The exit of Lord Maginnis, or Ken Maginnis, MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone from 1983-2001, could have serious repercussions for the UUP in rural constituencies.
Lord Maginnis was a stalwart for his party and proved to be very successful in straddling the sectarian divide in Fermanagh South Tyrone, a seat taken only two years previously by IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands. Maginnis succeeded in taking the seat from Owen Carron, Sands election agent, who won the seat in the by-election following Sands death in prison.
After retiring from front line politics in 2001 Maginnis was made a Peer of the Realm, taking the title of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, and continued to contribute to the internal workings of the UUP. Under Tom Elliott he was given responsibility for re-building the party within Belfast, a place where the party lost significant support in the 2011 Assembly and local Government elections.
I do not wish to get too deep into a numbers game here, as I am simply throwing out an observation for discussion, but despite the fact that the UUP lost significant support in Belfast (losing Fred Cobain in North Belfast, once strong Ulster Unionist area previously held in Westminster by the late Cecil Walker, coupled with the loss of an Assembly seat in South Belfast and another in East Belfast in the Assembly election in 2007) the UUP remained relatively strong in rural areas by post-Agreement standards. This may have had something to do with Tom Elliott being party leader and being from a rural constituency, but also due to the fact that this also appears to be a general trend among traditional UUP voters.
Despite the odds the UUP in the 2011 Assembly election held onto their seats in South Down, North Antrim, retained their two seats from 2007 in Upper Bann, gained a seat back from the DUP in West Tyrone and put in a good showing in Newry and Armagh and Fermanagh South Tyrone. Local Government election results also proved their strength in rural areas and included taking back control of Banbridge Council, which straddles the constituencies of Upper Bann and Lagan Valley. A predicted meltdown, which is almost certain to be predicted at any election for the UUP since 2003, did not happen. Once again, some may say, they were given a reprieve by the electorate.
Nevertheless under Mike Nesbitt we have someone, who while representing a largely rural constituency in Strangford, appeals more to the urban classes in his approach. He is a former student of Campbell College, graduate of Cambridge University (although he appears to hold his primary degree from Queen’s University Belfast) and former broadcaster for UTV (ironically he presented the famous Crumlin Road Court House debate where outgoing UUP MP for North Belfast, Cecil Walker, melted on camera and was defeated at the polls by Nigel Dodds some weeks later).
I suspect that Ken Maginnis represents many of those traditional UUP voters in the west of the Province in his views, none less than his stance on homosexuality. He also represents a very successful period for the party, during which the IRA sought to murder and bomb their way into a United Ireland, never mind try and murder Ken Maginnis personally. His exit therefore represents a serious loss to the once governing party of Northern Ireland and could result in the loss of more members, who will simply just resign in support of Maginnis or let their membership lapse, which in course could lead to pressure being put on Nesbitt to step aside, triggering yet another Leadership election.
Ken Maginnis is both loved and loathed by friend and foe, but is nonetheless a giant in Northern Ireland politics who despite his growing years continues to fight and stay in the headlines.Share on Facebook