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The Tallyman and the SWP’s election strategy in the North

The analysis of PBP/SWP votes in the North has provoked a spirited exchange which we reprint below. 

Left, right and orange and green

11 May 2016
Sir, – The election of two People Before Profit MLAs in the North is welcome if, as is their intention, they add backbone to the fight against austerity and can unite that effort across the island. If they add substantively (as I’m sure they will) to the demand for marriage equality and a women’s right to choose, even better.

On the subject of whether PBP is politically “orange or green” it is , despite PBP rhetoric, perceived as left-wing, ie green or nationalist. It is impossible to escape this dichotomy, which reflects attitudes for (orange) or against (green) the state of Northern Ireland. It would appear that PBP recognises this in practical terms. Its successful candidates stood in two overwhelmingly nationalist or green constituencies.

Polling evidence suggests that PBP voters are very clear on this issue.

Analysis of the distribution of Gerry Carroll’s surplus vote in West Belfast illustrates the position. Of 3,117 votes above the 5,182 quota, only 12 votes were non-transferable. This alone demonstrates a high degree of political acuity.

Sinn Féin received 1,546 votes proportionately, that is 50 per cent of Mr Carroll’s 8,299 second-preference votes. And 761 votes, 25 per cent, went to the SDLP. Of the remaining candidates (all unsuccessful), a mere 12.5 per cent went to two parties also claiming to be not orange or green, 253 to the Workers Party and 136 to Alliance. The Green (environmentally as distinct from politically) Party received 379 votes.

That leaves the Unionist and Democratic Unionist parties receiving 15 votes each. In other words, less than 1 per cent of PBP voters in West Belfast veered toward the distinctly orange shade of the political spectrum, while more than 75 per cent were green in their second-preference political complexion.

By any reckoning PBP voters discriminated in favour of green nationalist or republican politics and possibly saw themselves as a redder shade. That is not so strange since nationalist voters generally are more liberal and left wing, and less sectarian, than the unionist variety. This is a function of the development of green and orange politics over many years, and is a reflection of the nature of the northern state. Of course PBP should, as have others before, seek to win orange voters to their non-sectarian position. I suspect, however, that these voters will perceive them to be as green as have voters in West Belfast.

 – Yours, etc,


Cabra, Dublin 7

PBP up for challenge of overcoming long-standing division

30 May 2016
The election of two People Before Profit candidates in the recent assembly elections – with Gerry Carroll topping the poll in West Belfast – has thrown the political establishment and the punditry into a state of confusion. Jim Gibney (April 27) warned readers to reject the ‘small left-wing parties who side-step or ignore... issues of injustice and discrimination’.

This followed closely on his party leader’s claim that PBP was a ‘two-nations’ party that endorses partition. Fortunately the electorate was wise enough to ignore both of them. This side of the election pundits want it the other way around: they strain to dismiss our mandate as a ‘green’ vote, writing off our anti-sectarian message and the possibility that we will win a substantial following outside nationalist districts. 

Brian Feeney (May 18) lifting his argument from Niall Meehan’s letter that appears on the same day, claims that this is a ‘fantasy’.

Niall Meehan’s calculations are faulty – they say nothing about PBP’s first preference votes on the Shankill, for example, or about our result in North Belfast. But the more revealing thread in both pieces is how deeply invested they are in the stale politics of the past. There is nothing remarkable in the fact that the majority of our votes in the Foyle and West Belfast came from nationalists who previously voted Sinn Féin. Nor do we underestimate the challenges ahead as we seek to push out and build an anti-austerity fight on both sides of the sectarian divide.

No-one is naïve about the difficulties this entails, but nor do we share Feeney’s pessimism that a party committed both to leading the fight against austerity and to Connolly’s vision of a 32-county workers‚ republic will be met with mob violence on the Shankill or the Fountain. It is one thing to admit that overcoming long standing divisions is serious work: PBP are up for that challenge and all that it entails. But it is another to insist that these divisions are set in stone and immutable, as both Feeney and Meehan imply. 

To date the establishment north and south have built the crisis-ridden peace process around two pillars – opening up the north to corporate plunder and imposing a kind of benign apartheid on the most deprived communities on both sides of the sectarian divide. What has that delivered? Crippling austerity in the running down of the health service and privatisation of our public services; the imposition of zero hour contracts, exorbitant student fees and economic uncertainty for the post-ceasefire generation. PBP aims to use its foothold in the assembly to build opposition to that regime in every working-class community. If that aspiration has the establishment rattled, so be it.

People Before Profit, Belfast BT12

PBP vote – less than meets the eye

12 June 2016

I must say I was left somewhat confused by Brian Kelly’s letter on the demographics of the recent PBP election success. It seems to me that the art of tallying is well established in Ireland and that Niall Meehan’s exposition is a perfectly valid example of the patterns behind the vote. Nor do I see it as in any way surprising that the SWP, after years of concentrated effort around a carefully thought out electoral strategy, should capture a vote from disaffected Sinn Fein voters.

Why should this be an embarrassment?

Brian accuses Niall of ignoring details of the PBP vote, but he ignores a wider demographic that shows that candidates standing on left platforms not so different from his own received small votes in constituencies dominated by unionism. He elides a discussion about facts into a discussion about aspiration, claiming that his critics are saying that sectarian divisions are immutable.

What has been bypassed in the discussion is the new policy of the SWP/PBP, expressed by their candidates as; “we are neither Orange nor Green, but Socialist”

This is far to the right of mainstream socialist positions from the time of Connolly. Indeed, it is to the right of the policy of the Irish SWP section over the past 30 years.

This neutrality ignores socialist support for democratic rights and the frequent alliances between republicanism and socialism that are part of our history. It can blind workers to the very real mechanisms employed by loyalism and the state to combat radicalism amongst Protestant workers and prevent working class unity. It can even lead to loyalist groups being sanctified as the voice of Protestant workers when they are in fact their oppressors.

Brian opposes a benign sectarian apartheid (I don’t understand what is benign about it) and austerity. I would think the first task would be to build a movement to tear down the Stormont administration, the actual mechanism for enforcing both.

As I understand it, the PBP MLAs plan to “hold the Assembly to account” and blame it for not fighting British cuts hard enough, even though both the DUP and Sinn Fein support the Fresh Start austerity package.

If PBP have a plan for building an independent working class struggle against sectarianism and austerity I will be the first to support them.

At the moment, there seems rather less to their election manifesto than meets the eye.


John McAnulty

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