On the danger of being unprepared for regional politics…

All manner of people who never express an opinion on Northern Ireland from one end of the year to the other have leapt into the fray now Downing Street is briefing against the Tory intervention two weekends ago… (welcome to the world of obfuscation and pain that is Northern Ireland Nick!)… But first a word from an old mucker from the Daily Telegraph who starts with the bleedin’ obvious

The coverage this morning is roundly condemnatory of the DUP, and after the Iris Robinson saga who can object? But it seems a stretch to lambast Mr Cameron for doing his job as a unionist politician, which should be to find political ways to ensure Sinn Fein doesn’t end up the winner as the result of the failure of Unionism in Northern Ireland to get its electoral act together. As for the role played by the Marquess of Salisbury, call me retro but isn’t it refreshing to find at least one politician who hasn’t forgotten that republicanism and communism are bad for for the United Kingdom?

Except that what most of the cross channel correspondents are getting wrong (and who’s going to put them right, since besides Gordon Brown the DUP haven’t a friend left in Westminster to stand up for them), is that by the book, it is Sinn Fein’s problem we’re talking about here not the DUP’s

Even David Blackburn at the Spectator puts the blame firmly on the DUP:

Knowing that the DUP is on the cusp of succumbing to the rhythm method, Robinson has made himself the obstacle to power-sharing. He has procrastinated over devolved policing for nearly three years – finance, regulation, marching rights; he has used every possible pretext to defer to Whitehall. Now it seems likely that Sinn Fein’s patience is exhausted. The possible implications are obvious.

Of course, Mr Blackburn misses the point (which is not surprising since the BBC have been misreporting the detail of the St Andrews deal right from the beginning), in that this latest crisis is an attempt ditch an agreement that put Sinn Fein on the wrong of the truth in what they had to tell their own supporters…

Well? Well, tough. Politics is a rough trade and few parties (with the notable exception of their partners Sinn Fein) have played it rougher than the DUP… If you make no friends on the way up, you’ll have none on the way down either… But I’ve no doubt the DUP is already aware of the mortality of its own situation… The shift in focus from them to the apparent beneficiaries of their discomfort, will be welcome break for that party…

In the meantime, at this stage they may already feel that they have nothing to lose… In any upcoming election, no deal is a better ticker than a bad one… And a demonstrably good one will be even better… In the meantime, Sinn Fein’s keeping the other parties out suggesting they are not playing as hard to get that the media spin might otherwise indicate…

From a cross channel perspective what should worry people is that the party which is effectively lined up as the next UK government doesn’t seem to begin to understand the much larger strategic problems in Northern Ireland now lining themselves up ahead of them

Mr Cameron has turned things round for the Tories in Britain, and there is something endearingly unprepped about his manner that has charmed many of his 100 Cameron Direct events across the UK… I have little doubt that Owen Paterson’s intentions were honourable in gathering three parties together at the ancestral hall of the Cecils… But it is the ambiguity over a full week of specularion (not least on this blog) that has followed which has turned this from a little local difficulty to a 10 o’clock news feature…

It suggests lack of planning and, worse, a singular lack of foresight by the Conservatives…

Perhaps they are over relying on the corinthian talents of enthusiastic individuals like Paterson to conduct small significant parts of the party’s policy areas, but without the oversight of a ruthless Patrick Vieira type, constantly scanning the horizon for trouble long before it arrives…

It takes something to turn a messy story in which the Tories have had virtually no responsibility or part in into such unflattering national news… It could have been stamped on early with a short definitive statement soonest after Eamonn broke it… Instead it has carried on for over a week since the Hatfield House…

They should get that fixed before it happens over something much more important than our shadow play over the devolution of policing and justice…

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

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