Belfast Telegraph

Divided we fall: NI21 chiefs Basil McCrea and John McCallister can't bear to be in same room

By Noel McAdam

For most of the morning neither beleaguered NI21 leader Basil McCrea or Tina McKenzie had even been tipped to arrive at the King's Hall in Belfast.

Though when she finally strode in, the woman who has signalled her all-too-brief affair with politics is over insisted: "I was always coming.

"You don't want to believe everything you hear."

You knew where she was coming from, though, because the NI21 supporters who had been there all day did not want to believe everything they have been hearing, either.

But unlike Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Nigel Dodds and his wife Diane, there were no massive cheers for Basil.

Instead, just two minutes after Mr McCrea entered the counting hall, his deputy leader John McCallister walked out.

Even though they had spoken by phone over the weekend, it was obvious the former firm friends could not even bear to be in the same room together.

There were some dark mutterings about "brass necks".

Later, when Mr McCrea approached his candidate Ms McKenzie just outside the hall, she turned her back on him.

Then, after a few minutes, she left, telling supporters gathered round "you know why I am going" – before Mr McCrea headed off, too, in the opposite direction. This was a party facing not just elimination in the election but potential extinction afterwards. The party whose candidate quit her executive even before people's votes had been counted.

And yet its most high-profile figures yesterday continued to give fine impressions of political dodo birds.

But then the Euro count is a strange sort of experience, an event every five years to which mostly the same people turn up and do not speak to each other.

And this year the 14-hour exercise was taking place in a building which had been due to move to the new Balmoral site at the Maze.

And maybe if it had, Jim Allister wouldn't have turned up at all. Now after his ebullient performance chasing a chastened Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson for most of the afternoon, the Traditional Unionist leader may instead claim it for his own personal 'shrine'.

There were few hopeful signs of a more shared future.

The DUP hordes surrounded Mrs Dodds and her husband in the middle of the hall to shout "hurrah" continually and chant "There'll always be an Ulster".

At least for those looking for progress it made a change from the ancient anthem Oh God Our Help in Ages Past.

At the last European count five years ago, everybody was heading home in time to light up the barbecues. Yesterday, teatime came and went without any result.

A long-suffering chief electoral officer looked wearily as each of the main parties in turn tried to out-cheer each other when just after 6pm he finally had something to announce – the first count. Then it looked like a long night ahead with most of the candidates close to the 5% share necessary to hold on to their election deposits.

The delay was partly the result of having some 150,000 votes more than last time to count – and the council poll held on the same day can only be to blame for that.

Winners ... and losers

Winner

Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice

Vote: 75,806

The big fish in a small party just got bigger. Jim Allister has been returned not to Brussels but to Belfast with a renewed mandate. The no-nonsense, hardline unionist who was an MEP for the DUP before Diane Dodds, was cock-a-hoop yesterday after exceeding even his own expectations and improving on his first performance under the TUV banner in the last Euro-race by almost 10,000 votes. He performed well enough to cause worried brows amongst Ulster Unionists and take the shine off Mike Nesbitt's party's council election showing.

Winner

Martina Anderson, Sinn Fein

Votes: 159,813

From when Gerry Adams arrived in blue jeans and Ms Anderson put her arm round his waist, she looked every inch to have repeated her 2011 success. The only question all day was whether she would manage to exceed the very high quota on the initial count and get elected first time. For a good part of the day Sinn Fein activists were claiming she had come just below the quota but they are past masters at managing expectations and in the end she topped the poll as expected.

Winner

Diane Dodds, DUP

Vote: 131, 163

The wife of the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds was well pleased after taking the bad look off her debut performance in the last election in 2009 and considerably improving her party's share of the first preference votes, leaving her much less dependent on transfers from Jim Allister. It also took the bad look off her party's unexpected dip in the local government elections when it lost a total of 34,000 votes and was enough to put the bounce right back into the somewhat deflated DUP ranks.

Loser

Tina McKenzie, NI21

Vote: 10,553

It's never a good idea when your party's candidate has quit political life even before the official election count is over. But Basil McCrea and John McCallister yesterday laid bare the party's deep wounds all over again by being unable to even speak to each other. Without the shenanigans descending towards the scandal of the last week, this could have been spun as a creditable performance by an inexperienced candidate representing a party facing its first electoral test. And it may yet encourage the remnant rank and file.

Loser

Alex Attwood, SDLP

Vote: 81,594

While only 2,000 votes behind Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson who he had hoped to unseat after the first count, this was the SDLP's worst-ever performance in a European election which, along with a more than lacklustre showing in the local government results at the weekend, will help heap pressure on Alasdair McDonnell's leadership, in his first test with the electorate since taking over from Margaret Ritchie, even if no viable contenders are visible at the moment.

Loser

Mark Brotherston, Conservatives

Vote: 4,144

Even by the long history of poor performances in Northern Ireland elections, Mr Brotherston always looked like being the first to be eliminated from yesterday's contest. For a long time it even looked as if the candidate, who performed well in media and hustings events, would not even register four figures but then the North Down and Ards boxes were opened to give a last minute boost to another abysmal showing for the Tories here.

Loser

Ross Brown, Green Party

Vote: 10,598

While no doubt delighted to win a comfortable seat on Belfast City Council, the party's Euro candidate's performance will call into question the party's apparent decision to take the focus off the Euro-race. He offered DJ mixes to anyone who donated money to his campaign and grew in increasingly assured performances as the campaign went on and he makes a promising local councillor. But it may make parties think twice in future about running the same people in both the Euro and town hall campaigns: it's a long way from Belfast to Brussels.

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