Brexit, Pacts and Abstentionism: The defining features of #GE2019 in NI14 November 2019 - by Anna Mercer
As today’s 4pm deadline for candidates looms, Anna Mercer explores the themes of the election campaign to date.
Northern Ireland is no stranger to tribal voting. Defined by voters’ views on the union (the one with the UK), the introduction of a new brand of tribalism around another union (the EU this time) has added a new dynamic to political debate and campaigning.
So what has defined this election to date?
The DUP’s confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party placed them in a pivotal role in the Government’s efforts to deliver Brexit. This was despite strong opposition locally from many representative bodies across all sectors. However, with Boris’ latest deal threatening to put a border down the Irish Sea and thus dilute the union with the UK, the DUP have said that they would rather stay in the EU than threaten Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. Other parties want to ensure active representation of the remain voice in Westminster, as the outgoing Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon has cut a lonely figure on the opposition benches.
Whilst loathe to use the term “pacts”, there are a number of key constituencies that have seen local parties coalesce around leave/remain to counter DUP dominance. In Belfast South the SDLP’s Claire Hanna is targeting the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly. What makes this particularly interesting is Hanna’s endorsement by popular Green Party leader, Claire Bailey, who not only attended her campaign launch but signed her nomination papers.
Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy is coming under scrutiny from certain quarters because Northern Ireland seats do matter in a finely balanced parliament. Make no mistake, this will not impact their core vote or change the party’s approach at this stage, but it will challenge their messaging, particularly in Foyle, where less than 200 votes separated the party from the SDLP’s Mark Durkan last time round.