Friday 8 November 2019
Each in the run up to the election, I'm going to be giving my view on the state of each political party. First up, it's Naomi Longs' Alliance Party.
It's been a pretty decent year for Alliance: they won 53 seats in the local council elections and got their leader, Naomi Long elected to the European Parliament in the European elections as an MEP (Member of the European Parliament). So it's pretty hard to dispute that they've done reasonably well and that's why it's been labelled the "Alliance Surge". However despite all that, there is no guarantee that this "Surge" will continue.
The biggest challenge for Alliance is to get elected to Westminster for the first time since 2010 when Naomi Long famously won the East Belfast seat from former DUP leader Peter Robinson. A lot has changed in those nine years since, not least the fact that we have no devolved government in Northern Ireland and of course we have Brexit to add into that picture as well; really things are quite uncertain.
Secondly, the other four major parties, the DUP, UUP, SDLP and SF have announced that they will help each other in trying to get more unionists elected or more pro-EU MPs elected in what we call electoral pacts. For instance, the DUP have pulled out of the running in Fermanagh and South Tyrone to help the UUP try and win the seat from SF while the Ulster Unionists did the same for the DUP in North Belfast. Something similiar has happened between the SDLP and SF. The biggest problem for Alliance is that they've decided not to do any pacts for a number of reasons:
- they know that their voters don't like them doing pacts.
- They fear becoming involved in a "sectarian headcount" i.e unionist v nationalist, orange v green contest.
- They don't think pacts will benefit them in any way.
The party have mainly claimed that they want to offer voters an alternative to what they say is the DUP's failure over Brexit and SF's abstentionism (not taking their seats at Westminster) despite what's happening with Brexit. While this may pay off in some respects, in others it carries big risks that they mightn't win at all.
Alliance are a small party and after two elections already this year, they have to use their resources and cash widely. Standing 18 candidates across 18 constituencies means it's essential to do that. The party also has to overcome the "first-past-the-post" electoral system which means you can only vote for one candidate, meaning people will always vote more tribally. This compares to the Single Transferable Vote system used in the council and European elections where you choose as many or as few candidates as you want and where of course the party can transferred votes from other parties. So to sum up, lots of challenges to overcome for what is still Northern Ireland's fifth largest political party.
While Alliance do face a lot of challenges in this election, it's important not to write them off completely. They are contention of winning potentially around 4 or 5 out of the 18 seats and even winning one for them would be a big success. Just as it's become so hard to predict what will happen in politics recently, we would all be wise to watch this space when it comes to parties like Alliance.