News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Northern Ireland votes

Voting is underway in the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections. The Conservatives in Northern Ireland are in buoyant mood, fielding candidates in a record 9 out of 18 constituencies. The party remains small compared to the main Unionist and Nationalist parties which dominate the political scene in the province, but the STV voting system used to elect 6 MLAs in each constituency could just get one or two elected.

The field of candidates is led by James Leslie, who is standing for North Down. He defected from a senior position within the UUP last year and is probably the best known of the Conservative candidates. North Down is a strange seat in Northern Ireland. It currently has the only UUP MP at Westminster, having elected independent unionists under the UKUP and Popular Unionist banner for many years. It is generally the strongest Conservative seat in Ulster. In 1992 the party polled second place with 32%, within 5,000 votes of the winning UKUP candidate. Since then the UKUP has largely disintegrated. The UUP is also under extreme pressure from the more hardline DUP, which could just leave an opening for Leslie to win election.

At the general election we polled 2.5% of the vote in North Down, so there's a way to go, but it all depends how people choose to use their second preference votes. Since 2005 Conservative support has increased markedly across the UK and especially in Northern Ireland, so it will be interesting to see how a high profile candidate might fare here.

Across the province, Conservative support is up. Last assembly election we managed a meagre 0.2%, but opinion polls suggest that we'll do considerably better this time around. It's very difficult to predict results of the STV vote without much more detail analysis than I have available, so I'll be on tenterhooks this evening as the results come in!

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