Jeffrey Donaldson and Coriolanus

The Tragedy of Coriolanus is about the Roman general Caius Martius who despite being arrogant and relatively unpopular in Rome wins a series of military victories against the Volscians which leads to him being given the title Coriolanus and proposed as consul. Such is his arrogance, however, that the citizens turn against him and he is banished. In revenge he joins with the Volscians and marches on Rome; only being persuaded to spare the city by his own family. It is a bit too unfair but the Northern Irish political character I most associate with Coriolanus’ self produced tragedy is Jeffrey Donaldson.
Donaldson was on the Politics Show yesterday and repeated the mantra that they topped the poll (with the added word unionist) and got Diane Dodds elected along with the suggestion that they had spent the last two weeks listening to the electorate in the aftermath of the European election. The idea that this was a relative success for the DUP and that two weeks would allow the DUP to analyse the lessons from the campaign displays breathtaking hubris from the Director of Elections. Jeffrey’s position was not in fairness helped by Jim Fitzpatrick asking him if he felt he could proudly wear the title of Director of Elections nor by David McNarry pointing out that his Westminster seat could be in jeopardy.

One of the problems for Donaldson is that he seems to have been appointed to his role of Director of Elections at least in part to continue the annihilation of the UUP so ably engineered by the UUP itself (with help from the DUP). At the time of course the DUP’s main aim was to gobble up as much as possible (preferably all) of the UUP vote and Donaldson being ex UUP was an excellent choice for that task. He has in the past made a great play of his understanding of the grass roots and seemed very proud of the fact that he (to his mind) brought so much of his UUP support over with him when he jumped ship. All of that made him an excellent choice to gradually whittle away what was left of the UUP until the DUP would be left as the only unionist party.

In those days, especially after the last Westminster elections, of course the idea that there would be a party more hard line than the DUP seemed highly unlikely; Bob McCartney’s flop at the last Stormont elections merely seemed to prove the point. Hence when Jim Allister left and the TUV appeared there was probably no terribly organised plan to deal with this eventuality. In those changed times Donaldson far from being an asset in having an insight into moderate unionist thinking became a liability: however, no one seems to have seen that problem.

At Dromore the DUP miscalculated and Donaldson, as the MP for the area, as well as Director of elections must take some of the blame. Indeed I seem to remember that Donaldson was an enthusiastic supporter of the plan to strangle the TUV at birth. This plan elevated that election in public importance and hence, the defeat when it came was more severe: a potential danger I raised at the time. After Dromore the DUP collectively failed to learn the lessons and the proportions of the unionist electorate played out in a very similar fashion in the European election. The strategy at the European election was to grasp harder at the same messages as usual failing to understand that the tighter the DUP squeezed its hands the more sand (voters) ran through them. Just like Coriolanus, Donaldson (and all the DUP) failed to be sufficiently humble following the Dromore experience and as such helped create the much greater mess they now find themselves in.

The fault is, however, far from Donaldson’s alone; as mentioned above when he was appointed Director of Elections the idea of the TUV danger seemed laughable. Even had it been appreciated, it might have appeared that Donaldson being an orangeman, exUDR and from a conservative evangelical background would have been able to understand the motivations of TUV typed voters. However, Donaldson like Robinson, Paisley and all the others either completely failed to see the danger coming or had no coherent strategy to deal with it.

Of course Coriolanus ended up failing to destroy Rome after his family pleaded for it. Not only has Donaldson failed to stop the problem of the TUV but he has also thus far failed to destroy the UUP: though that is presumably not because he is listening to pleas for his former party. Indeed in the last three elections (Dromore, Enniskillen and Europe) the DUP’s Director of Elections has only managed to convincingly defeat the UUP at Enniskillen and bringing Arlene Foster in to ensure victory there was such overkill that it smacked of a decision borne of weakness and not strength (winning with HMS Warspite is not actually that convincing). In truth at Dromore the UUP actually lost percentage share of the votes and the rise at Europe was less than brilliant. However, Donaldson’s dismissal of the now relatively buoyant UUP, semi accurate as it may be, again smacks of over confidence: an over confidence highly inappropriate from the DUP, still less from their supposed Director of Elections.

