Dromore by-election – a well placed kick Part II

Questions, broader issues the by-election result raises and suggestions.Disconnections
1. With voters – The core concern for the DUP should be how a significant chunk of voters become significantly disaffected with the party but they didn’t seem to notice or pick up/respond to warning signs? This indicates a disconnection with a section of voters. There was no indication from the local branch or constituency association of issues. The canvas reports didn’t pick it up either. Neither does it appear Party headquarters radar was picking up movement.
2. Within the party – The fact that the symbols issue popped up in the midst of the by-election shows another disconnection. Did no one check if anything that could have an impact on the by-election was coming before the Council? Belfast City Council, a hung council, has the Union flag flying 365 days a year and plenty of British symbolry around the building and it is not being hauled before the Equality Commission because it has developed an appropriate policy response. Why did no one think to proactively inform councillors across Northern Ireland of this answer to the issue? Why in such a situation did councillors not seek help and guidance?
The Paisley Problem
1. The Chuckle Brothers – This has not gone down well. No it is not an argument for permanent misery. St Andrews was sold to many as a difficult but necessary decision. If that is the narrative then it should look as if you are living with that difficult decision not revelling in it. The discomfort with it has been conveyed but dismissed. A dismissive attitude repeated today in press comments.
2. Paisley Jnr – With Snr comes Jnr and the allegations and claims show no sign of going away and they have reached such a level that regardless of how many official bodies clear him the damage in public opinion terms has been done.
Some will be tempted to try and put all the blame the Paisleys and the result has probably hastened his departure. However, it is important to note that all the big guns campaigned in Dromore.
The Party
1. The responsibilities of power – All parties have a limited pool of talent. In the previous executive the DUP had two ministers. The suspension of Stormont meant MLAs had no or few Assembly duties and as a result people had become used to that situation and the level of access they enjoyed to MLAs. This time the DUP has much more executive and committee responsibilities. Also a conscientious MLA will be spending about 3 of the 5 working days in Stormont between sittings, votes and committee meetings (the DUP also monitors and fines representatives on their record of attendance on such issues). It is impossibile for the top ranks of the party to keep the same degree of focus on party matters they previously had nor for MLAs to be out and about as they have been before. However, the party structures have not adapted to this. Also it shines a clear focus on how sustainable the multiple mandates many hold is.
2. Complacency – Often there was a sense of unassailability of the DUP’s position. Basic issues started getting overlooked i.e. electoral registers (Work has now commenced on this). The election campaigns were somewhat punched in. Some signs of positive developments in the UUP simply dismissed.
3. Lack of follow –up – In the St Andrews dealings and after, a number of issues were put in “We can’t sort it out by the deadline but we’ll address it after devolution.” category, for example the compensation issue over Orange hall attacks. These tended to get forgotten about in the transition to and operation of devolution. This lack of follow-up on issues of delivery has had consequences.
The Dromore result can bring into focus a number of issues the DUP has ignored or been distracted from. The silver lining is that they got an electoral lesson in a by-election and not a province-wide one. The European election will be next year and quite possibly a Westminster one too. 15 months or so is enough of a timeframe to address the issues. However, it needs to ensure:
It accepts concerns have not disappeared and adopts a non-defensive response to criticism.
It focuses on achieving and demonstrating delivery.
It cannot rely on the mainstream media to get its messages out to its constituency and grassroots.
It changes party structures to adapt to a devolutionary situation.
It spread the workload across a broader pool of people and puts the development programmes, support and constituency work that will enable that.