Last Thursday was a very good day indeed for the DUP, for the Union and for Northern Ireland
Nelson McCausland wrote last week that the party could hold balance of power... little did he know what was to come
Last Thursday, the DUP secured 292,316 votes in the General Election across 17 constituencies and took 36% of the total vote in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein stood in 18 constituencies and took 29.4% of the vote. That was a sizable and significant lead for the DUP over Sinn Fein.
Moreover, the vote and the vote-share for the DUP would have been even higher if they had stood in all 18 constituencies, but in the wider interest of unionism, they stood aside in Fermanagh and South Tyrone to support Tom Elliott.
Overall, it was a very good day for the DUP, for the Union and for Ulster.
It is clear that Sinn Fein threw everything they had at their key seats in this election.
In the Foyle constituency in Londonderry, where Sinn Fein defeated the SDLP by just 169 votes, allegations of stolen votes have been made by both the SDLP and People Before Profit, and these are being investigated by the PSNI.
Sinn Fein also did everything they could to remove Nigel Dodds in North Belfast.
Sinn Fein activists, including senior politicians, were drafted in from both sides of the border and high-profile solicitor John Finucane replaced Gerry Kelly as the candidate.
Party strategists may also have been inspired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in America. As the North Belfast News reported, the Sinn Fein candidate received high-profile endorsements “to try and get voters out of their homes”.
They couldn’t quite manage celebrity endorsements like Madonna, who backed Clinton, but Sinn Fein’s ‘big names’ included the chairman of Cliftonville FC, Gerard Lawlor, far-Left filmmaker Ken Loach and author Ronan Bennett, a republican and a former researcher for Jeremy Corbyn.
Nevertheless, Nigel Dodds retained the seat, with 46% of the vote and a very comfortable majority of 2,081.
There and in many other constituencies, Sinn Fein seem to have peaked.
They did everything they could before the Assembly election, secured a surge in their vote and there wasn’t much more they could do.
However, unionists had learned the lessons from March, and this time there was a corresponding surge for unionism.
The difference was that time was short and this limited what could be done by way of registration and motivation.
As a result, unionism has still not peaked and can do even better at future elections.
March was the wake-up call for unionists, and in June unionism proved that it could respond to the challenge.
Last week, I wrote: “After the election, the work of organisation, communication, motivation and registration will have to continue. A good start is important, but it’s how you finish that matters”.
Unionism has had the good start and now the work must continue.
I also suggested that the DUP might increase the number of seats at Westminster from eight to 10, and that those seats could be important in the context of a small Conservative majority.
However, I did not imagine that there would be a hung parliament and that those 10 seats would be as important as they are proving to be.
This has placed the DUP at the centre of the stage, and unionists have been heartened to see Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds entering 10 Downing Street for their meeting with Theresa May.
The DUP are experienced negotiators and they are well able to negotiate an arrangement that is good for the United Kingdom, good for the Union and good for Ulster.
Meanwhile, I simply couldn’t resist the rather mischievous thought that, perhaps, at the very moment the DUP leader and deputy leader were walking into Downing Street, a bemused Barry McElduff was wandering around the corridors at Westminster looking for that elusive machine that dispenses Snickers bars.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP stumbled and lost a third of their seats, including Alex Salmond’s. Nicola Sturgeon has been chastened and the SNP’s campaign to break up the Union has been damaged.
The political landscape in Northern Ireland — and, indeed, across the United Kingdom — has changed dramatically.