Saturday, April 10, 2010

The dreary steeples re-emerge

No, not Churchill's original, apt and imaginative image, long rendered a cliché, please Malcolm!

Fair enough! says he.

Even so, the electoral pact between the DUP and the UUP in Fermanagh-South Tyrone has turned a near forgone conclusion into something far more interesting. Indeed, overnight, this has become one of the most intriguing constituency races in the whole General Election.

It's a weird abortion of a constituency, stretching half-way across Northern Ireland. One end butts up against the Donegal pan-handle, sniffing the Atlantic winds blowing from Bundoran and Ballyshannon. The other end stretches a toe toward Washing Bay on Lough Neagh. In a straight "us'ns" versus "them'uns", it is usually the nationalists who come out top-dogs. Last outing:

Chris Donnelly, as efficient as ever, crunched the numbers, and the implications, for Slugger O'Toole yesterday:

As of the 2005 Westminster election, Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew held 72% of the combined nationalist vote -- some 18,638 votes compared to the SDLP candidate’s 7,230 votes. In that election the combined nationalist vote exceeded that of the combined unionist vote by some 2,933 votes.

On those figures, Gildernew would need to increase her share of the combined nationalist vote to some 89%, ensuring that more than 4,200 of those SDLP voters (or 60% of them) transfer their vote to Gildernew this time around. To put this in context, when Sinn Fein romped home with five of the six MLAs in West Belfast in 2007, it did so having taken 85% of the combined nationalist vote. Gildernew will need to match and exceed that figure if she is to retain the seat for nationalism.

It's worth the trip to the Ark site which Donnelly references there:

Fermanagh-South Tyrone's population in the 2001 census was 91,127 (10th of the 18 constituencies) ...

  • 52.31% described themselves as Catholic (7th of 18 constituencies); 7.63% as Presbyterian (2nd lowest), 23.28% as Church of Ireland (highest in Northern Ireland), 3.95% as Methodist (10th highest) and 4.34% as members of other Christian denominations (14th highest). 8.27% were "no religion or religion not stated" (15th highest).
  • The translation into "Community background" was 55.58% Catholic (7th out of 18), 43.05% Protestants and other Christians (12th highest), 0.26% other religions and philosophies (13th highest) and 1.11% none (13th).
The all-seeing, all-wise Sammy Morse did the ultimate analysis for the 2007 Assembly poll, tracing the recent electoral history of this maverick constituency. Again, essential reading.

Enter and exit, stage right ...

... the Vice-chairman of the NI Tories, one Jeff Peel.

Peel has been doing much of the heavy-lifting for the UCUNF project, with Owen Paterson wafting in-and-out as "Dave" Cameron's celestial messenger to the world of men.

Paterson may resonate with the old "Big House" Unionists:
Paterson, married to the 4th Viscount Ridley's daughter, owns a large country estate in his North Shropshire constituency (he voted strongly against the hunting ban). He is a member of the Cornerstone Group, which published a report describing the NHS as "Stalinist" and calling for it to be replaced.
Perhaps it's the inevitable competition between blond(e)s, but he certainly didn't charm the Lady of the piece, Sylvia Hermon, the only UUP MP in the out-going parliament. She has bolted the pen, and should survive in North Down. Lady Sylvia has taken a couple of key local figures with her, and the UCUNF brand in North Down looks a broken one.

His chemistry seems to have lubricated better at that mysterious Tory/UUP/DUP cabaling at Hatfield House, in January.

Paterson now hails the result:
We recognise that Fermanagh and South Tyrone has characteristics that are unique within the UK. It has been without any democratic representation for the past nine years. It is the one constituency where there is currently an abstentionist MP, where a single cross community candidate could lead to the restoration of democractic representation at Westminster. In recent weeks and months there has been an upsurge of public opinion across Fermanagh and South Tyrone to find such a candidate. Rodney Connor has impeccable cross community credentials and has a first rate record of public service going back many years. He is hugely respected and admired on all sides. We therefore respect the decision of our Ulster Unionist colleague in Fermanagh to stand aside in his favour. We have had no discussions with the DUP on this matter at all. We are pleased by the fact that Rodney Connor has indicated that he will take the Conservative whip and support David Cameron, while always standing up for his constituents. If elected we will welcome him to Westminster.

Trebles all round?

Well, Peel will be spitting in the G'n'Ts:
If anyone was in any doubt as to how low the Conservative Party could stoop in its attempts to secure a seat in Northern Ireland such doubt will have disappeared today. The decision by Owen Paterson to agree to a joint Conservative/UUP/DUP sectarian candidate for Fermanagh South Tyrone shows that Paterson’s stated aims about introducing a new brand of non-sectarian national politics here is a total sham. For me I have reached the end of the road and will now be tendering my resignation from a political Party that has walked away from any sense of decency and honour in its pursuit of power. This is a very sad day for Northern Ireland. If the Conservative Party could stoop this low here it really begs the question whether the Party is fit to govern the United Kingdom.
That's more than toys-out-of-the-pram. Peel knows the score, where the bodies are buried, the details of the stitch-up. He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

The Chamberlain approach

What is nearly as interesting is the wall of total ignoral that all this receives across the narrow water of the North Channel. There seems to be a total block on any reference at ConHome (and a couple of other fan-sites) — although, of course, that could be defensive measures against the wit and wisdom of one Malcolm Redfellow and his all-penetrating IP-address.

It all comes back to the Tory take on all-things Northern Irish. It's the contemporary faraway country of which they know little.

And this Fermanagh-South Tyrone concordat is unabashed appeasement. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

yourcousin said...

Short term victory, unionism. Long term victory SF. This little concordat will remind all those straying nationalists and republicans who are less than pleased about SF and their less than stellar redord in the Assembly about why they need SF.

Gildernew has been one of the better Ministers NI has. Regardless of the divide, she's done her job. Erigi (or whatever their name is) are great at agiprop, not so much at doing a damn thing other wise so now is the time to put up or shut up. Regardless of Pete Baker's triple lock and UUP opposition SF got it done. Is it pretty? No. Is it sustainable? Probably not, but then again neither is NI but it's still going. Not only did SF get Dr. No to say yes, they managed to get a political lifetime into the lifetime of a single Assembly. So when push comes to shove for representation I see this kind of dealing over unionist unity (which should be short lived) to bring the straying sheep back into line. If a 2009/2010 reconstructed civil unionist party still goes in for "keeping the taigs out" then I doubt that the Catholic unionists will flocking to the U&C banner.

Just a thought.

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