This blog enjoys an election as much as anyone else – even a fairly irrelevant one like the recent election for the European Parliament. The EP itself is, of course, becoming increasingly important, although this fact has yet to really filter into the consciousnesses of most local politicians (which is why the parties stand only B-list politicians for the EP). However, with only three MEPs spread over three parties and three EP groups, Northern Ireland's EP representation is utterly irrelevant. Once in Strasbourg they will disappear from sight, despite their parties' attempts to pretend that they are running Europe!
After running stories on the EP election since February 4 it is now time to wrap it up and look forward to the next election, for Westminster.
Before leaving the EP behind though, it is interesting to note that almost all of what this blog wrote in February came to pass, with the exception of Jim Allister's performance, which was much better than expected.
In February this blog wrote that:
"The breakdown of the vote in June's European Parliament election between the unionist block and the nationalist block will probably not differ much from the breakdown in other elections" – and in fact the outcome was almost indistinguishable from the 2004 EP election.
" … the relative strengths of the two blocks are approximately: Unionist 50%, Nationalist 43%" – and the outcome was 49% unionist, 42.2% nationalist.
" … this should translate again into two unionist seats and one nationalist seat" – not such a brave prediction, but nonetheless true.
"… Jim Allister, by sheer persistence and good timing, has managed to remain a serous threat to the DUP. While few expect him to hold his seat, the DUP are concerned that he will steal their more extremist voters and consign them to an ignominious scramble for the third seat" – which is exactly what happened!
" … The DUP may then suffer the double indignity of failing to keep Sinn Féin from topping the poll and having to depend on transfers from minor party candidates, which might not come. When the DUP candidate is eventually elected, he or she may have lost considerable face in the process" – exactly as came to pass.
" … The SDLP vote should hold steady" – and indeed, after dropping from 28% in 1999 to 16% in 2004, it remained almost unchanged at 16.2% in 2009.
" … Historically the 'Alliance and other' vote has tended to be around 8-9% in EP elections, and this time should be no different" – it was, in fact, 8.8% - exactly in the range predicted (though the Green portion was higher than this blog expected – 3.3% instead of 1%).
Enough blowing of our own trumpet. There were other sources of soft predictions, including the bookies. Northern Ireland has no reliable polls for most elections, so this blog relied heavily on the odds quoted by the bookies, particularly Paddy Power. And the outcome that those odds pointed towards was almost perfectly correct. The bookies predicted victory for the three candidates who won, and predicted correctly that Bairbre de Brún would top the poll. On the unpredictable performance of Jim Allister the bookies called it correctly – as polling day approached, they were quoting their shortest odds (i.e. representing what they thought was most likely) for a vote above 60,000 – and he scored 66,197.
As Allister's odds shortened, Dodd's lengthened, and that turned out to be exactly how the vote fell – Allister's votes appeared to have come entirely at Dodds' expense.
The lesson that this blog has learned is that, in the absence of reliable polling, the best predictor for the outcome of an election is how people are prepared to risk their cash. This lesson will be applied, of course, during the next election campaign – which should be starting very soon.