Northern Ireland: Socialist Party’s support rises in local elections

Offering a working class alternative to bigots and pro-market policies

“I’ve never voted in my life but I’m here to support this”. This was the comment of a middle aged women referring to a ‘Vote Paul Dale’ leaflet given to her on her way to vote in an Enniskillen polling station.

It shows the impact the Socialist Party (cwi in Ireland) election campaign had in the town in the short space of two months since the Party decided to contest the seat.

The decision was taken shortly after outgoing Independent Socialist councillor, Davy Keyttles, announced his decision to stand down. Davy Kettyles not only publicly endorsed Paul but he also energetically campaigned for him around the doors and on the streets.

During the campaign, the whole of Enniskillen, as well as the villages of Tempo and Lisbellaw, were canvassed, with thousands of leaflets and manifestos distributed on street stalls and around doors.

The result was a very credible 406 votes, around 5% of the total, an excellent result for a candidate standing for the first time. With another 150 votes or so, it is possible that transfers could have meant Paul taking a seat. The result is definitely something to build on.

The key issue in Enniskillen was water charges. There was huge support for the non payment strategy spelt out by our campaigners on the doorstep and on stalls.

Water charges [taxes which the government wants to impose] was also the key issue in the other three seats we fought. The decision to stand in Cookstown, in Mid-Ulster, was taken on the back of the establishment of a local ‘We Won’t Pay’ group and the very successful campaigning work on the issue in the town.

The 84 first preference votes achieved by our candidate, Harry Hutchinson, was a credible 1.8% of the total.

It is difficult to persuade people to vote for a candidate outside the main parties who they don’t believe is going to win. But, if we stay in the count for a while, the number of transfers we get gives an indication of the underlying support. Before he was eliminated, Harry’s vote went up to 387.

In Belfast, our campaigners knocked on doors every night in the three weeks leading up to the election. We canvassed the key working class areas, Protestant and Catholic, in both Laganbank and Pottinger, and got a very good response everywhere we went.

On the doorstep the main mood among working class people was of hostility to all the politicians. It was not that people couldn’t be bothered voting for them, they were consciously showing their hostility to them all by staying at home. Our canvass managed to persuade some of these people that there was an alternative to vote for in this election.

We got 163 and 175 votes in the two seats respectively. In the last Assembly elections [for local ‘power-sharing’ government] our candidates, Jim Barbour and Tommy Black, got similar figures in the much bigger Westminster constituencies of South and East Belfast. This time our percentage vote as much as tripled, admittedly to still modest figures.

The rise in the vote was some reflection of the greater recognition and increased support we got around the doors.

During the campaign around 300 copies of the special election issue of our paper, ‘The Socialist’, were sold around the doors and another 1,000, or so, on street stalls.

A number of young people have joined Socialist Youth on the back of the Enniskillen election campaign and around 20 people in the two Belfast constituencies expressed an interest in joining the party.

Congratulations to all who took part in the campaign.

Socialist Party local council election results:

Paul Dale – Enniskillen Town 406

Jim Barbour – Belfast Laganbank 175

Tommy Black – Belfast Pottinger 163

Harry Hutchinson – Cookstown Central 84

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May 2005