Such is the stunning enthusiasm of the TUV election workers that one begins to wonder if Jim Allister has made such a speech to them. The reality is of course that our leader whatever his many qualities is not really a Henry V figure; Allister is highly popular within the TUV, he is a good public speaker, an overwhelming hard worker and also in private a charming and friendly individual. However, he is not a supremely charismatic figure like Paisley. One wonders then how he has motivated a small and new political party to such an extent that in terms of postering and canvassing they are running equal to the UUP and DUP regarding visibility over most of the province. I would submit the reason is not the man but the idea and that is a major problem for the DUP.
The DUP (and indeed most people’s thesis) seems to be that the TUV is Allister’s vehicle to try to get re elected: that is true but it fails to understand its attraction. The DUP frequently attack Allister (which is fair enough) but in doing so I would submit they fail to understand the core nature of his appeal to many unionists.
That the DUP have forgotten that appeal seems bizarre since it is exactly the one which they made to the voters until they went into government. It is the appeal (as TUVists see it) of opposing unrepentant terrorists in government. That was the simple message of the DUP until after St Andrews (and indeed the UUP until Trimble’s leadership). It is a pretty basic and appealing concept to suggest that those who were in many cases involved in what unionists (and others) regard as the criminal activity of the past should not now be in government.
The DUP of course have a number of explanations for being in government with SF. They suggest that SF has changed or indeed been defeated. They also suggest that the current situation is more advantageous to unionists than Direct Rule was or would be. In truth the DUP may have some validity in some of these claims. However, all of this misses the central point to many unionists: that is that they do not agree with their political representatives sharing power with those whom they regard as criminals. Some TUV supporters may be persuadable to support the DUP by appeals to the dangers of vote splitting etc. However, there is a core of people who quite simply do not want their political representatives to participate in government in Stormont with Sinn Fein. To suggest to many such people that the alternative would be worse is actually counter productive: for them there is nothing politically worse than participating in a government with what they see as terrorists. It is that political ideal which I would submit motivates many TUV election workers. As such Jim Allister is merely their figure head: if it was not him they would coalesce around someone else.
There are of course other reasons why people may vote for Allister: it may be a protest vote against the current Stormont and Allister could scarcely ask for a better script that the current expenses saga to promote protest voting. In addition the current economic problems may promote protest voting. Some may feel that a shot across the DUP’s bows will help prevent any further planned concessions. A few may be willing to support power sharing with SF in certain circumstances (though probably not many). However, at the core of the TUV vote, I would submit is the objection to the current political deal and a desire to replace it.
The size of Allister’s constituency is completely unclear: I have always avoided making any predictions as I do not know how big it is; I see Jim Allister is also refusing to predict anything. I am reliably informed that a BBC journalist asked Jim Allister if he thought he could save his deposit when he put in his nomination papers. The truth is no one knows the size of the potential TUV constituency. One might suggest that the largely Belfast based media types are amongst the most poorly equiped to even guess at its size. People in Northern Ireland are notoriously reticient about admitting their political allegiances, especially if it they are quite hard line and even more so if they are admitting their views to a journalist. In addition members of the media spend relatively less time outside the Belfast Pale and it is out there amongst the large unionist constituencies in North and East Antrim, East Londonderry and Lagan Valley along with out here amid the dreary steeples where most TUVists are suspected to lurk. How these people are going to vote no one really knows until the votes are counted. However, I note that the predictions elsewhere have been rising recently and I have not noticed anyone ask Allister recently if he thinks he can save his deposit. Whatever happens, however, the TUVists seem willing to work themselves half to death for this election. If they fail they will politically Close the wall up with our English dead (well mainly not actually English but you get the idea). Defeat, if they do suffer it will not be for want of trying.