I think it was David Brewster in the research for Slugger’s paper on the future of unionism in Northern Ireland who told us that what Unionists needed more than anything else was a win.
It’s been a very long time coming, but if there is one clear victor in this election it was Unionism’s reversal of a long term drop in unionist turnout and possibly initiating the rolling back of a highly pervasive sense of defeatism.
Jim Allister may have dropped back in terms of proportion of Euro vote, but 75,000 is still a pretty big number. More importantly he brought 13 new councillors home, many of them much younger than the old DUP rearguard he was previously reliant on.
Whilst the surge brought benefits to all unionist parties, it is perhaps significant that it benefitted the socially conservative TUV rather than the socially liberal, but paramilitary linked, PUP.
In practice Allister’s political base value has been much more about enforcement of the law than religious conviction; even if at one point last week he found himself defended the right of Catholic Bishops to make clear their views on the matter of abortion.
In legal circles he was viewed as highly reliable enjoyed high levels of trust amongst colleagues. In politics he has developed a reputation across both communities as someone who won’t have his eye wiped.
He is Stormont’s most effective, possibly its only transparently effective legislator. You don’t have to like Ann’s Law to acknowledge it as one of the few pieces of original legislation to make it through the fug of the culture war stand off in OFMdFM.
And this is important for more than just the issue itself, or indeed for the fate and fortune of the TUV alone. To one degree or another the OFMdFM parties are drifting into a sort of ostentatious secrecy which is taking it to a place far removed from the world ordinary people live in…
Allister’s biggest win has been to re-establish that essential connection with people, albeit on a small scale and with limited political ambition. And the benefit of doing so has reverberated to the advantage of broader unionist family.
And he has managed it whilst breaking two primary, if unspoken, rules of the Peace Process™ era: one, that everything bad that happened can be laid at the door of protestant fundamentalist bigotry; and two ‘let’s not be beastly to the Provos’.
It’s political engine room stuff, and dirty work if you don’t mind doing it (which I suspect Jim doesn’t)… Far better to break a little precious Stormont Delft than get dragged back on the streets…
Besides, its larger impact may be in the sudden and apparent ease its brought to the UUP leader who is standing much further to the front of the SS Unionist… Of which more later