Hopefuls line up as election battle looms

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Five political hopefuls – the same as in 2010 – will be in the Upper Bann frame for the May 7 Westminster General Election.

The incumbent David Simpson is hoping to make it a hat-trick of wins, his main rivals being the UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson MLA and Craigavon Deputy Mayor Catherine Seeley of Sinn Fein. Dolores Kelly MLA (SDLP deputy leader) and Peter Lavery (Alliance) are rank outsiders.

As expected, UKIP and PUP are staying out of the election. David Jones (UKIP) and John Stevenson (PUP) both said their parties had decided not to split the unionist vote in an ever-tightening constituency like Upper Bann. But the parties are fighting the Assembly Elections – with their PR safeguards – next year.

Simpson first made it in 2005, ousting UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble by a 5,398 majority, although that was cut to 3,361 in 2010 when Harry Hamilton carried the UUP torch.

Seeley is hoping to increase Stormont Education Minister John O’Dowd’s votes of the past two General Elections – 9,305 in 2005 and 10,237 in 2010 when he was just 400 behind the UUP. And Kelly’s vote in those two polls has slipped from 5,747 to 5,276, although the turn-out fell from 61.2% to 55.3%.

Upper Bann is arid ground for Alliance. Brendan Heading attracted just 1,231 last time, while Peter Lavery failed to make it in last year’s local elections to the ABC Council.

The Simpson camp is confident that their man will make it, “based on his hard work in the constituency offices”. He played an ace card in the run-up to 2005 when his party backed his election as Mayor of Craigavon. The attendant publicity helped his Westminster bid.

But the UUP are confident that Dobson could cause a shock result. She has never lost an election, having burst onto the scene in a 2010 by-election to Lurgan, followed by a first-count council victory the following year and a final-count win to Stormont, also in 2011.

The party insists that new leader Mike Nesbitt has steadied the floundering ship and that determined Dobson could continue her winning sequence.

Sinn Fein, though, see Upper Bann as one of a few vulnerable seats of the Northern Ireland 18, hoping to slip through on the DUP-UUP split. Seeley is a strong up-and-coming candidates having hit the headlines on three counts.

She was forced out of a teaching post at a Belfast State School due to her SF background; she made it as Craigavon Deputy Mayor, causing a DUP-UUP row; and she refused to lay the Remembrance Day wreath in Lurgan. None of those will have a negative effect on her vote.

Kelly’s vote remains constant around the 5,000-plus mark and that won’t impact the Westminster vote. On the NI scene, she has made the Assembly on the past three elections, although she could be under pressure from SF next time.

lliance’s Peter Lavery will find the going tough in Upper Bann. A Masters Graduate from Queen’s University, he works in the IT sector, and is fulfilling the Alliance promise to fight in all constituencies.

He said, “As an Alliance candidate I offer a real alternative as, instead of focusing on our divided past, I am focussed on the opportunities for Northern Ireland going into the future.”