Westminster brings high and lows for north's five main parties
After a lacklustre campaign the Westminster election sprung into on the home stretch. Political Correspondent John Manley assesses how the north's five main parties performed....
DUP – Arlene Foster's party could not have hoped for a better outcome to the general election, though the irony is that it was achieved without much campaign input from the former first minister. After her 'blonde' gaffe drew parallels with the assembly election's 'crocodile' comment, Mrs Foster's profile was steadily lowered in the latter half of the campaign. But that will all be forgotten as the party starts compiling its 'kingmaker' shopping list for the Tories and enjoys its time in the sun bolstering Theresa May. The DUP's obvious high-points on the home front from Thursday will be Emma Little-Pengelly's victory in South Belfast, Paul Girvan regaining South Antrim for the party and Gavin Robinson consolidating his majority in East Belfast. Amid the hubris, however, the DUP should be reminded of the SNP's situation – when your popularity peaks, the only way is down.
Sinn Féin – Michelle O'Neill may yet have to prove conclusively that she has the necessary qualities to lead Sinn Féin in the north but nobody can question her record on paper – two elections fought, two convincing victories. While Sinn Féin's assertion that it could win both North Belfast and South Belfast was always taken with varied portions of salt, the party didn't hype Foyle to the same degree, though in the end that proved to be the cherry on top of a very successful general election. Unlike the DUP, however, which is suddenly wielding unprecedented power, Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy means the victory appears more symbolic than material. That won't worry the party and its activists however, who will no doubt be gloating for some time at the SDLP's banishment from Westminster
SDLP – You'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for Colum Eastwood – 18 months in the leader's job, has barely put a foot wrong yet his party has seen its presence on Westminster's green benches completely wiped out. Alasdair McDonnell was always vulnerable in South Belfast and as the campaign progressed Margaret Ritchie looked increasingly under pressure in South Down, however, the unforeseen loss of Mark Durkan's seat in Foyle could prove to be a fatal wounding for the the party. To those who ask where the blame lies, the response is 'where do you begin?'. It's often been said that with the Good Friday Agreement, the SDLP was the architect of its own demise, and the loss of its three MPs is just another step in that process, albeit a very sudden one. There'll be plenty of could searching in the days, weeks and years ahead but it's difficult to see how the party can bounce back in its current guise.
Ulster Unionists – Like his SDLP counterpart Colum Eastwood, fledgling UUP leader Robin Swann can't be held accountable for his party's poor showing at the polls. However, unlike the SDLP, his party failed to hold its own in March's Stormont election, suggesting its demise will be even more rapid. It seems the electorate was turned off by a number of paper candidates, DUP-lite policies and inconsistency in direction. Arguably the only advantage the Ulster Unionists have over the SDLP in terms of losing all seats is that most people predicted it.
Alliance – Alliance put all its resources into two constituencies yet came away with nothing. The consolation is Naomi Long's party began with nothing, though the increase in the DUP's East Belfast majority appears to suggest that 2010's victory was a complete one-off. The party will take some solace from Paula Bradshaw's respectable performance in South Belfast though the figures suggest that in future she would need to at least double her vote in order to take the seat. Ms Long will argue with some justification that Alliance does best in assembly elections where transfers are available rather than under Westminster's first past the post system.