The UUP has challenged Upper Bann MP David Simpson to a by-election following a ruling that the electorate was ‘misled’ by an opinion poll published in a local newspaper.
The poll which appeared in the final edition of a Portadown paper before the May General Election, suggested that a vote for Jo-Anne Dobson of the Ulster Unionists would split the pro-union vote, and risk the seat being taken by Sinn Féin.
The Independent Press Standards Office however found that the paper failed to report the poll was commissioned by the DUP and was six weeks old by the time of publication.
Ulster Unionist Leader Mike Nesbitt, who issued the by-election challenge, said: “It was clear to me, Jo-Anne Dobson and her canvass team that the publication provoked a dramatic mood swing on the doorstep.
“Where voters had previously been bright and enthusiastic about the prospect of Jo-Anne as their MP, the poll resulted in people indicating they could not risk voting Ulster Unionist out of fear.
“I wish to emphasise that the IPSO investigation makes clear the DUP did not disguise their commissioning of the poll.
“Given the way the publication of an out-of-date survey appears to have skewed the result of an election to the House of Commons, I have no doubt David Simpson MP will do the decent thing and call a By-Election so the people of Upper Bann can vote without the artificial shadow of fear hanging over their ballot papers.
Upper Bann DUP MLA Sydney Anderson described Mike Nesbitt’s reaction as that of ‘a leader unable to accept the verdict of the electorate’.
Calling it ‘sour grapes on an industrial scale’ Mr Anderson continued: “The UUP candidate arrogantly boasted that it was a UUP seat on loan to the DUP.
“The people of Upper Bann chose an MP of substance and experience. The alternative was a UUP candidate who actively avoided taking a stance on major issues.”
Responding Ms Dobson said: “Now that the underhand activities of the DUP are being exposed for all to see it’s also very clear that Mr Simpson does not possess either the guts or ability to respond for himself.
“Instead he chose to use his junior Sydney Anderson to assume their default position of sniping at fellow Unionists from the side-lines.
“It was always clear, and its now official, that the people were wilfully misled.
“This is a time when the Unionist people need real political leadership.
“It is increasingly noticeable that neither Mr Simpson nor his DUP Party Leader Peter Robinson appear capable of showing leadership.
“It appears the people are stuck with David Simpson!”