The unbuckling of the Bible Belt…

Or, when the chuckles had to stop 2. Occasional commenter, The Watchman follows up with the second part (first instalment here) of his two part article on the ongoing low level attrition between the DUP and the TUV, which, he argues is gradually chipping away at the former heartlands of the DUP, partly, he reads it because of a strategic decision by the party’s leadership to cut them adrift.By The Watchman

“Let me make it unequivocally clear that the DUP will never enter into government with IRA/Sinn Fein.

“Note carefully – this is free from any ifs or buts or turnings.

“To enter into government with the terrorists of IRA/Sinn Fein would be treason. Of that we will never be guilty.”

Ian Paisley, Election Platform, Belfast News Letter, 4 May 2005, cited in Michael Kerr’s “Transforming Unionism: David Trimble and the 2005 General Election”

The DUP’s first leadership election seems likely to turn on the brokerage of a deal between the Robinson and Dodds families for the new management of the clan. Presently, it appears that Peter Robinson will be elected leader by acclamation. Thanks to the party’s centralised democracy, we will be denied the chance to see whether Nigel Dodds might have beaten him in a ballot of the entire membership. But Dodds can wait: there is every prospect that the DUP’s fortunes may not be improved by Paisley’s departure.

To understand why, we need to go back to May 2007. Once everyone had stopped blinking in astonishment at Paisley and McGuinness leading the oddest government imaginable, it was as if Northern Ireland had reached its own “End of History” moment. There was assumed to be universal support for the new Executive. Received wisdom, of course, is usually wrong and it ignored the fact that many unionists have long voted for the DUP precisely in order to keep Sinn Fein out of power for ever. There is no way of knowing just how many people feel betrayed, although their existence in untold thousands is beyond dispute (as many in the DUP now privately realise). The DUP’s capitulation, far greater than any ever executed by the Ulster Unionists, left such people without any voice in the Assembly.

Even after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, he would often be pictured in his combat fatigues. Although he was no longer the revolutionary in the state he controlled, he felt the need to appear to be such. The DUP did not even bother to give the false impression of fighting their old enemies from the inside. Instead the new ministers gave every impression of putting their feet up. The notorious chuckling of the new First Minister when he appeared with the man he called “Deputy” caught the headlines, but this only concealed deeper DUP laziness and arrogance.

Godson’s biography of Trimble reports advice given by Sean O’Callaghan that the UUP needed to continue fighting republicans within the confines of the new institutions. David Trimble, Godson notes, did not take this advice. Likewise, the DUP, an army that had just stormed a citadel, was happy to sit back and enjoy the spoils of victory. It seemed that the party and leader were so happy luxuriating in power that neither knew how to utilise that power to rough up the Shinners within the institutions.

So what of the future First Minister? Robinson’s performances at the Departments of Regional Development and Finance have impressed many. Within the party, his organisational ability has helped to turn the DUP into a formidable electoral machine. He has a track record of dominance within Castlereagh Council, where the DUP has been the largest unionist party for 27 years. But Robinson is also seen as a cold Machiavellian figure and a control freak who is more respected than liked. He is the head of the modernising wing of the DUP and is suspected of working towards a deal with Sinn Fein for a number of years despite public denials. He is neither a Free Presbyterian nor an Orangeman, and his decision not to align himself personally with either of these two important blocs may prove telling if his leadership does run into trouble. For these reasons Robinson cannot and will not inherit the unquestioning loyalty that his former leader enjoyed.

Pre-Dromore, the DUP was sanguine about the TUV. If it had been concerned then the adept micro-managers in Dundela Avenue would not have forced a by-election when Tyrone Howe’s seat fell vacant. After all, the UUP is no electoral threat to the DUP. Instead the DUP saw the chance to grab an easy seat from the UUP and strangle the infant TUV. It singularly failed to achieve either, despite having fought an energetic battle in Jeffrey Donaldson’s back yard. Even allowing for all the normal provisos, the size of the TUV vote in a median unionist town startled many observers.

Dromore is also the first evidence of the unbuckling of the old DUP base with its traditionalist element, upon which the party was built, disengaging amid considerable bitterness. Robinson, widely held to be the secret architect of the DUP’s deal with Sinn Fein, is probably the last man capable of luring back this bloc of untold thousands. The DUP’s response to criticism has been to scaremonger about a rampaging Joint Authority bogeyman if a deal had not been done. This is a daft tactic and it plays spectacularly badly with the party’s former supporters. Its continued use simply underlines the distance the DUP is felt to have travelled in its pursuit of power at any price: was the Ian Paisley of old ever troubled by blackmail?

