Squabbling makes voters tune out

Alex Kane has another Ulster-born term to go with the more famous whataboutery and northsouthery. It’s ya-boo-suckery! Two polls have him worried. On in the London Times that says voters are fed up with squabbling amongst politicians. And the other is the Belfast Telegraph poll that contains an ominous message for the UUP: 16% and last place amongst the ‘big four’ parties. A poor place to be when, as he expects, the negotiations begin some time after the next elections.

By Alex Kane

It has been an interesting week for opinion polls. One in The Times last Monday indicated that almost 80 per cent of respondents disapproved of negative campaigning and believed that the Conservative and Labour parties spent more time “attacking each other rather than explaining their policies”.

The DUP and UUP would be well advised to take note of this level of disapproval, for at the moment they seem to do little more than cut and gut each other at every opportunity. Day in and day out they accuse each other of hypocrisy or treachery, rolling out the same old arguments and clichés in order to make exactly the same points. The contents of the letters pages and press releases are stuffed with the same phrases and ya-boo-suckery, as each side tries to have the last word.

And to what end? It is quite clear that the pro-Union electorate are switching off in droves, with each election indicating a downturn in registration and voting. People are so sick of the Punch and Judy knockabout which passes for political debate within unionism, that they are voting with their backsides and refusing to make the trip to the ballot box.

Are there not more important issues for unionism to concern itself with other than incessant score settling and “slagging” off? The DUP’s only goal appears to be the destruction of the Ulster Unionists; and the UUP, meanwhile, fearing electoral meltdown, is trying to outflank Dr Paisley in the hardliner stakes. But neither approach will reach out to, let alone win over, the growing numbers who have tuned out of the babble and bombast.

Another opinion poll this week put the Ulster Unionists at 16 per cent in terms of voting intentions at the next election. This figure suggests the pitter-patter of the Death Watch beetle crunching its way towards Cunningham House. It is the lowest figure the party has recorded in an opinion poll and it is also the first time it has found itself in fourth position. Most worryingly of all, though, the figure comes at a time when the party has no public split, and when its PR wing has been targeting hundreds of thousands of potential voters in an ongoing leaflet campaign.

One can argue about the reliability and accuracy of opinion polls (although the company which conducted this one has a good track record in these matters), but it would be a very cavalier strategist who would pretend that there isn’t a problem for the UUP. Putting it bluntly, there are too many voters wondering if it is worth voting for a party led by David Trimble.

Only he can provide the answer to that question, for whether he likes it or not, the fate of the party now rests upon the public’s very personal response to his leadership and legacy. Putting it even more bluntly, the UUP is not going to be judged on leaflets, manifestos or campaign gimmicks; it is going to be judged on Trimble and Trimble alone. Only time, and the contents of the ballot box, will tell if he remains the electoral asset he was in 1998.

Yet another poll found that 72 per cent of the public thought that political parties and the media exploited certain individual cases for party advantage, rather than because they cared about the individual. I sense that much the same thing is happening to the family of Robert McCartney. Governments and parties are falling over themselves to heap praise upon the courage of his partner and sisters, but I suspect they are doing it simply to wrongfoot Sinn Fein. Once the election is over, however, and the whiff of fresh talks is in the air, I have little doubt but that the media, the governments and the parties will quietly drop the family and pick up with Mr Adams exactly where they left off last December.

The ultimate opinion poll, obviously, is an election. The fact that so many people don’t now bother to vote is a clear sign that political parties have lost touch with public opinion. And, sad to say, I think that six out of ten of that public don’t actually give a damn about the political parties, either. That’s bad news for democracy, but good news for the dictatorial cabals who now run those parties. Of course, that’s just my opinion!

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 12th March 2005

  • ulsterman

    16% is still 16% to much for a party that tried and nearly suceeded in handing the Ulster Protestant Nation to Rome and our enemies. May 5th, Trimble and the enemies of Ulster will get their come uppance. As the DUP say you could not have in your wildest dreams hoped for what has happened.Trimble thought he could sell us out to Rome, no doubt getting a knighthood from the Pope in the process.
    May 5th ,a landslide DUP win coupled with the demise of SF,brought down by six SF voting women whose criminal SF brother was murdered by the said SF.

