In 2009 Jim Allister hit the headlines when he secured 66,197 first preferences votes in the European election. One journalist told me last week if he managed to get close to that figure this time out it would be “a big, big story”.
In the event Jim secured almost 76,000 votes and, as was the case in 2009, two unionists were elected on his transfers.
There are a number of lesson to learn from this election from a unionist perspective.
Firstly, far from splitting the unionist vote TUV, and indeed UKIP, maximised it. Last Thursday unionism secured its best percentage share of the vote since the mid-1980s and very comfortably returned two unionist MEPs.
Indeed the combined unionist vote in the European election was some 20,000 more than the council election, suggesting that people who didn’t have the chance to vote for their party of choice in the local government election went out and voted in the European election alone.
Secondly, the 76,000 votes secured by Jim Allister proved that those who predicted the demise of TUV were very far off the mark. The hard work and achievements of the TUV leader have been recognised by unionists across the Province. They also came out to send a clear message to roll over unionism – which in recent months has contemplated endorsing the Haass proposals and had agreed to an IRA shrine at the Maze before being forced into a U-turn – that we have nothing left to give.
Thirdly, with its council vote TUV, demonstrated a support base across Northern Ireland. Candidates in North Antrim performed exceptionally well with Timothy Gaston topping the poll in what used to be the DUP heartland of Bannside, and Stewart McDonald coming in as the second highest unionist.
But perhaps as significant, TUV demonstrated an ability to get people elected outside of North Antrim with my party securing representation on Lisburn and Castlereagh, Belfast, Antrim and Newtownabbey and North Down and Ards councils. In many other areas party candidates missed out by only a handful of vote with many polling well in excess of 600 first preferences.
TUV has put down a marker in this election and secured a level of popular support far in excess of anything suggested in the projections carried by the press in the run up to polling day.
We have also been a key player in ensuring that the gap between unionism and nationalism is at its greatest since 1986.