Losing this support is not necessarily fatal. But the strategic decision taken by Paisley to cut loose of his old supporters will help to determine the party’s electoral fortunes in the future. Despite its success in Dromore, the UUP’s share of the vote actually fell from its derisory 2005 level. The DUP may well choose to replenish lost support from the feeble UUP. The price of gaining territory in this centre ground battle is likely to be slippage to Allister’s TUV, which seems poised to capitalise on discontent in the DUP‘s old rural heartlands. Allister has already concluded that a position to the right of the DUP constitutes a perfectly viable platform, something this writer pointed out on Slugger back in June 2005.

In the decade since the Belfast Agreement, unionism has seen realignment with the decline of the UUP and the rise of the DUP. But there is reason to suppose that the process of realignment will continue. The UUP is unlikely to be a serious player and seems locked in decline. The main threat to the DUP’s dominance comes from Jim Allister and those around him. No one should underestimate the problems that this will cause for the DUP.

,

  • The Raven

    I don’t follow the numbers game like many on this site admirably do. But:

    I think there are still of a lot of people who think: “the DUP don’t speak for me”.

    I think that a lot of these people sit at home and just don’t vote, given that they have no other option which sits easily with their P/U/L conscience, more’s the pity that they still think along those lines.

    I think there are an increasing number of young people who just aren’t turning out to vote from that community. And despite the DUP’s Hitler-Jungend appeal, many young people (oh yes…ignore the 18-year-olds at your peril) feel nothing but contempt for Paisley and the Lizard King-in-Waiting.

    I think that the TUV are a wild card and a flash-in-the-pan. And I think that they will have a hard job convincing the sit-at-homers to come out and vote for them.

    I think the problems for the DUP are much deeper than people voting for either TUV, or UUP.

    “Apathy is the glove into which evil slips its hand.”

    As far as I am concerned the evil has had its hand in the till..I mean, glove for long enough, but I think it will be a drop in the overall Unionist turnout at the next couple of elections that will do for the DUP.

    Nice post, though. By the way, having “dominance” at Peter’s Palace in Castlereagh is nothing to crow about, DUPers. Having the cheapest rates but no new services actually being delivered is not something to be proud of…

  • Smithsonian

    Dromore was the beginning of the end for the DUP. Their new suits are becoming tattered and torn. The thread grasped firmly in the electorates hand will continue to unravel the DUP coat, until suddenly the people will notice that the emperor has no clothes.

    Of the 36 DUP MLAs at least one third will lose their seats at the next election. Who will defect, who will jump to the House of Lords?

    Mick Fealty’s analysis of the UUP performance is pretty perfunctory. No allowance is made for the absence of an Alliance candidate last time out, nor the ability then of Tyrone Howe as a local hero to maximise the UUP vote, added to the complete lack of media interest in the campaign and a completely unknown housewife from Dromore they still managed to grind out a result that changed the political landscape of Northern Ireland.

    This time out, Alliance fielded an excellent local candidate and were rewarded by an excellent result. In fact, against such a candidate the UUP result was a triumph and it stands every chance of improving its vote next time out through work on the ground.

    The TUV also produced an excellent candidate. Strong Orange credentials and almost universal contempt disillusionment with the DUP produced a result far ahead of what could have been expected. They too must expect their band wagon to gather momentum.

    The big losers were the DUP. The brand is irrevocably damaged. The DUP will never be trusted again. Robinson is completely aligned with the Paisley strategy he will not survive. Only Dodds has a chance of leading a recovery but only if he keeps his distance and doesn’t leave it too long to mount a leadership challenge.

    All three Unionist parties face very difficult challenges. The TUV have no candidates and no infrastructure, the UUP are old and tired, but it is the DUP who face the biggest challenge, for them the party is over. Attacked on all sides, unable to deliver, and compromised on all issues of trust and principle, Robinson will not be able to hold it together.

  • DC

    As a supporter of Northern Ireland, Unionism is not capable of pulling together the electorate from Northern Ireland’s most outer limits and this will prove its own undoing, unless something else comes the way of Northern Ireland.

    71% voted for the GFA, the rest Allister even over the DUP is entitled to have; but if he can indeed attain that it is of itself nothing but a failure. Life in Northern Ireland has changed, Allister can wish to get a vote for yester year however, if the majority of such a backward political cohort goes to the TUV over that of the DUP, Northern Ireland will still remain a divided, politically riven entity, rump for a takeover by a stronger democratic republic.

