Sunday, 20 February 2011

Northern Ireland Votes: Lagan Valley

The last three seats we’ve done have all been majority Nationalist, so a respite for the Unionists amongst you as we go to Lagan Valley. Directly on the South West of Belfast Lagan Valley is a seat which stretches from suburban Belfast through to a couple of fairly isolated villages. It is primarily a suburban constituency, however, and the seat is very affluent by Northern Irish standards. It also includes the majority of the city of Lisburn, population 70,000, which was granted city status in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s golden jubilee. Lagan Valley is a heavily Protestant seat, with perhaps around 75% Protestant or of a Protestant background. There is also a small, but notable, immigrant community in the seat. Lagan Valley experienced a slight boundary change in 2010 – with one ward moved out of the constituency and part of another, but it yielded a massive shift in demographics, going by the 2001 census the constituency has become 6.4% less Catholic and 6.1% more Protestant, the biggest shift of any Northern Irish seat. The 2010 result then:

Candidate

Party

Vote

Change

Jeffrey Donaldson

DUP

49.8%

-8.5%

Daphne Trimble

UUP/Con

21.1%

-1.8%

Trevor Lunn

Alliance

11.4%

+0.5%

Keith Harbinson

TUV

8.6%

+8.6%

Brian Heading

SDLP

5.0%

+1.5%

Paul Butler

Sinn Fein

4.0%

-0.3%

The DUP saw their hold on the seat weaken slightly, probably slightly down to the TUV, who had one of their better performances here. The Nationalist vote here went slightly up compared to the notional 2005 result.

MLA

Party

First Pref

Round Elected

Jeffrey Donaldson

DUP

23.4%

1

Paul Butler

Sinn Fein

12.2%

6

Basil McCrea

UUP

9.6%

7

Trevor Lunn

Alliance

9.0%

7

Jonathan Craig

DUP

8.3%

8

Edwin Poots

DUP

8.1%

9

Paul Givan

DUP

N/A

N/A

Best Losers

Party

First Pref

Round Eliminated

Paul Givan

DUP

8.1%

9

Marietta Farrell

SDLP

6.8%

5

Billy Bell

UUP

6.2%

6

Ronnie Crawford

UUP

2.7%

4

Michael Rogan

Green Party

2.2%

4

Overall Result

Party

Vote

Seats

DUP

48.1%

3

UUP

18.6%

1

Sinn Fein

12.2%

1

Alliance

9.0%

1

SDLP

6.8%

0

Green Party

2.2%

0












The Incumbents

Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) was first elected here as a UUP MP in 1997, and then as a MLA from 2003. He defected to the DUP shortly after, however, after a long period of virtual warfare with then UUP leader David Trimble. He ‘gained’ the constituency for the DUP in 2005 and held it in 2010 as well as topping the poll in 2007. He stood down in 2010 after his re-election due to the DUP’s policy on the phasing out of ‘double jobbing’. He was replaced by Paul Givan. Givan (not to be confused with Paul Girvan in South Antrim) has been a local councillor here since 2003 (at the age of only 23) and a special adviser in the Environment Ministry. Clearly something of a rising star within the DUP Givan has to his advantage a strong DUP vote in the constituency. That said, it remains to be seen how well it will hold up without the popular Donaldson on the ballot (whose 2007 result has to be one of the best in Northern Ireland) though it should hold up well enough to return Givan despite that.

Paul Butler (Sinn Fein) is a fairly typical Sinn Fein politician in some ways. A former IRA member he shot and killed a RUC officer when he was 17 years old and spent 15 years in prison for it. He is also a local councillor, leader of the Sinn Fein group on the local council. It perhaps says something of how far Sinn Fein has come that Butler was highly supportive of the party’s change in stance towards policing in Northern Ireland. Butler is in serious danger here, and one of the most precariously placed Sinn Fein MLAs in Northern Ireland. Firstly he has boundary troubles, a great swathe of Catholic voters have been moved out of the constituency. Butler is the sole Nationalist MLA here, putting him in danger. Another cause of danger is the transfer repellence of Sinn Fein, especially considering the superior performance of the SDLP in 2010. In prior elections here the SDLP has gained a MLA despite getting less votes than Sinn Fein, by passing Sinn Fein on preferences and then gaining election when Sinn Fein was eliminated. Butler is very much in danger here.

