No men, snowmen and clever devices

The position of the 14 DUP MLAs, who initially opposed the Hillsborough agreement before then accepting it, is interesting. Within a few days these semi dissidents went from what was claimed to be a stormy meeting with multiple threatened resignations to unanimous support for the agreement. They may indeed have been snowmen who as Jim Allister says melted when the heat was turned on. Certainly not for them the political equivalent of a glorious death like David Crockett (a man of Ulster descent) at the Alamo (though anyone interested in glorious death should remember The old lie Dulce et Decorum est pro patri mori). Political death on the other hand can be considerably more glorious and obeys Enoch Powell’s famous maxim: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” In politics a glorious death fighting to the last man for what one believes in has considerably more credence, avoiding as it does one’s own or anyone else’s death.Gregory Campbell especially might have been better going down fighting. It had begun to look after his suggestions that Peter Robinson had a week to clear his name (which he subsequently did in only a little over a week) and his holding to the line of six months or six years on Nolan last week, that Campbell was preparing to fight politically to the last man and maybe even jump ship. Indeed he would probably have been the best placed to do so. He could not be resigned from his Westminster seat by Robinson (as he and all the others can from their Stormont positions). Additionally had he stood as an independent in the Westminster elections he would have been very likely to hold East Londonderry. East Londonderry is arguably the hardest line unionist seat in Northern Ireland and amongst the dour Orangemen and strict Presbyterians, resignation on principle would very likely have played well. Indeed had Campbell run as an independent the TUV might well have stood aside, the DUP would have had grave trouble producing a reasonable candidate and the suggested CU candidates have little enough chance, especially as one of them has already committed the equivalent of political suicide up there by condemning the Orange Order.

Indeed his current flip flop may actually make his re election less certain: like East Londonderry unionists do not like deviousness; for once high political principle might have been coincident with pragmatic survival instincts.

The position may not be that dissimilar for Lord Morrow. As a member of the House of Lords he is there for life short of committing some sort of Lord Archer level of criminality (and Archer has still not actually been removed). Morrow could of course be resigned from his MLA’s post but his position come the next assembly election must be pretty tenuous considering the level of TUV support in Fermanagh and South Tyrone as evidenced by the European election result and the apparent solidity of Tom Elliott’s vote.

The rest of the 14 MLAs who initially opposed the agreement of course will have had no other fall back position should they have carried through any threat of resignation. Their resignation from the DUP would immediately trigger their resignation from the assembly. In that case of course their political career would most likely be over and to quote Edwin Muir’s The Castle:

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

The other possible reason for the semi dissidents staying is of course the clever device (or cunning plan) which has been hinted at. This plan, if it is real must indeed surpass my previously mentioned zenith of cunning: Is it as cunning as a fox what used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has moved on, and is now working for the UN at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning.

The problem with a plan, even that cunning, is that Sinn Fein can then simply crash the executive and force an election; the very reason the DUP have had to compromise in the first place. I am again reminded of the Indiana Jones film where Harrison Ford faces a man expertly wielding a sword and simply shoots him. The danger is that this cunning plan might be as clever as the one explained by Nursie in Blackadder II “My brother, he had this brilliant idea of cutting his toenails with a scythe, and his foot fell off.”

To be fair of course the reason the DUP are in this position is not solely their own fault. Indeed they were the ones (well actually Peter Robinson was the one) who engineered the tactically cunning plan of Baldrick level of strategic stupidity that the largest party elect the First Minister rather than the largest party of the largest designation. That was a cunning plan: however, Robinson forgot that some of his supporters might have the bad taste to actually believe all the old comments about not entering government with unrepentant terrorists and not agreeing to mandatory coalition. When they did and had the further nerve to dare stop voting DUP, Robinson’s house of cards began to tumble, leading us directly to where we now are.

The irony of course is that but for the TUV, Robinson might be able to hold the line on policing and justice. If the TUV did not exist Robinson could call SF’s bluff and let the agreement collpase, knowing that in all probability the DUP would return as the largest party. Of course had the TUV not existed it is highly probable that the DUP would already have made these concessions over P&J and more besides. However, that fact, that fear of the TUV is driving Robinson and the DUP to do exactly what the TUV do not want is most irritating for those who believe in traditional unionism.

There is of course an alternative: one which I have previously advocated: Even now Robinson could simply block P&J devolution and make it very clear that after any collapse he would go into negotiations with UUP and TUV alongside him with a view to creating a new agreement. Never has all unionism gone united into negotiations. If unionism could do so, and for once avoid petty factional squabbling and silly side deals it is highly likely that it could emerge with an agreement much better for all the people of Northern Ireland, unionist and nationalist. If Peter Robinson could truly grasp that possibility, he would become a unionist leader in the mode of Carson and Craigavon. Unfortunately he seems fonder of clever devices and cunning plans: sadly that is why he is failing himself, his party and unionism.

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