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Sinn Féin on track to make history in NI elections; Johnson under pressure after huge Tory local election losses – UK politics live | Politics

How do elections to the Northern Ireland assembly work?

The elections to the Northern Ireland assembly are quite different to most UK elections. Members of the assembly are elected to 18 multi-member constituencies by single transferable vote.

Each constituency has five representatives, totalling 90 overall. Voters assign preferences to candidates on a ballot slip. If a candidate gets enough first-preference votes, they win a seat, and if not, second and then third preferences – and so on – are counted until all seats are filled.

Because of this, multiple counts are needed in each constituency, which means results can take a while to compile. It is possible for the first count not to result in the award of a seat. Another consequence is that it is not clear whether a party has increased or decreased its total seats in a constituency or overall, until all seats have been awarded.

By the terms of the Good Friday agreement the government of Northern Ireland is shared between the two main communities: nationalists, who favour closer ties with the Republic of Ireland, and unionists, for whom Northern Ireland’s position in the UK is more important. The largest party in the assembly appoints the first minister, and the largest party from the other community appoints the deputy first minister.

Some parties with cross-community support or whose supporters do not identify strongly with either community think this arrangement perpetuates divisions, but in practice since 1998 the largest party has always been from the unionist community and the second-largest from the nationalist.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry tells BBC NI everyone shd recognise the support for parties that wanted protocol removed or reformed. But he called on DUP to work together in “pragmatic approach” to find solution rather than plunge UK into new war with EU

— Lisa O’Carroll (@lisaocarroll) May 7, 2022

On the Northern Ireland elections, Lisa O’Carroll has put together a handy guide to what happens next.

The assembly must meet within eight days of the election, but it could be up to six months before.

It is expected to sit on Tuesday or Thursday next week.

Lisa writes:

The 90 elected members must then sign the register and declare whether they are unionist, nationalist or “other” under the power-sharing system in place.

Unlike Scotland or Wales or the UK national government – where the largest party can form a government – the Northern Ireland assembly requires a coalition of the two largest parties of different designations to form the devolved government.

It is a known as a “co-sociational” political system designed for countries with major internal divisions.

For more on this read her full report here.

The DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, insisted his party had done “extremely well” in the Stormont assembly election.

According to PA Media, Sir Jeffrey said unionism “has held its ground” as he arrived at the count at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

He added:

The unionist vote remains strong, we are the largest designation in the assembly, I think there is a lot of spin around results and I’m very pleased with how the DUP has done in our constituencies.

We’ve held a remarkable number of seats where people were predicting all kinds of negative things, so we have strong foundations, we continue to build on them.”

Asked whether Northern Ireland will have a devolved government in 2022, Sir Jeffrey said: “Let’s cross all the bridges when we get to them.”

Lisa O’Carroll

The DUP will refuse to take part in the executive until the protocol is reformed or replaced. This we know.

But what we don’t know yet is whether its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, will force a byelection.

Yesterday he topped the polls in the Lagan Valley constituency in the assembly elections but double-jobbing as a member of the legislative assembly and an MP is banned.

He has one week to choose and is under pressure from fellow MLAs including former first minister Paul Givan to take up his seat in Stormont.

Keir Starmer has posted a video to social media in which he calls the local elections a “turning point for the Labour party”.

In the clip, Starmer is seen talking to a crowd of local party activists about the results, telling them: “We’ve shown we can win.

“That’s the change that collectively we’ve brought about in our Labour party, the trust that we’re rebuilding that’s putting us on the road to Number 10.”

Labour has so far gained 261 council seats across the country, though has made few gains in areas like the red wall that were key to the Conservative victory in 2019 and that Labour will need to regain if it stands any chance of forming a government after the next election.

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, and the party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, had been expected to make an appearance at the Meadowbank count centre in Magherafelt soon for the final declaration of the mid-Ulster seat, held by O’Neill, but have delayed the appearance because the count is taking longer than expected.

The official declaration is not now expected to be until the afternoon. When it comes, expect speeches and a rapturous reception from the Sinn Féin contingent in the hall.

Here’s what leading commentators are saying this morning about the Northern Ireland election.

Belfast Telegraph political editor and author Sam MacBride called the results “sobering” for unionism. He writes that it has not only lost far more support than nationalism, but that a “deep, structural problem has also been exposed” by the fact that even the more liberal pitch offered by the Ulster Unionist party failed to stem the losses.

Jon Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University, said that the “tumult was not utterly catastrophic for the [Democratic Unionist party], but the crown is lost”.

But Nationalist commentator Brian Feeney said “the shock of Sinn Féin’s massive victory has confirmed the worst fears” of unionists from the Democratic Unionist party and the Traditional Unionist Voice, namely that “the game is up for ethnic solidarity unionism”.

Positive local results for Labour and a strong showing for the Liberal Democrats have revived questions about whether parties of the left and centre should look at forming electoral pacts ahead of the next general election. But opinion within Labour remains divided.

