DUP must learn the political advantage of making friends and influencing people…

Brian Feeney riffs on Jimmy Durante’s possibly apocryphal aphorism: “Be nice to people goin’ up, because you’re going to meet them all comin’ down”… He offers it in regard to the DUP and its current propensity to conjure up bête noire almost at moment’s notice… And in terms of recent occasions he has a point with regard to the Hillary Clinton address:

Do they think no-one noticed the boorish behaviour of Gregory Campbell and Willie McCrea when they didn’t applaud Hillary Clinton and walked out in case they had to stand up?Campbell’s crass impertinent excuse “we all have important business to do particularly the economic regeneration of NI” is doubly insulting.

Firstly, anyone who read his speech in the House of Commons in July 2008 on what is laughingly called the NI economy will know that he hadn’t a single new idea about the economy, that he predicted oil prices would remain at their record high level for 12 to 15 months and demanded unspecified action to improve the economy.

This is not to be confused by the enormous pressure being applied from all sides on the party to sign up to policing and justice… What goes largely unsaid is that it is mostly in order to save Sinn Fein’s embarrassment regarding the promises it has made to its supporters at that fateful Ard Fheis (held at the very last possible minute) early in 2007.

But, as Feeney points out, ‘the walkout’ was politically inept insofar as the DUP pair. And since they denied it only minutes afterwards, it suggests the gentlemen in question themselves understand just how pointless their gesture had been…

…wilfully ignored the increased investment by the US company Navinet coinciding with Clinton’s visit and was a deliberate challenge to the US government linking investment to progress in devolving policing and justice.

What’s more instructive is that the behaviour of DUP MPs is a direct challenge to their party leader whose weakness is displayed to all by the indiscipline and rudeness of his own party members.

Yet it is not the roughness of the DUP’s approach that’s conditioning the atmosphere in which they currently operate. A huge chunk of the media and political establishment seem determined to ignore the fact that the current impasse arises directly from Sinn Fein’s freezing of the legislative process (by wicked irony under measures brought in through St Andrews by the DUP)…

Such wilful blindness (See previously: I can’t see anything) does the overall quality of political debate no favours (and no, not all of the blame for the poor state of Northern Irish politics can be attached exclusively to politicians themselves), but Feeney has a point when he questions Peter Robinson’s capacity to lead:

Sadly, at a time when unionism needs someone who could confidently lay out the future direction of unionism sharing control of the north, we’re stuck with a pedestrian bean counter who can’t even convince his dimmer members that it does matter in politics if no-one likes you.

It was a question many of us asked long before Mr Robinson assumed the mantle of leader. Maintaining grace, tone and unity under fire is a tall order for any leader under such consistently one-sided fire… And egress is complicated by the fact he has no objective metrics to measure that much talked about ‘confidence’ when he can ‘legitimately’ push the devolution issue over the end line…

In 2003 we wrote:

1066 and All That tells us that the English Civil War was ‘an extremely memorable struggle between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Romantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive). In future struggles, unionists need to be both right and attractive. For that, a bolder, more far sighted unionism will be needed. In a ‘long peace’, after all, people must want the Union for it to survive.

Despite the DUP’s current dominance (which makes any future split damaging but not necessarily fatal as it was to the Trimble project), the emergence of an intelligent (and in parts liberal) challenge from Jim Allister’s TUV from the ‘constitutional right’ and the splendid opportunism of the UCU-NF to its ‘constitutional left’ it cannot bet on an indefinite future if it is serious about retaining undisputed leadership of unionism into the medium or longer term….

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