Harry Hayfield on Thursday’s West Tyrone Parliamentary By-Election (Sinn Fein defence)
This by-election is the 33rd by-election since the 2010 general election and is the 25th occasion when a by-election has been caused by an MP resigning their seat (75%). This compares with the eight years before then (2002 – 2010) when out of 21 by-elections 11 were caused by resigning MP’s (52%) and the reason for this? Fewer and fewer MP’s are dying in office. Indeed during the 1966 – 1970 Parliament of the 38 by-elections, 29 (76%) were caused by the member dying (therefore making any chances of the government’s majority disappearing through by-elections before the next election very unlikely indeed).
So what of the first by-election of this Parliament? Well, we’ve had to wait for it. The sitting MP for West Tyrone announced back in January that he would resign from Parliament and here we are four months later finally with the by-election. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened. When Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams resigned their seats at Westminster, it too was ages between the announcement and the by-election (but then that’s what happened when a member who doesn’t attend Westminster resigns their seat). As to the constituency, well, it is a bit of a foregone conclusion. Sinn Fein HOLD. Now, those of you with long memories will say “Hold on, how can you say that? The UUP won this constituency in 1997” to which I reply “They did indeed, however, that doesn’t mean the constituency voted Unionist”
As you can see that General Election win for the UUP in 1997 was nothing more than an aberration, indeed throughout the constituency’s history the Nationalists have been dominant (save for a blip in 2001 when the Independent MLA for the constituency stood for Westminster on a ticket of keeping the local hospital open)
And it you take it back to the 1983 general election (using the proportions of West Tyrone, Foyle and Mid Ulster to see what the seat looked like in the 1980’s) despite electing a DUP MP, the Nationalists still held sway.
And as the SDLP are in no position to win the seat, the only viable option left is a Sinn Fein HOLD, and another MP elected to Westminster who won’t go there!