Election 2019

Upper Bann constituency profile: Five-party target but two-party choice?

Ducks at Oxford Island
Image caption Five ducks enjoy the rain at Oxford Island in Upper Bann, a battleground in this election that five parties are contesting

Out on the election trail in Upper Bann, it's a November day only the ducks are enjoying.

Relentless rain and wind, but for election canvassers, time is of the essence.

The constituency will get a new MP within the next three weeks.

The DUP's David Simpson, who had held the seat since 2005, said he was standing down after a reported affair with a party colleague and would not run again.

Now his party colleague, Carla Lockhart, is aiming for the Westminster seat.

Canvassing in the loyalist Mourneview estate in Lurgan with an umbrella that isn't holding off the rain very well, one resident told Ms Lockhart she would have his vote, but only because he supported her personally - not the DUP.

Another resident said she would make sure to cast her vote for the Upper Bann MLA next month.

Image caption Carla Lockhart is expected to retain the Upper Bann seat for the DUP

The DUP MLA is the frontrunner in this race, thanks to the majority of almost 8,000 votes secured by David Simpson in June 2017.

But Ms Lockhart said there was no safety net in politics.

"I am well known, but I take nothing for granted," she told BBC News NI.

"I have been a politician now for 13 years, first as a councillor and then an MLA, and I would love the opportunity if people would put their trust in me to represent them at Westminster."

In another part of Lurgan, the rain temporarily stopped as Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd gathered together his election team.

He spoke to several residents in Irish as he handed out leaflets, aware this is his fourth time contesting the seat.

At one house, he debated with a voter who won't support Sinn Féin, as its MPs do not take their seats in Westminster because of a long-standing policy of abstentionism.

Image caption John O'Dowd has stood in the Westminster race in Upper Bann three times before - and believes his party is closing the gap on the DUP

Mr O'Dowd politely concluded there was no meeting of minds, and headed to the next door to see what the response would be: all part of the campaign trail, he added.

Upper Bann has always been a unionist seat, but there is also a significant nationalist minority.

In the 2017 general election, Sinn Féin came second in the race for the first time.

Mr O'Dowd said while five parties were contesting Upper Bann, only two had any chance of securing victory.

"I respect everyone that puts their name forward for election - but the reality is there are only two parties that can win the seat, either the DUP or Sinn Féin," he said.

"If you're opposed to Brexit and the antics of the DUP, you only have one choice: to vote Sinn Féin."

Image caption Doug Beattie and his election team take shelter from the rain while out campaigning for votes

In Portadown, the Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie disagreed with that assertion.

Despite former party leader David Trimble having held the seat from 1990 until 2005, the Ulster Unionist Party has struggled in Upper Bann in recent years.

Mr Beattie admitted that, in 2017, the party's vote almost collapsed because of a polarised political atmosphere.

"It did fall away, and if you look at the circumstances it came after Sinn Féin had a massive bounce in the assembly election in March 2017.

"One thing we find in Upper Bann is many people vote to keep the other side out and that's a shame about the politics of fear that we have here."

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly is no stranger to fighting winter elections.

Image caption Dolores Kelly handed out leaflets in Lurgan, asking voters to choose a pro-EU, alternative voice in this campaign

She was first elected after the November 2003 assembly poll, and recalled someone telling her she'd have their vote purely because they felt sorry for her standing in the rain late at night.

But as she knocked doors in the Shankill area of Lurgan, she hoped more people would back her this time - and not just for sympathetic reasons.

"People are losing faith in both the DUP and Sinn Féin who they've placed their trust in to deliver on bread and butter issues, and on getting the assembly and power-sharing back in place," said Ms Kelly.

"They're telling us on the doorstep they want to remain in the EU but they're also fed up with the DUP and Sinn Féin."

Having just finished university exams ahead of Christmas, Eóin Tennyson - who was elected as a councillor in May during the so-called Alliance Party surge - was upbeat as he handed out election literature.

Perhaps it's youth.

Aged just 21, the youngest candidate in Upper Bann believes he can poll well this time too.

Image caption Eóin Tennyson is juggling a Westminster election campaign with university exams

"It doesn't have to be a choice between a Brexiteer or an abstentionist who won't go and take part in those key decisions that affect our futures, because Alliance are offering a clear alternative if people feel they deserve better and come out and vote for it."

Be it realism or idealism - all five main parties are shooting for this seat - but come 12 December, only one of them will hit the target.

More on this story