Does the DUP understand the TUV?

Fair_deal has recently written an excellent article on Open Unionism on things the DUP should do to minimise further damage at the Westminster and Stormont elections. I would disagree with very little of it, though (I suspect like fair_deal) I would like the DUP in addition to move its political stance. The DUP’s discourse about, and attacks on the TUV have always been fairly vitriolic as indeed have the TUV’s on the DUP. It sometimes seems as if the DUP feel that the TUV have no right to exist and that that is what helps breed the vitriol: the TUV’s hatred of the DUP is equally problematic but I will not discuss that here.

When Dr. Paisley first set up the party along with Dessie Boal all those years ago, it was one of a number of unionist parties set up to be more politically hard line than the then dominant Ulster Unionist Party. For some time in the early 1970s it was unclear which of these assorted parties would become dominant but eventually through political skill as well as a degree of good fortune the DUP managed to become the natural home of the more constitutionally, if not necessarily socio-economically, “right wing.The DUP excelled as the party of choice for harder line unionists: it, and its leader, were always there to denounce any betrayal by the British Government; any meddling by the Irish; comment from the Americans; or, possibly most importantly, Lundy-ism by the UUP. In that they were in a way supported even by some in the UUP. The DUP could almost be seen as keeping the UUP “honest” and indeed if they ever tried to “do a Lundy,” there would be the DUP as the bulwark: the place of political refuge for unionists throughout the troubles and after the ceasefires. As one of my friends once almost blasphemously suggested “We are safe beneath Paisley’s wings.”

In that context the DUP and its leader revelled in their image as the party of “Never, never, never, never.” Compared to the equally constitutionally hard line Jim Molyneaux, Paisley nevertheless appeared firmer: a rock on which successive attempts by the British government or anyone else to create a compromise disadvantageous to unionists would flounder. Throughout the troubles and afterwards most liberal unionists, especially those around Belfast, may have publicly decried Paisley, may have voted UUP but privately had huge regard for The Big Man who would never let them down: a regard demonstrated in crushing European election victory after election victory. After the announcement of the Euro result when Dr. Paisley burst into the Doxology they might have tutted but they knew they had done the needful and kept the union safe.

That is the narrative the DUP leader and the party appear to have bought into completely. They genuinely seemed to see themselves as the bulwark, the defenders of Ulster: the idea that anyone might be more hard line then them could not be taken seriously. Occasionally someone arose who tried to be such a thing. However, if they were loyalist paramilitaries they could never gain support due to their violence: alternatively they seemed to be firebrands (often thrown out of the DUP for being mad) like George Seawright who could easily be dismissed as political lunatics.

It is in that context that the DUP’s approach to the TUV threat needs to be seen. To some in the DUP the fact that they agreed to enter power sharing must mean that it was the best deal conceivably achievable. For the DUP to have agreed to anything less would have been Lundy-ism and since the DUP are (in some of their own members’ analysis) incapable of being Lundies, then by definition, the deal is the best possible. It is of course a circular argument but if one buys into it, it is actually fairly persuasive. It is, I would submit, a similar argument to that which quite often occurs in the fundamentalist Protestant religious circles in which many of the same sort of people move. The idea that places other than Northern Ireland and churches other than our own fundamentalist evangelical ones here in NI could be equally as bible based; equally as morally uncompromising; equally as fundamentalist is an odd one and almost unbelievable.

Once one understands this, one can make sense of some of their approach to the TUV. If the TUV say that the deal is flawed and a sell out, that can only mean that the TUV are, at best, a bunch of lunatics. Since the unionist population have, throughout recent political history, been very good at spotting political lunatics and not voting for them, it followed that the DUP could effectively ignore the lunatic fringe. The fact that the TUV was led by a serious former DUP politician in Jim Allister who was far from a lunatic and also far from a loyalist firebrand like Seawright was simply ignored. Since Allister had left the DUP and denounced them, that must mean that he was a lunatic. The possibility that the DUP had shifted position from their previously held one was either impossible and completely denied, or if one allowed a little insight to supervene, was indicative of the clear fact that the deal was the best one imaginable and any other decision would have spelt disaster for Ulster. For the DUP to have agreed to anything less would be a sell out and since the DUP did not do sell outs and were not Lundies; any deal was the best one. To misquote: Carlsberg do not do … but if they did they would be the best in the world.

