GE2024 – huge pressure on the DUP

Only months after the Assembly was restored, parties will contest a “first past the post” election that allows even less space for voting beyond the establishment parties. While that mostly means the main Orange or Green blocks, this election also provides an opportunity for the Alliance Party that they will seek to maximise.

By not standing in four of the 18 constituencies Sinn Féin are giving a clearer run to candidates from Alliance or the SDLP in Belfast South and Mid Down; North Down as well as East Belfast and Lagan Valley. In the last two mentioned, Naomi Long and Sorcha Eastwood respectively will be a strong challenge to win seats from the DUP for Alliance. The DUP are also not standing in Fermanagh South Tyrone or North Down in order to stop Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party taking “unionist seats”. The SDLP are fighting to retain their two seats in South Belfast and Foyle. Despite the hype around the re-establishment of the Assembly, the increased political polarisation, and vying for dominance, is reflected in the decisions by the DUP and Sinn Féin to step aside to maximise the unionist and nationalist votes respectively. 

Impact on power sharing

While the timing of this election is difficult, all of the main parties want to ensure that the Assembly is not significantly weakened. The decision by the DUP not to stand Emma Little-Pengelly is an indication of this. At the same time, it is not possible to fully inoculate the Executive from the impacts of the election campaign. This was shown for example in the disagreements over the budget with the UUP’s Robin Swann voting against the Executives’ Budget on his last day as health minister – before resigning to focus on his general election bid.

DUP under particular pressure

The DUP is seeking to distance itself somewhat from Donaldson over the Stormont deal – an indication of the pressure they are under from those who opposed their return to power sharing. The party is trying to undercut the potential support for the TUV who are standing jointly with the Reform Party, linking themselves to Nigel Farage. But the internal disagreements remain with some DUP MPs like Ian Paisley Jr, Carla Lockhart and Sammy Wilson continuing their outspoken critique, which could cause further tensions for the party during the campaign, this is highlighted by Nigel Farage’s decision to personally endorse Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley Jr

The DUP’s new leader, Gavin Robinson may lose his seat in East Belfast. This would be a further blow to the party after the departure of Jeffrey Donaldson who resigned after being arrested and charged for historical sexual abuse. His next court appearance is due on 3 July – the day before the general election – ensuring a timely reminder that gender-based violence is prevalent at all levels in society and is surely adding to the particular pressure felt by the DUP at this election.

Need for a working-class alternative

Pat Cullen, former head of the Royal College of Nursing will be the Sinn Féin candidate in highly contested Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Instead of representing a move from the industrial battle to political struggle for working-class people, this is a rowing in behind the very same sectarian political establishment that continues to implement attacks on vital public services including the NHS.

If there are genuine, cross-community left candidates we encourage you to vote for them. We are specfically endorsing Gerry Cullen from Cross-Community Labour Alternative in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. The glaring gap that remains is the need for a real political alternative for working-class people here – one that genuinely unites working-class people of all backgrounds. Such a new political force must be built from the bottom up, by activists in trade unions and campaigns for example against gender violence, for queer liberation and climate struggles. On that basis can a genuine working-class alternative to Orange and Green be built.

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