Friday 5 March 2010

Delicate issues in Derry

In 2005 Mark Durkan retained the Foyle Westminster seat with 46.3% of the votes, beating Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin who got 33.2%. On the face of it, the SDLP seems to be fairly safe in this constituency – though less so than in John Hume's day, when he got over 50% of the vote.

But the total nationalist vote in Foyle – 79.5% - was clearly higher than normal in 2005, and implied that a number of unionists may have voted strategically for Durkan. In the 2007 Assembly election the nationalist vote returned to a more 'normal' 72.2%. The SDLP still out-polled Sinn Féin, but by 2,533 votes rather than the 5,957 in 2005.

The graph below shows the outcomes of the last three Westminster elections in the constituency:

It is clear that the 'borrowed' unionist votes (even the DUP's Gregory Campbell reckons that there were around 1,500 of these) merely disguised a steep fall in the SDLP core cote. Sinn Féin's vote increased quite significantly – and it is unlikely that this was because of loaned unionist votes.

Loans come with various conditions, though – interest must be paid. And now Gregory Campbell has spotted a chance to get his interest payment from the SDLP.

Campbell knows that the SDLP are worried about losing their flagship seat – their equivalent of the DUP's North Antrim. Events since 2007 have not been positive for the SDLP – Durkan is no longer its leader, and the recent Ritchie-McDonnell leadership battle may have left some members less than fully committed to its new leadership. Fianna Fáil has established itself in the constituency, though they will not stand for election this year. But their supporters may not warm to Ritchie's colder attitude towards Fianna Fáil.

And there is also the small issue of 2,045 voters who voted for Eamonn McCann in 2007 – if he does not stand this year those voters may switch to the next most radical party – Sinn Féin – and close up almost the entire 2,533 vote gap that the SDLP had in 2007.

Gregory Campbell's interest payment relates to the controversial issue of the name of the city. The Special Meeting of Derry City Council to consider the 'name change' was adjourned, and Campbell is worried that it may be put back until after the Westminster election, thus allowing the SDLP to benefit from some unionist strategic voting. He wants the special meeting to happen before the election, so that he can dangle the carrot of the unionist votes that Durkan probably needs in front of the SDLP. Essentially he is saying to the SDLP – drop the 'name change' and you'll get the votes you need.

Of course the problem for Campbell is that he may end up with nothing – if the Council does put back the issue until after the election, then any unionist loans that Durkan gets will have been banked – but if he encourages unionists not to vote for Durkan he faces the prospect of Mitchel McLaughlin MP. He must be hoping that the SDLP's nerve will break.


Nordie Northsider said...

An interesting post as ever, Horseman, but there's one factor you've overlooked. Martina Anderson, the SF contender for the seat, is not impressive. Witness her 'Calvacade to Stormont' stunt, in which she asked Derry people to drive to Stormont demanding jobs and investment for the city. It was a concious throwback to Civil Rights demonstrations, particularly against the decision to site the New University of Ulster in Coleraine. The only problem being that Sinn Féin is part of the Stormont Executive these days. One of her demands was for better rail-links to the city, a demand best put to Minister and party colleague Conor Murphy rather than to the media.
There's no point even mentioning her 'Unionist outreach' role, which even SF feel is best forgotten.
Durkan will walk it and events are helping him: the SF/DUP determination to elevate Richard Ford to Justice Minister. That will not go down well in Derry.

Anonymous said...

Unionists vote sdlp in south down at Westminster as well,it just shows how bad things are for sdlp

hoboroad said...

Is Martina Anderson not the SF candidate in Foyle?

Horseman said...

hoboroad, Nordie Northside,

Has Martina Anderson been confirmed as SF candidate? I forget. I don't suppose it changes very much - she won't get outreached votes, but then nor would McLaughlin. I suspect he would be more popular, though. We'll see!

Anonymous said...

Kieron says: Patrick Power Esquire has the odds for NA only as per below.

DUP 1/5, TUV 3/1, UUP 10/1, Sinn Fein 20/1, SDLP 50/1, Alliance 100/1

Anonymous said...

McCann reckons he will stand, and his transfers in the past would indicate he takes votes equally from SDLP and SF.

It's the same as South Down IMO. The SDLP are clearly in decline and their base has an age issue, but they start out with an advantage that won't be easy to overhaul, before you even factor in unionist tactical voting.

It could be that once they fall behind they suffer a collapse like in Newry/Armagh, Mid Ulster and West Tyrone, but they have to fall behind first.

Anonymous said...

The SDLP are in serious decline in south Down, SF has the south and mid of the county, the SDlP are on the verge of collaspe.

Anonymous said...

you are wrong regarding mccann's votes. they draw evenly from sf and sdlp. this is clear from local and assembly elections.

nineteensixtyseven said...

Good post.

However, you neglect to mention the most serious issue for the SDLP which is the movement of the Rural and Claudy wards from Foyle to East Londonderry- both strong SDLP wards.

Also, in 2005 Mark Durkan was fighting his first ever General Election so how he performed and was perceived to perform as an MP will clearly be a variable factor in any analysis. Other factors might be likely Tory cuts or a hung parliament and peoples' attitude towards whether or not they want an abstentionist MP. Finally, and more basically, we would have to look at whether people (both nationalist and unionist) are likely to consider Martina Anderson a better/worse candidate than Mitchel McLaughlin.

There are lots of factors in play in this election which cannot be determined by graphs.