We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Alamy Stock Photo

Northern Ireland UK elections could bring about an interesting shift in politics in the North

Emma DeSouza looks ahead to the UK election and its impact on the political landscape in Northern Ireland.

AS THE DUST has settled on the Local and European elections in Ireland, another election campaign has been gaining traction north of the border; Rishi Sunak’s snap UK general election is likely to hasten the demise of the political power of unionism as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) braces for considerable losses.

Few political anoraks could have predicted a 4 July vote. Sunak’s decision to call an election whilst the Conservative party polls more than 20 points behind the Labour Party has puzzled analysts, some of whom suggest the party faces a wipeout as polls predict a collapse of the Conservative vote with losses nearing 300 MPs.

Considering Labour is led by the rather uninspiring Keir Starmer, this is more a testament to the level of dissatisfaction and disillusionment within Conservative bases after 14 years of political chaos.

In Northern Ireland, the lack of preparedness for an early election is evidenced by the absence of political posters; despite 136 candidates competing for just 18 seats in Westminster, entire constituencies remain largely poster-free and election material is equally absent from post boxes.

Who’s out in front?

This election will not be about Sinn Féin. The party may have been the big story during the Assembly and Local Elections, surpassing expectations by emerging as the largest party in both but is unlikely to make many gains in the General election.

Sinn Féin currently holds seven out of 18 seats under an abstention policy and is expected to hold all seven, with outside chances of a gain in Foyle and East Derry.

Despite Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) leader Colum Eastwood holding one of the largest majorities in Northern Ireland, his seat in Foyle is considered vulnerable and would be the most likely gain, if any, for Sinn Féin. Following the poor showing in the Local Elections in the Republic, one would expect Sinn Féin to throw everything at Foyle in hopes of an electoral success story.

As for the SDLP, the party currently holds two seats at Westminster with Claire Hanna in South Belfast and Mid Down and Eastwood’s seat – both with huge majorities following an unprecedented 2019 election which saw cooperation and pacts between political parties who largely sought to oust the DUP. The electoral pacts of 2019 delivered two seats to the SDLP: one seat to the Alliance party in North Down and one seat to Sinn Féin in North Belfast.

SDLP and Alliance

This time around, the SDLP is not playing ball. Sinn Féin has informally assisted both the Alliance party and SDLP by not running candidates in East Belfast, North Down, South Belfast and Mid Down and Lagan Valley, whilst the SDLP has opted to run candidates in all 18 constituencies.

left-to-right-claire-hanna-and-leader-of-the-sdlp-colum-eastwood-and-matthew-otoole-speaking-to-members-of-the-media-following-a-meeting-with-taoiseach-simon-harris-in-the-parliament-buildings-at Claire Hanna, and leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood and Matthew O'Toole speaking to members of the media at Stormont. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

For Eastwood, this election is about survival; with the party suffering significant losses in the Local and Assembly elections, he must prove an electoral rebound in the vote share percentage even if he doesn’t deliver any extra seats. However, running paper candidates in marginal seats could backfire and further alienate nationalist voters. If Sinn Féin manages to unseat Eastwood, he will be left with no choice but to resign as party leader.

The success story of this election will be the Alliance party. Following gains in the Assembly and Local elections, the party – which defines itself as neither unionist nor nationalist – is best positioned to unseat several DUP MPs; Lagan Valley, Strangford, and East Belfast could all return an Alliance MP.

Eyes will be on MLA Sorcha Eastwood in Lagan Valley who came within 6,500 votes of the DUP in 2019. The seat had been held by former DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson for almost three decades, but following charges for historical sexual offences the party is running a new candidate, Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley. If I were a betting person, my money would be on Sorcha Eastwood.

Meanwhile in East Belfast, Alliance leader Naomi Long will be fighting to unseat current DUP leader Gavin Robinson. Alliance will make gains, it is just a matter of how many, and whether stretching their resources will cost their current sitting MP Stephen Farry.
Farry is facing one of the toughest battles, with the DUP and TUV backing independent unionist Alex Easton in an attempt to remove Farry, he has also been subjected to higher levels of personal attacks and intimidation, likely to be close but Farry will benefit from incumbency.

For the DUP, big beasts of the party including Gregory Campbell, Jim Shannon, Ian Paisley Jr and Paul Girvan, along with party leader Gavin Robinson are all at risk. The party has no chance of making any gains, not only is Alliance right on the party’s heels but the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party is running in 14 constituencies with the express aim of harming the DUP electorally over its stance on the Northern Ireland protocol. Unionist infighting and dissent will split the vote and benefit non-unionist parties.

As for the rest, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) appears set to make a gain from the DUP in South Antrim, and the Greens, Aontú, People Before Profit and independents make up the rest of the candidates but ultimately will have little impact on any result.

The UK General Election is set to mark the end of 14 years of conservatism and could further cement the demise of political unionism. With multiple party leaders vying for either a seat in Westminster or the survival of their political careers, this is one election that the whole island should be watching.

Emma DeSouza is a writer and campaigner.

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel