The most coastal of all Northern Irish constituencies, which contains hardly any inland aspect. East Antrim takes in most of the southern and eastern fringe of am Antrim coast running from Newtonabbey on the edge of North Belfast to the Glens just a few miles short of Torr Head.
Its huge coastal reach was extended in 2010 after three wards from the old Moyle Council replaced Cloughfern in Newtonabbey making the whole constituency slightly more Catholic than before. The split is now 70% Protestant, 20% Catholic and the rest none or other.
As Gerry Lynch noted in 2007 this is still a constituency of two economic halves, with “the southern half dominated by commuter settlements making use of the railway and A2 road into Belfast” providing easy access into the city and its industrial hinterland in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.
The port town of Larne is roughly at the centre point of what is otherwise a largely rural constituency. From about Carnlough the religious demography changes profoundly and tips into majority Catholic and into that other hurling hotspot of the Glens of Antrim.
Like their counterparts in Strangford, this small northern enclave expects to play little part in the political action here where most of the interest lies in whether the Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken can lay a glove on the current DUP incumbent Sammy Wilson.
Wilson took the seat from Roy Beggs in the change election of 2005 at just the second time of trying. In doing so he turned the tide decisively in favour of the DUP with 49.6% of the vote. Wilson was one of the major beneficiaries of the DUP bounce in 2017, bagging 57.3%, an increase of 21.2%.
Aiken actually sits in the Assembly for neighbouring South Antrim, but the plan there had always been to run the former MP Danny Kinahan there. Crossing the water to North Down may also have been tempting but they played safe and stuck to the local man there Alan Chambers.
Instead, he’s taken on the arch Brexiteer of the DUP in the second most Leave constituency in Northern Ireland. Now on the face of it that might sound a bit crazy, but in contrast with Britain (and more specifically England) East Antrim only weighed in with a majority of 55.2% in favour.
Aiken certainly cannot win the seat, but he may benefit from extremely low expectations. In eighteen years, his party slipped from incumbency in 2001 albeit on a slim majority and 36.4%, to coming in a poor third place to Stewart Dickson of the Alliance party on just 11.9%.
This is almost certainly a result of a one-off squeeze. Just months earlier in the Assembly elections, the party had its only two-seat win in March 2017. With nothing at stake other than marking the DUP’s card, Aiken will hope that he can use his leader’s profile to make some decent yards on Wilson.
On the most recent form (from Westminster and the local elections) Danny Donnelly of Alliance could also give him a run for his money. Oliver McMullan is the one nationalist MLA for the Assembly here, so should do well.
Other candidates: Angela Mulholland (SDLP) Philip Randle (Green) Aaron Rankin (Conservative).
Likely winner: Sammy Wilson. The main question here is not whether Sammy wins but can Aiken’s personal preference for Remain has any effect on Wilson’s huge majority in an election where unionists may feel freer to criticise the DUP’s handling of Brexit than in 2017.
Of course, given a chunk of the sizable Remain minority is inaccessable to him due to the largely impenetrable sectarian boundary towards the north means this is a strategy aimed at progress but not one likely to deliver a victory.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty
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Articles may come from parliamentary reports, various public news feeds and Google News Search. Content is republished here for context. Copyright is respected and remains with the original author at all times. Original Article:https://sluggerotoole.com/2019/12/09/ge2019-profile-aiken-seeks-uup-progress-rather-than-a-win-in-east-antrim/