Turning finally to my own lot. This is a critical election for the TUV, more so than for any of the other parties. Whilst defeat at the election would not deprive the UUP or DUP of their major political stage, it would for the TUV. As such a good showing is vital if the early momentum of the party is to be continued. This is an enormous task for a small organisation.
In Jim Allister the TUV have their single most potent weapon. He is in fairness not a hugely charismatic figure. However, few would pretend that he is anything other than a serious politician and has become a proper expert on European issues. In addition he has helped a significant number of businesses and is seen as the farmer’s friend. He has a capacity for hard work and is clearly utterly committed to criss crossing the country chasing down the votes. However, he has not received a vast amount of press coverage in the recent past and although it will undoubtedly increase in the run up to the election it is unlikely to match that of the other two unionist parties.
Recently with the resurgence of violence one might argue that the coming together shown would damage the TUV. That is, however by no means certain; I have previously suggested a possible multi phase response to what has happened. It may have weakened the TUV, alternatively it may actually have strengthened their position in the longer term. The sight of Robinson and McGuinness together and their improved body language makes an interesting contrast to the fact that McGuinness is off to Rosslea today to pay homage to the likes of the murderers of Douglas Deering. That and the fear that compromise is in the offing over policing and justice and even the Maze shrine may worry some unionists: not the liberals nor the fully signed up DUPers but they are not the ones who matter in this context.
The recent rows over expenses and the feeling that the executive is not achieving much over the economy may also play into the TUV’s hands. I said in the blog on the DUP that Northern Ireland does not have a big tradition of protest voting. However, in the past there was no government against which to protest vote and in addition the closest to protest voters were hard line unionists. As such Allister may be well positioned to pick up some protest votes: how many there will be I have no idea. There is also the fact that some even DUPers may feel that a shot across the DUP’s bows would be a useful way to ensure the DUP makes no further concessions and indeed that the government does not try to require more concessions of them. In that context there is of course no better shot across the bows than a vote for the TUV.
Of course there are major problems for the TUV. It is a small and new party and no matter how enthusiastic its members and how experienced in campaigning they are, they do not have the solid bedrock of a large cadre of councillors, advice centres, workers etc. Money is also a problem though without betraying too many confidences I believe that situation has improved greatly recently. Further problems are the lack of major elected leaders apart from Allister. This means that it is difficult to always provide a spokesperson on demand, a problem which will accentuate the relative lack of media attention.
The TUV need to try to pick up protest votes as I have suggested. They also need to repeatedly suggest that they have not changed position but the DUP have. There are dangers in that of seeming too hard line but those will be less serious as the DUP will almost certainly run a hard line campaign trying to suggest how little they have liberalised. As well as protest votes, however, Allister needs to demonstrate his hard work for the electorate. The most difficult task, however, is to put forward the positive alternative vision of the TUV. That will be especially difficult as all the other parties and the British government have a vested interest in not supporting an alternative. Allister needs to put forward the voluntary coalition model time after time and remind people that that is also the DUP’s stated long term goal. However, in addition he must be realistic and point up the potential advantages or at least non disadvantages of the collapse of Stormont. There are undoubtedly potential advantages to be suggested especially in a time of recessions and general cynicism about politicians. However, the easy counter from the DUP is always that the alternative would be a Hain like devolution. There are counters to that but they are complex and difficult to get across quickly. The only one which might be easily deployable and generally understood is to point out that the next administration is likely to be a Conservative one. However, again the counter to that is to recount the list of Tory sell outs of the unionist population.
More than anything the problem is that no one has any real idea about the level of TUV support in general or at this election. The conventional wisdom is that it is mainly outside the Pale which simply makes things more difficult to assess. Members of the media and the political classes are mainly Belfast based and as such have little idea of the support. Added to that is the notorious reticence of people to admit their support for harder line political groups; this is merely accentuated in the areas outside Belfast especially border areas. Two people I work with only admitted their support when I told them of my membership: prior to that I had no idea that they had pro TUV views.
To bring this long and rather untidy series of blogs to a close. I mentioned Pandora’s box at the start. When all the evils had come out of the box: at the bottom was hope. That hope is what drives all the parties in this election. However, I honestly submit that although one can suggest what one thinks is the most likely scenario it is no more than a function of one’s own hope or pessimism. To begin to suggest numbers of votes for each of the parties is so impossibly difficult in the presence of so many factors, so many of which are new that in reality Chaos theory is a fairly good summary.