    OH HAPPY DAYS. Every day it just gets better and better. The Pope is finally beaten. Rejoice Ulster we won. The future belongs to us

    God Save The Queen.

  • Christopher Stalford

    “it is going to be judged on Trimble and Trimble alone. Only time, and the contents of the ballot box, will tell if he remains the electoral asset he was in 1998.”

    The content of the ballot box have already provided an answer to that question.

    In 1997, the Ulster Unionists held 10 Westminster seats. Today they hold five. In 1998, the UUP was the largest party in the Assembly, in terms of seats. Today they are third. In the recent European poll the UUP was beaten by a factor of nearly 2:1 by their Unionist rivals. This is even more depressing when one considers that Jim Allister was something of a comeback kid at the time of that election. Perversly, rather than become more hostile to Trimble after every electoral hammering, the UUP grassroots become more devoted to the Purple Turtle.

    The difficulty I have with Alex’s analysis is that he seems unwilling to follow it through to the logical conclusion – Trimble must go.

  • Christopher Stalford

    “more depressing”

    From a UUP point of view, obviously!

  • lo_rre

    Chuckie/ Ulsterman, your posts are a poor caricature of Shankill Billy beating his big drum. No one on slugger is taking your bait. Try another line.

  • DessertSpoon

    “Day in and day out they accuse each other of hypocrisy or treachery, rolling out the same old arguments and clichés in order to make exactly the same points.”

    “Are there not more important issues…….other than incessant score settling and “slagging” off?”

    I know this all about Unionism but remove the direct reference to the UUP, DUP etc it pretty much sums up the whole of the political spectrum in Norn Iron. I understand why people don’t vote. They don’t vote because it doesn’t change anything but I would urge everyone to vote because it’s one of the only ways to change everything. Don’t vote for the usual tribe look carefully at the candidates and find out what they want to do for you and your local community, what postive changes they want to bring not how much of the same old song and dance they can do.

  • Christopher Stalford

    That was a party political message by the Alliance Party….

  • lo_rre

    “The difficulty I have with Alex’s analysis is that he seems unwilling to follow it through to the logical conclusion “- Trimble must go.

    Christopher,

    The UUP has become a more democratic PP, now the Orange Link has gone. How many would stay members of the DUP or Sinn Fein those members made it known “Paisley or Adams must go” to make our parties more democratic? From the outset the DUP & Sinn Fein have been autocratic undemocratic parties. Paisley & Adams are only different extreme mirror images of one another.

    Alex quite rightly said about the leader of the UUP ” the contents of the ballot box, will tell ” if Trimble remains. This is democracy.

  • Christopher Stalford

    lo_rre

    “Alex quite rightly said about the leader of the UUP ” the contents of the ballot box, will tell ” if Trimble remains. This is democracy.”

    That’s the point – the ballot box has already delivered its verdict on a Trimble-led Ulster Unionist Party. If the ballot box is the yardstick against which Trimbles leadership is measured then he has failed. The logical conclusion is to sack him.

    If you don’t mind me asking, are you an Ulster Unionist voter?

  • Sherlock

    Morning All,

    Christopher makes a fair point in terms of the UUP’s recent electoral performances. But since Trimble wasn’t challenged for the leadership at the AGM of the UUC, and it looks unlikely that he will step down before the election, then my point remains—only time and the contents of the ballot box will tell. Three months ago the received wisdom was that Blair would sweep all before him on May 5th. That doesn’t look quite so certain now. A year ago, received wisdom told us that Bush would be swept from office. And in October 2003 the DUP promised an end to the Agreement and a new deal. Put bluntly, you can never assume too much in politics!

    The UUP is in a corner, but it would be a serious mistake to write it off or pen its obituary.

    The DUP have problems of their own; “We Didn’t Do A Deal And We Were Right Not To Do A Deal”, may be the mantra for the moment, but it doesn’t indicate how or when they can restore devolution.

    The UUP failed to deliver a stable settlement (through no immediate fault of their own) and the DUP has delivered nothing at all. AND THAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM FOR UNIONISM. That’s why I want an end to the bitching and handbagging between the two parties and a great deal more thought about how:

    A)They build up and maximise the total pro-Union vote

    B)They deliver a stable and democratic form of devolution.

    The DUP’s trouncing of the UUP (if, indeed, that is what happens) will mean nothing in the long term if it isn’t accompanied by palpable political (rather than simply electoral) achievement. I see no sign of that.

    In the meantime, the UUP should be looking for its next leader. Whoever wants the post—and I don’t anticipate a huge queue forming—should let us have a gameplan fairly soon.

    Best wishes,

    Alex

  • lo_rre

    “That’s the point – the ballot box has already delivered its verdict on a Trimble-led Ulster Unionist Party”.

    Christopher

    Sure, but thats only for one year, selected delegates will have another vote next year, at the UUC, Is that not what is called democracy?

    However my understanding of Alex’s quote “Only time, and the contents of the ballot box, will tell if he remains the electoral asset he was in 1998.” is not referring to the UUC ballot box . Alex is referrng to the coming (May?) election . This in itself will be David Trimble’s “waterloo”. If he cannot at least hold ground on five Westminister seats (his own upper bann seat) and council seats throughout Northern ireland, he may as well do what a gentleman has to do, and fall on his sword otherwise suffer the apathy by ballot box of UUC delegates in 2006.

    There are many UUP members (even within his own circle) who believe Trimble should have fell on his sword at the last MLA election. But given credit, had not three MLA’s and one MP jumped ship and joined the DUP the UUP would have still had 6 MP’s and 27 MLA’s.
    The ballot box was not responsible for such political treachery. There seems to be few if any politicans who are gentemen today.

    Lorre

  • Bob Wilson

    Alex
    Part of the problem is that your two propositions are contradictory.
    The pro Union population is increasingly indifferent to devolution.
    So UUP/DUP overtly campaigning for devolution is unlikely to increase the pro Union vote.
    Indeed the electorate are increasingly indifferent to 6 county Protestant ‘unionism’ – either Prod lite – the UUP or the real thing – the DUP.
    The only way to build support for the Union is through real politics. Messing about in Prod parties simply aids the nationalists. It does this in 2 ways – it allows nationalists to portray ‘unionism’ as a narrow outdated minority and 2. people like you take your shoulder away from the wheel in pushing equal citizenship.
    I appreciate you are once biten on this issue but the fundamental strength of the equal citizenship argument is more relevant today than it has ever been.
    If you are not willing to join this struggle you might as well go to the garden centre

  • Rebecca Black

    “Trimble must go.”

    problem is, who would replace him?

  • Bob Wilson

    Forgot to mention. Given the recent UUP ‘Its not fair’ leaflet I’m amazed Alex is still a member. It was ‘Simply sectarian’

  • lo_rre

    Alex said: “In the meantime, the UUP should be looking for its next leader.

    I propose Rebbeca, she is far better looking and has a better intellectual political brain than Irene Foster any day.

    At least Rebbeca wont jump ship if she was elected MLA. or MP one day.

  • Sherlock

    Hi Rebecca,

    Who would replace him? There are at least five serious contenders (one of whom would have my full support). Every leader can be replaced.

    The problem for the party post-DT, is that it will take a huge shovel to pick up the pieces and an enormous pot of glue to put them together again. He should have gone last June—after the Euro result—and allowed someone else to try and put the party back on a more even electoral keel.

    And, by the way, is Michael aware of lo_rre’s obvious infatuation with you?

    Best wishes,

    Alex

  • Peter Brown

    There are at least five serious contenders (one of whom would have my full support). Every leader can be replaced.

    Without wishing to sound McEnroesque you cannot be serious – the most damaging legacy of the current leadership cult in the UUP is surely that there have been no serious chaallengers allowed to flourish. Those appointed to political positions in the Party are not apopointed on merit but as reward for loyalty to the leader who they are therefore consequently unlikely to challenge or as compensation for political failure which surely makes themn unsuitable to be leader.

    If the leader has to be an MP there won’t be 5 contenders full stop after 5th May anyway so either you are suggesting that the leader will not be an MP or that we will still have 5 seats on 9th May both scenarios which are unlikely….

  • Rebecca Black

    Peter

    does a leader of the party have to be an MP?

    Alex

    I don’t think someone who can’t even spell my name is much of a threat!! Maybe after the election the party will get a good opportunity to reorganise and regroup.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Alex

    Who are your five?

    Burnside – even though he’s ruled himself out, who could possibly take that at face value?! – Empey, McGimpsey… and errrr…

    Can I propose Alex Kane?

  • lo_rre

    Alex

    I don’t think someone who can’t even spell my name is much of a threat!!

    What type of a threat do you mean Rebecca, now that I have spelt your name properly? .

    Lorre

  • Rebecca Black

    I suggest you stick to the political discussion lorre, otherwise the internet is full of dating sites on which hitting on women is acceptable.

  • cg

    Rebecca

    Was that you on Questions & Answers a few weeks ago?

  • lo_rre

    “I suggest you stick to the political discussion lorre, otherwise the internet is full of dating sites on which hitting on women is acceptable.”

    Dont be getting carried away now. No one was trying to date you.Rebbbbbecca If I was I could have at least spelt your name properly.
    I recommended you as a political candidate because of youth, looks, intelligence and political interest and support for the UUP.

    If you cant take a compliment and a bit of lighthearted humour then maybe I was wrong in my judgement. So I will retract it

    Lorre

  • lo_rre

    Christopher wrote: “If you don’t mind me asking, are you an Ulster Unionist voter?”

    Do you ask every poster on slugger which party they vote for Christopher?

    If you dont mind me asking you Christopher are you an “Autocratic Unionist party ” voter who is naive like Jeffery Donaldson was to think they are a *DEMOCRATIC* Unionist Party, when he jumped ship from the UUP?

    Lorre.

  • davidbrew

    Like the man who was nearly saved, as distinct from the man who was nearly drowned, Alex almost gets it, but doesn’t save the party..

    He’s quite right in his comments about interparty bitching- which is becoming a bore- but the only way to revitalise Unionism ios to complete the realignment begun in 1998. The DUP needs to hoover up the majority of currently politivally active Unionists, and bring through its young talent into councils etc. it needs to expand on its present base, and improve its Westminster activism . All of this is beginning to happen.

    The UUP need to dump Trimble, stop pretending it’s harder than Paisley, and concentrate on garden centre prod. That inevitably means a new bae, and leaner times for up to a decade, especially in the west, and urban working class areas. Yup, it needs to steal all of the Alliance Party’s clothes.

    And the new leader? Well, there only was one choice- as even Trimble acknowledged in Millar’s book, Donaldson had no competitor, no matter what shortcomings or baggage he may have had. But in a bout of suicidal self loathing the UUP pushed him out, and now there is also only one contender who can lead in the direction necessary for survival.

    Stand up Michael mcGimpsey. From Prince of Dankness to King of Cunningham House, the throne awaits you. You’ll kill off all pretence of a broad church; you’ll bury forever the legacy of Carson,Craig, and Brookeborough ; and you’ll make Peter Robinson look cuddly in comparison. But you will keep your party (just about) alive, with a few jobs in the Greater Belfast conurbation – and that’s what ultimately matters to most UUP members. Who knows, you might even bring a new section of voters to Unionism, as Alex and I hope. Just how many Goths are Unionists BTW?

  • davidbrew

    oops “a new bae”

    “a new base” ( in case anyone thought I meant “a new babe”- after all it’s got Sylvia :0))

  • Christopher Stalford

    Lo_rre

    Thank you for that positive and constructive reply. The reason I asked whether or not you are a UUP voter is because I have often found that those in the media/chattering classes (not that I would ever presume to describe Slugger as an outlet for such a class of people) who speak so highly of Trimble and defend him so adamantly don’t actually vote for his party.

    Non-Unionists defending Trimble, I wonder why that is….?

  • Rebecca Black

    cg

    yes, first time I have been in front of a camera and not fluffed up!

    lorre

    I don’t see how appearence is relevant to political potential, besides slugger is for insults, not for compliments!

  • Sherlock

    Morning Peter,

    Re your 05.19pm posting yesterday. I couldn’t disagree more with your view that “no serious challengers (were) allowed to flourish”. Donaldson was allowed to flourish; but his problem was that he didn’t have the balls to challenege DT for the leadership. I have always taken the view that had he gone for it in 2000 (instead of leaving it to Martin Smyth) he would probably have won.

    Also, the leader doesn’t have to be an MP. Indeed, the leader doesn’t have to hold any elected public office.

    “Any member seeking to be elected as Leader must be nominated by at least twenty members of the Council, drawn from a minimum of three separate Constituency Associations.”

    I can think of five people who would be regarded as “serious contenders” (although I wouldn’t personally be backing Michael or Reg)in any leadership contest.

    But I also take the view that the party (which I don’t expect to do all that well—although it won’t be wiped out by any means) will be in a position in which it could and should take a risk with the leadership. We need someone who can concentrate on rebuilding and re-connecting, for those will be the main priorities post-May 5.

    Best wishes,

    Alex

  • Peter Brown

    I can think of five people who would be regarded as “serious contenders” (although I wouldn’t personally be backing Michael or Reg)in any leadership contest.

    By whom? I’m pushed to think of 5 contenders never mind objectively serious contenders….

  • lo_rre

    “I don’t see how appearence is relevant to political potential, besides slugger is for insults, not for compliments!”

    Ok then just plain Rebbeca, have it your way.
    Surely, dont you think Jefffery Donaldson picked up many votes from ladies who were fans of that good looking country folk singer from Donegal called Daniel somebody or other.? He certainly got more votes than David Trimble got. Well maybe it was to do with his superior political brain instead.

    Lorre

  • lo_rre

    Christopher, I think old slugger does a good job here. Lets face it he has to be a bit of a political devil’s Advocate to keep the pot boiling. Who knows he might support PUP or even vote for those Norn Iron Lib Dems.

    Lorre

  • Rebecca Black

    Jeffrey Donaldson inspires such a loyal following in part from his personal charisma, he is a very charming man.

  • lo_rre

    “Jeffrey Donaldson inspires such a loyal following in part from his personal charisma, he is a very charming man.”

    Rebecca
    Did you not say “I don’t see how appearence is relevant to political potential” in your last post? Now you are contradicting yourself. Many (mainly middle aged & eldery church going women) would vote for our georgeous little “charming man” Jeffery because of his “personal charisma”. I wonder if DTor MM had more of Jeffery’s “personal charisma” and were dead ringer’s for Daniel O”Yoodalaaay-e-do from Donegal they might romp home top of the polls in this coming May election?

    Lorre

  • aquifer

    Yes the prince of darkness could sip his chablis while dining on thinly sliced squabbler all right.

    Its about time the UUP lost its whining sectarian integrationalist wing, they only ever complimented both the SDLP’s joint authority plan to castrate unionism politically, and the Provo Orange Brit colonial oppressor caracature.

    DUP UUP bitching? Pour some mud into the ring and let them get it on. We need some politics around here that does not involve trying to guess what might be going on inside some home knitted balaclava helmet.

  • Rebecca Black

    Yes Lorre and I maintain that appearence IS irrelevant in politics. Charisma does not mean good looking, having charisma means having charm and having something about you that people like, being able to get people to warm to you etc.

    Its nothing to do with appearence, I suggest you invest in a dictionary before you start accusing me of contradicting myself.

  • lo_rre

    Rebecca, here’s me thinking you preferred insults to compliments, you did say “besides slugger is for insults, not for compliments!”

    Anyway I think there are many UUP members would disagree with you about charming Jeffery’s charisma, for some he was a traitor to the UUP (not the treason type) look it up in the dictionary . 1 : one who betrays another’s trust or is false to an obligation or duty’ jumping ship like he did”

    Lorre

  • Rebecca Black

    Oh absolutely, of course Jeffrey is a wee turncoat, you couldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him. The DUPers know that and don’t trust him because of it, he is not getting half the media coverage he used to. He has to do what he’s told now.

    However the one thing you can’t deny is that he is a great charmer, something that is very useful in a politician. If only a few more in the UUP had that charm.