TUV conference: tea, rattles and shoes

Pete has mentioned part of Jim Allister’s speech to the TUV conference below but I thought another blog on the conference and speech (here is the full text) might be acceptable. I know that I am biased but I am sorry to be forced to inform slugger readers that the members almost without exception had only one head each. They seemed relatively sane: no one said or did anything terribly mad. We all had a meeting where we selected the European candidate (this did not take long) and then had tea etc. (no Northern Irish event of any sort is complete without tea, though worryingly I noticed some members drinking coffee – I took a note of their names- clearly dangerous liberals). Then there were a series of motions during which normal members spoke and then we had Jim’s speech. Okay I admit there was one bit of oddness: one bloke had a football rattle which he used to make a racket during applause. During those bits I developed a sudden interest in my shoes.
Allister’s speech as might be expected spent quite some time attacking the DUP: there were a variety of jokes at the DUP’s expense along with a series of ringing denouncements of their recent positions. Allister claimed that without pressure from the TUV the DUP would have already made further concessions “..You’d already have the Maze Shrine and Marty the Terrorist would already have his hands on the levers of power over the Judiciary if TUV did not exist.”

Such is of course to be expected. In addition, however, Allister began to set out the TUV vision of the alternatives: “Let me make it clear, we are not opposed to Catholics in government, or cross-community government, but we most unashamedly are implacably opposed to terrorists in government. Yes, when it comes to government I wouldn’t have a Provo about the place!

Voluntary coalition is the proper route to shared government. No party is capable of forming a government on its own in NI, so a coalition is inevitable, but it must be a coalition of choice, not compulsion, a coalition of the willing, not the truculent, a coalition sharing power, not dividing power, a coalition that works, not implodes, a coalition built on democracy, not statute, and above all a coalition capable of being voted out and replaced. That is democracy; this is totalitarism.”

Again nothing terribly startling in all this: it has been standard TUV fare for a while now and is what he suggested in April.

What was to my mind most interesting about the current speech was not merely the challenge to Robinson to accept that mandatory coalition has failed (outlined by Pete above) but also the offer to the DUP of TUV support if he were willing to abandon mandatory coalition:

“So the challenge Peter Robinson is to abandon mandatory coalition and the offer is to gain the support of all Unionists in going to the Prime Minister and saying, “We tried your mandatory coalition with Sinn Fein, even against the better judgement of some, but it doesn’t work, won’t work, can’t work and if you want devolution in Northern Ireland then it can only be on the terms that will work, and apply elsewhere, of voluntary coalition. But mandatory coalition is over, done, finished.”

The public understandably crave unionist unity, well here’s the basis upon which it can be attained and unite all unionists – those who thought Sinn Fein were fit for government, those who weren’t sure but thought they should give it a go and those of us who held they were never fit for government – all could be united in this irresistable conclusion that mandatory coalition is dead and the demand that devolution is only attainable through voluntary coalition. What Unionist, Democratic, Ulster or Traditional could disagree?

So rise to the challenge Mr Robinson, you have nothing to lose but the chains of mandatory coalition that bind you to Sinn Fein. I wish he would, but I fear the love of office will win the day.”

This offer can be seen in one of two ways: it could be seen as rather clever politics by Allister: it is turning Robinson’s claims of a desire for unionist unity back on him and suggesting that if Robinson was just willing to buy into a TUV agenda he could have unity. It also has some merit as part of a strategy to paint the DUP as the vote splitters for standing against the sitting TUV and UUP MEPs. I have always tended to regard this as a rather tongue in cheek strategy but that does not mean that it is without merit. This offer can and will no doubt be used on the doorsteps in an election campaign to claim that the TUV would like to have unity and do not really want to attack the DUP. It also appears to propose support if the DUP would only do what they have always said that they would like to do: namely move away from mandatory coalition. It does, however, require them to do this at Allister’s behest and according to his time frame.

The alternative way to look at it is that Allister really is trying to offer the DUP a way uniting unionism behind Robinson and DUP leadership. If the DUP did now pull out of power sharing and go to the government demanding renegotiation of the agreement they would gain the TUV’s support and more importantly stop the criticisms from stage right. In such a circumstance the UUP would also be completely wrong footed and would come under very considerable pressure to row in behind this unionist unity. It is possible that following this strategy Robinson might in very short order gain what he undoubtedly craves: unionism united behind his leadership.

Whatever Allister’s motives I suspect he expects the DUP to completely rebuff his suggestions: that would make the first option (the suggestion that the unity offer was a device) the only one for Allister. However, as Pete has suggested , the idea of the DUP accepting such an offer might (just might) be less barkingly mad than it seemed a few months ago. I suspect the stinging rebuff is much more likely from DUP, along with the suggestions that this is merely more spin from an irrelevant party which they are going to destroy at the polls come June. We will wait and see, though I will not be holding my breath. Still I had a nice day and real members of political parties (rather than bloggers) seem surprisingly normal: I still don’t know about that rattle though.