The most remarkable result from Thursday’s general election here in Northern Ireland was the fact that our turnout was among the lowest in the United Kingdom. Turnout was just 57% across all 18 constituencies.
But in certain constituencies – such as Gerry Adams’ West Belfast – it slumped to the low 50s. Moreover, as pointed out by Mark McGregor over on Slugger, West Belfast seems to have lost large swathes of electorate. Adams was elected by an electorate that has shrunk – as a result of non-registration – where only half of registered voters bothered to turn out, and many of those spoiled their votes. So Adams was elected by just one third of registered voters – the rest have given up even trying to participate in the political process.
However, where voters were given a choice of a genuine non-sectarian candidate who could effect change – as in East Belfast – they chose it. Hence the election of Naomi Long and the much higher turnout in East Belfast.
Similarly, those DUP MPs who chose to thank Jesus before thanking the electoral officer, were elected, also, on the basis of slumping turnouts.
UCUNF, for reasons made clear on this site for months, did not mobilise the vast swathe of voters who are sick to the teeth with what passes for politics here. We now have an electorate that is bifurcated into moderate stay-at-homes and solid sectarian voters.
There are obvious signs that there is a significant demand for a new form of politics here. Unfortunately it would appear that the Conservative Party leadership hasn’t fully grasped what this is. Moreover, the Conservative Party has soiled its copy-book here, so fundamentally, that it will have difficulty mustering much in the way of popular support in upcoming elections. Owen Paterson essentially killed the Conservative brand here. I hope David Cameron takes note of this when he’s assembling his front bench team.
Moreover many of the stay-at-homes do not find the Alliance Party compelling as a political option. Yes it is committed to non-sectarian politics – but it hasn’t yet embraced a commitment to secular politics that sits outside the sectarian squabble. Moreover, its policy agenda lacks coherence and relevance. Its lack of support for academic selection is a case in point.
However, there is a clear and growing demand for an alternative political dialogue that pays due regard to matters that matter – and matters that sit well outside the circular nonsense about Unionism and Nationalism. No-one really understands what either Unionism or Nationalism mean any longer. It’s time for both to be buried. We need to move on. And, genuinely, I detect that the move is starting at last.