Donaldson’s star has been on the wane for some time. Once he was the clear leader of the rejectionist wing (40%) of the UUP and was well placed to become their next leader; once Trimble had completed his carefully constructed suicide plan. Instead Donaldson became de facto leader of the UUP defectors, later junior minister and rising star in the DUP, though not as prominent as that other UUP defector Arlene Foster. Although Donaldson’s recent removal from the junior minister’s position may be simply be to do with phasing out double jobbing, it could also be very easily seen as a demotion. Furthermore unless the DUP are truly stupid, the aftermath of the European election will require a greater response than what has so far happened. In that context Peter Robinson may well feel that a scape goat is necessary. Coriolanus, arrogant to the end, is killed by the Volscians angry that he spared Rome: a similar political fate may await Donaldson. I wonder is anyone inclined to play Tullus Aufidius?

  • Big Maggie


    I can’t help thinking that the Bard was punning in Latin there: Tullus Aufidius = Awful Tool

    Did you have any NI politician in mind? :^)

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “the aftermath of the European election will require a greater response than what has so far happened”

    By that I take it you mean a move that would bring the DUP closer to the TUV? I’m not sure tactically that is a good idea as the electorate would see the DUP only moving as a result of weakness and surely that would only encourage them to vote for the TUV who held their position on principle rather than on expediency.

    But one thing in the TUV’s favour – as encapsulated by their superb election slogan – “Better British rule that SF rule” is that this arguement may well have increasing resonance with the UU and the Unionist electorate as we await the appointment of a ‘Unionist’ prime minister in the shape of PoshBoyDC.

    The DUP – Robbo, Deputy Dodsy and big Ian all stated that the main reason they went into government with SF is that they were threatened with the big ROI papal stick and if that threat no longer exists because of Unionist PBDC then that arguement no longer holds.

    The key question is – if the Unionist people no longer have an appetitie for Stormo what exactly is PoshBoyDC going to do about it? Risk a return to a revamped republican campaign or rupture relations with Unionism and finish of the love affair with Wee Reggie. PoshBoyDC has declared his support for the GFA but he has not declared that like the labour party and the Tories before him he is prepared to to force-feed it to Unionism.

    The answer to that question will determine the fate of wee Jeffrey just as it will determine the fate of big Jimbo.

  • Seceder

    At last someone has decided to have a closer look at the roe played by Donaldson in the DUP vote collapse.

    While in the UUP he was never seen as a tactician nor as a strategist – yes he was popular but his boyish charms faded long ago.

    While a move to the right by the DUP may at first glance appeal to his hardline image, this image is only hardline compared with his UUP origins, and these origins run deep. He knows that the Belfast Agreement was a logical move, one with flaws but right at the time. he also knows that the St Andrews Agreement is not a better deal and the bogey in the centre of this remains the electoral clause – largest party gets the FM post – a clause he will be credited with achieveing along with Robbo – rightly or wrongly.

    Thus Wee Jeffrey is in problems, his new party was supposed to deliver ministerial glory and electoral security for him, so that he could achieve his personal political goal – PM of little Ulster – the problem is, his new party can’t deliver anymore and they aren’t going to give him the chance of higher office so Jeffrey’s looking at his own plan B.

    Beware Jeffrey’s on the move again – ambition is a powerful drug and with no role at Stormont now Jeffrey will be eyeing up a cabinet seat in London – watch this space Wee Jeffrey will be in the Tory PArty before the next election – that way he will save his own version of rome!

  • I’ve always been quite sympathetic towards Coriolanus. Not so much Jeffrey though.

  • Let’s go back a step.

    Who remembers the furore about 42 days? At that moment, Frank Millar wrote a column for the Irish Times, mainly about
    * Mad Iris Robinson’s homophobia

    All the yarn she spun in Ulysses’ absence did but fill Ithaca full of moths [Cor. I.iii.93]

    * the up-coming

    Chaste as the icicle
    That’s curdied by the frost from purest snow,
    And hangs on Dian’s temple
    [Cor. V.iii.65]

    Mad Nads Dorries’ attack on reproductive rights:

    Amid speculation about the imminent renewal of the link between the Tories and Ulster Unionists,… a senior Tory source told The Irish Times : “When you think of everything David Cameron has done in an effort to detoxify the Conservative brand, an arrangement with somebody who has expressed such views about homosexuality and the role of government is just impossible.”

    As DUP leader, Mr Robinson has had several meetings with Mr Cameron over the past fortnight as part of a mutual effort to “mend fences” after the DUP’s nine MPs backed Mr Brown’s proposal to permit the detention of terror suspects for up to 42 days without charge in certain conditions.

    That was also one of the items called in evidence by Paul Bew —

    His nature is too noble for the world:
    He would not fltter Neptune for his trident,
    Or Jove for ‘s power to thunder. His heart’s his mouth
    What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent.
    [Cor. III.i.254]

    — in an article I have cited in another thread:

    What has moved David Cameron to attempt a new alliance with Sir Reg Empey and the Ulster Unionists? What has moved Sir Reg Empey, a senior minister in the Northern Ireland executive, to bring his party into this new close alignment with the Conservatives?

