Trimble: seeds of leadership coup sown?

DR JOHN COULTER is a Northern political columnist with the Irish Daily Star. Here, he focuses on Daphne Trimble’s failure to secure the Lagan Valley Westminster nomination and argues that it is evidence of a new wind of change within the UUP. This could be the first stage in a final leadership coup against her husband.

Ulster Unionist spin doctors at party HQ in Belfast’s Cunningham House have been working overtime to explain the Lagan Valley association’s ‘strategy’ in dumping the seemingly red-hot certainty for the Westminster nomination, Daphne Trimble, in favour of an unknown businessman who only joined the party a few months ago.

Beaten by a margin of two to one, the wind of change – no, make that a tornado – blowing through Lagan Valley has signaled the start of a fresh onslaught on the Trimble leadership – one that is expected to come to a head by March 2005.

March 2005 is a key time period. Next year sees celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the founding of the Ulster Unionist Council, the UUP governing body. The month has also been earmarked when visible proof of IRA decommissioning will be produced, and the green light given to the kick-starting of the power-sharing Stormont Executive with the DUP and Sinn Fein holding the leading roles.

Even the most enthusiastic of the Trimbleista spin doctors was admitting the rejection of Daphne Trimble as the runner against defector Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed Ulster Unionism is now in the twilight months of her husband’s leadership.

In spite of well-staged photocalls of a smiling David Trimble with the man who beat Daphne, they cannot hide the fact there was a deliberate strategy to dump the leader’s wife – the only candidate who had at least a fighting chance of unseating Donaldson.

And even if Daphne didn’t manage to unseat Donaldson, she could at least have severely slashed his handsome Commons majority, in much the same way as the now almost defunct Northern Ireland Tories reduced the late North Down MP Sir James Kilfedder’s 14,000 majority in 1983 to around 5,000 in 1992.

The 93 delegates who voted against Daphne Trimble have to face reality that one of the major consequences of their actions has been to light the fuse for what will prove to be the most concerted leadership coup attempt ever on her husband.

Granted, Trimble has survived leadership coups in the past since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But then, all the plotting was hatched by anti-Agreement dissidents loyal to the so-called Gang of Three – Jeffrey Donaldson, Rev Martin Smyth of South Belfast, and David Burnside of South Antrim.

But with Donaldson jumping ship earlier this year to the DUP, taking with him a number of key dissident activists, the anti-Agreement steam roller in the UUC has all but run out of puff.

This time, the leadership coup will be staged by those who would be classified as pro-Agreement and are feeling this icy wind of change from their grassroots. They believe the only way the party can avoid an electoral meltdown in May’s council and expected General Election is to dump Trimble in favour of Sir Reg Empey.

The UUP’s ‘strategy’ to wrench Lagan Valley from Donaldson is simple (although many would view it as merely simple-minded). Take a newcomer to the party and pitch him against the sitting MP who has held the seat since 1997.

This newcomer will be able to topple Donaldson, in spite of the latter topping the poll in the November 2003 Assembly election with 14,000 first preference votes, and in the 2001 General Election, Donaldson received almost 26,000 votes – the highest figure for all Northern Ireland constituencies.

As well as that, the high-profile Lagan Valley Alliance Party MLA Seamus Close has also been nominated to contest the seat.

There has also been the equally daft suggestion that Lagan Valley unionists selected a newcomer to fight Jeffrey because they privately know Donaldson will wipe the political floor with whatever candidate the UUP selects. It’s a case of – better the floor being wiped by an unknown newcomer than the party leader’s wife!

However, the painful truth in Lagan Valley, once the safest UUP seat in the North, is that Daphne’s demise will condemn the constituency to a generation of DUP rule. Donaldson will be MP for as long as he wants the seat.

Indeed, Lagan Valley may well be a Dail constituency in a European-imposed United Ireland before the Ulster Unionists have a pup’s chance of regaining what was once their jewel in the unionist crown under former party leader Jim Molyneaux.

With not having to worry about another Donaldson/Trimble showdown, Jeffrey can concentrate fully on his campaign to take control of the prestigious Lisburn City Council – the final bastion of UUP power in Lagan Valley.

The UUP will have to find another cockpit constituency in which to promote its battle for the heart and soul of Unionism. Eyes are already heavily focused on East Belfast, the political turf of DUP deputy boss Peter Robinson.

After the November 2003 Assembly elections, the UUP was within a few thousand votes of Robinson. If the UUP’s Reg Empey could lift ‘the East’, it would guarantee him the party leadership.

But Daphne’s defeat has further fuelled speculation the UUP will be left with two Commons seats in May – her husband in Upper Bann and Sylvia Hermon in North Down.

As for David Burnside in South Antrim, given what happened to dissident William Ross in East Derry in 2001, maybe the time has come for the PR guru to follow the lead of his pal Jeffrey and jump ship to the DUP as the only way to remain in the Commons.

  • George

    Valid point Stephen,
    something tells me there won’t be a referendum as it obviously isn’t a new agreement.

  • Davros

    It is only fitting that militant unionism, which introduced private armies to the Irish democratic process

    Oh aye George ? “militant unionism” was responsible for the 1848 rebellion ?

  • Davros

    Thanks BK … was this in NI ?

  • alex s

    “Look at Alex s, totally adopting the language of the Shinners accusing DUP policy of “generally … play[ing] politics with the peace process” for proof of how much the UUP are in the pockets of the governments”

    What exactly is ‘Davidbrew’ suggesting, you can’t agree with the shinners on anything? Get real David, the fact that the DUPes played politics with the peace process is apparent to all and sundry, open your eyes, you and a lot of anti-aggreement Ulster Unionists have been sold a pup by the DUP

  • Christopher Stalford

    “Would you consider the DUP to be a Unionist Party or a Loyalist party?”

    I would classify the DUP as a Unionist Party, attempts by UUP supporters to classify the party as “loyalist” are to tar the DUP with the same brush as the so-called fringe parties.

    The fundamental hypocrisy of the position of UUP members in relation to the issue lies of course in the fact that the UUP has been more willing to work with paramilitaries, both green and orange than the DUP ever has.

    But then again, they wear nice pine-stripe suits, live in lovely semi-detached houses, drive Volvo’s and eat their salad out of a wooden bowl, so that makes them more “British” and therefore more “Unionist” than petulant upstarts like the DUP.

  • Davros

    Thanks Chris. I’d be interested to hear from any other DUP members.

  • alex s

    “Would you consider the DUP to be a Unionist Party or a Loyalist party?”

    The above reminds me of a conversation I had with an English in-law about what type of party the DUP are, he maintained they were a Northern Irish nationalist party in much the same way as the BNP?

  • Christopher Stalford

    Alex s

    “The above reminds me of a conversation I had with an English in-law about what type of party the DUP are, he maintained they were a Northern Irish nationalist party in much the same way as the BNP?”

    Your in-law is clearly a moron.

  • Christopher Stalford

    Stephen Nicholl

    “if there isn’t one then same old agreement”

    So things only change if there is a referendum? A spurious argument and you know it.

  • Michael Shilliday

    The fundamental hypocrisy of the position of UUP members in relation to the issue lies of course in the fact that the UUP has been more willing to work with paramilitaries, both green and orange than the DUP ever has.

    Oh right, I was under the impression the DUP were only too willing to work with the UDA during the UWC strike. And I believe some MP called Barnes has information to the contrary. Pity he won’t share really.

  • alex s

    Christopher, the reason my in-law gave was that from his perspective the DUP were inward looking and had a very narrow view on their place within the UK, it was his opinion, does having a different opinion to you make him a “moroon”, perhaps that attitude helps explain the disgraceful scenes following the count in Upper Bann!

  • Christopher Stalford

    Michael

    What is your view on the prospect of David Ervine and Gary McMichael joining the same party as yourself? Perhaps you would also care to offer an opinion on why your party leader used his power as First Minister (he’ll never have that again) to elevate McMichael to the Civic Forum when the good people of Lagan Valley sent him packing?

    One final question – given subsequent events, wouldn’t you agree that it was utterly revolting of David Trimble and the UUP to walk into the multi-party talks flanked by the loyalist fringe parties?

  • Christopher Stalford

    Alex s

    “perhaps that attitude helps explain the disgraceful scenes following the count in Upper Bann!”

    Most of the people that jostled Trimble that day were members of his own party!

  • Michael Shilliday

    And your party forming terrorist groups makes you squeeky clean!

    Ervine renouced terrorism (in an articulate and progressive manner) many years ago and McMichael was never a terrorist, therefore I have no problem with the idea of either or both joining.

    What do you think about Ulster Resistance, Protestant Volunteers, Third Force (I apologise if I have ommitted any)? Has Ian Paisley apologised for the deaths these groups caused?

  • willowfield

    George

    Home Rule for Ireland was to be implemented with the agreement of both the Unionist opposition and the Irish Nationalist Party. Hence the Amending Bill, introduced by the British Government on June 23, 1914, embodied the proposal that any Ulster county should be entitled to vote itself out of Home Rule for six years.

    And?

    Stormont, which only had the support of one side was not Home Rule per se so I believe it perfectly reasonable to conclude that the remaining piece of Ireland still in the union is finally getting Home Rule 93 years after the third Home Rule Bill and 123 after the first one.

    It was Home Rule per se, i.e. a devolved parliament!

    Christopher Stalford

    So things only change if there is a referendum? A spurious argument and you know it.

    No-one’s denying the Agreement will change. But it’ll only be a minor change to the same Agreement.

    The DUP demanded a referendum in the past. Why do they not want one now?

    I see you failed to answer my earlier question.

    Since you claim that you are a supporter of this “new Agreement”, perhaps you could tell us when you changed your mind about prisoner releases, cross-border bodies, Provos-in-government while PIRA remains intact, police reform, provisions to support Gaelic, etc.?

  • Christopher Stalford

    “Since you claim that you are a supporter of this “new Agreement”, perhaps you could tell us when you changed your mind about prisoner releases, cross-border bodies, Provos-in-government while PIRA remains intact, police reform, provisions to support Gaelic, etc.?”

    I think you’ll find that’s your position not mine groupie!

  • Michael Shilliday

    But all that is in your agreement!

  • Christopher Stalford

    “Ervine renouced terrorism (in an articulate and progressive manner) many years ago and McMichael was never a terrorist, therefore I have no problem with the idea of either or both joining.”

    Interesting. Does everyone in the UUP think this way?

    Willowfield.

    If you’d bothered your head to read the thread in question you’d see I had.

  • Christopher Stalford

    Michael

    I shall remember well that you were the first Ulster Unionist to break cover and say you were happy with the prospect of Davy Ervine and Gary McMichael in your party. What a shame for you, lots of your own councillors in Lisburn disagree.

  • Christopher Stalford

    As much as I’ve enjoyed embarrassing you Shillers, I must depart.

    Au revoir!

  • Michael Shilliday

    Untrue. I haven’t heard a raised voice about it. So no comment on your own private armies?

  • willowfield

    Christopher

    You said you’d support the “new Agreement”. The “new Agreement” includes all those things you claim to oppose. How do you explain your support?

  • alex s

    Most of the people that jostled Trimble that day were members of his own party!

    Really Christopher, is that why the DUP candadate called for a recount despite being 2000 votes behind, to give time for a UUP mob to gather?

  • Michael Shilliday

    I want to know what Chris thinks of his leaders private armies, do tell!

  • Peter Brown

    Oh right, I was under the impression the DUP were only too willing to work with the UDA during the UWC strike. And I believe some MP called Barnes has information to the contrary. Pity he won’t share really.

    ahem I think anyone who studies the UWC strike needs to bear in mind that if there is guilt to be apportioned all unionist parties share it – after all Michael where did DT come to prominence?

    Peter

  • jonty

    chris stalford are you tellingus that the DUP will NOT go into a coalitoin with SInn Fein while the IRA still exists?

  • unionist_observer

    “I would classify the DUP as a Unionist Party, attempts by UUP supporters to classify the party as “loyalist” are to tar the DUP with the same brush as the so-called fringe parties.”

    I think you could be misunderstanding the term loyalist. Loyalist means loyal to the queen and state. I don’t see how being known as a loyalist would “tar” anyone.

    “But then again, they wear nice pine-stripe suits, live in lovely semi-detached houses, drive Volvo’s and eat their salad out of a wooden bowl, so that makes them more “British” and therefore more “Unionist” than petulant upstarts like the DUP.”

    Spewing your own insecurities I see? You working class hero you.

    Its more interested to compare the young dupes to the young unionists in this regard, which group wanders round the place in suits, smoking cigars….it ain’t the young unionists!!

  • Will

    Davros
    Re the DUP being Unionist/Loyalist. The DUP in my opinion is very clearly a Unionist party in that its prime fundamental purpose is the maintenance of the Union. If being a ‘loyalist’ party means putting faith before country then I dont believe it can fit that description.

    U_O – Christopher was using the description given earlier as the basis for his answer.
    I personally would question what a lot of so-called ‘loyalists’ are actually loyal to.

    The objectives of the DUP state very clearly its purpose – and they make no reference to faith.

    AlexS
    Your English in-law may well have had an opinion about the DUP – but that is what it was, their opinion. Unfortunately they dont obviously follow the situation closely enough, or have read DUP policy enough to have gotten a true grasp of what the DUP is really like. I admit that maybe there is a problem that some people form the wrong opinion but that is a seperate issue.

  • unionist_observer

    “I personally would question what a lot of so-called ‘loyalists’ are actually loyal to. “

    so would I, but the term loyalist in itself is nothing to be ashamed of.

    “The objectives of the DUP state very clearly its purpose – and they make no reference to faith”

    woooott? are we talking about the same party? Then why does it say this on the website:

    “The most religiously fundamentalist of all the Unionist parties”

  • unionist_observer

    not just religious but fundamentalist! I would advise given some of the current troubles in the world you might consider removing the term fundamentalist from your party description.

  • Will

    U_O
    “The most religiously fundamentalist of all the Unionist parties”

    It actually says nothing of the sort on the DUP website and shows you know little of how Google works.

    Google includes descriptions added by people who cover a section of similar websites. These descriptions are added by those people – not taken from the websites. The person who has added that description happens to have a particularly jaundiced view of the DUP – dont mistake that for fact.

    Go and actually have a look at the DUP website – please give me the url of the page where it places faith before country.

  • Will

    BTW
    I emailed google before on this point and asked for the description to be changed – but unsurprisingly I heard nothing back.

  • unionist_observer

    you need more to do with your time.

  • Davros

    Thanks Will. One thing I noticed that would also place the DUP in the Unionist camp – their website
    header features the Union Flag. The PUP emblem on their website is a Map of the British Isles with each constituent of the UK having a different flag.
    The “Ulster ” flag tends to imply Loyalism.

  • unionist_observer

    hmm, well done, yous have clearly vetted the site carefully recently. I could have swore there used to be a section all about religious stuff.

    ah well, fairplay to yous. Yous are very careful.

  • unionist_observer

    “The “Ulster ” flag tends to imply Loyalism.”

    but technically, is loyalism not loyalty the queen and country? Its not loyalty to Ulster is it?

  • Will

    U_O
    “you need more to do with your time.”

    Anyone who posts as regularly on websites such as yourself (or indeed myself) surely could not say that with a straight face.

    Davros
    That is an interesting subject – the Ulster flag in itself probably shouldnt denote that much. However the loyalist parties do make more use of it for some reason. Possibly because they have always been more of the edges of ulster nationalism/ulster independence than the mainstream parties.

    The UDA did have a version of the Ulster flag without the crown after all. An interesting concept for so-called ‘loyalists’ who obviously wernt that loyal to the crown.

  • unionist_observer

    “Anyone who posts as regularly on websites such as yourself (or indeed myself) surely could not say that with a straight face.”

    I’m stuck in deadline hell and have been all week, thus my prolific participation!

  • willowfield

    Will

    It’s not the Ulster flag: it’s the Northern Ireland flag.

  • Will

    Willowfield
    I know that – but how often do you hear it referred to as that in everyday speech? Aside from the pedantry, anything to add?

  • Davros

    U-O – yes and no 🙂 It’s hideously complicated. Which is why I keep finding myself either here or
    googling things like St Peter’s eve.

  • Davros

    Iconography is fascinating 🙂 I wonder how many of our RC friends can explain the Open Bible with
    Mace, sword and Crown illuminated that is found on some OO Banners ?

  • George

    Will,
    Willowfield wasn’t being pedantic, he was merely correcting a hunking, great big error of yours.

    It is not the Ulster flag, it is the Northern Ireland flag. There is a rather large difference between the two regions and flags.

  • Michael Shilliday

    ahem I think anyone who studies the UWC strike needs to bear in mind that if there is guilt to be apportioned all unionist parties share it – after all Michael where did DT come to prominence?

    I’m not denying that, Stalford is.