It’s not clear what the last election ever held for Reg Empey. Had he won, he was already committed to stepping down from his ministry and membership of the Assembly. With his intention to resign now clear are now where we would have been regardless of whether he’d won his seat, or not. The big question exercising everyone inside the party is: who next?
Despite the poor look on not winning a single Westminster seats, it’s actual vote (if you allow for FST) remained steady. But there is not exactly a rich list of candidates to vote for. The one who’s been putting himself in the frame has been Basil McCrea, but it’s not clear what kind of support he has in the wider party.
He’s not leaving immediately . He can’t, I suspose. Unlike the Labour party, whose command mechanisms around leadership are made of industrial iron, there is no clear deputy as well as no clear successor. Reg goes leaving the party with reformed rules, which in the hands of a strong leader could turn it to something stronger and more ambition than we have heretofore seen.
I do think Patrick Murphy is a little too harsh in this morning’s (subscription locked) Irish News when he claims that political unionis has become “little more than a comfort blanket for the politically unthinking and a banner for the politically ambitious”. Yet when you look at the visceral backbiting of the octigenarian Paisley at his former deputy you begin to wonder what kind of future it faces.
That said, none of our political parties have yet scaled the heights of political endeavour. As one unionist friend put it to me during the election campaign, what we mostly has is a Blazing Saddles sort of democracy evoking the scene in which the black character, Cleavon Little, grabs a gun holds it to his own head and hisses: Hold it! Next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!
Whoever takes on the job [that nobody wants] will have to do something special with it. If they don’t, then all this talk of unionist realignment will be for nothing. The DUP, which has its own difficulties with its own political incoherences, cannot profitably realign with a political cousin that’s so visibly ailing itself.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty