Belfast East (UK Parliament Constituency) - History


Belfast East is an overwhelmingly unionist constituency with nationalist parties routinely failing to get more than 10% of the vote combined. The main interest has been the contest between unionist parties and the fortunes of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

Dominated by the giant Samson and Goliath cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the constituency is socially mixed. There are large expanses of small Victorian terraced housing near Belfast City Centre and around the shipyard in Ballymacarrett. These areas have seen significant refurbishment, and in some places demolition and redevelopment, in recent years sparking a sharp rise in house prices. This is contrasted by a large amount of solidly lower-middle class housing and some exclusive residential districts such as the much mocked Cherryvalley. This social polarisation is to a large degree reflected by the political polarisation, at least within the broader unionist family, in the seat. The small Catholic population is split between the largely working class Short Strand enclave and minorities in the more middle-class parts of the seat.

The seat was consistently held by the Ulster Unionist Party until the 1974 general election when the sitting MP, Stanley McMaster, defended it as a Pro-Assembly Unionist against a united anti-Sunningdale Agreement coalition which nominated William Craig of the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party. Craig won the seat and held it for five years, moving to the UUP in February 1978.

In the 1979 general election the constituency witnessed a very close three way fight between Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party, William Craig for the UUP and Oliver Napier for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Less than 1000 votes separated the three candidates. Robinson beat Craig by the narrow margin of 64 votes. Also of note was that over 90% of the votes cast went to parties that had not contested the seat at the previous election - in part due to realignments of the parties.

Robinson continued to hold the seat but the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland continued to poll well thereafter, and in 1987 John Alderdice polled 32.1% of the vote - the highest ever for the Alliance in a Westminster election before 2010. However their vote declined until 2010 and in 2005 they finished a distant third.

In the 2001 general election, Alliance proposed a pro-Good Friday Agreement pact with the Ulster Unionist Party in the hopes of getting UUP support in Belfast East. However the UUP did not agree and so both parties stood. Robinson was re-elected with 42.5% of the vote, with the UUP, Alliance and Progressive Unionist Party carving up the pro-Agreement pro-union vote between them, but it is doubtful that an unopposed Alliance candidate could have consolidated all of that vote to beat Robinson.

In 2009 and 2010, Robinson became mired in a number of political scandals. In the United Kingdom general election, 2010 however, the Alliance Party candidate and sitting Lord Mayor of Belfast Naomi Long defeated Robinson, in a shock result, more than tripling the Alliance vote and giving the Alliance their first ever seat in Westminster. Predictably, this was also the seat in which the Alliance gained the highest share of the vote, at 37.2%, more than double their best efforts elsewhere.

Of all eighteen constituencies in Northern Ireland, East Belfast has the highest percentage of Methodists.

Read more about this topic:  Belfast East (UK Parliament Constituency)

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