Using a very similar analysis, if the TUV were not lunatics then they must be Lundies themselves. Since the DUP was the repository of all unionist political righteousness, for any party to be bitterly opposed to them,that party must be Lundies. However, since the TUV claimed to be to the constitutional right of the DUP if they were not Lundies in the conventional sense they must be a different form of Lundy: closet republicans, intent on destroying the best agreement conceivably possible (best because it was created by the DUP). Hence, the easy claim that the TUV if not Lundies in the conventional sense or lunatics must be closet republicans or if not that then accidental unintentional closet republicans.

These narratives have proven themselves to be spectacularly ineffective as a basis for regaining that segment of the DUP vote which has defected to the TUV (a little over one third of the DUP vote at its 2005-7 zenith). They have of course been ineffective because of the unionist electorate’s collective ability to spot political lunatics and the decision that Jim Allister and the TUV are not actually mad. In addition most of the DUP electorate can see that the St Andrews’ Agreement is a compromise: a pretty good compromise for unionists maybe, but a compromise nonetheless.

After Dromore the DUP completely failed to heed the warnings and collectively decided that it was a flash in the pan; that it was too small an election to draw any conclusions from and that the whole thing was essentially irrelevant. That was an enormous mistake and that mistake led to not taking the TUV threat seriously enough; we saw the results of that error written on Diane Dodds’s face as she listened to Jim Allister’s speech on election night.

It seemed after the European elections that the DUP might be facing up to the task in hand: Robinson declared his intention to act on double jobbing; there was an acceptance that the DUP needed to listen to the electorate and appear less arrogant. However, with time and circumstances I am not entirely sure that the DUP have genuinely altered their position and again we hear the excuses for the European result coming out: Dodds was a poor candidate whereas Allister was a good one; the expenses and double jobbing scandals; a general lack of confidence in politics and politicians; the unimportance of the European election; that it was a flash in the pan. All of these may be true: however, they do not disguise the simple fact that over a third of their electorate deserted the DUP and that was the third of which they were once most sure.

The DUP may be able to bounce back: they may yet come through to destroy the TUV and inflict further damage on the UUP. However, if they are to do that they need to think about their messages. In doing so they need to think about their problems: apparently they are doing so and have asked consultants from various places to help. I do not know if they have done so but they would be wise to heed fair_deal’s advice especially in thinking about and understanding the core votes they lost to the TUV. If they can manage that then they may be able to defeat the TUV. However, one thing they are going to have to stop is pretending that the TUV in general and Allister in particular are lunatics or closet republicans: that trick failed totally last time.

  • Rory Carr

    There, there, Turgon. Of course you TUV’ers aren’t mad. No, no, no one’s saying that, dear. You’re not completely ga-ga. That would be much too strong. Just a little confused that’s all. Post-traumatic stress syndrome. Easily treatable. A wee bit of rest and TLC is all that’s required and before long all this imagining of leprachauns and fiendish papish plots will seem like a distant forgotten bad dream.

    And don’t feel too bad about all this. It is perfectly natural for people to become deeply stressed after a family break-up, when all the world you once thought secure and permanent suddenly fractures around you and the comforting father-figure who had been such a rock and stalwart defense against alien threat was discovered to be sleeping with the enemy. It’s enough to break anyone’s heart.

    Best thing to do now is to pray for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can and the wisdom the know the difference.

    Alternatively, you could always decide to say, “Sod this for a lark !” and begin getting absolutely blotto. Cheers!

  • third class honours

    As I explain when canvassing, anyone who doesn’t vote 5_@ is just stupid.

  • Framer

    It is all too late for the DUP. As splitters they should know. A third of their vote, the intransigents and fundamendalists, has gone, gone for ever to the TUV and, if necessary, the UUP.

    What’s left is divided between ex-UUP voters and core political/dynastic supporters. Only that final third is reliable.

    In PR elections the DUP will no longer be the bigger party and all that effort since the 1950s to destroy the UUP and big house unionism will have been in vain. But at what a cost.

    The second ambition of killing off and replacing the Presbyterian Church hasn’t worked either. Secularism is doing that.

    The Westminster election being first past the post and with 9 DUP incumbents should be a better result for the party with perhaps only a couple of losses.

    But the party is stymied beyond that by having only sons or Free P. MLAs in the second rank as potential new candidates.

    We are back in the 1950s (except that SF are co-drivers at Stormont). Nobody notices and fewer care.

    Time for Robbo to sweeten up, and be magnanimous, especially when it comes to Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast to please more of his potential and deserting voters.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Many of the same considerations that apply to the DUP equally apply to SF – it is a fact of political life, much like in commercial life, that where there is a gap in the market someone will endeavour to fill it. So with the TUV and the Republican dissers.

