Dromore and the Delphic Oracle

In ancient times the Oracle at Delphi was consulted before leaders took momentous decisions. It had a reputation of giving advice in riddles which could be interpreted in several different ways. The Dromore by election has similarities. Today does not represent some new dawn for Northern Ireland; I said in a previous post that I did not expect to be amongst a victorious throng at Stormont after this election. It was a council by election. To read anything too much into it would be grave folly. However, analysing this election will give me something to do tonight as I am away from home so here goes.A good way to look at it is to analyse from the viewpoint of each of the unionist parties in turn (the lessons for the nationalist parties are there but due to the constraints of space I will analyse them another time):

Firstly the TUV.

This represents a significant success. This organisation was written off as a group of flat earth nutters and of no political significance. They gained about 20% of the vote. Now we must remember that that is nowhere near the majority of votes cast, furthermore the turn out was not especially high (which would probably help the TUV). However, 20% is not an irrelevant percentage of the vote. We must also note that Dromore would not have been considered an especially TUVish place. Ballymena or Ballymoney might have been expected to be more TUVish. In this the DUP are quite correct when they say that traditionally Lagan Valley is actually UUP (as was Dromore) and only switched with Donaldson. That actually demonstrates that the TUV have some appeal outside of their fastnesses of North Antrim. Further some of these votes will have been old UUP votes on loan to the DUP which have set off again, on a quest to find a home in a similar place to where they felt they belonged, namely a traditional unionist party (Jim Molyneaux the Lagan Valley MP ran one of those and it kept beating the DUP but of course that was the past).

So the TUV has demonstrated that they can get some votes and in places not entirely expected. They have also showed the ability to attract a young, intelligent candidate who came across well. Last year one of the DUP’s best posters on this site (Bigger Picture) suggested that a general election would have been beneficial to the TUV as it would have allowed it to gather momentum. In a sort of a way this by election was better than that for them. It was a very small outing and so did not tax a newly formed organisation excessively. It is a very small gain in momentum but it is a gain. The longest journey does indeed begin with the first step.

Of course there are major buts to this rejoicing. This success was as a protest vote. How long term a protest vote will last is very difficult to tell; certainly the DUP effectively existed as a protest party for many years. The TUV can continue as a protest movement and may well gain some more protest votes. However, as interested (another of the talented DUP commentators) has pointed out over on Pete’s thread this protest movement has significant centrifugal forces which could tear it apart. Countering that there is the suggestion from The Watchman that success has a centripetal effect and could bring them together. I agree that it is imperative to begin the process of producing policies and alternatives. I have my own opinions on this but to avoid an excessively long blog that must wait for another day.


This group has in some ways had the greatest surprise. They won (I suspect against their expectations) and that despite internal squabbles within their local party. They also managed to get a relatively young woman elected which will do their credibility no harm and may help project at least some momentum. However, the result also creates the greatest dilemmas for them. They did in actual fact loose percentage of the vote (albeit on a reduced turn out). A larger problem is the one which has bedevilled the party for some time now which is in which direction to face. Within the greater Belfast “pale” the UUP are in danger to Alliance and as such they need to safeguard themselves against this. However, most of the transfers which saw them elected were from the TUV (and most of their vote losses over the last 10 years have been to the DUP). As such moving to the right and attacking the DUP may seem the best way forward lest those TUV transfers stop in future elections. The possibility does exist of “crossing the DUP’s T” to end up in a position more hard line than the DUP. This would get the UUP back to the sort of political position Molyneaux had them in and would allow cooperation with the TUV. However, it would ignore the last 10 or more years, would require the electorate to ignore / forget it and would require leadership skills and initiative which tomorrow and the ensuing days may suggest they lack as assuredly as the last number of years has shown they lack. This election has not replaced the UUP leadership; indeed it may have helped a rather inadequate leadership to stay in power and that is not to the long term good of the UUP. In addition the party’s grass roots machinery has withered over the years. Whilst the UUP can celebrate tonight I do feel that Sir Reg Empey and Danny Kennedy’s excitement is a bit premature; though the St Valentine’s Day Massacre is the quote of the day just beating Jim Allister’s Unhappy Valentine’s Day for Chuckle Brothers.


