Belfast Telegraph

A close-run thing as Alasdair McDonnell turns up late for his own party

By Deborah McAleese

Alasdair McDonnell was late for his own party.

He was so late, in fact, that there were whispers around the King's Hall that the SDLP leader might not turn up at all.

It was after 3am when he finally swept into the count centre. By this stage it was pretty definitive that he would hold his seat.

But, looking at the bundles of counted votes stacked beside each candidate's name, it became clear it had been a tight contest with the DUP's Jonathan Bell.

McDonnell retained his seat with 9,560 votes. But it was perhaps not quite the victory he had been hoping for.

His vote dropped from 41% of the share in 2010 to 24.5%, making this part of the city even more marginal than before.

According to the Electoral Reform Society, South Belfast broke the record for the lowest ever vote share for a winning party.

With 8,654 ballots, DUP candidate Bell secured 22.2% of the overall vote. The party has now greatly narrowed the gap with the SDLP in the south of the city.

Paula Bradshaw for Alliance shared 17.2% of the vote after her party increased its showing from 5,114 in 2010 to 6,711 this time around.

Sinn Fein doubled its vote in the constituency.

Former Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir secured 5,402 votes, a 13.9% share. He said this was a "historic result for Sinn Fein in South Belfast".

"This is our highest ever vote and it has doubled since we last stood. I am proud of all our Sinn Fein voters who delivered the biggest ever Sinn Fein Westminster vote in South Belfast," he added.

It was no surprise, therefore, that McDonnell did not appear to be in a victorious mood. He knew that his seat was vulnerable after a number of recent controversies.

He was criticised by Samina Dornan, a leading obstetrician, when he opposed any change in the abortion law, claiming doctors couldn't predict if a foetus would survive or not.

McDonnell will have been relieved that unionists were unable to reach agreement on a joint candidate to field against him.

"I am proud and honoured and humbled that the people of South Belfast have once again put their trust in me to represent their interests in Westminster and on the ground," he said in his victory speech.

"I want to thank each and every person who has voted for me today.

"I take pride in the fact this reflects all shades of identity and social class in this city."

"Over the next five years I will carry the hopes and aspirations of all people of South Belfast as I represent them in Westminster and on the ground," the MP added.

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