Pandora’s Box, Chaos theory and Fermanagh

Pandora’s Box was a box which contained all the bad things in the world and when opened released them. Now the term is often used for a dangerous and unpredictable set of things that can happen. I believe Chaos theory is a bit similar with the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane. Essentially this is about the unpredictability of complex systems. My final analogy is from Luke 14: 31-32Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.”
The news of a by election in Fermanagh has already been blogged by fair_deal here but I thought I would add my tuppence worth.
Both the main unionist parties (and indeed the TUV) have possible benefits from this election but also very considerable dangers.

The UUP are the ones who have forced this by election by refusing the DUP’s nomination of Thomas Hogg to replace the late Joseph Dodds. The UUP can point to the actions of the DUP in forcing the by election in Dromore as a precedent and say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. They may feel emboldened by their victory at Dromore and the Fermanagh UUP may feel that this is to an extent payback for previous occasion when they accused the DUP of supporting Jim Dixon and hence, vote splitting. In addition a good showing for the UUP might enable the Fermanagh UUP to argue that it should not be automatically assumed that any agreed unionist candidate at the next Westminster elections be the DUP’s Arlene Foster. Finally as Bertie Kerr said on Radio Ulster this morning, some of the objection was to Thomas Hogg as a candidate and he would have accepted a different DUP candidate.

All the above may be correct. However, the UUP need to remember that Arlene Foster did much better than Tom Elliott at the last Westminster election and that no matter how strong the UUP party is in Fermanagh, Fermanagh unionists seem to have swung fairly decisively towards the DUP in the most recent elections. In addition in Dromore the UUP vote actually fell, an inconvenient fact that the UUP tend to overlook. As such this is a high risk strategy and if the DUP win easily the UUP will be humiliated. Almost worse would be if the seat falls to SF which would allow the DUP to point out that the UUP had unnecessarily given away a unionist seat. This is not Dromore and is not a safe unionist area.

Of course opportunities and dangers also stalk the DUP. If they win the seat with Mr. Hogg they will have got one of their bright young members into a council seat at a young age. They will be able to say that with the changes made (getting rid of Paisley) the Dromore effect was temporary and has now gone away. If they loose the seat to SF then the will be able to point the accusatory finger at the UUP and pronounce the dreaded cry “vote splitters” something which might well play badly amongst Fermanagh unionists.

The DUP also have dangers, however. Everyone will look at their percentage of the vote compared to last time and look for slippage. If they loose to the UUP then it could be presented as a loosing trend and momentum bad or good can be very powerful. A SF victory might also have its own problems. The UUP would no doubt point out that had the DUP not been so stubborn as to insist on Mr. Hogg then co-option would have been fine. In fairness with Mr. Hogg apparently still at university it does seem slightly unusual to run him in a seat so far from where his studies keep him. Equally of course the DUP can point out that it is not for the UUP to choose DUP representatives.

The TUV also have opportunities. If they run and do even relatively well it is evidence that Dromore was not a one off and is a further opportunity to gather momentum. They are, however, also open to the charge of vote splitting and as such standing to one side on this occasion and calling for their supporters to vote for either the DUP or UUP (as they wish) might be a wise strategy. Again though one of the most important purposes of a political party is to fight elections and this would be an election which the TUV did not call. In such a set of circumstances it would be a bit rich for the two parties who caused the election (the UUP by blocking Hogg’s co-option and the DUP by insisting on Hogg) to accuse the TUV of being vote splitters who would hand the seat to SF.

Although I am not well placed to comment on nationalism SF and the SDLP also have possible benefits and dangers. SF might well pick up a seat here which would be very useful to them. Especially after the recent resignations of SF councillors in Fermanagh it would help steady any nerves which might exist within the local party. It would be a useful guide that Gildernew could easily hold F/ST possibly even against an agreed unionist candidate. However, Fermanagh does seem to be where much of the republican discontent with the agreement centres. As such there are dangers: a fall in the SF vote would be a set back and again that momentum thing is important.

Even the SDLP have possible opportunities and dangers. A decent showing would demonstrate that they are not irrelevant and might help galvanise Durkans’ currently rather lack lustre leadership. It would help to reduce the appearance of the South Down and Londonderry Party. Conversely of course a poor showing would be seen as further proof of that same problem.

Overall this is an election which is so unpredictable and has so many possible variables that anyone could gain or lose from it. As I alluded above before from the Bible, before embarking on a battle a wise person should decide whether or not it is a winnable one. In this case I do not think anyone can be remotely confident of victory. In such an unpredictable situation one might wonder why the DUP and UUP did not come to some sort of compromise. If either genuinely wanted an election I suspect that they are most foolish. The fact that they could not agree a compromise seems to suggest that relationships between them have reached a new low. In such a case where now Peter Robinson’s desire for unionist unity?

I have just heard that Thomas Hogg will not now be running for this seat. That of course raises a number of interesting questions including whether or not the UUP can “Deobject” to a DUP co-option.