Thursday, 13 May 2010

NI Election Review - TUV

I'm intending to do a examination of the Westminster campaigns of the different parties in Northern Ireland. I'll start with the Traditional Unionist Voice.
Overall the TUV campaign was a broad failure. The TUV needed to show it could hold on to the 66,000 voters it got last year. It didn't. If you project its performance from the 10 constituencies it contested, then across NI it has a vote of about 35-38,000 votes. This is consistent with what the Dromore by-election indicated was its core vote. The TUV needed to prove themselves viable for at least 6 Assembly seats but to have the real potential to upset Stormont they needed to be into double figures of seats. It didn't. Assembly projections on last week's result reinforced by their difficulty in attracting transfers would have them on 2-3 seats.
So what did they do wrong?
Media - They had difficulty maintaining a media profile since Jim Allister lost his European seat. Also running the party's press officer as a candidate was not a good recipe for a media profile during a campaign either. Media exposure is much more difficult in a Westminster campaign than a European one so the press operation needed to be a central cog not the after-thought.
Candidates - It failed to provide a full raft of credible candidates. This made them unattractive as Westminster candidates. Crucially, as the expectation was these would be the same candidates for Assembly, the TUV looked an unimpressive choice in the longer-term. They also failed to tie these candidates in closely enough with Allister's brand (something UKUP did successfully with Bob McCartney's brand in the first Assembly election).
Message - There was no message progression from the European election. Their campaign was a virtual carbon copy of the 2009 election. This is a strong temptation when a campaign has worked so well but each campaign needs something new about it. It did not or could not adapt to the different message of the DUP its primary source and competitor for votes. If their message changed at all it was to become even angrier despite the public mood having calmed somewhat but not entirely from last year. This was not a recipe for maintaining 'protest' voters nor attracting further 'floating' voters. Their half-endorsement of the UUP also mixed their message to a small degree.
Representation - This is a structural weakness of the TUV with only a small number of councillors and no MLAs. It did not succeed in getting further defections in terms of elected representatives after the 09 result and this all meant on-the-ground to entrench its performance was severely hampered.
What went wrong for them?
DUP - Their primary competitors successfully identified the right lessons from the European election and adapted its message and campaign accordingly. Essentially those that had voted Allister 1 and Dodds 2, and those who sat at home last year, voted DUP X.
Events - First Past The Post encourages voters to plump and the hung parliament narrative encouraged that further. The question was not about Stormont but about who Unionists would send to Westminster. In that context the TUV were also-rans with the choice between a party with freedom of action or a pre-agreed Tory pact with most Unionists preferring freedom to trusting a tory.
Policing and Justice - This was the issue that did not bark (something I must admit surprised me). In terms of what made Unionists frustrated with Stormont, inertia seems to trump anger over Sinn Fein's presence. The overall package must have impressed the average Unionist voter and the DUP successfully keeping the Loyal Orders on board as regards parading legislation prevented it being developed as a wedge issue.
PS I should have a column in the political review section of the News Letter tomorrow - not my best work afraid my brain is only starting to get into gear again after the election.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The P+J deal was one of the biggest blows to unionism since the assembly's inception