    This is a concrete guarantee that for those who want Northern Ireland to exist in the future should look away from Allister and towards hybridity in approach that leads people in confidence to a more fluid political stance.

    Unionism under Allister is too brittle, brittle in the sense that he creates insecurity and bluff, why have that when sovereignty can be opened up to ensure that politics encompasses life beyond unitary state-hood, but instead is across the isles.

    Old-unionism has been breached, survival belongs to democracy and to operating new political structures. Old sovereignty is replaced with anew and Allister nor the DUP has any genuine policy answers to this new arrangement. Bluff is good but new politics is required to ensure that the integrity of Northern Ireland remains.

  • Gregory

    “The UUP is unlikely to be a serious player and seems locked in decline. The main threat to the DUP’s dominance comes from Jim Allister and those around him. No one should underestimate the problems that this will cause for the DUP.”

    That’s a bit unfair to the UUP, I’d accept that within a dynamic realm of politics, salvage jobs which look like the work of a generation,

    might be excuse to write the UUP off, but on the other hand, they’re nicely pitched as a party, they’re a bit nicer than the DUP or TUV.

    That might sound like silly stuff, but maybe, in NI, the people are becoming nicer as well. That looking for a traditional dove-tail between voter and party may not be that obvious.

  • Comrade Stalin

    He is neither a Free Presbyterian nor an Orangeman, and his decision not to align himself personally with either of these two important blocs may prove telling if his leadership does run into trouble.

    For me, this is the one part of the article that really dates it.

    The FPC is in a state of terminal decline, and that decline will be accelerated without it’s former charismatic moderator.

    The Orange Order is these days a strange beast. On one hand, it’s talking to Garvaghy Road residents. On the other hand, people wearing Orange collarettes attack police lines when parades are rerouted. This organization is well past the days when it was a significant political or social force in this country, and this has been plain to see since the point in the 90s when Trimble took over the UUP leadership and promptly announced plans to sever the link between the UUC and the OO. In fact, a leader with significant OO ties at a time when Orangemen are attacking police lines may well consider his association with them to be a political liability – this is as it should be.

  • abucs

    The times they are a changing.

  • fair_deal

    “the strategic decision taken by Paisley to cut loose of his old supporters”

    I disagree that it was a strategic decision to cut them loose.

    I think it was an over-estimation of Paisley’s ability to bring them along (an overestimation I would have shared at a time – should have remembered the general inability of personal appeal to overcome Ulster’s thraness) plus taking them for granted as demonstrated by the lack of engagement pre-deal.

  • Prince Eoghan

    .>>Old-unionism has been breached, survival belongs to democracy and to operating new political structures. Old sovereignty is replaced with anew and Allister nor the DUP has any genuine policy answers to this new arrangement. Bluff is good but new politics is required to ensure that the integrity of Northern Ireland remains.<

  • Prince Eoghan

    Sorry above was to DC

  • “Old-unionism has been breached, survival belongs to democracy and to operating new political structures.”

    Old unionism and old nationalism were breached forty years ago, democracy has been debased and survival in many areas is or can be at the whim of the loyalist and paramilitary godfathers. The ‘moral’ electorate who voted for folks associated with fascism and mafiaism poured insult onto ordinary decent folks, in particular the victims and their families. Shame on the appeasers and on the apologists for the bully boys.

  • Greenflag

    Prince Eoghan,

    ‘Which leads me to ask the question shouldn’t some thought be put into the formation of a new Unionist party’

    Oh f**k , not another Unionist party 🙁 I mean has’nt there been enough of them ? The more there are the worse they seem to get . Sometimes more is not necessarily better and in this case we’ve surely seen enough to prove that fact. Three or four Unionist parties is absurd but will 10 Unionist parties be an indication of growing political and democratic maturity or just further proof of the inherent ‘bankruptcy’ of this failed ideology

    The ‘Unionist’ dinosaur is not yet extinct and it can only ever find a ‘refuge’ in relative isolation -post a repartition of NI. Allister needs to put forward the ‘Repartition’ solution as Unionism’s only hope for longer term survival as political ideology in a part of this island?

  • Prince Eoghan

    Greenflag

    I agree yet another Unionist party would be pointless. However one that represents anything other than stagnation is not available. Thus a new one, or a totally reconstructed UUP will have to emerge.

  • TAFKABO

    As a unionist I am starting to wonder if we even need unionist parties at all.
    What for?
    The GFA is the deal that was struck, the constitutional status will depend upon that document alone, and not any number of “unionist” parties.