Basil McCrea (UUP) is an interesting chap. A MLA since 2007 McCrea soon gained attention, and by 2008 had already gained enough attention to be nominated at the Slugger O’Toole awards as ‘Best up and comer’ though he lost to Daithi McKay of Sinn Fein. Considered to be on the liberal, civic unionist wing of the party McCrea stood for the leadership in 2010, losing to the ‘traditionalist’ Tom Elliott. McCrea is, however, said to be highly unpopular with colleagues, both politically and personally. Only one fellow MLA backed him for the leadership. McCrea was nominated for the ‘constructive opposition’ award in this year’s Slugger Awards and as a very prominent UUP MLA can probably call himself safe.

Trevor Lunn (Alliance) is a Lisburn councillor, a former mayor, and a former party chair who resigned due to clashes with his party membership over civil partnerships (he opposed them). Lunn had a very difficult job on his hands in 2007, he was running to replace highly popular incumbent Seamus Close. Many doubted Lunn’s capability to hold the seat, and his 9% score in the election represented a loss of almost 2% from Close. Nonetheless, he held the seat. This time things look easier for him, things are vaguely positive for the Alliance, and if no nationalist MLA is elected Lunn is best placed to receive their preferences. Should be a hold.

Jonathan Craig (DUP) was first elected as a MLA in 2007, prior to which he had been a councillor and mayor in Lisburn. Craig appears to have a solid local support base and his role in securing significant local funding will certainly be in his favour. Otherwise Craig is kinda low-key, but seems to be something of a constituency presence.

Edwin Poots (DUP) is Northern Ireland’s Minister for the Environment and a MLA since 1998. He is also a former Culture Minister and Deputy Mayor of Lisburn right now. Despite coming last in 2007 it strikes me as unlikely that such a prominent MLA as Poots would lose his seat.


The Challengers

One seat is very definitely at risk, Butler’s. As already mentioned if a Nationalist party does return a MLA here there is a chance that it could the SDLP that takes the seat instead. The SDLP’s candidate here is Pat Catney, a publican in the famous Kitchen Bar in Belfast. While he has no previous political experience he is a long time SDLP supporter and there is an interesting interview with him on the BBC website.

If there is no space left for a Nationalist MLA, as there may well be, the party best positioned to pick up a seat on prior form is the DUP. The DUP has not yet released their candidate list but they’d be silly not to run a fourth candidate here. I do have one concern though which is that the high personal vote of Jeffrey Donaldson may mask the real level of DUP support in the constituency, and/or encourage higher turnout. Without Donaldson on the ballot, then, I do think the DUP vote might fall slightly. That said, in 2007, more than 80% of Donaldson’s surplus transferred to DUP candidates, so I can’t see it falling so low that the DUP actually loses a seat, especially with the Sinn Fein troubles here.

If the DUP does not gain the seat then the TUV may be in with a chance. Their 8.6% Westminster score is not enough for a seat alone, but with decent transfers it could be enough.

Additionally the UUP is standing a second candidate here, Mark Hill, who runs the UUP constituency office in nearby Mid-Ulster and, at 26, is the UUP’s youngest candidate in Northern Ireland. They may be able to get a second seat with a good performance in this constituency, but if they do they will be swimming against the tide.

4 comments:

  1. You might like this a look at how Sinn Fein might do in the General election in the South of Ireland - http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/02/sinn-fein-irish-elections/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Enjoying your analysis, but once again, I point out a slightly misleading wording that you use.

    "Despite the boundary changes the nationalist vote actually went up, but then the census is almost a decade out of date."

    This is a bit inaccurate. The nationalist vote is up on 2005 relative to the NEW BOUNDARIES not as you described DESPITE the new boundaries. The previous nationalist vote at Westminster was 13.6% (7.5% SF, 6.1% SDLP) but was only 9% (5% SDLP, 4% SF) last May. SO in the nationalist constituency as a whole has seen a drop in nationalist votes, but has seen a relative growth in nationalism on the current boundaries.

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  3. Thank you for that Anonymous, I will make a change.

    ReplyDelete