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?

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.