Step into my office…

6 06 2009
Cant make him out, Nicholson - did he say hired or fired?

Can't make him out, Nicholson - did he say hired or fired?

TURNOUTBALLS

Got to say that this time out was the poorest slate of Unionist candidates I can remember. Take poor quality and blend it in beside Euro apathy, disaffection over expenses, a woefully misjudged sectarian campaign by the biggest Unionist party (WTF was that 5-0 stuff about. Tsk), plus the Hermon reverse ferret.

RTE whets the appetite for shock results come Monday.

Northern Ireland looks set for a dramatic series of European election results as official figures confirmed a major drop in voter turnout.

Only 42.8% of people eligible to vote cast a ballot, down significantly from the figure of 51.72% turnout at the last European election.

Vote counting will not begin until Monday, but early unofficial tallies suggest the Democratic Unionist Party has suffered a major hit.

Oops. I remember having a conversation with a UUP guy and expressing the idea that all their negative DUP messages might have the awkward result of being effective. If the negative campaign (and the crappie pantsonfire.com) did what they intended it to then surely the outcome would be fewer DUP voters (and their second preferences) at the polls. This was kinda waved away and the negative campaign was described as perfectly legitimate.

Well, RTE says the DUP turnout has taken a hit. Surely if it has, then the UUP vote will be depressed.

The DUP could afford to take smack in the chops – but Nicholson could not. Wonder what the feeling is with the Stoops at the moment? Do they think they’ve done enough?

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7 responses

6 06 2009
Neil Johnston

Mmmmm perhaps best to wait until the results Bob

7 06 2009
bobballs

Hi Neil – of course, but who could deny the urge to speculate in that painful hiatus between campaign frenzy and the shrill of incoming results? So am not calling winners yet, but am happy to consider how things might be playing out.

How confident are you Neil? And do you think a general election might be round the corner?

The Mandelson email in NoTW tomorrow looks bloody awful – it’s tempting to think all parties must remain in campaign mode over the coming days/weeks. If the worst occurs come Monday, the UUPCon must hope to maintain discipline/stability while a general election remains a possibility. Tough (interesting) times to be involved in campaigning.

7 06 2009
oneill

Do you really think the negative campaigning has had any impact whatsoever on the core DUP vote? It was largely online and whilst negative online campaigning has been used very effectively in the States, it works there because of the sheer volumne of numbers. DUPants and even the occasional attack posts the likes of me and Chekov did were not the NI equivalent of Daily Kos simply because they were read by perhaps dozens (or at the very most 100s) of mainly like-minded political anoraks as opposed to the general public.

Assuming they have taken a hit, the UUP will not be the reason- the Dupes ran an illogical campaign, had a poor candidate and were outflanked by the TUVies on the right.

Finally we shouldn’t need to be relying on DUP or TUV No2s- in terms of pushing the Conservatives and Unionist thing forward it would actually be more promising to see rather SDLP, Alliance or Green No2s for JN.

7 06 2009
bobballs

No, but I honestly believe pantsonfire was the kind of counterproductive bollocks the UUP is want to engage in when it should otherwise be avoided.

Like I said, and where we both agree, is that there’s lots of other bigger things like the DUP’s candidate and campaign content to blame for their slump.

When I spoke to one UUP guy at the start of the campaign he said this was all going to be about turnout (getting UUP No1s out, and picking up transfers from DUP amongst others). Now, what would be the point of declaring turnout critical if you turn off the people who do turn out? Why go out of your way to campaign divisively in a PR election when one of your aims is to attract as many transfers as possible?

You play down pantsonfire so much as to raise the question of why bother doing it at all? You paint a picture of an activity that is insular, largely irrelevant and ineffective. So why? And with the public incandescent on the relative value of political representation, why do you think a campaign tinged with endless name-calling, accusations of hypocrisy etc is going to commend you to people? Surely the opposite is true.

In my view, because of the high stakes involved and the wide appeal of the Conservative link up, this election should have been the most positive campaign imaginable. This election was the big sell to show that there was a completely new dynamic in politics – the old rivalries are superseded by new imperatives etc. But that did not happen as well as it could. Instead of avoiding the drag of Unionist chest-beating, we invited it and I felt it cluttered up the campaign message.

Pantsonfire and other things obfuscated the positive benefits of this new deal behind tatty, worn out unionist in-fighting. It also has the effect of framing messages within the context of who’s the best/worst unionist, and that’s hardly the best way to engage soft unionist/greens/moderate nationalists whom you highlight.

