Northern Ireland's parties and politicians are lining up for Euro election bloodbath
Published 14/11/2013 | 08:30
The parties are finalising their candidates for next year's European election. At present, only two things are certain – it will be held on May 20 and it will be a very crowded field.
The explosion in candidates is entirely on the pro-Union side, where there will be a minimum of seven candidates vying for, at most, two seats, which are currently held by Diane Dodds (DUP) and Jim Nicholson (UUP).
The figures go up to 10 possibles and eight definites, if you consider Alliance a pro-Union party.
That is worrying for the UUP. Losing Mr Nicholson's seat and his European allowances would be a near-fatal financial blow. It would also be tough in morale terms for the UUP, which no longer has any MPs.
Mr Nicholson was easily elected on the third count in 2009, coming in ahead of the DUP's Diane Dodds, and has generated a good deal of positive publicity since, so we shouldn't write him off. Yet he had two distinct advantages in 2009 which he won't enjoy in 2014.
The first is that he was backed by the Tories under a collective Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force banner. Mr Nicholson had David Cameron at his election rallies and he had access to both money and resources from Conservative Party head office to count on.
Since then, UCUNF has collapsed in acrimony. This time, the Conservatives are running their own candidate, who will be unveiled by Grant Shapps, the Tory party chair, towards the end of this month.
The party intends giving their new man, or woman, plenty of wellie, with money pumped in and appearances by the prime minister and other leading Tory figures along the way.
Another thing Mr Nicholson had going for him was disarray in DUP ranks. Jim Allister (below), the man who was elected on a DUP ticket in the previous Euro election, had left the party and was standing for his own new Traditional Unionist Voice party.
He had been effective in Europe and the DUP ran Diane Dodds, a rookie candidate with only council experience, against him.
Nowadays, Ms Dodds has built up a reputation in Europe and is a much stronger candidate. So strong, in fact, that the DUP is still considering running a second candidate in a bid to obliterate the UUP financially.
The betting is that they won't do it, but the final decision hasn't been taken yet, according to a party spokesman.
Mr Allister and the TUV may also run again – no decision has yet been made. Another option they are considering is supporting Henry Reilly, of Ukip, who is definitely standing and who shares many of their hardline unionist perspectives.
Beyond Ukip, the DUP, the TUV, the UUP and the Tories, a number of other unionist-leaning candidates are expected. The PUP intends running a candidate – speculation centres on former flags protest leader Jonny Harvey – but the party remains tight-lipped.
Jamie Bryson, another flag protest veteran, has said he will run as an independent and, on the more liberal side of things, NI21 will soon be announcing a candidate, probably John McCallister.
There are hopes in SDLP ranks that their man, Alex Attwood, can slip through the unionist scrum and nab Mr Nicholson's seat. Sinn Fein is fielding Martina Anderson, who topped the poll for them last time.
Ross Brown, of the Greens, is also in the hunt for a seat and there could yet be an independent left-wing candidate. It will be an electoral bloodbath and a number of candidates are likely to lose their £5,000 deposits.