So turning (hopefully without to much schadenfreude) to the DUP. Clearly it must be remembered that they still got the largest 1st preference vote. They also almost won the seat. However, they lost a lot of percentage and the defeated candidate seemed to think there were lessons to learn. Firstly they should learn that their strategy was appalling. Initially they forced this election when they had no need to; they created their own defeat. I suggested they were making too big a deal of the election a few weeks ago. Had they played this as a low profile campaign the defeat would have been smaller; instead they sent practically all the party’s MPs, MLAs and hangers on into battle. This simply increased media interest and made the defeat bigger. Had they won it would still have been a problem as it would have been seen as requiring this vast effort to win. Fair_deal has suggested that the maximum attack strategy was difficult for the DUP to get out of the mindset of and I think he is correct; the idea of underplaying one’s hand in order to minimise risk seemed too subtle and clever for the DUP on this occasion. I do think that Robinson personally has lost a bit from this, it was almost certainly Robinson (or his advisors) who recommended this obviously flawed strategy.

So what should the DUP do? To change tack too radically would look like panic. Also Paisley is a pretty stubborn man. As such if I was a DUP strategist I would allow the Chuckle Brothers to continue. To stop it dead would be too obvious, too redolent of panic and panic could turn a set back into something worse. However, I suspect we will see an even harder line from Robinson in regard to Ruane and education, further sabre rattling about the devolution of policing and justice (do not expect that too soon now). Poots could further annoy nationalists with stuff on the Irish language and the Maze. Not a battle a day with SF; but a small skirmish every third day may be the best way forward at this point for the DUP. In addition, a scapegoat might help. No one too important or well known but some party person to take the blame would be useful to demonstrate to the party (and the outside politicos and media) that changes are being made. I know this will distress some of the DUP posters on this site but I would suggest the best victim would be a special advisor who could end up politically speaking like Roberto Calvi hanging from Blackfriars bridge, having apparently committed suicide but having actually been murdered (and clearly not in a robbery judging by the Patek Philippe watch still on his wrist). I do not know the advisors but I am sure one can be selected to do this for the greater glory of the DUP.

Others have suggested that this debacle might mark the end of Paisley. I suggest that may be overstating it. In addition my reading of the situation is that Robinson was the mastermind behind this “destroy the TUV” plan. On this by election (as on a few other things recently) Robinson has demonstrated an inverse Midas’ touch with everything he touches falling apart. In light of that, Dodds might be feeling just a little pleased with himself at the moment. Of course if one were truly Machiavellian one might suggest that Paisley has continued with the Chuckle Brothers routine during the by election campaign in order to damage Robinson for the leadership (that is probably too cynical).

So there are lessons for all three unionist parties in this election and not necessarily the obvious ones. As time goes on and we see how public opinion shifts we may need to reanalyse what has happened. In a few lines, however, the TUV have survived but must learn to walk before they run, the UUP must decide where to go and the DUP must make a few changes but not panic. As I said it was one council by election; to add panic to the errors which brought them to this would be an even bigger error.

Well that kept me occupied for a few hours since I am away from my beloved Elenwe on the most romantic night of the year.

  • joeCanuck

    If Robinson goes to war with the TUV at Dromore, he will destroy a mighty party.


  • Rory

    Is this the “Local dogcatcher elected in tight contest in small Irish town” headline that now allows the rest of the world to at last exhale and move on?

    I bet that’s the spin the DUP are hoping for.

    The alternative headline – ” Local dogcatcher election exposes cracks in tottering governing party” – will be more readily received among the DUP’s unionist opponents and more readily perceived by the general populace.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Athough electoral success for the TUV is highly unlikely it would presumably lead to the non involvment of SF in the Non Iron assembly which in turn would lead to greater involment for ROI in the internal affairs of Non Iron. If TUV agreed that this outcome is preferable to the current arrangments then many Nationalists might be persuaded to vote for them. This could allow then to have voting pact with a southern party such as FG. The reason people vote for SF is that they are percieved to be the best bet for Irish Unity but if the TUV can deliver more simply on the proviso that SF are not in government then that will be a deal that many nationalists ( including many SF voters ) would probably run with.

  • realist

    It’s been a long, emotional day, Sammy -time for you to hit the hay..

  • joeCanuck

    hit the hay

    To sleep, perchance to dream.

  • Although the UUP winning was unexpected some of us were predicting a good result.
    In my opinion too much was made of the ‘internal squabbles’, as far as i can see in Lagan Valley on the whole no such squabble occured.

  • Dewi

    Give me strength Turgon – too long mun!

  • Comrade Stalin


    The TUV won 22% of the overall vote. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of their opposition to the arrangements at Stormont. Almost 80% of the votes cast went to parties who were supporting powersharing. To me, this seems like an endorsement of the DUP’s position. Unionists had the opportunity to declare their total opposition to the DUP’s deal – and they did not take it.

    The DUP will have anticipated that their vote, in the future, may take a hit from those among their ranks opposed to powersharing. I’d guess that this will be shored up by transfers from moderate parties supporting powersharing.

  • joeCanuck

    Quiz time:

    Who said “It’s very hard to make predictions, especially about the future”?

    Yogi Berra?

  • Turgon

    I agree hence, this comment “Now we must remember that that is nowhere near the majority of votes cast, furthermore the turn out was not especially high (which would probably help the TUV).”

    I agree it was too long. I considered three different posts but that would have been overkill. This was one by election. Also I was in a hurry to post and as I am sure you know a short post often takes much longer than a long one.

  • jake

    who is this idiot turgon and what sort of name is that??!!

  • joeCanuck

    My slang dictionary says that jake is a drunk or meths drinker. Apt, I guess.

  • You’re a brave man, Turgon, blogging on flat-earthism on the most romantic night of the year. Better take Elenwe to Paris pronto.

    Oh and your conclusions are right.

  • Dromore Voter

    Alasdair O’Hara “….as far as i can see in Lagan Valley on the whole no such squabble occured.”

    None are so blind as those who do not want to see.

    And, by the way, it is not a aquabble – much to serious for that. Your language betrays ignorance of the issue.

  • George

    By-elections are notorious for being a boon to the protest vote. This was a classic protest vote and I don’t see any evidence of this being the beginning of a much larger move to the TUV.

    * I’ve watched Jim Allister and he is happily saying he would be content with a return to direct rule. I simply can’t believe that a significant number of unionists want a return to a Peter Hain style governance of Northern Ireland.

    This vote shows that there is unease in a section of the unionist community with the current situation, not least the optics, but the problem for the TUV is that there is no desire for a return to unaccountable direct rule.

    The main hope I see for the TUV growing substantially is if the Tories win and put someone in at the NIO who makes unionists disgruntled with having SF in power at Stormont believe that they would be better off with conservative direct rule.

    Further some of these votes will have been old UUP votes on loan to the DUP which have set off again, on a quest to find a home in a similar place to where they felt they belonged, namely a traditional unionist party.

    I agree with that. The DUP as it is currently constituted just doesn’t strike me as a broad church kind of party capable of representing the overwhelming majority of unionism so it is inevitable that different strands of unionism will peel off and look for a new home.

    As for the UUP, this result was a shot in the arm rather than the usual kick in the arse they have been getting. The question now is do they kick on or just sit back and enjoy the rush.

    * As I am not a unionist, this is a from the outside looking in analysis.

  • Buggerhed

    “there is no desire for a return to unaccountable direct rule.”

    Well I’d personally prefer it to unaccountable regional rule. Sure Pete, Nige, Edwin, Reggie, Mike. Junior and Arlene get a nice we job out of it but what about the average Sammy- very little (unless of course he’s related to an MLA)

    Whether bad government is administered locally or imposed nationally it makes microscopic difference. (sweet FA to be precise)

  • Ahem

    How exactly is our unique brand of devolution ‘accountable’? Seriously, all you braying processistas – how can I, by democratic means, hold the regime at Stormont to ‘account’? At Holyrood, I could vote Labour out of office, ditto Cardiff, ditto every other democratic assembly on the planet, for whatever parties stand to see whether they will win or lose elections. How precisely do I go about voting any of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the UUP or the DUP out of office?

