Managing Director Will Chambré provides his analysis of the contest for the East Belfast seat at Westminster
Outgoing DUP MP Gavin Robinson will have a tough battle on his hands to hold on to his East Belfast seat at Westminster, against Alliance party leader Naomi Long.
During the 2010 General Election, Long’s defeat of Peter Robinson (then DUP leader, and East Belfast MP since 1979) was the single biggest story to come out of Northern Ireland.
The DUP, fiercely determined to avenge the setback, selected Gavin Robinson (no relation) to contest the seat in 2015 – and negotiated a pact to ensure that the UUP and TUV didn’t run, ensuring a united ‘unionist’ vote.
The success of the pact approach was plain to see. Although Long managed to increase her vote share to 42.8% – the best percentage share Alliance has ever achieved in a Westminster election – the DUP still picked up the seat.
However, with no formal pact in place this time around, Robinson may have reason to feel nervous.
Worryingly for the DUP, the party lost an East Belfast MLA in the last Assembly election, and Long topped the polls – with over 1,500 more first preference votes than the leading DUP candidate.
Moreover, Long is an electoral force to be reckoned with in East Belfast, and her profile has only been increased since taking on the role of leader. In an era of personality politics, Long plays the media well – polling company LucidTalk in its February ‘tracker poll’ found that most voters believed the Alliance party ran the best campaign during the 2017 Assembly Election.
However, one area in which Long might be on the defensive is Brexit.
In line with his party, Robinson backed Brexit – isolating himself from most of the other candidates in the constituency. By contrast, Long is staunchly pro-remain.
As the largest single issue of this General Election, Brexit will surely hold significant sway over the result. Therefore, the fact that East Belfast voted overall to leave the EU is likely to be a recurring point of contention for Long ‘on the doorsteps’.
Whatever happens, the contest is likely to be extremely hard-fought between the incumbent and his predecessor. All eyes to the east on June 8!
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