It’s an odd phrase, butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth. Taken literally it’s nonsense: if you put butter in anybody’s mouth (please be quiet, Virginia) you know it will melt quick-time. (With one exception, about which anon.) But the saying does convey the notion of apparent harmlessness and innocence concealing something rather tougher.
Nuala McAllister does appear a person who might in extremis harm a fly but would be gentle with all other forms of insect life. And human life. You cannot, in your wildest imaginings, see Nuala deliver a forearm smash to someone’s face. She speaks in a frank, clear-eyed way and she says she is completely opposed to Brexit. Which is surely all good.
But like the aforementioned butter, Nuala requires closer inspection. She is an election candidate for the Alliance Party in North Belfast – a would-be politician – and therefore we need to consider closely, not just at what she says but what she does.
She is an Alliance Party candidate in North Belfast – OK, we got that. And the Alliance Party is passionately opposed to Brexit. That means Nuala is opposed to Brexit as well. She’s running in North Belfast so Remain voters can vote for her. Which is good. Most people with a brain fragment know that Brexit is an unmitigated disaster, so anyone opposing it deserves applause.
Except. Except that there is another Remain candidate running in North Belfast. In fact there are just three people in toto running in that constituency – two Remainers and one Brexiteer.
It doesn’t take a maths whizz to work out that if you take all the North Belfast Brexit voters and divide them by one, then take the North Belfast Remain voters and divide them by two, you’re doing the Brexit candidate – in this case the affable Nigel Dodds – a big favour.
Last time out, Dodds got 21, 240 votes (which was nearly 1% down on previous outing) and John Finucane of Sinn Féin got 19, 159 (which was nearly 8% up from last time) and Sam Nelson of the Alliance Party got 2, 475 votes, (which was nearly 2% down from last time). Lick your pencil and do a basic sum, and you can see that last time out, Dodds and Finucane were separated by 2081 votes, and the Alliance Party got as I say 2,475 votes.
There are some reasonable conclusions you can draw from these figures: (i)The DUP vote went down by 1%, the Sinn Féin vote went up by 8% and the Alliance vote went down by 2%. (ii) If the people who voted for the Alliance candidate had voted for the Sinn Féin candidate, Dodds would have been defeated.
As an Alliance candidate, McAllister is promoting the Remain cause. In theory. In practice, though you can’t imagine her in any real-life damage to anyone, electorally she is about to do that to John Finucane and the possibility of a Remain MP in North Belfast.
To which of course McAllister might reply “But if enough people vote for me, I’ll win in North Belfast.”
Indeed, Nuala. But I’ve got a £100 note, and it says you will not win in North Belfast. Fancy a flutter, Nuala?
The stark electoral facts are unavoidable: the Alliance Party in North Belfast cares more about getting votes for its party which it knows won’t win and taking them from another candidate, a Remain candidate, who would almost certainly win if Alliance withdrew.
It wouldn’t be a unique step. The SDLP is not running a candidate in North Belfast. The Green Party is not running a candidate in North Belfast. The Alliance Party is running a mouth-free-from-butter candidate in North Belfast. That’s because the Alliance Party believes in giving people a choice: in this case, between electing Nigel Dodds and electing Nigel Dodds.
Oh well. Think positive. You wouldn’t want a Shinner to defeat Nigel, a man in whose mouth butter would probably turn slightly sour, would you?