  • As such moving to the right and attacking the DUP may seem the best way forward lest those TUV transfers stop in future elections. The possibility does exist of “crossing the DUP’s T” to end up in a position more hard line than the DUP.

    Yes, but this would involve 15.5 of the 18 UUP MLAs to say and do things fundamentally different to what they’ve been doing for the past decade, and which very few of them actually believe. It would lose them tens of thousands of votes in the Greater Belfast pale and probably beyond (Ballymena, Coleraine, Lurgan/Portadown, etc., etc.)

    And as a strategic move for Unionism, it would be spectacularly idiotic. Going back to direct rule would see the Brits move to joint authority in no time. And the less joint, and more Dublin-controlled, the better.

    Or we could follow Jim’s other plan, and have a glorified County Council with majority rule. Hey, the overall Unionist majority in the Assembly is 2 seats. And if it survives 2011, certainly won’t outlast 2015. How’s that plan working out for you, Jim?

    Because Jim is sort-of posh and has a lawyer’s command of the English language, people think he is really clever. In some ways be may be, but he hasn’t a clue strategically.

    But with 28% of the Unionist vote in Dromore (my vote doesn’t count on Planet Allister), we may not have to worry any time soon.

  • darth rumsfeld

    “Yes, but this would involve 15.5 of the 18 UUP MLAs to say and do things fundamentally different to what they’ve been doing for the past decade, and which very few of them actually believe. ”

    To be fair, Sammy, UUP MLAs generally don’t believe in anything- except that they are the “Natural party of government”- so that shouldn’t present any great difficulty.

    It’s hard to see where they could lose any more votes to your happy little band- you’ve no room for grwoth in Coleraine, Ballymena, Lurgan or portdown, and you’ve already hoovered up a large slice the middle class Unionists of greater Belfast.

    Any return to direct rule would have to be extraordinarily carefully handled, but there’s one big new element. The Shinners would have no popular pretext for returning to violence,even if they still have the capability(doubtful), and thus their electorate’s wishes can be ignored just as much as the Government ignored the Unionists post-1972. Who’s going to join the RA to get Catriona Ruane’s job back?.

    If joint authority meant any greater involvment than that which Dublin has at present, that threat would be real. But I just don’t see Gordon Brown or Bertie Ahern wanting to get any more hands on than they absolutely have to, and -irksome and cumbersome though the present arrangements are- the north/southery in situ is presumably the maximum both governments felt they could get away with, without disturbing the equilibrium.

  • Dromore Voter – ‘And, by the way, it is not a squabble – much to serious for that. Your language betrays ignorance of the issue.’

    I was part of Carol Black’s campaign team and attended the Lagan Valley management commitee meeting immediately after her selection. I am of the opinion that any disagreement did not in any way harm Cllr. Black as the association was entirely behind her.

    In terms of went on at the selectione meeting I am sure the decision to nominate Carol will be exonerated.

  • happy lundy

    TUV scored between 24% and 27% of the Unionist vote (depending on whether you call Alliance unionists).

    Given that the DUP had always pretended to be anti or ambiguous about power sharing up to the 2007 elections is this the most unambiguous endorsement of power sharing we’ve had from unionist voters so far?

    Or was that proved in the removal from office of that other barrister who’s name I can’t remember.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    darth rumsfeld

    “maximum both governments felt they could get away with, without disturbing the equilibrium”

    Dont forget they threatened the big fellah with Plan B – so presumably they were prepared to go further.

    With no Stormont the equilibium would already be disturbed – the Provos were paid off by seats in government – if that was denied them – that would fit neatly into the hitorical validation for violence ie the Unionist veto. If no Stormont then it would be staight to Plan B otherwise we would be back to where we were pre GFA/STA. I have little doubt the DUP nkow this or they wolyd not be in governement. It’s only Jimbo that can’t admit it.

