Voltaire said that If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him. Politics like nature abhors a vacuum and as such I would submit that if the TUV did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the moves by the DUP over the last 18 months and whether or not that represents a victory or defeat for unionism, their acceptance of power sharing with SF left a group of unionists without a party to represent their political position. For Jim Allister to create the TUV would seem to be most logical. Whilst I tend not to subscribe to the Great man school of historiography political parties do tend to need a significant and serious political figure to lead them and whatever his detractors may think Allister is in NI terms a serious politician. In his case a serious politician with a track record of independence.
The constituency which Allister and the TUV wishes to attract is of course a coalition like all political parties. It is a coalition of those who support devolution and power sharing with nationalists and maybe even with SF under certain circumstances right round to those who would under no circumstances support power sharing and want either majority rule or full integration. Such differences will of course create internal tensions but that is the case in every political party. These problem are often not visible in the very earliest days of a political party but surface early. One of the best ways to keep them in check is of course electoral success which I will come on to later.
Like all new political parties the TUV have the danger of attracting assorted lunatics. These, like the zombies in the Night of the Living Dead series are attracted towards the living with usually fatal consequences for the living. The fact that the TUV are at one end of the NI political spectrum merely enhances the attraction for the politically insane / undead. Fortunately such people unlike zombies tend to tire rapidly and then to wander aimlessly off muttering about how everyone is wrong other than themselves.
Losing the mad is of course part of the evolution of a political party and periodically other mad people do reanimate. The TUV must evolve in order to survive. That evolution will inevitably require fleshing out more policy positions. However, the party must equally avoid being forced to come to specific positions too early: the political landscape in Northern Ireland is in a continuing state of flux and having flexibility is important. It is also well worth noting that even huge political organisations with hundreds of years of history like the Conservative Party do not have definitive policies on all issues years before an election. Maybe more important at this point is getting the general tenor and ideology sorted out (brand image?) and certainly the TUV have managed to establish a position in that sense; again helped by the relative political vacuum to the right of the DUP. Of course critics might suggest that the DUP has been showing flexibility but I would argue that there is a very considerable difference between flexibility and our former first minister Prosperos volte face.
Many previous unionist parties have come and gone. Misquoting the hymn without wishing to be blasphemous whilst they have come and gone Paisley has endured unchanging on. The litany of failed unionist political parties has been noted previously (there is a list here). Many of the previous failed unionist parties have been to the right of the UUP which might imply the extinction of the TUV is very possible. Of course such a thing may happen. However, always previously there has been the DUP and Paisley standing to the UUPs right and offering rejectionist unionists a party with a track record and an undoubtedly charismatic and easily recognisable leader. With the movement of the DUP into power sharing and acceptance of St. Andrews, however, there is no longer a home for rejectionist unionist votes and as I said above politics seems to abhor a vacuum. As such pointing to previous failed hard line unionist parties as an example of the inevitable fate of the TUV may not be valid. The recent developments with the UUP possibly reaching an understanding (or more) with the Tories also has potential benefits for the TUV. This will most likely stop any chance of the UUP trying to Cross the DUPs T. Indeed the UUP is most likely to move further to the left (the Tories intervention demonstrates the inaccuracy of the terms left and right in their common NI usage but they remain convenient shorthand). In response it is most unlikely that the DUP will move to the right: they are likely to stay where they are or may even drift leftwards if they perceive a threat from a rejuvenated UUP. That would of course open up more clear (orange?) water between the DUP and TUV.
Of course one of the biggest problems the TUV face is that the next major election is likely to be the European elections; unless that is Labour dump Brown and are forced to call a general election. For Jim Allister to hold the European seat will of course be a big ask for the TUV. It is a new party with only limited membership and resources yet it would be trying to achieve a feat only ever managed by the four main NI parties (and recently well beyond the SDLP). Who the DUP will run and the UUPs decision to stick with Jim Nicholson are important but no matter what for Allister to hold his seat will be difficult. Of course if he does then I suspect that would send very considerable shock waves through Northern Irish politics. If the TUV lose the seat but put up a good showing that will of course be a significant event. However, no matter how close a miss they might achieve a miss would deprive the TUVs leader of his electoral platform. Clearly he would have a very high chance of getting elected in any future Stormont election (and might have a good chance in North or East Antrim at the next Westminster election) but a defeat in the European election would at least temporarily provide negative momentum and as I have said in previous blogs momentum in politics is very important.
The TUVs critics may yet be proven correct in saying that it is a dinosaur which will become extinct. However, for those not interested in my version of supernaturalism do remember that the dinosaurs ruled the earth for rather a long time and it took a large meteor or some such to make them extinct. Those with my supernaturalist slant can of course simply say that it is all predestined. Personally I think it is a project worth running with: then again you all knew that anyway.
Any zombies care to weigh into the debate? Remember the only way to kill them (zombies) is to destroy the brain.