Alliance ‘surge’ continues with Long taking seat in European Parliament

Also elected were Diane Dodds for the DUP and Martina Anderson of Sinn Féin

Naomi Long: “I think people are tired of the fact that the stale politics of the past isn’t delivering.” Photograph: Getty Images

Naomi Long: “I think people are tired of the fact that the stale politics of the past isn’t delivering.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Alliance party and its leader Naomi Long continued the major gains made in the local elections this month by taking one of the three seats in Northern Ireland’s European Parliament election. Also elected were Diane Dodds for the DUP, and Martina Anderson of Sinn Féin.

In the first count outgoing Sinn Féin MEP Ms Anderson topped the poll with 126,951 votes, some 2,000 votes ahead of outgoing DUP MEP Ms Dodds, who got 124,991 votes. However, unlike in 2014 when Ms Anderson was elected on the first count – 30,000 first preferences in front of Ms Dodds – this time the DUP candidate was first home, elected on the third count.

It took to the fifth count for Ms Anderson to be elected on the transfers of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who was eliminated in the fourth count. Her final vote was 152,436.5. However, Ms Anderson had to settle for being third MEP elected as Ms Long, returned on the fifth count as well, finished with a total of 170,370 votes.

Ms Long gained 46,453 transfers from Mr Eastwood compared to the 24,236 transfers the SDLP leader delivered to Ms Anderson.

The headline figure of the day was the 105,928 votes polled by Ms Long in the first count, at 18.5 per cent Alliance’s highest ever vote. Ms Long more than doubled the vote from 2014, when candidate Anna Lo won 44,432 votes.

During the campaign there was considerable focus on who would take the third seat due to the decision of the Ulster Unionist Party politician Jim Nicholson not to seek re-election after 40 years as an MEP.

A disappointing performance by the UUP in the North’s local elections also reinforced the view that it could be a tight battle for the third seat. And so it proved, with Danny Kennedy polling just 53,052 first preferences.

He was behind Ms Long and also behind the Mr Eastwood on 78,589 votes and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister on 62,021 votes. In the 2014 European election the UUP’s Mr Nicholson polled 83,438 votes.

Local councils

The result established that the so-called Alliance surge – which saw the party increase its representation on the local councils from 32 to 53 seats continued into the European election – was not a political aberration.

Ms Long said she still believed Brexit could be stopped. “If we don’t, it won’t be for a want of trying.”

Ms Long, who is to give up her Assembly seat while in Europe, will remain as the Alliance leader. She hopes Brexit will be overturned and that she can hold her seat for a full five-year term.

She said Alliance was benefitting from public disaffection with traditional politics in Northern Ireland. “I think people are tired of the fact that the stale politics of the past isn’t delivering, and I think what we are offering for people are solutions to the problems we have, not just more problems.”

Ms Long said she was “totally blown away” by the result. “I am speechless for once. I am really delighted, I am thrilled.”