Four candidates have been nominated for the Craigavon Council by-election in Lurgan on 13 January.
- David Calvert (TUV)
- Jo-Anne Dobson (UUP)
- Liam Mackle (Sinn Fein)
- Pat McDade (SDLP).
Calvert is, of course, no surprise, as he had been initially proposed for a co-option on November 2. But at that time the UUP had counter-proposed Harry Hamilton – who is now not fighting the election for them. Admittedly he is the UUP’s chosen candidate for next year’s Westminster election – but this was either known or strongly tipped in November as well, so why did they propose him then but not now?
The two nationalist candidates, though no doubt worthy individuals, have no hope of success, as Lurgan is an 84.5% unionist DEA.
What is noteworthy is that the DUP have not nominated a candidate for the Lurgan by-election. This is morally in keeping with their commitment in August not to oppose a TUV co-option. Although the DUP half-reneged on that deal by failing to actually agree with the TUV co-option, they are now honouring something that was not explicitly part of the deal – to not stand against the TUV in the by-election. This is curious because the DUP were willing to support an ‘independent unionist’ co-option in November, while unwilling to support Calvert – yet now are neither standing themselves nor supporting the nomination of the same ‘independent unionist’ candidate.
The DUP’s failure to nominate is thus not a requirement of their August deal. There are two possible explanations for it:
Either the DUP are afraid to risk a straight fight in a unionist heartland area so near to a Westminster election, with the risk of being yet again humiliated by their nemesis – the TUV, or they have decided to try to kiss and make up with the TUV.
The second possibility is, to say the least, highly unlikely.
That leaves only the first possibility – that the DUP is afraid of another electoral humiliation after Dromore and the European Parliament. In Lurgan the unionist vote divided evenly between the DUP (39.4%) and the UUP (40.2%) at the last council election in 2005 (and thus before the TUV existed). Any leaching of support to the TUV would virtually ensure that the DUP could not win the seat – and experience has shown that around 40% of the DUP’s voters have deserted it for the TUV. So if all three unionist parties stood, the DUP could not win, and would lose another slice of their ‘top-dog’ status.
So, rather than stand and lose, the DUP is simply running away.
This is a pity, as it denies political analysts an opportunity to gauge the relative strengths of the three main unionist parties in the run-up to the Westminster election.