The DUP will meet on Friday to discuss future strategy and plan for the proposed elections. Martin Purdy says it hopes to address “tensions” within the DUP. What are these about?While many are falling for the usual suspect, “It’s the Free P’s not wanting a Catholic about the place” that is a red herring. In past years Free P members have been developing a greater distinction between church and party. The line “I accept we are going to have to share power with SF, difficult as that is…” is common in many DUP’s members debates and conversations and characterised by Jim Wells’s radio comments.
From my soundings the areas of debate are:
Play keen or Treat’em mean – Does the DUP gain more leverage with the government by being keen for the St Andrew’s timetable or by playing hard to get?
Satisfactory progress on the remaining issues – How seriously is this taken? How much progress is needed? The power-hungry attach less seriousness, would take less and are willing to be more cavalier with the electorate. Others attach greater importance as they believe it is essential to address concerns to maximise support. Its base certainly wants to see more.
What are the priorities among the remaining issues? – You never get everything so what takes priority?
When do we want the movement from government? – Is it better to have it at the end as one big package or is it better to take them over time? One big package may grab a bigger headline makes you look effective negotiators but it is dependent on everything else going through. Over time may make less impact but means gains are banked. Also the nearing elections will increasingly prey on MLA’s minds is it better to face the electorate with a bird in the hand than two in the bush? Republicans tend to do a bit of both (at the moment getting the the Gaeltacht quarter and Conway Mill development as they go along), how does that effect perception of who is delivering for their respective constituencies and the need for things sooner rather than later?
The Leader v Joint Leadership – Is it best for Paisley to be in the forefront with the key statements, meetings etc or is it the leadership team? The DUP’s electoral growth over the past 8 years was built on the strengths and attractions of its leadership team. It has developed beyond Paisleyism as the 2004 European election proved. However, Paisley has a personal pull over a large amount of the core DUP constituency (although the consultation showed his pull is not as strong as many thought including myself). However, the pull of the broad range of prominent figures is stronger again.
Is the party split? In my assessment no it isn’t. There is no great ideological division here with the possible exception of Jim Allister (although he has said he will accept the party’s decision after a full and fair debate). Also there are no set camps in each of these debates. For example, four MP’s signed Friday’s statement but on Monday in parliament Sammy Wilson expressed scepticism about the March timetable. There is a common tough position on policing and justice powers, Dodds talked of a political lifetime on policing while Peter Robinson said it could be several. Dodds, Paisley and Robinson all said confidence was the key to progress on the issue. Also the supreme decision-making body of the DUP is the Party Executive not Paisley and after a rocky consultation it adopted a unanimous position on the St Andrews Agreement.
At its core it is about how to manage the process to the Party’s and Unionist community’s best advantage, manage the political risks and maximise support. There is nothing that the leadership need force a split over and plenty of scope for movement over the five key issues. Crucially, there is complete unanimity on what they require from republicans.