    Unionist parties have rarely reflected this unionist’s political leanings other than the maintenance of the union, to hell with them I say.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Taf

    Even more reason that people like yourself should demand representation that does not only deal with maintenance of the union at the expense, and usually underlying approach of all others.

    I suppose in a similar vein I am a supporter of the SNP, I support Scottish independence. If however they were constantly making an arse of themselves in a variety of ways and representing themselves at odds with values I believe in just to keep 100% to the central aim. They would not receive my support.

  • Greenflag

    PE ,

    ‘ However one that represents anything other than stagnation is not available.’

    No surprise there. Unionism represents stagnation . It’s only through stagnation be it in economics or politics that ‘unionism’ can survive. Taking away ‘stagnation’ from a Unionist party would be like taking away a walk support from a 95 year old nursing home inmate with a dodgy knee and ankle in plaster!

    ‘Thus a new one, or a totally reconstructed UUP will have to emerge.’

    Sometimes evolution works in that an organism adapts to meet new circumstances or fit a new niche in the environment be it economic or political . More frequently however extinction is the fate of most maladaptives . The fact that some 98% of all species/organisms that have ever lived on earth have become extinct should not encourage us to believe that somehow the UUP or Unionism can beat the odds .

    Tafkabo,

    ‘Unionist parties have rarely reflected this unionist’s political leanings other than the maintenance of the union, to hell with them I say.’

    Eh ? Don’t be too harsh on them . This is a bit like poking a stick into a zoo cage at a baboon to annoy it and later complaining that said baboon bit your thumb off when you tried to offer it a banana .Baboons are notoriously famous for being mainly baboons . Unionist parties are notorioulsy famous for being for the Union . They can do no other . It is the sole reason for their political existence within NI.

  • majordolittle

    I prefer personalities to parties. Some sort of realignment is going to happen within Unionism. Maybe UUP/Alliance and some DUPers,Sammy? Not the flat earthers. Reg will have to go. Alan McLean or Basil McCrea at the helm?

  • TAFKABO

    Greenflag.

    I don’t think the union needs unionist parties. the Union is dependant upon a majority of people wanting it to exists, that’s enough. Anything else is tribalism, whilst understandable in the context of a conflict, now that the conflict has ended it’s time for normal bread and butter politics, not whether or not the bread is catholic or protestant.

    I for one think Fianna Fáil and the Labour party standing in Northern Ireland is a great thing, can’t wait to see it.

  • majordolittle

    TAFKABO
    Bread and Butter politics should always be conducted through the Westminster parliament. I couldn’t really see anything wrong with direct rule. In fact we still have it de facto.

  • Ian

    “Reg will have to go. Alan McLean or Basil McCrea at the helm?”

    Surely you mean Alan McFarland or something? Alan McLean is one of Mad Dog Adair’s former goons, recently sided with the Shoukri brothers in the ‘Bad’ UDA faction.

    Basil McCrea isn’t much better as he’s dallied with the leading ‘OVF’ Stoneyford loyalist Mark Harbison:

    http://sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/confronting-the-elephant-part-1/

  • majordolittle

    Sorry yes, Alan McFarland
    I didn’t know Basil had been running around with that creep Harbinson, I thought he had more sense.

  • To respond to some queries:

    Fair Deal thinks that the DUP has simply miscalculated the degree of opposition rather than taking a strategic decision to abandon its old support. Having started to read the Moloney book since writing this piece, I still believe I was right the first time. Moloney reprints as an Appendix the account of an internal critic at the Lurgan meeting of the party where the leadership got a very rough ride. It must have been clear to everyone on the platform that many of their own supporters were never going to buy into the forthcoming deal.

    Comrade Stalin doesn’t seem to have much clue about how unionism works and perhaps he had better confine himself to matters re. tractor production.

    Nice of GreenFlag to compare unionists to baboons.

    There are plenty of challenges for Allister and the TUV but those are for another day. Suffice to say again that, since there was a hardline DUP constituency prior to 2007, there is likely to be one now. How big it will be remains to be seen.

  • fair_deal

    The Watchman

    Thanks for getting back. I heard accounts of the various consultation meetings at the time and the rough ride they got.