    But the crucial difference between the TUV and the Republican dissers is the succcess of the former in growing the anti-agreement niche Unionist market established in the space left by the DUP (their manifesto promised to Smash SF not faciltiate them supplying the First Minister) and just as we would measure the succcess of any conventional product by the size of the sales we can gauge the succces of the TUV by the size of its vote.

    That is what makes politics so interesting, based as it is on human behaviour (and Irish behaviour at that), and as it is with economics – nobody can fully explain how events have landed us where we are or predict acccurately where we are heading – and as with the rise in the Southern Irish territories of the Celtic Tiger perhaps Brand TUV, having appeared suddenly as if from nowhere*, will when we wake up in the Northermn Irish territories after the Westminsters – be no longer with us.

    * Turgon at what point in the run up to the Euros do you think the DUP realised there was a serious problem?

  • Interested


    Is it not the case the TUV dont understand the DUP, is it not true that sectarian hatred in a small section of Unionism cant see past this, to see that Unionism did get a better deal, that the Union is safe that Sinn Fein have been stopped.

  • Jud

    I know its a rhetorical question, but is there any prospect of the DUP taking a shot at conventional politics? History points to a constant revolving door of unionist parties on the inside being supplanted by the party who sells itself as the real defender of the union – and them as traitors of course.
    Surely the DUP acknowledge they are now on the inside and the normal flow of things will see them cast out as Lundys.
    The clock is ticking and the DUP don’t seem to be interested in changing the channel on the TUV. Rather than driving to be seen as a successful political force – by using the time left to them to reinvent the north via bread and butter issues – they seem destined to fizzle out in a slagging match on the TUV’s pet topic.

  • kevin barry

    The real difference between the TUV and Republican dissidents’ popularity in there respective communities(or lack of for the latter) lies in the DUP and SF’s abilities in showing how the young turks have nothing progressive or achievable to offer and being honest about where things are going.

    While the DUP has engaged in the old unionist game of ‘Who hate’s the Shinners the most’ with the TUV, SF has had a far more successful time in painting the dissidents as dinosaurs whose strategy of continued counter insurgency and boycott of local institutions is neither desirable nor the way forward.

    Unfortunately, there will always be people who do not want to share power with nationalists, but the DUP needs to speak to the community honestly and let people know that a shared future with SF in government is the only show in town.

  • DerTer


    I always enjoy your contributions but, generally speaking, only when they are short and incisive. I’m afraid this one is far too long and, in the end, inconsequential. Sadly the TUV, despite having some important things to say, sounds more and more stridently silly – I heard your leader’s speech today and thought ‘Oh no – not again’. We’ve been round these houses before, and after the Leprechaun language gaffe, perhaps a bit of restraint on the faux-Paisley rhetoric would have been in order.





  • Greenflag


    ‘nobody can fully explain how events have landed us where we are ?’

    O ye of little faith Sammy 😉

    If you don’t know where you are going -you will end up somewhere else ,which applies just as much to political parties as individuals 😉

    ‘or predict acccurately where we are heading ‘

    The answer to this question lies in the answer above . When the results of the ‘going’ leads eventually to Else then wherever Else is will be a pointer to where ‘we ‘ are heading .

    In the context of the TUV -Else is likely to be a spot in the middle of the NI sorry Saharan political desert .When they get there and look out at the new horizon it’ll be just the same sand that faced the UUP at one time -the DUP at another . ‘Unionism ‘ is destined to wander around in ever diminishing circles in the political desert that NI was/is and can never be other . Theirs is a desert without an oasis. The promised land is always alas just out of reach . One would think that by now some would have concluded that this promised land deal is a bit like the horizon in the Sahara . The nearer they come to it the further it goes away .

  • Greenflag

    Turgon ,

    As lengthy and as convulsive a piece of political navel gazing as I’ve ever seen in the annals of slugger . Those whom the Gods wish to destroy etc comes to mind . Allister is no Paisley. He has nothing to offer NI unionism anymore than Paisley had or Robinson has now orany other Unionist leader had in truth in the past . Had Faulkner been successful I believe many lives would have been saved . But then he was a lundy too eh ? Just like Captain O’Neill, Chichester Clark , David Trimble , Molyneaux , Paisley , Robinson and no doubt Allister in due course .

    But look on the bright side . Unionism will unite once SF take the First Minister’s job . But it will be at the cost of all of the MLA’s losing their jobs as ‘Unionism ‘ once more heads into another political desert .