Asked by the BBC’s PM programme on Friday whether the party was giving any thought to a progressive alliance, the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said: “We are going into the next general election wanting to win it and wanting to be the government, and being a government that has the majority of seats.

“We will have no deals going into that election and no deals coming out of it.”

But asked about the issue on the Today programme on Saturday, David Blunkett, a former home secretary and current member of the House of Lords, said Thornberry’s position was “premature and possible unwise”, adding that he “wouldn’t rule out some forms of informal pact at this stage”.

“You just need to look at the Conservative party,” he said. “They are a coalition of very different factions. The coalition of different factions on the centre and left are the Lib Dems, the Greens, and Labour, and to some extent Plaid Cymru in Wales. Let’s get real.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has refused to say if Sir Keir Starmer should resign as Labour leader if he is found to have broken lockdown rules.

It comes after police in Durham police announced they were investigating a possible lockdown-breaching gathering attended by Starmer while he was campaigning in the Hartlepool byelection last year. Starmer himself called for Boris Johnson to resign following a similar announcement by the Met in January about parties in Downing Street.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Blackford said it was too early to say what should happen to the Labour leader, but added there should be “sanctions” for anyone who breaks the law.

“There has to be sanctions for people who break the law, but we’re not talking about that yet – let’s wait and see what happens with that investigation,” he said.

“If there are issues for Keir Starmer to answer, then he should do so.”

He went on to say the Labour leader will have to “take his own actions, take his own consequences”, if found to have broken the law, but added: “The only man that’s been found guilty, as we sit here today, that is Boris Johnson.”

How do elections to the Northern Ireland assembly work?

The elections to the Northern Ireland assembly are quite different to most UK elections. Members of the assembly are elected to 18 multi-member constituencies by single transferable vote.

Each constituency has five representatives, totalling 90 overall. Voters assign preferences to candidates on a ballot slip. If a candidate gets enough first-preference votes, they win a seat, and if not, second and then third preferences – and so on – are counted until all seats are filled.

Because of this, multiple counts are needed in each constituency, which means results can take a while to compile. It is possible for the first count not to result in the award of a seat. Another consequence is that it is not clear whether a party has increased or decreased its total seats in a constituency or overall, until all seats have been awarded.

By the terms of the Good Friday agreement the government of Northern Ireland is shared between the two main communities: nationalists, who favour closer ties with the Republic of Ireland, and unionists, for whom Northern Ireland’s position in the UK is more important. The largest party in the assembly appoints the first minister, and the largest party from the other community appoints the deputy first minister.

Some parties with cross-community support or whose supporters do not identify strongly with either community think this arrangement perpetuates divisions, but in practice since 1998 the largest party has always been from the unionist community and the second-largest from the nationalist.

The most significant story to come out of these elections will undoubtedly be the success of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. The party looks set to win a majority of the 90 seats in Stormont, meaning the woman who led it to victory, assembly member Michelle O’Neill, is about to become the region’s first nationalist leader.

O’Neill was born into a prominent republican family at the height of the Troubles and went on to became a protege of Martin McGuinness, the Republican leader who served as deputy first minister from 2007 until his death in 2017. Following McGuinness’s death, Sinn Féin vaulted O’Neill over more senior colleagues to lead the party in the north, part of a strategy to promote younger faces with no direct ties to IRA violence.

Throughout the campaign leading up to this election, she deliberately targeted centrists voters, focusing on the cost of living and healthcare as opposed to a united Ireland.

Our Ireland correspondent, Rory Carroll, has the full story of O’Neill’s life and her rise to power. Read his profile here.

How many councils have changed hands?

You can see the post at 08.49 for a summary of how many council seats each party has won and lost as things stand. Now here’s a summary of how many councils each has gained or lost control of.

The Conservatives so far have control of 35 councils altogether, 12 fewer than before Thursday, while Labour has control of 74 councils, an overall gain of eight.

The Lib Dems have held onto 11 councils and gained five, giving them a current total of 16, while Plaid Cymru held one and gained three, meaning it currently control fours altogether.

The Scottish National party has so far gained one council and there is no change for the Greens, who did not previously hold control of any individual council.

The number of councils held by independent councillors or where there is no overall control has fallen by five to 66.

The education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has appeared on the BBC’s Breakfast programme to discuss the local election results.

Asked what lessons the Conservative party should draw from the heavy losses it has suffered, he said: “It’s been a tough night for us. We have to listen to the voters. What they’re telling us in places like Wandsworth and of course in Westminster.

“Some of the issues obviously are local. Other issues are national. The global battle against inflation and the spike in energy cost and the pressure it’s putting on household budgets is front and centre of people’s minds.

“Next week we have the Queen’s speech, where you’ll see our plan for the economic recovery post-pandemic, the plan to deal of course with the backlog in the NHS, and of course making sure that we live on safer streets.”

Zahawi was also asked whether Boris Johnson remained an electoral asset to the Conservative party, particularly in the wake of Partygate and accusations that he mislead parliament over the affair.