    However, I don’t think it negates my point. The expectation was opposition could be overcome through the consultation meetings in particular by Paisley. In these meetings it became clear Paisley couldn’t carry a section of the people he had been predicted/expected to plus taking them for granted meant they hadn’t done the preparatory work and pre-deal engagement they should have. Also some in the DUP hoped that the ongoing talks even post-St Andrews could squeeze something further and address/lessen the concerns of some (forlornly in this case, neither SF or DUP particularly managed to squeeze anything from Blair after St Andrews).

    I would also point out the post-Dromore reaction of the DUP has been much more how can they reconnect rather than display a ‘leave them for the TUV to mop up’ approach.

    I could be over-estimating the genuiness of some in all this but time will prove one of us right or wrong.

  • Fair Deal,

    Thanks for that. I am afraid that I am a thoroughly Burkeian pessimist when it comes to the Punt. As for the DUP’s attempts to “reconnect” with its former supporters, I am not sure that there will be many in that target audience receptive. Besides, the Quinn affair is still ongoing and I believe that the DUP will continue in its see-no-evil myopia, which will continue to be a gift for Allister.

  • George

    “There are plenty of challenges for Allister and the TUV but those are for another day. Suffice to say again that, since there was a hardline DUP constituency prior to 2007, there is likely to be one now. How big it will be remains to be seen.”

    But unless the TUV lives up to the challenge, it doesn’t matter how big the constituency is, the choice for the hardliners is the DUP or the wilderness.

    So far this hardline constituency has had little or no effect. Dromore is hardly an earth-shattering event.

    And the idea that anything around the Quinn murder will come out and have a seriously adverse effect on the DUP is hopeful in the extreme.

    The hardliners are described as hardliners for a reason, one of them being that they take Sinn Féin’s lack of fitness to govern as a given already. They don’t need any more proof.

  • Greenflag

    Tafkabo,

    ‘ I don’t think the union needs unionist parties. the Union is dependant upon a majority of people wanting it to exists, that’s enough.’

    In theory you are correct . In practice without a Unionist party or parties you would eventually run into the Goebbels marketing ‘phenomenon’ i.e if enough people are shouting that we have to have a UI and the response from the unionist side is ‘silence’ then conclusions are drawn by the powers that be which would not be amicable towars the Union.

    ‘Anything else is tribalism, whilst understandable in the context of a conflict, now that the conflict has ended it’s time for normal bread and butter politics, not whether or not the bread is catholic or protestant. ‘

    I’m not terribly optimistic that bread and butter politics can emerge to the extent they need to in NI given the nature of the political settlement and the cementing of sectarian divisions . Even though the people may want to and perhaps even some of the politicians but the ‘system/ will continually drag them back to the ‘constitutional issue’. Nothing wrong with that per se as long as they keeep it peaceful. It will always be the ball and chain on the NI middle distance runner.

    ‘I for one think Fianna Fáil and the Labour party standing in Northern Ireland is a great thing, can’t wait to see it.’

    It could be interesting on the other hand with say the Tories and perhaps the LD’s and British Labour running not to mention four or 5 Unionist parties and a couple of nationalist/republicans the electoral party list will look like a full column in the Telegraph.

  • Greenflag

    watchman,

    ‘Nice of GreenFlag to compare unionists to baboons’

    Sorry watchman not the intention . I’ve amended the paragraph below to ensure cross community in the D’Hondt spirit of ‘parity ‘ of babooness 🙁

    ‘Baboons are notoriously famous for being mainly baboons . Republican parties are notoriously famous for being republican . Unionist parties are notorioulsy famous for being for the Union . They can do no other ‘

  • fair_deal

    The Watchman

    “I am not sure that there will be many in that target audience receptive”

    Some are receptive. The ‘taking people for granted’ often did not cease until the gunk of Dromore. Giving people their due usually reaps some benefits.

    I accept there will be an unreceptive chunk. Some who have lost loved ones I make no attempt to dissuade because of its highly personal and sensitive nature of such a position. Others who are not in this category I’ve been trying to talk to of many of these I can come across. In my conversations, this section seem stuck in vagueness – broad principles maybe (platitudes even) but a distinct lack of detail on what a practical application of that would be or sense of how it can be achieved.

  • Muad’Dib

    As I see it unionism is stuck in a repeating loop. One Unionist party assumes power (UUP) and is forced to be pragmatic in order to function. Another Unionist party (DUP) nips at it’s heels and eventually brings it down. The other Unionists (DUP) assume power and the pragmatism and nipping at heels starts over again (TUV). While all this is happening the population suffers. Unionist politicians aren’t serving their community because they are used to fighting over an issue they can’t really do much about and have no idea how to do anything else but harp on about one issue politics.