Confirmation that no agreed 'unity' candidate will be selected to represent the broad 'other' constituency in Northern Ireland in the European Parliament election in June came yesterday when the Alliance Party selected a candidate of their own. Ironically, though, the Alliance Party describes their candidate as a 'unity candidate' on their website, despite the fact that he was selected by the Alliance Party only.
The chosen one is Ian James Parsley, a North Down councillor elected only by the transfers of David Alderdice. The fact that Mr Parsley has only ever stood for election once, and achieved a princely 40% of a quota in one of the most Alliance-friendly parts of Northern Ireland, does not inspire confidence in the party's expectations. The fact that Mr Parsley thinks that the European Parliament is "the most powerful parliament in the world" does not inspire confidence in his knowledge of European or world affairs.
Nonetheless, we can expect the media to talk up Mr Parsley's chances and to present him as the White Knight that Northern Ireland has been waiting for. Whether he scores better than the 6.6% received by the 'unity' candidate in 2004 (John Gilliland – where is he now?), or the paltry 2.1% received by the Alliance party in 1999, we will have to wait and see. Only two things are certain – he will not be elected, and any votes he receives will be at the expense of the UUP and the SDLP.
It is possible that the Alliance Party has not really considered the effects of its candidature on the eventual outcome. If its voters would have voted for the UUP candidate in the absence of an Alliance candidate, then the effect of standing an Alliance candidate may be to rob Nicholson of his seat and hand it to the SDLP. But if Alliance voters would have otherwise voted equally for the UUP and the SDLP (as the evidence of the transfer of Gilliland's votes in 2004 seems to imply), then the effect might be neutral.