Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Disaster at polls is price DUP pays for vicious campaign

The DUP’s Belfast North candidate Nigel Dodds (Liam McBurney/PA)
The DUP’s Belfast North candidate Nigel Dodds (Liam McBurney/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Friday 13th brings disaster to the DUP, but it has only itself to blame. Misfortune had no role in its downfall.

The party played Brexit horrendously, its £1.5bn confidence-and-supply deal with the Tories reaped no electoral dividends, and the vicious campaign that some of its members and supporters waged in North Belfast and North Down has utterly backfired.

The party’s core hardline vote came out in both constituencies, but it didn’t secure the middle-class unionist support it needed to win these seats. Those controversial banners – so beloved by loyalist paramilitaries – backfired big-time.

They drove SDLP and Green voters in North Belfast into John Finucane’s arms, and they drove a rainbow coalition of voters in North Down into Stephen Farry’s.

Finucane added 4,000 onto his 2017 tally, while Nigel Dodds’ vote stagnated.

He did secure support from working-class unionists who didn’t vote in 2017, but he lost moderate unionist votes to Alliance’s Nuala McAllister who upped her party’s vote by 2,000.

DUP HQ didn’t exert enough control over some of the party’s members in North Belfast and North Down, and they paid a heavy price for it.

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It’s not just the losses that will hurt the DUP. In those seats it held onto its vote was often down. Jeffrey Donaldson’s majority reduced from a mighty 19,000 to just 6,000 being the starkest.

With the party’s influence in Westminster now totally gone, it needs Stormont to speedily return.

The only positive for the DUP is that the Ulster Unionists performed so badly in so many places except Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

New leader Steve Aiken did his party no favours with his u-turn on what constituencies it was contesting, and with a ghastly TV performance.

His crazy decision to stand in East Antrim resulted in the punishment we all knew was coming. DUP MP Sammy Wilson’s vote was three times higher but the real bad news for Aiken was that Alliance councillor Danny Donnelly – hardly a high-profile figure – won almost twice as many votes as the UUP leader.

Serious self-analysis is required of both unionist parties. The DUP will have better days than today. But there may be no way back for the UUP.

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