In case it has escaped some of our reader’s notice, the biggest winners of this election were the DUP. If you put the three defector’s seats into the pot already you might argue that they added only three seats to Sinn Fein’s four, but it puts them sufficiently far ahead to give them four Executive seats to Sinn Fein’s three. One of those defectors, Jeffrey Donaldson had this to say about his old party:
But former Ulster Unionist and re-elected DUP MLA Jeffrey Donaldson noted the UUP had now “dipped to an all-time low”. The UUP were given good advice over a number of years, but would not listen and they are now paying the price for their arrogance and their failure to heed those warnings,” he said.
However, there are remain some tough nuts for them to crack. As the UUP weakens more and more Unionist voters are just not turning up. The no show of so many in Loyalist West Belfast to save Diane Dodds’ seat, demonstrates that there are residual antagonisms still to be resolved with people in Loyalist working class areas.
The poor showing in South Belfast shows they are still capable of motivating voters to act accordingly to keep them out. If they want to press home their strategic game with those liberal unionist voters who continue to stay at home in droves, or are now beginning to vote for non unionist parties they will need to find voices that speak to an increasingly heterogeneous society.
It would probably be a mistake for the party to pursue the kind of ‘niceness’ that the Tories were deluded into pursuing a few years ago. They have prospered in Unionism by playing hardball against Sinn Fein. But they are very short of the Jeffrey Donaldson type, who will happily toe the party line but has nevertheless carved out a useful role for himself as a new liberal voice in the new DUP choir.
If the UUP can re-group and actually engage the voters they keep promising to pull back into the big democratic game, so much the better. But, increasingly, it looks like the task of re-engaging the wider (ie non voting) small ‘u’ unionist population will necessarily fall to the DUP.
It is unlikely the DUP will ever produce the 93% turn out amongst first generation middle class nationalist voters reported by Sinn Fein in Lagmore in the Lagan Valley constituency. In some respects, whilst they still retain a substantial majority, they just don’t need to perform at that level. Yet it does need to give some thought to that last passage in A Long Peace:
In future struggles, unionists need to be both right and attractive. For that, a firmer, bolder, more far-sighted unionism will be needed. In a ‘long peace’, after all, people must want the Union for it to survive.
Serious application to some of those bread and butter issues inside a democratic chamber might provide them with both the battleground and the scope to bring some of those voters back into the game.