    For Cameron, the calculations are clear. He wishes to push the Conservatives out of their English ghetto and to give a real meaning to his commitment to the United Kingdom as a whole. For Sir Reg, too, there are clear benefits…

    … few believe that the DUP is as strong today as it was in 2005…

    That said, this is still a gamble for Cameron. The DUP, for all its current difficulties, remains the stronger party. Why did Cameron not do the deal with Peter Robinson rather than Reg Empey?

    There are a few too many rhetorical questions there —

    The beast
    With many heads butts me away
    [Cor. IV.i.1]

    — for Bew to be convincing — and, quite frankly, the article doesn’t greatly advance the sum of human knowledge. It is, however, open to the possible interpretation that, for sheer numerical reasons, the Cameroonies considered — in different circumstances would have welcomed — a formal link with the DUP:

    Nature teaches beasts to know their friends [Cor. II.i.6]

    I suspect that this whole morass is too deep for

    this Triton of the minnows [Cor. III.i.88],

    Donaldson (indeed, for pretty well every NI politico, to be fair). Quite obviously a hypothetical Cameron government would not have the licence of a Cameroonie opposition: if noting else, the GFA requirement of “rigorous impartiality” will have to be maintained, or the whole structure topples. Either way, the game is not played out yet. So,

    Bid them wash their faces,
    And keep their teeth clean.

    For, indeed,

    What is the city but the people? [Cor.III.i.98]

    (a notion nicked from Sophocles, as I recall).

  • Zoon Poltikon

    Gosh its true: “He who wields the knife….”

  • Cushy Glenn

    I don’t always agree with Turgon’s analogies, but Coriolanus is spot on for the wee man. With apologies to the more modern musical reference “If the Euro election was heinous- kick him right in the Coriolanus”…

  • Frustrated democrat

    Donaldson maybe is more like Icarus he has flown too close to the sun and his descent to oblivion would therefore be rapid. Was Arlene or IPJ Daedalus is the question?

    There is no refuge in the Conservatives or the UUP as he is not trusted by anyone there. The question for the DUP is, was he the Trojan horse to destroy them from within or was he a Greek (or in the Trojan analogy Turk) bearing bountiful gifts, whichever he is now soiled goods as a twice failed Director of Elections.

    The LV seat is looking rockier by the day an he himself could become Daedalus instead of Icarus as he swoops too low to defeat.


    ‘Rigorous impartiality’ is not neutrality they are two entirely differnt concepts, Camerons’ strategy is quite transparent for those who listen to his statements

  • Cushy Glenn

    ..actually on reflection JD is more a Michael Jackson clone.

    Hasn’t had a hit for many years, supporting a horde of talentless retainers on the strength of his name, and with a female companion from that pack recently much more popular than him; barely recognisable from when he was in his pomp and out of touch with reality; as his options close down, and the media spotlight to which he has been addicted for years looks elsewhere he goes for one last hurrah in reprising the tried and tested formula.
    Somewhere we’ve all got a Jeffrey tune or two in our house but we’d be a bit embarassed now to bring it out…

  • Frustrated democrat @ 01:50 PM:

    I’ve just deflated that quibble @ 2:00 PM on the parallel thread.

  • GGN

    Never mind Coriolanus, what about Barry Doyle?
    Are he and Jeffery ever seen in the same room?

    They sound too similar for them to be different people.

    Double jobbing Jeffery? Wiggle wiggle?

  • Seceder

    Cushy – Wish I had thought of the Michael Jackson analogy, it works perfectly.

    The politician that never grew up! All we wait for now are more of the embarrassing moments – like his recent Catholics owe allegiance to the pope nonsense etc

    But unlike Jackson wee Jeffrey may succeed in staging a comeback concert or two – but he’s finished manipulated into situations he’s uncomfortable with, lost without direction and discarded because he no longer delivers.

    As has been said of Michael Jackson – ultimately SAD rather than BAD.

  • I’ve always thought that Jeffrey was more of a Daniel O’Donnell than a Daniel O’Connell.

  • Zoon Politikon

    Wee Jeffrey may be in trouble in LV however the man from the UUP (Basil MLA) is gaining his own cult status as a man disliked in equal measure. Indeed the rate at which Basil rubbed people up the wrong way is exponentially higher that the sitting MP. If Basil seeks to stand for Westminster next year he will be obliged to garner the patronage of the local Conservatives but does he really want to be sent to Coventry (sic) given the double-jobbing convention rule that will see him away from the media spotlight?

