25 November 2017
Speech by Director of Elections, Simon Hamilton MLA to the 2017 DUP Annual Conference.
When I agreed to become the Party’s Director of Elections for the General Election back in June, I knew we had a big task ahead of us. Another election was the last thing we expected and perhaps physically the last thing we needed after a bruising Assembly Election in March.
But quickly it became clear that the General Election was our opportunity to positively respond to March’s result. I’m sure the Prime Minister now deeply regrets calling a snap election, but I think all of us here want to thank her for giving us the chance to show Sinn Fein that unionism wasn’t as weak as they thought.
You’re never entirely sure how an election will go but we were blessed with probably our best day ever.
Nigel, Gavin, Jim, Jeffrey, David, Gregory, Ian and Sammy registered some unbelievable results. Huge vote totals. Staggering shares of the vote. And some amazing majorities.
They got the results their hard work over the years so richly deserved.
We had always hoped to pick up one more seat but to win two was brilliant. I am so pleased that Paul and Emma are now in the House of Commons. Well done to Paul on taking back South Antrim and to Emma for turning South Belfast unionist again.
For me though, some of the best results of the election were in constituencies where our candidates knew they had no hope of winning. Where they were fighting their third election in 13 months with no prospect of success. But they stuck at it. Gave it everything they had. And they got their rightful reward.
Places like South Down, where a first time candidate like Diane Forsythe pushed the Party’s vote up by over 8%.
Foyle, where Gary Middleton increased our vote by almost 5%.
William Irwin in Newry and Armagh whose vote is now 3 times higher than the Ulster Unionists.
Keith Buchanan in Mid Ulster who increased the Party’s share of the vote by a whopping 13.5%.
Tom Buchanan in West Tyrone where the DUP vote was 5 times bigger than the UUP’s.
And – maybe the best of all – Frank McCoubrey who helped make the Democratic Unionist Party the second biggest Party in West Belfast. Paul Maskey, we’re coming for your seat!
Maybe my favourite result of the entire election was, and don’t tell Jim Shannon I said this, in North Down.
I’m sure Alex wouldn’t mind me saying but he was a bit of a reluctant recruit to running in June. Back in 2015, Alex didn’t do as well as he had hoped, and he didn’t want to underperform again and let the Party down. But, being the Party man that he is, and after some gentle arm twisting, he let his name go forward thinking that if he could add a thousand or so votes to his 2015 total it would be a good night. He shouldn’t have worried.
I remember standing with Alex in the leisure centre in Bangor counting piles of votes and the realisation dawning on both of us that it was very, very close. At one stage, I think I even said to Alex that there was a danger he might actually win.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be, this time. I say “this time” because North Down is our number one target seat for the next general election.
When we have the kind of election night that we did, it’s easy to get caught up in the individual performances and victories and forget about the overall result.
Just take a second to think what actually happened in June. Never before in the history of this Party have we as many Members of Parliament, had as high a share of the vote and got so close to 300,000 votes.
It was an absolutely phenomenal performance by The Party and one we should all be proud of. It put the Party into an unprecedented position in Westminster and brought us attention like we’ve never had before.
When we were crafting the Party's manifesto for the General Election it's safe to say that we never imagined that it would have received over 5.5 million hits on the Party’s website inside 6 hours on election night. When I signed it off to go to the printers a few days before its launch in Antrim, I would have thought that, at best, no one aside from a few journalists and policy wonks in Northern Ireland would pay it any attention. At the question and answer session that followed the manifesto launch in Antrim, I think only one journalist’s question even vaguely touched upon the actual contents of the manifesto. No change there then!
And while the manifesto was viewed by millions, it doesn’t seem that anyone in Fleet Street who downloaded it actually took the time to read it. Instead, they chose to dredge up out of context quotes from the 1970s to distort what the DUP stands for in an attempt to besmirch this Party.
What I was particularly pleased about was that for all the carping, the actual contents of our manifesto didn’t garner any criticism at all. In fact, one commentator said it was the manifesto that the Conservatives should have run on if they had wanted to win!
I am proud that our manifesto is now being delivered at Westminster by Nigel and the team. With the Confidence and Supply Agreement and the additional financial support it brings to Northern Ireland, people are seeing that their vote in June really mattered.
Voting for parties that don’t even take their seats is pointless.
Voting for smaller parties or independents who have no clout doesn’t maximise your vote.
A vote for the DUP isn’t just a vote for the Union. It’s also a vote for a Party that can deliver and make a real difference for everyone.
Conference, I believe that we owe our success to two things. The efforts of everyone here who helped out and, of course, the voters themselves.
I want to thank all of you for your amazing work during the General Election. It’s been a tough year and you all have worked so hard. Thank you to all the members, the supporters and the staff for all that you do. You make my job easier and the Party’s success is every bit as much yours as it is the candidates.
But we can never and should never forget the people who put us where we are.
Sometimes during an election you’re so busy that you don’t get the time to step back and get a real sense of what’s going on. But very early on in the election, I think we all knew something big was happening. When voters are repeating your own election slogans back to you, you know you’ve caught the public mood. They wanted to make up for March. They were fed up with Gerry Adams and his arrogance. And they wanted to send a message to Sinn Fein.
They chose the Democratic Unionist Party as the best Party to speak up and stand strong for them. Some have supported us for years. Many of them had never voted DUP before. Whether new voters or not so new, they’ve placed their trust in us and we must strive to ensure they support us again.
We’ve learnt over the years that elections can be like Ballymena built London buses – there’ll be another one along soon. Knowing that the campaigning for the next election starts the day after the last one, we are already advanced in our planning for the next Council Elections and whenever the next Assembly or General Election comes, let’s be ready.
Let’s work hard.
Let’s stand strong.
And let’s keep winning.