAAD’s kneecappings) but at the same time, other dissidents with whom McCann has cooperated on things like Rayethon seem to have become more apolitical if Suzanne Breen is right. So I reckon his vote could grow, but not by as much as might be expected by adding the two totals together. Equally, I could see his vote growing substantially if he taps into disillusioned young people and they see him as a viable alternative. Hard to know, but I lean towards the former.

    • Mark P said,

      April 20, 2010 at 5:28 pm

      Here is the McCann speech:

      Other things to note:

      1) They’ve opened an election office in the centre of Derry.

      2) They have some former SF election chief in the city running their campaign. Both of these things speak of a likely greater professionalism in their campaign than they managed in Derry previously – notably failing to get a McCann a Council seat when they stood him in the wrong ward.

      3) They think that a big vote in Derry for McCann will act as a beacon for a more serious left challenge across most of the North – “there are seats for the left in the Assembly next summer” in McCann’s words. This seems to be pretty disconnected from reality.

      It fits with the general upbeat to the point of mania assessments the SWP have been pushing for years now, but I don’t think it fits with the reality on the ground.

  7. Captain Rock said,

    April 20, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Whose the ex-SF chief? From Belfast or Derry?

    • Mark P said,

      April 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      McCann doesn’t say her name, he just says its the woman who used to be in charge of various electoral things in Derry for SF.

  8. Justin Moran said,

    April 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    It’s interesting, in light of McCann’s claims, to look at where O’Hara’s votes went in 2007.

    She polled 1789 votes and by the time she was eliminated she was up to 1812 votes (mostly Green transfers it seems but negligible).

    Her vote split:
    McCann 588
    Sinn Féin 440 (Between Anderson, Fleming and McCartney)
    SDLP 470 (Between Bradley, Quigley and Ramsey – Durkan elected at this point)
    UUP 1 (Honestly)
    Non trans 313

    So while McCann got more transfers than anyone else, he still got less than a third of O’Hara’s possible transfers. When he was eliminated he still had only half a quota and the next candidate above him was the UUP candidate, whom I would assume would not be transfer friendly.

    He’d need to find around 13 to 15 hundred more votes from somewhere to be even fighting for the last seat and then, again on 2007 figures, it would have been him versus two SDLP candidates, either one of which would have put the other over him. Even another 2,000 votes would probably leave him short.

    And by the way, not knowing Derry, dissident republican candidate’s voters transfer to the SDLP more (even if only slightly) than SF or non transferable? What’s that about?

    • Mark P said,

      April 20, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      It’s about a lot of dissidents hating SF more than the SDLP. Much as the UUP will be hoping for some TUV transfers in the next Assembly elections.

  9. Mark P said,

    April 20, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I see from Garibaldy’s post over on Cedar Lounge that the Provos have unilaterally withdrawn their candidate from South Belfast, so that all of our ‘uns can vote together against them ‘uns. Anna Lo described their move as “despicable tribal politics” and well, it’s hard to disagree.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      April 20, 2010 at 8:50 pm

      It’s been on the cards. Maskey pulling out was to be the quid pro quo for McKinney standing down in Fermanagh. A bit surprising they did it unilaterally, but it puts some more pressure on the SDLP. The Save Michelle campaign is having a lot of resonance in Fermanagh.

      • Ciarán said,

        April 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm

        And it’s no accident that Adams made that particular announcement in Enniskillen of all places.

    • Phil said,

      April 20, 2010 at 10:25 pm

      That whole “leaving sectarianism behind and returning to normal politics” thing isn’t going too well, is it?

  10. nick said,

    April 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    find these very informative and useful, will you be doing more – will one appear for the armagh/craigavon area?

  11. Captain Rock said,

    April 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    ‘The Save Michelle campaign is having a lot of resonance in Fermanagh.’ They can build an alliance with the ‘Save Sean Quinn’ campaign, that has a lot of resonance up there too, and Sinn Fein seem happy with it.

  12. John Meehan said,

    April 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I am going to make an exception to my rule of not engaging in online discussions with anonymistas and ask Mark P of the Socialist Party a question – are you in favour of voting for Eamonn McCann in the Westminster Election?

    A Yes or a No please.


    (the reason i am making an exception is that I know the real person behind the Mark P mask).

    • Mark P said,

      April 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Hi John,

      Yes, I would vote for McCann if I had a vote in Foyle.

      There are some things I would be critical of him over – quite a number of things in fact – but he’s the only candidate standing who is offering any type of left alternative. I think, for instance, that he is seriously mistaken to regard the dissident republican vote in Derry as a “left” vote. I think that he’s wrong about the prospects for the left next year. I think that adopting the name and programme of People Before Profit is something of a step backwards from the Socialist Environmental Alliance or SWP. But despite those disagreements, I would certainly advocate that people vote for him and I hope that he gets a substantial vote.


      • John Meehan said,

        April 22, 2010 at 12:31 am

        Well said Mark.

        I attended the Dublin Meeting in Wynn’;s Hotel addressed by the candidate – people not present can see the McCann speech online thanks to the great work of Paula Geraghty.

        If so inclined i could spend a lot of time explaining disagreements with supporters of the Derry PBP campaign – a lively discussion followed Eamonn’s speech at Wynn’s, and I disagreed with a few of the contributors in the audience – but most of that is for another day,

        I have started reading the Irish News regularly and it contains lots of good information you do not come across in other parts of the media.

        This paper has diligently followed up the scandals bubbling around the leaders of Norn iron’s two main parties Peter Robinson and Gerry Adams. Robinson has many questions to answer about dodgy property deals, while Adams has covered up a child-abuse scandal in which his brother is implicated. We know something about this because of large media organisations (UTV. BBC, Sunday Tribune) and the party leaders try to shoot the messenger.