You might want to personalise this, but I don’t. So you and Chekov go ahead and spend your time on whatever you like, I make no comment about either of you. But for the central campaign to engage in divisive campaigning was not best strategy this time out. In my humble opinion it was self-indulgent and unappealing.

8 06 2009
oneill

“Now, what would be the point of declaring turnout critical if you turn off the people who do turn out? Why go out of your way to campaign divisively in a PR election when one of your aims is to attract as many transfers as possible?”

The vast majority of the electorate won’t have seen such attacks, it hasn’t so far and I’m confident won’t affect the transfers one way or the other. Your next point then, “why bother doing it”? As I said in my previoous comment the only people reading political blogs in a NI context are party apparachniks, political anoraks, (poss) the odd journalist. The “Edwin Poots looks like Dumbo” style of attack goes nowhere, however, one or two of the points made by DUPants (eg Robinson’s very poor defence of his 30K expenses) was picked up on by the wider media and used (I think it was Gordon in the Tele). Was this counterproductive at the ballot box for the UUP? Looking at it very bluntly “no”, if it turned anyone off, it looks like it’s turned off an element of the DUP vote which seems to have transfered en masse to the TUV. We’ll have to wait poss until later to see how many of them will give their No2 to the Conservatives and the UUP- I’d guess it’ll be more than the DUP get. To an extent I agree with you that too negative (or I’d say defensive) campaign was run, that was possibly down to the less than inspiring candidate. In the General Election campaign it should be easier to promote the more positive side of the arrangement.

But, still, the DUP (and now the TUV) should be regarded as much as opponents as Alliance, SF and the SDLP. In all five cases, we should be aiming to be competing for people who are presently voting for these parties. Careful and temperate use of attack blogging/campaigning (backed up by hard data and evidence) can work to a party’s benefit, it’s just a question of getting the balance right and making sure the positives of our own message aren’t under-promoted.

11 06 2009
bobballs

Listen, we’re coming at this from totally different angles. There is no absolute answer to this. Your personal politics caters more for negative campaigning than mine. This is just who we are.

This new deal, this new dynamic, exciting, sophisticated mode of politics ought to have brought with it a new way to converse with people. The intra-Unionist guff is self-indulgent and hackneyed old crap that suggests more of settling old scores than in winning news battles of ideas.

As UUP politics evolves so must its communications. The UCUNF campaign & comms needed to maintain consistency/integrity/momentum – squabbling was a diversion to this. If you commit time and resources on anything then there is an opportunity cost in doing so. The aggregate of all those man hours/resources spent ‘slamming’, ‘hitting out at’, ‘criticising’, ‘challenging’ etc mount up, and equally so does the opportunity cost against deploying the positive, creative arguments that UCUNF simply must make. UCUNF must positively sell its deal, and anything else is a distraction that comes at cost.

So was this counterproductive to the UUP? Put bluntly, “yes”.

Even if there was no Tory deal to talk about, the UUP have been trying to bash the DUPs for years. For bloody years. And it’s like waves breaking against rocks – utterly ineffectual. In the past, UUP reps who got involved in it did not increase their vote and many who operated negative campaigns were invariably punished by the electorate. The negative campaign was a mistake – no one should confuse it as part the winning formula this time out.

UUP voters tend not to enjoy the negative messages as much as UUP politicians/UUP political anoraks. Some of the information contained in pantsonfire (what a f*****g stupid title) could easily have been carried through other means – partisan websites/blogs etc – but not through official channels (so as to maintain the stability/trajectory of the central campaign).

Always operate a rebuttal policy and challenge misinformation, but hardcore negative campaigning? Nah. UCUNF needs to change the tone of its conversation with the electorate, it needs to engage and collaborate more. No, it shouldn’t treat everyone as an opponent/threat, it should instead find commonality with people and convert opponents into partners. In this way UCUNF can break out of the silo of tired old divisive NI politics and start creating the new, expansive, wide-ranging, normal politics it claims it wants.

18 06 2009
Neil Johnston

Bob sorry not to have replied sooner. I was quietly confident and even think that sans Hermon and a bit more time we might have pipped the DUP in first preferences.
General probably next year and it will be really fun.
Not entering the discussion above but generally think we need to keep our campaigning focused on the positive

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