Northern Ireland news

The days of DUP Lagan Valley coronations have gone the way of unionist Westminster majorities

The DUP Jeffery Donaldson at Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt Co Derry as counting began. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wir

IN some constituencies a 6,499 majority would be comfortable, but in Lagan Valley terms, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson barely squeaked home in the early hours of this morning.

Losing 12,730 supporters is more than mere carelessness after a torrid December (Democratic Unionist) party night out. Frantic calls to the count centre where you last saw the votes are not going to find them in the lost property ballot box.

As the cold light of a winter day began to dawn, the flashback will have come, not just of the tumultuous night when the votes were counted, or the buoyant earlier part of the day when the ballots were being cast, but to the 30 months of gambling that came before.

Sir Jeffrey was front and centre (literally when it came to the photo op) of the `confidence and supply' deal with the Conservative Party which was agreed just weeks after he bounced into TV studios fresh from having just won 26,762 votes in the 2017 general election.

As DUP chief whip in the House of Commons, he was among the architects of the party's strategy in Brexit negotiations which would later be branded a "betrayal" by rival unionists and ultimately by the DUP themselves.

Council elections earlier this year were the first warning sign that the centrist surge was gaining momentum in the constituency.

The Alliance Party rising star Sorcha Eastwood galvanised the youth and soft nationalist vote to add to its core progressive unionist support in the constituency and took the party's vote share from 11 per cent, in 2017, to 29 per cent.

Ms Eastwood's was one of the performances of the night and sets up an interesting battle in the constituency for five years hence, by which time her profile will only have grown.

Sir Jeffrey will also be unsettled by the consolidation of the UUP vote in the constituency by Robbie Butler, indicating he has not managed to shake off the threat from his former party.

"We simply cannot afford such a luxury (of rival unionist parties) any longer if unionism is to continue to have an effective voice in our lives," he said after all the Northern Ireland seats came in.

While retaining the seat was never in doubt, the days of DUP Lagan Valley coronations appear to have gone the way of unionist Westminster majorities.

CANDIDATE VOTE % since 2017

Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) 19,586 (43.1%) -16.4%

Sorcha Eastwood (Alliance) 13,087 (28.8%) +17.7%

Robbie Butler (UUP) 8,606 (19%) +2.2%

Ally Haydock (SDLP) 1,758 (3.9%) -3.7%

Gary McCleave (SF) 1,098 (2.4%) -1.1%

Gary Hynds (Cons) 955 (2.1%) +1.1%

Alan Love (UKIP) 315 (0.7%)

Electorate 75,735

Turnout 45,589 (60.2%) -2%

Majority 6,499

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