So the blog We In Coming Days got there first with the headline-grabbing news that the main British Unionist parties in the north-east of the country, the DUP and UUP, have formed a limited electoral alliance for the forthcoming Westminster elections in May. Agreed candidates from both parties will run in four constituencies to “maximise” the pro-British vote: East Belfast (with the DUP’s Gavin Robinson likely to retake what is perceived as a “staunchly Unionist seat” from the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long MP, a “moderate” Unionist in the eyes of her rivals), North Belfast (where Nigel Dodds MP of the DUP is facing a strong challenge from Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly), Fermanagh and South Tyrone (home of the UUP’s former leader and notorious Irish-baiter, Tom Elliot, who is taking on the low-profile if popular sitting MP Michele Gildernew of SF), and Newry and Armagh (where the UUP’s blandly inoffensive Danny Kennedy will take on Sinn Féin veteran Mickey Brady in what is normally a Nationalist seat). To the surprise of many the 50/50 Unionist-Nationalist constituency of Belfast South has not been included, where the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell is likely to retain his seat.
News of the electoral pact has elicited mixed responses, being welcomed or condemned depending on the politics of the commentator. While some see it as simply smart politicking on the part of the DUP and UUP (given the widespread predictions that a “hung parliament” in the next UK general election will give Unionist parties unprecedented opportunities to further their cause), others see it as a crude appeal to ethno-nationalist or sectarian politics. In reality electoral alliances and joint-candidatures between communal-based parties are fairly common across Europe, from the Basque Country to Belgium. In a sense it is no different from what is happening in Israel with the general election there and the creation of the Zionist Union, led by the Labour Party’s Irish-fathered Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah’s politically promiscuous Tzipi Livni, to maximise the votes of both groupings, albeit under a dreadfully inadequate list-system rather than Westminster’s equally inadequate first-past-the-post system.
Of course, given the above example, one might well ask where is the north-eastern Irish equivalent of the United Arab List? Or to use the words of Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy:
“The coming together of the two main unionist parties, the DUP and the UUP, in an election pact on a narrow sectarian and conservative agenda is a challenge to progressive politics.
This demands a strategic response from those of us who wish to see a society based on equality, inclusion and the protection of the most vulnerable.
Nationalists, republicans and other progressives should come together to ensure maximum representation for parties committed to defending the core public services of health, education and the welfare state; parties which are unequivocally for equality and which are totally opposed to sectarianism, racism and homophobia.“