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    Okay Slabberfest 09: who wants to take me up on the bet that the wee man holds his seat? You name the sum, I’mm match any and all comers: Donaldson holds his seat at the next general, and not one of you mouths thinks otherwise.

  • I’ll plead guilty of war crimes across the board if only these rivetting analogies cease.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    £10 says he doesn’t win. Winnings to Slugger.

  • Big Maggie


    “I’ve always thought that Jeffrey was more of a Daniel O’Donnell than a Daniel O’Connell.”

    What a slur on the Lark of Donegal, a giant who has always remained true to his path! Wee Jeffrey on the other hand is a turncoat. That he chose the wrong party to defect to must be terribly embarrassing to all concerned. He thought that his anti-Fenian bigotry would find a good home with the DUP, then they let him down by embracing power-sharing.

    Could he jump ship again, this time to the TUV. Why not? Once a turncoat always a turncoat.

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    My bet: my winnings. And *you* can pay me my winnings at the Bawbybowl, by the shrine’s giftshop, with the Sinn Fein Policing & Justice Minister looking on.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat”. So said the pro Home Ruler Winston Churchill


    thems my terms – winner gives money to Slugger.

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    Sammy, if you want to run away from the bet *I’ve* offered almost as quickly as you’ve run away run away from all dat stuff about da Bowbybowl, da shrine, P&J, etc, etc, etcetera – go right ahead. I’d have been astonished if you had done anything else.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    the substantive issue is betting on whether Jeffrey wins the seat – in any bets I have placed on Slugger the winnings go to Slugger (I have won a couple and lost a couple)- if you agree to that then the bet is on if you dont the bet is not on.

    Jeffrey will be odds on to win this one but as it is for a good cause – what the feck.

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    Sammy, why am I even surprised that when someone does something as conventional as offering a bet, it’s you who somehow finds a way to be weird even about that? If you don’t want to accept the bet I’ve offered, fine, just say so & run off. Spare us all this ‘jibber-jabber’ though..

  • dub

    gotta love the way that the play ball not man rule is so consistently applied on this site

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    You don’t love it enough to start paying for it.

  • Canadian Observer

    I remember sitting in the members bar of Stormont with Jeffery and about 15 others. It was a Saturday afternoon following one of the early UUC meetings in 1999. I remember Jeffery walking in and punching his fist in the air.

    “We won a great victory today!” Jeffery exclaimed. The rabble applauded and wooped rather loudly. As the self congratulatory back slapping subsided I pointed out that we had just got over 42% of the vote, the other side had got 58% of the vote. Now I am not math genius but I think that is a defeat. I was told by Jeffery not to be negative, the percentage share of the vote had gone up. At each meeting the vote would get higher and eventually we would beat him. I questioned him on his grand plan to topple Trimble. He went through all the hard work we were going to do and basically did a third rate motivational speech. I pointed out that his strategy was this – keep having meetings and just bore/bully the UUC into voting his way. Eventually we were bound to win because, well just we were bound to win.

    I remember the late Ernie Baird was standing with Jeffery nodding enthusiastically at all Jeffery was saying. I was shocked that someone as astute as Ernie would be sucked in by Jeffery’s “tactics.” I called Mr Baird after the meeting and I asked him if he thought Jeffery was going to lead us anywhere. He told me he didn’t think so but Jeffery was all we had. I promptly left the UUP if Jeffery was all we had then God bless us.

    I now say the same to the good people of the DUP executive. If Jeffery and his “tactics” are all you have to see off the TUV then God bless you. Jeffery’s tactic will be let’s just see them off, time will make them go away. Jeffery knows it because Jeffery says it.

    Jeffery will lead you know where – get him out of the director of elections position as fast as you can. My suggestion for the director position would be Simon Hamilton, make the witch before Jeffery sinks the ship.

  • Big Maggie

    Canadian Observer,


    No offence but I’d have a discreet word with my spell checker if I were you. Or are you confusing a meeting you had with University Underwater Club of Australia, attended by this chap? :^)

  • Canadian Observer

    Thanks big Maggie – head hung in shame. I guess just typing into this comments box rather than cutting and pasting from word is a big mistake! It’s a sad indictment on society that we need spell checks my friend!

    I have cut and pasted this one – so hopefully it’s better than my shameful grammar and spelling above!!! Although I doubt it.

  • Zoon Politikon

    It is ironic that in a democracy to do right, you must be elected, and to be elected, you must do what is popular, if it be wrong. Maybe Jeffrey is just catch 22.