“The prime minister came to parliament. Explained himself, explained how that fine happened. How he absolutely believed he was not in anyway misleading parliament,” he said.

“I think he is unique as a politician in being able to cut through. If you look at not just his ability to communicate but his ability to make decisions.

“The vaccine programme, which I was involved with, and making sure we had the vaccines available to be able to deploy them. On delivering Brexit, on delivering adult social care.”

Some reaction to Thursday’s result from our columnist Jonathan Freedland, who says that Keir Starmer can’t dazzle the public like his predecessor Tony Blair, but that his “steady, unflashy competence” might be enough to help him oust Boris Johnson.

“Here, then, is how Labour might raise the current ceiling on its performance,” he says. “Talk a bit less about what the Tories are doing; talk a bit more about what Labour will do – and do it not with a rock-star personality at the top but a few sharp, memorable promises that lodge in the consciousness.

“It won’t be enough to win a 1997-style landslide… But it might be enough to repeat 2010, depriving the incumbent PM of his majority and allowing for a change of government.”

Read the full piece here.

Where things stand

If you’re just tuning in, here’s a summary of where things stand with 196 of 200 councils having declared their results.

The Conservatives have won 1,344 seats overall, representing a net loss of 398. Labour has won a total of 2,980 seats, which means they have gained 264 seats.

The Liberal Democrats have won 863 seats, so have gained 189 seats in total. Plaid Cymru now has a total of 202 seats, which is one more than the party’s total before the election.

The Scottish National party has won 453 seats, which is an overall gain of 62. The Green party has won 156 seats, which equates to a net gain of 81 seats.

The number of seats held by Other parties, meaning smaller parties and independent candidates, has fallen by 240, and currently stands at 628.

Why do the seat tallies differ between outlets?

A quick note to explain the data we’re publishing. You might have noticed that the tallies of the number of seats gained and lost so far by each party differs between outlets. This is for a number of reasons.

Our data on councillor numbers comes from the PA Media news agency, which only reports on complete councils, while some sources report each council seat as it comes in.

There are also differences in the point of comparison: PA calculates change based on the status of each seat just before the election, not on its status after the preceding election.

Lastly, there are frequent changes in ward boundaries and the number of councillors per ward, to maintain equality of representation. This may mean that parties’ net seat changes in one particular council may not balance each other out.

How the papers covered the local election results

The mounting pressure on Boris Johnson in the wake of the Conservative party’s heavy local election losses provides the lead for several papers – although some titles see Keir Starmer’s alleged lockdown breach as the bigger story.

The Guardian splash headline reads “Johnson blamed for Tory election woes” as the prime minister suffers increased scrutiny about his suitability as leader after seeing almost 400 of his councillors ousted from their seats.

The Financial Times has a similar splash headline in which it says “Johnson faces renewed threat as Tories hit hard in local elections” above a picture of the prime minister appearing to scratch his head.

The Times reports that “Tories punished in south”, contrasting the governing party’s stronger performance in north compared with the devastating defeats suffered in London where it lost the strongholds of Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet.

You can read the full paper review here

The latest from Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O’Neill
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O’Neill Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Sinn Féin is on course to be the biggest party at Stormont after a symbolic breakthrough for Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland’s assembly election.

The party topped the first-preference vote with 29%, which will position its deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, to become the region’s first minister, the first nationalist to hold the position in a historic turnaround and a severe blow to unionism.

With transfer votes still being counted on Friday night, it was clear the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) had dramatically lost its pre-eminence by slumping to 21.3% in the first preference vote. “A disaster for the DUP,” tweeted Tim Cairns, a former special adviser to the party.

The other big winner in Thursday’s election was the centrist Alliance, which surged to 13.5%, putting it in third place and showing the growing influence of voters who shun nationalist and unionist labels.

An expected DUP boycott could delay and conceivably derail the formation of a new power-sharing executive unless Boris Johnson’s government renegotiates the Northern Ireland protocol with the EU, as the DUP demands. That would put a question mark over O’Neill becoming first minister, but not alter the profound psychological impact of a Sinn Féin victory.

Tories suffer crushing defeats in local elections

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of remaining the council election results in England, Scotland and Wales – as well the results of Northern Ireland’s assembly elections.

Boris Johnson’s leadership is facing fresh peril after senior Conservatives blamed him for losing swaths of the party’s southern heartlands to the Liberal Democrats and flagship London boroughs to Labour.

In a punishing set of local elections for the Tories, the party lost about 400 council seats, ceding control of Westminster and Wandsworth in London to Labour for the first time since the 1970s, and plunging to its worst position in Scotland for a decade.

Many grassroots Tories laid the blame at Johnson’s door for the loss of their seats. John Mallinson, the Conservative leader of Carlisle city council, told the BBC he had “lost some very good colleagues” in the Cumberland local election, and had found it “difficult to drag the debate back to local issues” while campaigning, because of Partygate and the cost of living crisis.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is on course to be the biggest party at Stormont after a symbolic breakthrough for Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland’s assembly election.

Stick with us throughout the day for results, reaction and analysis.





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