        But they avoid criticising each other – on the contrary they console – one half of the brothers grim Martin McGuinness expresses sympathy for poor Peter because of Iris Robinsons’s troubles, and attacks media coverage of the Adams family troubles – and that’s about it from the leaders of the much-vaunted peace process.

  13. harry monro said,

    April 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Someone please post McCann’s party political broacast when it appears, with Prof Billy’s translation would be even better, though the Prof may not bother as PbP doesn’t make onto his poll, which SF are leading at the moment. Is nothing sacred.

  14. Mark P said,

    April 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I see that the Provos have ordered McCann to take his poster down from a site near Free Derry Corner that they normally use.

    • Mark P said,

      April 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

      The Derry Journal, which reported the Free Derry poster row on its front page, is also reporting that the IRSP are backing McCann and are out postering and leafletting for him.

      Presumably this will help get some of the dissident vote from last time out. It won’t however do him any favours in presenting himself as a cross community candidate.

      • harry monro said,

        April 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

        Personally, as an SWP member, I agree with you and flirtation with any elements in the irps weakens any attempts to get prods thinking of voting for PbP (but the again PbP comes from our daft perspective that gave Britain Respect).
        Theoretically I think its just as stupid, there is no common ground, supporters of Maoism, Castroism, Guevarism etc have to break with that tradition to join the Party; being politically soft on them does individuals in these types of groups no favors. However there is a certain oppertunistic tendency in the Party that soft soaps when it comes to figures like Guevara (or in different tradition Malcolm X).

      • Garibaldy said,

        April 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

        Following up on Harry’s point about attitudes towards unexpected figures, I’ve always been baffled by the SWP lionisation of Gramsci. It’s quite clear that he supported Stalin as opposed to Trotsky but that seems to have been overlooked.

      • Mark P said,

        April 28, 2010 at 4:51 pm

        Gramsci said very little about the disputes in the CPSU, and more importantly had access to almost no reliable information about those disputes (what with being in a Fascist prison and all), so nobody of any political stripe pays much attention to his views on the subject.

      • D_D said,

        April 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm

        Harry will soon be Meber X methinks.

      • D_D said,

        April 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

        Or Member X even

  15. Garibaldy said,

    April 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I don’t have my Selections from the Prison Notebooks to hand, but my memory is of several derogatory comments about Trotsky. I’m happy to be corrected if my memory is faulty however. I think that given the extent to which he has been the subject of reinterpretation and revision to serve later needs, it is worth bearing in mind what he actually said. Which is why I have found the SWP attitude surprising.

    • Mark P said,

      April 28, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      Once more:

      Gramsci wrote rather little about the disputes in the CPSU. In so far as he wrote anything at all about the subject after his imprisonment in 1926, he wrote from a position of near total ignorance. Therefore, nobody pays much attention to the relatively small number of things he wrote on the subject.

      It is common knowledge that some of the things he wrote about Trotsky both before and after his imprisonment were less than complimentary. He also wrote some less than complimentary things about Stalin and about Bukharin. The cause of his long breach with the arch-Stalinist hack Togliatti was a letter he wrote to the International which criticised all three of the above (although Trotsky in stronger terms than the other two).

      But what point precisely are you trying to make? Are you trying to reclaim Gramsci for Stalinism? Because if you are, you will be disappointed. Gramsci wrote nothing supporting the Stalinist theoretical breaks with Marxism (most importantly Socialism in one Country). Unlike the Stalinists, he wrote within the Marxist tradition and as such is of interest to Marxists regardless of whether or not he was occasionally rude about Trotsky.

      You are entirely correct that Gramsci has been adapted and rewritten and revised by all kinds of people – a process which started with the Stalinists, long before the liberal academics got hold of him.

      So why exactly is it surprising that the SWP sometimes draw from his writings?

  16. Garibaldy said,

    April 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    My point was fairly straightforward, but you seem to have missed it in the rush to declaim. I found it surprising that the SWP would lionise someone (several publications on him plus meetings on him regularly, approvingly quoting his work) who was openly critical of Trotsky given the importance of being seen as the true heirs. I wasn’t making any wider points about Gramsci or the correctness or otherwise of his theory, never mind the theory of anyone else.

    • Mark P said,

      April 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm

      Disagreeing with Trotsky on this or that, or even writing about him in fairly uncomplimentary terms, doesn’t disqualify someone from having something of interest to say. Your surprise is baffling, as is the idea that the SWP place vast importance on being seen as Trotsky’s “true heirs”. They don’t.

      • harry monro said,

        April 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm

        I’d echo that, I think most of the SWP cadre see Trotsky as a great political figure because of his struggle with Stalin, but even during that period he made mistakes which because so many turned him into a prophet, meant that those mistakes were mutiplied by his followers after his death.
        Of course virtually all the founders of the SWP tradition came out of the Trotskyist movement. However these days worrying too much about “regroupment” seems a waste of time whatever jargon we hang on new parties etc.
        As to Gramsci, an important thinker maybe but it is all obscured by the code he wrote in, in prison, meaning virtually anyone can claim him. Lionized by some of our intellectuals perhaps but do us punters worry much about him? Still better him than Lucacs.
        Now what did the soldier say to the student in 10 Days that Shook the World.

  17. Paul Hughes said,

    May 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Just to say that yes the Journal did report that the IRSP and Strathfoyle Youth Forum were backing MCCann, but People Before Profit wants to put the need before the greed, oppose water charges and all other cuts in essential services. He has spent the past few days campaigning in areas such as Nelson Drive, lincoln Courts, Maydown aiming to go beyond the orange/green usual here!!!

  18. April 11, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    […] Splintered Sunrise no less gifted profiles for Westminster last year… Tags: #FO11, ae11, Constituency threads Topic: Politics Region: Northern Ireland […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: