The hype of history…

WE’VE touched on it before, but later today, we’re going to have one of those “hugely significant“, Tonyandbertie hand-of-history moments (bleurgh!) when the DUP ends its 16 year boycott of the British Irish Interparliamentary Body. Although it won’t take its seats (yet), the DUP reps will make a presentation – which should suit those of a proselytising nature. The correct response is to interpret this as further evidence of the political ‘thaw’ in the DUP, and it probably isn’t entirely risk-free for the party. But it’s a gamble worth taking, not that those good living souls would ever describe it as such.

And that’s why today’s visit to what is essentially a talking shop will be lauded from all political quarters. How could it be otherwise? The Shinners took risks for peace, now that the DUP are starting to follow suit, wouldn’t it be just terribly uncivil not to proffer them the same courtesy?

Because the two governments have to continue to act like there’s a November 24 deadline, and know the DUP will be holding the ball when the whistle blows on the Agreement, any potential signs of movement will be trumpeted from the heavens like the Second Coming.

If they continue to follow the Sinn Fein political formula for party advancement to the letter, the DUP stands to make political gains while extracting concessions. Like Sinn Fein, it only has to respond to pressure from within. That means delivering to DUP voters, by demonstrating that politics works. And because politics has to work by November 24, there’s a feeling of familiar choregraphy about what might happen.

As the party continues to reap plaudits for each tiny, carefully-measured step forward, it will bask in the spotlight of international praise that would make an Adams or McGuinness blush. And, with any luck and a quietish marching season, maybe enough consent will have been manufactured by the time it comes to making the key, crunch, deal-making concession or U-turn.

If this is the DUP strategy, they could be on to a winner. If I was in the UUP, I’d be worried. It’s all very well pointing out that the DUP are “only doing what we did XX years ago”, but that didn’t get the SDLP very far, now did it?

  • ingram

    The DUP on BBC TV this morning have made it clear that they ARE NOT JOINING the inter parliamentary body but merely attending ON THIS OCCASSION to reflect the Unionist community position within this forum.JD spoke on BBC news this morning making the DUP position very clear, looks like Gonzo was a touch premature with his ” Hugely Significant” meeting.

    The DUP body language is relaxed, I wonder what they know and we do not?

    Martin

  • aquifer

    So the DUP can do stuff that the UUP with their Ancient Orange balls and chains could not. Hardly groundbreaking stuff tho’.

  • aquifer

    that’s the point – something harmless and painless will win plaudits.

    I await the substance of the presentation with baited breath but don’t be surprised if you hear echos of Robinsons’ NYC remarks.

  • slug

    “The DUP body language is relaxed”

    I’ve noticed this over the last 12 months.

  • Loyalist

    Gonzo

    I made a similar point when this issue was first raised and the UUP supporting posters on here started bleating – the DUP can do things that the UUP could never do, because they are (a) trusted by the Unionist electorate to a greater degree and (b) in a much more strengthened position than the UUP ever was.

    This is a positive development and I think its part of a carefully choreographed sequence. Maybe the big man’s about to pull off the a master stroke and leave Reg et al scrambling about even harder to find a coherant position.

    The one thing the UUP don’t want, is a devolved executive.

  • elfinto

    We have heard the presentation yet.

    Don’t believe the hype!

  • unionist

    Loyalist states that the dup can engage with such bodies because
    “(a) trusted by the Unionist electorate to a greater degree and (b) in a much more strengthened position than the UUP ever was.”

    The uup lost its position of strength because it lost the trust of the electorate and much of this was to do with the dup’s whinging from the side lines. There is no doubt that having secured the right wing of unionism the only room the dup have to expand further is to advance to the middle groung which robinson et al are attempting now. Remember jeffery was pro agreement up until the last minute and the robinson adams agreement goes much further than the belfast agreement in terms of north southery.
    Where a problem will arise is if the jim allister faction waver and cause problems on the fringes resulting in a policy which the middle ground cant accept.
    While much of the damage to the uup was self inflicted it is clear that the dup has the potential to implode in much the same fashion after all the dup now is a much broader church than the uup ever was.

  • unionist

    “jeffery was pro agreement up until the last minute”

    ie until he saw it.

  • BG – “If I was in the UUP, I’d be worried. It’s all very well pointing out that the DUP are “only doing what we did XX years ago”, but that didn’t get the SDLP very far, now did it?”.

    But that’s the thing, the DUP aren’t doing what we in the UUP did years ago because they can’t – we’ve already done them. Thus, for example, the Paisleyites aren’t promising “No guns, no government” because, er, we made that promise, broke it, broke it again, once more, and, um, broke it again [or in Trimblespeak – we were let down by our partners in peace in the Provisional movement].

    Likewise, we, the UUP, signed up for a ‘deal’ that promised us very little, delivered less, and saw all too concrete and irreversible things, like eg Provos being freed from prison, happen. Hence, and again to repeat the point, that was a mess we in the UUP made then, and precisely because we have already fouled up there, on that one, the same mistake is not available for the DUP to repeat.

    So this mantra that ‘awck shure, the DUP’s only doing what the UUP did a decade ago’ is literally impossible. Precisely because the ghaslty errors Trimble made a decade ago were – as was pointed out to him at the time ad naus – in the nature of being irrecoverable, they’re just not on hand for the Paisleyites to make them today.

  • slug

    Loyalist is right on his (a) and (b) to say that the DUP is in a stronger position to make a deal and make it stick than the UUP. I think Karl Rove is also right to say that the range of issues over which one can negotiate is much narrower. To me, there is one area that is still negotiable and that is the way the new executive works. The main thing is not to try to make too many tests for Sinn Fein – that just hands the game to them – but instead to press for checks on ministerial actions in the new executive which ensure that individual ministers cannot act without regard to the wishes of a reasonably broad consensus of the NI electorate. I would also negotiate-in a 3-year review session, so that any new practical problems that arise with the assembly and executive can be negotiated over at that stage.

  • Alex. Kane

    Afternoon all,

    I’m not sure that it has ever happened before–and I’m certain that it will have him reaching for the bucket—but I find myself in almost total agreement with Karl Rove (11.53am), when he argues that “this mantra…is literally impossible.”

    I think, too, that the last three paragraphs of Belfast Gonzo’s original post are a reasonably accurate assessment of the position.

    The DUP won’t have their troubles to seek in terms of getting Blair/Ahern to honour in public what was said in private; and they will also have discovered that rhetoric and a thumping mandate aren’t enough to reverse, let alone stop, the pro-republican drift in British-Irish thinking; but it would be a very serious mistake to assume A) the DUP will fall apart; B)the DUP will roll over; or C)the DUP will repeat the tactical mistakes of the UUP.

    I’m not convinced that the DUP will be able to deliver the fairer deal they promised, but I am genuinely pleased that they are making the effort. I only wish they had stayed in the process in 1997/98: for it would either have killed an Agreement or produced one which may have been stronger from the pro-Union perspective.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • slug

    Im going to disagree with Alex Kane on the idea that it would bave been better for unionism if the DUP had stayed in the 1997 talks. I am not sure at all.

    It’s been good for unionism to have had competition between UUP and DUP and a real debate in 1998 and subsequently. It’s also been good that, in 2001, it was possible for unionist voters to turn to an opposition party uncompromised by the Agreement.

    It meant that after unionism tested the agreement, the electorate was able to make a clear judgement on that experience. The electorate could decide between two different positions on the agreement. There was a very intense electoral competition in which the DUP evidently thought through its position very carefully.

    I was impressed by the policy positions they took from about 2003 onwards which were, in a strategic sense, pretty clever. They won those battles decisively and after doing so there was a new team who seem to have learnt the lessons of the UUPs failure.

    Moving on is hard for a single party to do, its better with two parties for this king of flexible repositioning and learning to take place. Unionist politics is a lot more competitive and professional than before and has largely benefited from this rivalry.

  • John East Belfast

    The sad and laughable fact is that all the DUP have to offer is their own position !

    ie the last bastion of intrasigent unionism is sneaking into the room hoping that nobody will notice – the only sad thing from a UUP perspective is that nobody probably will.

    The DUP are not to be praised for sitting on their hands and achieving absolutely nothing other than frightening the voters and dividing their fellow unionists so that a few years later they can start postering with the kind of language that we were using 10 years ago.

    The fact that there is nothing left to offer only proves that the world moved on without them.

    Otherwise there is no reason why they couldnt be true to their principles and take the Ivan Foster stance ?

    They wont of course – I am quite happy taking lectures on morality from the likes of Ivan Foster and David Vance who are consistant but people like JD make me sick.

  • kensei

    “So this mantra that ‘awck shure, the DUP’s only doing what the UUP did a decade ago’ is literally impossible. Precisely because the ghaslty errors Trimble made a decade ago were – as was pointed out to him at the time ad naus – in the nature of being irrecoverable, they’re just not on hand for the Paisleyites to make them today.”

    You are misisng the point. The DUP, aside form possibly the extremely crazy faction, knew at the time there would have to be extremely painful concessions given in those negotations. No prisoners, no deal. No RUC change, no deal. So they stayed out and attacked the UUP from the right at every oppurtunity. Unionism being unable to resist the siren call of sellout, inevitably imloded.

    This wasn’t about principle, or the Union, or anything else, it was simply about replacing the UUP as th eleade rof Unionism. Now the DUP is secure from being attacked form the right, the hard decisions are made, it can go with a deal similar to what the UUP brokered. Like all Politicans, power is the first calling.

  • slug

    John EB

    I have a lot of respect for the deal Trimble made, which was constitutionally sound, and his courage in taking the risk to go with it. I supported him at the time and I think it was right thing. I question the idea that if the DUP were on board then a much better deal could have emerged, particularly on IRA arms. The DUP have taken over as the leaders of unionism after some healthy competition and learning of lessons. Lets not pretend the UUP made no mistakes, and for example the 2003 solo run that Trimble had with Adams looks like it was not going to work because the UUP was just too divided and weakened to be able to exert pressure.

    As with governments so with unioist parties, one needs to take the lead for a while, but eventually cracks and weaknesses appear, and its good that people can turn to an alternative party, who have had time to think up an alternative policy position that can work for the voters.

    I just think that unionist unity is impossible because its like saying there are no political differences, which is unrealistic, and undesirable, because its healthy for power to change hands from one party to another party over time.

  • slug

    Kensei

    “The DUP, aside form possibly the extremely crazy faction, knew at the time there would have to be extremely painful concessions given in those negotations. No prisoners, no deal. No RUC change, no deal. So they stayed out and attacked the UUP from the right at every oppurtunity.”

    I would also agree with this, in the sense that I think no much better deal would have emerged had the DUP stayed in talks in 1997. I think is was probably good for unionism, not just the DUP, to have the DUP stay out, then re-enter the process later, after a period of thinking and watching.

  • Alex. Kane

    Hi again:

    slug (01.14) takes the view that it would have been a tactical error for all of unionism to have been involved in the 1997/98 Talks Process. Better to have a party on the right ready to pick up the pieces if the insiders got it wrong.

    kensei (01.46) believes that the DUP made a deliberate calculation to stay out–with the sole intention of putting itself in the driving seat when the UUP (assisted by internal divisions and DUP pressure) imploded.

    JEB (01.31) seems to regard the DUP as a bunch of opportunists who will now be content (especially since they have no pressure on the right) to conclude what Newt so aptly described as the “fairly similar deal.”

    So there you have it. DUP could be brilliant strategists, utter hyocrites, lucky vultures or manipulative pragmatists. Take your pick.

    I suspect they are a combination of the lot and my real worry is that, as a consequence, they lack the moral, political, or electoral courage to make the really hard calls.

    This has the makings of an interesting debate if posters manage to avoid pure and very personal abuse.

    best wishes,

    Alex.

  • Smenry

    ‘I suspect they are a combination of the lot and my real worry is that, as a consequence, they lack the moral, political, or electoral courage to make the really hard calls’

    I think Alex K has it right. The DUP,have played it safe from the sidelines as naysayers. They now have the majority vote (and it would be churlish not to say good luck to them)and have to step up to the plate.

    The UUP have made a lot of hard decisions in the past and the truth is that we are where we are. Those decisions can’t be unmade.

    I hope for the sake of everyone here they are up to facing a few tough calls themselves.

  • slug

    Alex Kane

    I didn’t say they were brilliant strategists, although they have played it quite well since 2003 or so, more that them staying out in 1997 was, in retrospect, quite a good thing for unionism, because: (i) I doubt if a much better deal would have resulted if they had gone in, and I think that the 1998 deal was a framework to build on constitutionally and so was better than no deal at all, and (ii) because it subsequently gave the unionist electorate a second party to turn to, a party untainted by the UUP’s experience, and a party that had time, in opposition, to watch and learn from the UUPs experience.

  • Loyalist

    John EB

    The DUP is actually being more positive on this avanue of communication within southern parties than the UUP ever was. What did Empey say? We needed a fresh start before he would go near the BIIPB? So in fact thie DUP has been more progressive than the UUP and are not simply doing that which the Official Unionists did a decade ago.

    unionist

    “Where a problem will arise is if the jim allister faction”

    Or the Nigel Dodds faction
    or the Ian Paisley Junior faction,
    or the Maurice Morrow faction
    or the (insert name of DUP politician in the hope it might stick) faction…….

    Dream on UUP supporters, the DUP has learned from your mistakes and will not splinter.

  • Hmmmn, embraced by Alex Kane – what does that put me in mind of? Still never mind, you can’t choose your admirers, as David said of Gerry.

    On the more interesting point of the DUP’s (good, upbeat) body language, I’d mutter only two things – 1) guess who’s been promised 4 ministerial spots by the NIO if they play ball? & 2) if you can find anyone to offer you odds on Hain being out of Stormont within the next 4 months, take ’em.

  • Alex Kane

    slug; When I used the term “brilliant strategists” I wasn’t suggesting that you had employed it to describe the DUP. So apologies if you thought I had.

    Karl; You will be delighted to know that I haven’t “embraced” you, only agreed with a comment in your post. Back to your usual contempt for me if that suits you better!

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • Just to remind everyone that back in 1998 all that was required to get a result from the talks was “sufficient consensus” from each tribe based on the 1996 Forum election. Accordingly, the UUP + one of the “Loyalist” parties were all that the process required to endorse the agreement before it went to referendum. The DUPs’ then electoral weakness made then irrelevant inside or outside Castle Buildings – had they stayed in 1997 we would still have had the same Agreement.

  • Erratum: replace “contempt for me” with “disinterest in” throughout. Honestly, Alex, get over yourself.

  • Loyalist

    pakman

    good point. Who can forget those heady days milling around outside Castle Buildings with the assembled mob of foreign journos and loony protestors or the revolting imagery of the leader of the largest constitutional Unionist party walking into talks flanked by the UVF and the UDA?

  • Alex Kane

    Hi pakman,

    Whilst agreeing with your specific point about “sufficient consensus” I’m not so sure about the more general point of whether it would have made a difference had the DUP been involved.

    Of course, it’s an entirely academic argument now, but I still feel that their physical presence in Castle Buildings would have had some effect.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • “Loyalist” – couldn’t agree with you more about how revolting that image was, and, indeed, how revolting those ‘people’ are. But,um, er, ah ….. what are you up to calling yourself by the generic term of abuse we all, sadly, have to call scumbags like the UVF and UDA?

  • Alex Kane

    Karl,

    Fair point. I’m just getting too precious in my old age.

    Alex.

  • Alex

    I think their presence (and that of Bob and Cedric) would just have given everyone else a target for their collective bile. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Loyalist

    revolting indeed.

  • Loyalist

    Karl

    I am an old-fashioned Loyalist and as such believe in the Union and the rule of law – those aforementioned reprobates are criminal scum who are loyal to nothing and nobody – just as the southern parties are claiming back the monickor (spelt wrong I think) of republican, it’s time that the name of Loyalist was claimed back from these thugs.

  • slug

    Anyone willing to accept my view that it has been good in retrospect for unionism that the DUP stayed out in 1997, proiding unioinsts with a second party “in reserve” for use when the first one exhausted itself?