Sub-plots aplenty makes Upper Bann race anything but boring
"IT'S boring,"..."Sure what's the point?," ... "It never changes,"..."We'll get the same parties and faces,"... "We're like no other constituency,"...
Such soundbites on the streets of Banbridge, Lurgan and Portadown paraphrase the populist view in Upper Bann, where the two-thirds unionist/one-third nationalist status quo seems to have been maintained since King Billy was in Scarva.
Fair comments? Hardly.
For while the bookies will offer up paltry odds on two DUP, two UUP, one SDLP and one Sinn Féin candidate being returned next week, there are many permutations and sub-plots in this session's race-to-six being anything but straightforward, because none of the main parties are going to the polls without some sort of baggage or ambiguity.
Sinn Féin are gambling on taking both the nationalist seats at the expense of veteran SDLP runner Dolores Kelly (who was elected last time shy of the quota), and if it doesn't work incumbent John O'Dowd might, just might, be pipped into Stormont by his popular running partner Catherine Seeley.
In many areas the hard-working councillor is being presented to the SF electorate as first choice on the ballot paper, and several thousand number twos mightn't necessarily work for the erstwhile education minister. Interesting? It could be.
The Ulster Unionists, coveting a third seat again this time, nearly shot themselves in the foot in 2011 when their 23 per cent share of the poll was split virtually three ways and they only limped over the line when Jo-Anne Dobson followed veteran Sam Gardiner past the quota.
Dobson appears a shoo-in next week, but the UUP haven't learned their lesson and also field two other lesser-known candidates in former army captain Doug Beattie along with Kyle Savage, son of former MLA the late George Savage.
Vote management will be everything for the UUP, and like for SF, it could go spectacularly wrong.
Not so for the DUP, where Carla Lockhart - controversially selected ahead of sitting MLA Stephen Moutray - should top the poll and continue a stellar political rise which seems destined to propel her to a ministerial position if not this term, certainly in the next.
'Social media darling' Lockhart's running mate Sydney Anderson only needs to have a safe and anodyne campaign to be safely returned.
Back to Dolores Kelly, and unless she can shake the SDLP out of their recent lethargy and get voters out to the polling booths to claim at least 12 per cent of the vote, she runs the risk of being a casualty. That in itself would be a story.
Of the other candidates, Freddie Mercury impersonator Harry Hamilton has stood under different political flags in past elections (this time he's sporting the Alliance colours) and, with the likes of Orangeman Davy Jones (UKIP), has a cadre of local support, though neither will overly-trouble the counters.
Neither should TUV's Roy Ferguson (many in the constituency have likened his poster picture to that of Coronation Street's Norris Cole) nor first-timer Sophie Long (PUP) threaten any upsets here.
This time round the hustings haven't been plagued with claims of "dirty tricks" which dogged the DUP-UUP fight in the last general election, with the only palpable tension being on poster sites, where there's been an obvious Lockhart-Dobson battle for poles prominence.
Whoever said Upper Bann was utterly boring and predictable? Let's just see.
- List of 2016 candidates:
Sydney Anderson (DUP)
Doug Beattie Doug (UUP)
Jo-Anne Dobson (UUP)
Roy Ferguson (TUV)
Harry Hamilton (All
Emma Hutchinson (Labour)
David Jones (UKIP)
Dolores Kelly (SDLP)
Martin Kelly (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol)
Simon Lee (Green).
Carla Lockhart (DUP)
Sophie Long (PUP)
Stephen McCarroll (Ind)
Ian Keith Nickels (Conservatives)
John O'Dowd (Sinn Féin)
Kyle Savage (UUP)
Catherine Seeley (Sinn Féin)
- 2011 share of first preference vote
Sinn Fein 27.2 per cent
DUP 27.1 per cent
UUP 24.6 per cent
SDLP 11.4 per cent
Alliance 6.5 per cent
TUV 2.4 per cent
UKIP 0.6 per cent
- Seats won by party in 2011
Sinn Fein 1