The story of this election has been one of polarisation. 18 months of desperate threats and scaremongering from loyalists and the Unionist Right has only served to galvanise their opponents and hasten the decline of the DUP. The party is now a shadow of its former self and has been eclipsed as the largest party in the Assembly.
Voters shifted towards Sinn Féin and the Alliance in unprecedented numbers to send a message of opposition to the DUP. Many commentators noted during the campaign that Sinn Féin in particular were running a very low key and in some respects cautious campaign. Against a backdrop of loyalist threats, however, this was a no brainer: the echo of the DUP’s sectarian drum-beating was enough to drive tens of thousands of new voters behind Sinn Féin. Jim Allister, Jeffrey Donaldson and Jamie Bryson were a better advertisement for Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party than anything those parties could do themselves.
One consequence of this polarisation was the squeezing of the socialist vote. Nevertheless, People Before Profit has plenty reason to be optimistic. We are delighted to have re-elected a socialist MLA in West Belfast. In a context where big names—including party leaders, deputy leaders and Stormont ministers—have lost their seats, and small parties like the Greens have lost their entire assembly representation, the retention of a PBP seat in West Belfast in a crowded field is a remarkable achievement. It is also a testament to the hard work and durability of our party activists in the constituency. As one worker put it on a picket line this week: “they have thrown everything at Gerry Carroll and he is still standing.” We couldn’t agree more.
Gerry Carroll will now be the sole left, progressive voice in the Stormont opposition. We will continue to use our platform to raise class politics and to hold the political establishment to account. As the cost of living crisis continues to bite and Stormont lurches toward yet another crisis, the presence of a socialist voice in the assembly will become more important than ever. Gerry and the wider People Before Profit organisation are up for this challenge.
It wasn’t our day in Foyle, where we were pipped to the final seat in a very competitive constituency despite the tremendous efforts of our members. The 2621 votes we secured is a more than respectable showing, however, and a solid basis to mount a challenge in next year’s local elections. Shaun Harkin and his team did us proud. They can be counted on to continue their unrivalled record of activism and campaigning in the city. The best for the socialist left in Derry is yet to come.
People Before Profit stood our largest slate of candidates in this election. The terrain is rarely favourable to first time candidates and this year’s contest meant that was an uphill struggle. Beginnings are always difficult. We take great pride in all of our new candidates. Their efforts will open up new doors for class politics in the future, and begin the process of expanding the forces of socialism across the North.
In particular, we wish to recognise the trailblazing efforts of our East and South Belfast candidates Hannah Kenny and Sipho Sibanda. The outrageous intimidation suffered by Hannah was a blight on this year’s election. The 500 votes she received as a first-time candidate is a tremendous riposte to the thugs so evidently threatened by strong women, class politics and anti-sectarianism. Our message to the bully boys is simple: your intimidation did not work.
People Before Profit are confident about the future. A new generation of socialist activists has been steeled by the experience of this campaign and are ready for the next round of campaigning and activism. Tomorrow is a new day. The forces of socialism are ready for the struggles to come.