Local elections: Alliance’s day has come?

You may be fed up to the tonsils with last week’s election dissection, but I promise I’ll be gentle. Think of it as your civic duty: if you don’t reflect on politics and politicians, you could find yourself in the loony camp of those who’d parrot that big and stupid lie: “Politicians they’re all the same.

First, how do we measure success? The usual method is to compare the number of first preference votes each party got. There are serious and even misleading elements in using this as the measuring rod, not least vote management, where parties encourage voters to spread their votes over, say, two candidates. That way, winning two seats by a small margin is a helluva lot more desirable than topping the poll but only having one of your candidates elected.  The catch with this is, if you get the vote distribution wrong, you could lose out on a second seat  or even third seat AND fail to top the poll.  If you doubt me, ask Lee Reynolds.

But still – top of the poll means a lot of people think highly of you and your party. Last week the DUP won the first preferences contest, with Sinn Féin a close second.  Great if you’re a DUPer, not so great if you’re a Shinner.

But look more closely and you’ll see that the DUP got 24.1% of first preference votes and Sinn Féin got 23.2%. That’s a gap of less than one per cent.  That’s what Alex Ferguson would call squeaky bum time.

The other point worth noting is that the DUP first preference vote is down 1% . Sinn Féin’s first preference total is down  .8%. So both the big parties felt a small and near-equal slippage.

So judged by per centage of first preference votes, it’s virtually neck-and-neck. If it was a car race, you’d know that the driver in the second car could at any moment surge and pass out the car in the lead.

What about seats won, then?  This in the end is what it’s about – winning seats for your party. Again, the DUP claim top spot, with  122 seats to 105 for Sinn Féin.  So again, the DUPers are in a clear lead – except that they lost eight seats overall, while Sinn Féin lost none. So it was the DUP that took the severest hit from all those smaller parties, while Sinn Féin overall held steady. So the DUP got its rear-end kicked by the electorate, but losing eight seats while still holding top spot is respectable enough, considering such things as the RHI scandal and  being in bed with some appalling Brexit Tories  in Westminster.

But enough of this sectarian head-counting, let’s talk about the Alliance Party, which doesn’t do that kind of thing, except to boast that it’s made up of Catholics and Protestants.  But what one cruel columnist calls the party of “naice people” was, surprise, surprise, the success story of the election – there’s no arguing with a 65% growth in people voting Alliance.

For why? For because Jim Rodgers claimed the Alliance people had aligned themselves with the political wing of a terrorist organization, to wit, the Provisional IRA.  In consequence, quite a few people – ‘soft unionists’, as they’re described – figured this is 2019 not 1690 and went with Alliance.

Alliance, forgivably, were delighted – or “cock-a-hoop” as one commentator put it (although why a cock should be in a hoop has always baffled me).   Percentages, though, can be deceiving. If you’re a one-person party and you gain a second person, that’s a 50% rise. So Alliance need to keep their feet on the groun: with 53 seats, they’re still stuck well behind not just the DUP and Sinn Féin, they’re behind the UUP and even the SDLP.

But there’s no denying that People before Profit, the Green Party and even Aontu’s solitary seat, all show that voters are looking at other parties besides the DUP and Sinn Féin. But think about the history of small parties here and south of the border. In Dublin, there were once great hopes for the Progressive Democrats, for the Labour Party, for the Greens. But time passed and they wilted, some out of existence. And remember the Workers’ Party? And the PUP? Add your own: history is firmly against small parties. The best they can hope for is to be bridesmaid, not bride.  So maybe order a crate of cheapish Prosecco rather than   Dom Perignon champagne, Naomi. You’re not really going to take west of the Bann by storm.  Voters there, by and large, are a little impatient with naiceness.

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