DUP: On the need to employ good authority…

I won’t try to gainsay anything Fair Deal says in his 1000th, and sadly last, post for Slugger.In the News Letter Nick Whyte reckons it’s back to 1998 and, if not quite to the foot of a Sysiphusian hill, then some way back down it for the DUP. Is there just a hint of local pride in the Newtownabbey Times that the local boy done good? One suspects that, more generally a touch Schardenfreude is in the mix too. The way the DUP has behaved towards government partners inside the Executive as part of that semi detached Polit-bureau, will have increased the motivation of their opponents during the campaign, and sweetened the victory of a political entity whose ambitions threatens the very future of the political dispensation.Fionnuala O’Connor notes that the Dodds campaign may have bolstered the fortunes of the opponent she refused to shake hands with in the King’s Hall:

Doesn’t the handbook say never talk up the opponent? But the Diane Dodds campaign did that from the outset, by picturing the nightmare should unionism be pushed out of the top seat. It could not be permitted. Northern Ireland must have a unionist champion in Europe to stop Sinn Féin gloating, and the top MEP must have a Northern accent – the last a swipe at Bairbre de Brún’s Southern vowels. The DUP’s campaign and the dud Dodds soundbites duly made de Brún the voice of Ulster.

No amount of entrail-examination will be able to prove it. There remain suspicions that Dodds not only alienated DUP voters, already galled by tales of Westminster expenses, by feeding a crude mixed message, but that she also brought de Brún votes beyond the reach of Sinn Féin itself – far from confident about the result as they were. A fair sprinkling of last-minute nationalists may have been irked out to vote, by the suggestion that it is unionism’s right to come top of the poll. [emphasis added]

But here’s the killer line:

The DUP (and Sinn Féin) cannot stand still and cannot go back. The DUP will win back no votes by saying “this is terrible but it’s the best we can do”, as Robinson said this week. They need to tell their people the truth – that in a deeply divided society it is desirable and necessary for the common good to share power and responsibility. The current position where they work with Sinn Féin, or profess to work alongside them, while saying they are smashing them, simply invites ridicule. It also treats their supporters as idiots. Paisley got away with that for decades, but Paisley in his prime was a rare phenomenon.

There’s more than an echo in that in Eoghan Harris’s 2004 meditation on the uses of authority:

“Representing your people, right or wrong, is simply bad authority. Bad authority is calling your neighbour’s children to order. Good authority is calling your own children to order. Bad authority blocks the solution to any political problem. That is why RTE damages the NI peace process by being nasty to Prods and nice to Provos. That is why America damages the Palestine peace process by favouring Israelis over Palestinians”.

Which reminds me of that recent speech in Cairo… Bold intentions to strike for a future markedly different from the discordant past are never guaranteed success… But it’s about time one of the parties to this indigenous deal began to try it… There are others showing an appetite to try it, if they won’t…

If they weren’t obvious before, the penalties of further vacillation must now be palpable to anyone on the inside of the DUP at least…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty