2005 NI elections: wrap-up analysis

Looking through the local council election results, the general pattern seems fairly clear – massive stampede of voters to DUP from UUP, SF consolidate their position ahead of SDLP, but made no gains at all in their strongest areas, which suggests they may not be able to go much further. Particular local peculiarities that jumped out at me were:

Lisburn – UUP down from 13 seats to 7; DUP up from 5 to 13. Obviously this is a reflection of Jeffrey Donaldson’s defection at Westminster level. The DUP’s most dramatic gain; they now have more seats than the UUP on 18 of 26 councils, and fewer on only 5.

Moyle – always a weird case, the only council where the DUP lost a seat, in this case the one previously held in Ballycastle by Gardiner Kane but lost in a by-election after his assault case. On paper SF went up from 1 seat to 4, but two of the three gains were previously local independents, one of whom is a long-serving councillor.

Cookstown – two weirdnesses here – first of all, in Ballinderry only six candidates were nominated for six seats, so there was no election; second, the five seats of Cookstown Central went DUP 1, UUP 1, SF 1, SDLP 2 despite the SDLP having fewest first preference votes – a combination of poor balancing by SF and (probably more important) only two Unionist candidates but almost three quotas of Unionist votes. That led to the SDLP’s only gain from Sinn Fein (they did gain one other seat, from retiring independent Davy Kettyles in Fermanagh, but lost out overall.)

Some interesting indications around the fringes. The first is that the smaller parties, apart from Alliance, were in general crushed. 20 self-declared independents elected this time, compared to 34 in 2001; the PUP lost half of their four councillors, the last elected representatives of the UKUP and Women’s Coalition lost their seats, the Conservatives failed to regain any, and the three small lefty groups made little impact. Two micro-parties which are basically brading mechanisms for successful local councillors held their ground.

On the other hand the Greens won three seats (one sitting independent councillor who joined them, one former independent councillor, and another who inherited the seat of an independent councillor who had joined them a couple of years ago), and will presumably now be challenging for Assembly seats in North and South Down, even though both the co-chairs failed to get elected. There are some interesting lessons here for the centre ground which I’ll be thinking about over the next few weeks.

Shifts across the divide – not a lot of these. Ballycastle (SF gain from DUP) has been mentioned above. In two Ballymoney DEA’s, the Nationalist vote went from just under to just over the next quota, and SF duly picked up from the UUP in both cases. They also picked up from the UUP in Downpatrick, but there the UUP didn’t even have the votes last time and won the seat only on poor balancing from the SDLP and SF.

On the other hand the DUP picked up from the SDLP in Craigavon Central, and (by virtue of poor Nationalist vote management) from SF in Mid Tyrone. In Belfast Alliance’s gain from SF in the east of the city was off-set by SF’s gain from the SDLP in Lower Falls (where they won 5 seats out of 5, with 88% of the votes cast). The SDLP lost one of their Newtownabbey seats to Alliance.

The total number of seats held by councillors from the two Nationalist parties increased by only 2, from 225 to 227, compared with the surge over the last electoral cycled from 194 to 225; and several gains not noted above were from independent Nationalist councillors. In addition, the total vote for SF and SDLP in the Westminster elections was actually down slightly, from 42.7% to 41.8%. This suggests that the Nationalist vote as a whole may have reached a plateau. (Similarly in last year’s European election the two-party total was down from 45.4% in 1999 to 41.9%.)

The outlook generally of course is pretty poor. Both the DUP and SF can claim to have had their policies endorsed by the electorate, both with justification. From my own informal contacts with both sides, I don’t see any real readiness to compromise; oddly enough, each expects the British government to force the other to make the key concessions. In addition, the SDLP and to a lesser extent the UUP are not eager to facilitate any new deal for which others will get the credit. The fact that the new Northern Ireland Secretary of State will also apparently be doing Wales two or three days a week tells its own story about the level of interest from Blair’s third government.

One thought on “2005 NI elections: wrap-up analysis

  1. The “Batman at the controls” line in “Inferno” is probably a reference to the Batman TV show, if you view that as SF.

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