Friday, 7 May 2010
Reflections on an election
OK, OK - I'm a lazy sod. Also very knackered after staying up all night AND getting up at 5.45 a.m. to go into BBC Radio Ulster. ( Q: Was my journey really necessary? Don't ask.) A few initial thoughts on the election.
1. The Alliance's capture of East Belfast and Peter Robinson's loss of same was, yes, jaw-dropping, seismic, the-earth-moved, etc. But while it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, I don't think that the loss of an already-wounded leader is going to send the DUP down the plug-hole just yet. I mean, any party strong enough to get Willie McCrea elected .... Likewise, Naomi Long's election, while an excellent achievement, doesn't mean there's going to be a resurgence of the Alliance Party and that we're all going to start looking for taigs/prods to hug. The event hasn't strengthened the DUP and it has done the Alliance Party loadsagood, but in the end it's one senior personality, not a party transformation. The Alliance Party still have only one MP, the DUP still have eight.
2. Nationalism had a good outing - but again not something to be flinging greasy caps over the moon about (with the possible exception of Fermanagh/South Tyrone, about which more anon). The SDLP kept their three seats, Sinn Fein kept their five. The notable things tended to be relatively minor although still important, on the nationalist side:
* Margaret Ritchie's talk about avoiding sectarian pacts is self-serving waffle. Under that definition, the pan-nationalist front that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement was a sectarian pact. Has she told John Hume yet? Maggie refused to give Sinn Fein a clear field in Fermanagh/South Tyrone (i) because she dislikes Sinn Fein more than any unionist she knows; (ii) because she knew it would alienate all those unionist votes she needed to win in South Down. Nothing wrong with that but she should admit as much and stifle the flannel.
* Ed Moloney and his pals in the northern and southern media did their best to declare Gerry Adams a liar, a murderer, a cover-upper of child sexual abuse. He was returned with a majority of over 17,000. Either the people of West Belfast are singularly devoid of ethical stature or they know a shower of anti-republican fanatics when they see them.
* Gerry Kelly did a good job of slicing Nigel Dodds's 5,000 majority in North Belfast - down this time to 2,200. It's a bit like having your bum tied to a conveyor belt and a bacon slicer whirring up ahead. It may not be time to start yelling yet, but it shouldn't be long. Tiochfaidh ar bacon-slicer...
* Sinn Fein's victory in Fermanagh/South Tyrone was invigorating, full of suspense and an achievement that ranked alongside Naomi Long's. But Sinn Fein need to keep it in perspective. They're where they were before the election - marking time, essentially, if you don't count their topping the overall percentage poll by half a per cent. That's good, but until they find a way to tap into the educated, professional nationalist class and run some of these people as their candidates (as well as used them to plan their strategy/write their policies), they're not going to make the major leap they need to really shake things up in this tormented little corner.
That said, it was a so-much-better-than-expected election, both in process and in product. Isn't it lovely to think we'll have another one inside the next six months or so? Yipeee!