Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Saturday, 8 May 2010 12:06 UK

Weekend of reflection for Unionism

Leaders

As the dust settles on the 2010 general election. unionist politicians in Northern Ireland will be trying to work out their next move.

For the First Minister, Peter Robinson, losing his Westminster seat could also cost him the DUP leadership.

Sir Reg Empey's gamble with the Conservative party failed to yield results across Northern Ireland and he lost to the DUP's sitting MP in South Antrim, William McCrea.

And Jim Allister, the man who wanted to topple the Paisley empire in North Antrim with his Traditional Unionist Voice, has been left wondering what went wrong.

In East Belfast the Alliance Party's deputy leader Naomi Long beat Mr Robinson convincingly, by more than 1500 votes.

In the 2001 general election Mr Robinson won 42.5% of the vote in the constituency, with a majority of 6000.

Mr Robinson's own personal failure contrasts with a solid performance by his party in other constituencies.

Naomi Long
Peter Robinson lost his seat to Naomi Long of Alliance

But those analysing the leader may point to his complicated personal life as part of the reason East Belfast turned its back on the man who has represented them for 31 years.

The interview he gave on the eve of revelations in a BBC documentary that his wife had been secretly funding her teenage lover's business was as dramatic as the moment the electoral officer sealed his parliamentary fate.

Despite claiming that he had been exonerated of any wrongdoing in relation to his wife Iris' financial affairs, Mr Robinson's political opponents maintained that they were not happy that he had satisfactorily cleared his name.

The subsequent controversy over his purchase of land from a developer for £5 - a man with whom his wife also had financial dealings - came a few months later and was more fodder for Mr Robinson's political enemies.

Challenge

The DUP faced another possible headache from within unionism in the form of Jim Allister, the TUV leader who conversely was brought in from the political cold by Peter Robinson for the European elections in 2004.

He subsequently left the DUP for a second time in 2007, this time over his opposition power-sharing with Sinn Fein.

Mr Allister stood again in the European election in 2009 as a TUV candidate and performed strongly, he famously boasted that his 70,000 votes translated into P45s for DUP politicians.

But his support as an MEP did not translate, with Ian Paisley Junior easily seeing off Mr Allister's challenge in North Antrim and the TUV failing to make an impact in areas where they hoped to do well, like South Antrim and Lagan Valley.

Mr Allister will now be left deciding what path the TUV can forge in the future and whether his position as leader is tenable.

Lady Sylvia
Lady Sylvia retained her North Down seat

The UUP, under the leadership of Sir Reg, formed a new alliance with the Conservatives - the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force - and pledged to put up candidates in every constituency and offer a new politics.

The alliance seemed ill-fated from the beginning.

The only UUP MP, Lady Slyvia Hermon, left the party to stand as an independent in protest at the alliance with the Conservative party.

In North Down, Lady Sylvia convincingly held on to her seat.

Drafting in the former television journalist Mike Nesbitt failed to bring the sparkle and most importantly the results both the UUP and, owing to the hung parliament, the Conservatives needed.

Consulting

The failure of Sir Reg to win his seat left the UUP without any MPs for the first time in the modern era.

Within moments of the result his party colleague David McNarry said his leadership was finished.

But the message from the UUP is that Sir Reg is "consulting with party officers and assembly colleagues" and no decision will be taken until Monday afternoon at the earliest.

What happens to Mr Robinson is less clear.

The question for him is whether he can lead at Stormont while a colleague takes charge of the DUP's Westminster operation.

Nigel Dodds has already been touted as a suitable candidates to act as Westminster figurehead for the party.

But the worry for Mr Robinson is whether his party will see him as so irreparably damaged that he cannot remain in charge anywhere.

The possible departure of the Robinson and Empey leaderships would potentially have one significant consequence - a move towards greater unionist unity.



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