  • PaddyReilly

    The Shinners would have no popular pretext for returning to violence, even if they still have the capability (doubtful), and thus their electorate’s wishes can be ignored just as much as the Government ignored the Unionists post-1972. Who’s going to join the RA to get Catriona Ruane’s job back?.

    Tsk, tsk. What you’re saying to the Republican electorate is no bombs, no power. If you don’t make trouble, your electorate’s wishes will be ignored. And yet I’m sure you would be the first to whine if they took your (unconsciously given) advice. Take note everyone of how things came to this pass in the first place.

    Of course, under the circumstances you envisage, the peace-making branch of the Republican movement would be shown to have been dupes all along. No-one is going to join the RA to get Catriona’s job back, fair enough, they will be joining the New Improved IRA to further the interests of new leaders who cannot be duped in this way. I should imagine that pressure from the US would prevent this from happening.

  • George

    Darth and Buggerhed,
    If unionists have so little fear of British direct rule why are so many of them chomping at the bit to share power with Sinn Féin in a compulsory powersharing (“nationalist” veto) IRA Army Council can happily continue to exist arrangement rather than holding out for majority rule or continuing with the status quo?

    Those who haven’t signed up to the new dispensation have I believe 0 MLAs out of 108 and, credit where credit is due, at least 1 councillor.

    I would assume that the reason is as Sammy McNally says, namely that unionists are well aware that the status quo or the dream of a return to “majority” rule are not options and the alternative is worse.

    As things stand, this vote is more a case of telling the DUP to wise up on the optics than it is an indicator that there are huge swathes of unionism ready to tear the current system down.

    Why? Because Allister is offering an alternative that isn’t on the table and there is no way he can bring his vision to the table. He has no power and no influence and your average punter knows it.

    Virtually nobody in Ireland or the UK have ever even heard of him or the TUV. That is the reality.

  • Bigger Picture

    Hi Turgon

    Thank you for your kind words, i have never been referred to as “one of the best” before so it is nice that some of my thoughts are worth recognition.

    Your points about the TUV and DUP are correct. I have no time or respect for the UUP so i will not waste energy talking about them. When we debated this away last year a by election was never in my mind but I would agree that this is a better result than a province wide election, where opinions and publicity may have varied widely and probably in the DUP’s favour. I would also say that the reason why an early election would have favoured the DUP was because I wouldn’t have thought the Doc would continued this ridiculous double act with McGuinness. If that damage in May had been the end of it I do believe JA would not have got the result he did. But with constant images streaming in of the pair Jim had all the pictures and scandal he needed to appeal to the heart’s of unionists. I do believe that there was a protest element in the TUV’s vote but if things do not change the TUV’s vote will consolidate and be built upon. The current strategy isn’t working and i believe Paisley is ultimatley to blame for this. A close second is of course his son and as long as Snr is there so will Jnr. However maybe not so bad as two birds could be easily killed with one stone.

    The very reasons why i didn’t join the prodiban i feel are it’s weaknesses, in so much as get past the “we hate paisley clan” they are basically the DUP reformed in it’s policies and thinking. I do not think that the majority of people voted TUV because the DUP are a bunch of lundy sell outs. People soon forget whenever they see that a Govt is working and it is clear that there is a benefit over what may seem uncomfortable. Unionists have excepted devolution and even those that say they were “mislead” by the DUP still voted for them, knowing that devolution with SF at the heart of Government was going to take place sooner or later. For goodness sake Jim Allister campaigned for the DUP on that basis declaring that an October devolution arrangement would be more acceptable to him but still accepting that sharing power with SF was an inevitable evil. There is no doubt he has hardened his approach since then especially around the concept of d’hondt (a concept you know i have no time for). But i don’t know, say the Army Council is dissolved in exchange for the devolution of policing and justice, where then does thatleave the TUV? Are they then back to a situation where they are cast as simply “not wanting a taig about the place”?

    Of course alot of that depends on the behaviour of the DUP that is why the TUV were able to claim victory in Dromore and ultimatly it will be what the do with the Paisley’s that will ultimatley decide the future of the two organisations.