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DUP brand Mike Nesbitt's call for Upper Bann by-election 'sour grapes on an industrial scale'

By Claire Williamson

Published 25/09/2015

Mike Nesbitt of the UUP
Mike Nesbitt of the UUP

The Ulster Unionist Party have added fuel to their already fiery feud with the DUP by calling for a by-election in the Upper Bann constituency.

It follows a controversial opinion poll published in a weekly newspaper in the run up to May's general election.

The Upper Bann seat is currently held by DUP MP David Simpson and was being contested by the UUP's candidate Jo-Anne Dobson.

In their last edition of the paper before the election The Portadown Times published the results of a poll which suggested a vote for the UUP's candidate would split the pro-union vote and as a result would risk the seat being taken by Sinn Fein.

However The Portadown Times did not report that the poll was commissioned by the DUP and was in fact, six weeks old by the time of publication.

The poll had put DUP candidate David Simpson in first place with 30.7% of the vote with Sinn Fein in second place on 28.1% putting Mrs Dobson third with 25% of the vote.

In May's election the UUP MLA polled 13,166 votes, 2,264 short of Mr Simpson's 15,430 taking second place.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and the complaint was upheld.

IPSO found the paper had misled voters under their Code Of Accuracy.

In its report it expressed concern that the newspaper had "not made clear that the poll had been carried out six weeks prior to publication".

The newspaper has been ordered to take remedial action.

Mr Nesbitt today said the publication of the poll provoked a "dramatic mood swing on the doorstep" during Mrs Dobson's canvassing ahead of the General Election.

He said the publication of the survey "appears to have skewed the result" of the election.

The DUP have said Mr Nesbitt's call for a by-election is the "reaction of a leader unable to accept the verdict of the electorate".

As a result he has called for Mr Simpson to call a by-election so that people of Upper Ban can vote "without the artificial shadow of fear hanging over their ballot papers".

Mr Nesbitt said: "The poll was published a week before the General Election, and it was clear to me, Jo-Anne Dobson and her canvass team that the publication provoked a dramatic mood swing on the doorstep.

"Where voters had previously been bright and enthusiastic about the prospect of Jo-Anne as their MP, the poll resulted in people indicating they could not risk voting Ulster Unionist out of fear.

“I wish to emphasise that the IPSO investigation makes clear the DUP did not disguise their commissioning of the poll.

"It was the Portadown Times editorial team who decided not to reveal that information, and they have been found guilty under the IPSO Code of Accuracy, which places a duty on them not to mislead their readers.

“Given the way the publication of an out-of-date survey appears to have skewed the result of an election to the House of Commons, I have no doubt David Simpson MP will do the decent thing and call a By-Election so the people of Upper Bann can vote without the artificial shadow of fear hanging over their ballot papers."

DUP MLA Sydney Anderson said the UUP "cannot accept the people's verdict".

Mr Anderson said: "During the General Election campaign in Upper Bann the UUP candidate arrogantly boasted that it was a “UUP seat on loan to the DUP”.

"The people had an opportunity to have their say, and it is clear that Mike Nesbitt and his UUP colleagues cannot accept the people’s verdict.

"The people of Upper Bann chose an MP of substance, experience and a track record of delivery. The alternative was a UUP candidate who was hidden by her party and actively avoided taking a stance on major issues.

"Every candidate is entitled to disappointment following an election defeat. What we are witnessing from the Ulster Unionist Party however is sour grapes on an industrial scale.

"It’s time to stop blaming the people and accept the result.”

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