Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Sylvia Hermon: 'I do not see anybody there who could do what she did. She will never be replaced', say North Down voters

Lady Sylvia Hermon
Lady Sylvia Hermon
Denise Reynolds
David Peacock
Victor Uprichard
Sylvia Blair
Lady Sylvia Hermon with late husband Sir John Hermon when she first became MP in 2001
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

It is a rare day in politics when an MP exits the stage with the well wishes of the vast majority of constituents and political opponents ringing in the ears.

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A day after Lady Sylvia Hermon announced she would not be standing for re-election in North Down, an area she has served for the past 18 years, voters on the streets of Bangor hurry through the rain but are also now bracing themselves for the winds of change they didn't see coming.

Surprise, shock, disappointment were the buzz words around the seaside town, plus a little bewilderment about what happens now.

A figure who has been a consistent representative for the constituency for so long is stepping away and voters, rabbits caught in the headlights of a truck they never saw coming around the corner, don't know which way to run next.

The DUP's Alex Easton, who did manage to close the gap on Lady Hermon at the last general election, waits in the wings.

Once the electorate get over the surprise of the independent unionist MP's final curtain falling, he will be aiming to take centre stage.

Alliance will be hoping the more liberal of her legions will be turned their direction.

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The Ulster Unionists might see an opportunity to pick up the baton. Lady Hermon's original winning ticket in 2001 was purchased in the Ulster Unionist name.

Whoever takes over the mantle as sitting MP will certainly have big shoes to fill.

There is a feeling on the street that there is a majority in North Down waiting to be wooed.

They threw their support behind Lady Hermon because they liked and admired her as a person.

Lady Sylvia Hermon with late husband Sir John Hermon when she first became MP in 2001

She thrived as an independent MP because of who she was, not because she had a political party standing firmly behind her. She was an individual, steering her own course through the swamps of Westminster, and in Bangor yesterday the strong message was that voters liked what they saw.

Not everyone agreed with everything Lady Hermon stood for but, like most marriages, human or political, the majority went with it because they trusted her.

"She really will be missed. She's been the best MP we've ever had," said Bangor resident Sylvia Blair, who shrugs her shoulders wondering what will happen next.

"We want somebody like Sylvia Hermon. Somebody who's interested in the town," she added. "I don't see anybody there who could possibly do what she did. She'll never be replaced."

Sylvia Blair

In Lady Hermon, the female electorate saw the model of the North Down woman they aspired to be, and the words from Denise Reynolds were similar.

"We're very sorry to see her go," she said. "She really does do a lot for the community.

"She's been into everything. Anybody who had any problems, if you went to her she would try her best no matter where you were from. She'll be greatly missed."

Denise Reynolds

It is almost as if people are paying tribute on hearing about the death of a family friend.

Some, though, were prepared to flirt with the DUP.

"There was a lot of shock. She was very well thought of," said one woman. "Perhaps, though, we won't see a split unionist vote here in the election. In this neck of the woods it would be traditionally unionist."

Jane Weatherall said in the absence of the candidate who would have got her vote, the DUP would be gaining.

"She was fantastic here for 18 years. I'll probably go DUP now, but it would always have been Sylvia Hermon," she said.

"She'll be missed. A lot of elderly people would have supported her," said David Peacock.

"Where those votes go to now, I don't know, but I think a lot of the younger ones will sway to the DUP."

David Peacock

Search hard enough and there are voices of welcome for a new MP. Victor Uprichard was amongst the more forthright.

"It's a blessing," he said. "She's voted against the Government at every turn. I'm glad to see her go.

"Alliance? No thanks. We're a unionist area."

Victor Uprichard

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