The classic criticism of the British generals during the First World War was that they persisted with the same tactics when they were failing. Time after time there was an initial artillery barrage and following that a mass attack where the troops were set over the top to their deaths before the machine guns of the German defenders. A number of semi revisionists have suggested that it was far from that simple and that in actual fact the generals tried different tactics each time but at the end of the day it always seemed to end up with a slaughter of men by machine guns.
The DUP have launched their election campaign with a typically robust statement from Peter Robinson. However, rather like the British army and the trenches the tactics seem extremely similar to the ones which brought about the DUPs humiliation at last Junes European election.
The idea of moving forwards is one which has been a recurrent refrain but different parties have very different concepts of what forwards means. The progress Robinson triumphs may exist: however, to others the sight of the murderers of their kith and kin as his partners in government is progress but in totally the wrong direction.
The issue of expenses might have seemed to have been put to bed but Robinson seems determined to repeat his Marie Antoinette tactic stating: As the MP with the lowest expenses in Northern Ireland and who is one of the minority of MPs at Westminster who has been given a clean bill of health by the audit team led by Sir Thomas Legge there might be a temptation to argue that there is no reason to apologise for what has happened. That suggestion, that he is pretty blameless, sits extremely ill with the amounts of money which Peter Robinson, his wife and family have made from the tax payer.
He again repeats the suggestion that all the MPs elected will stand down as MLAs but again that reminds people that he has promised and seemed to renege on such promises before.
He seems willing to admit to some problems in presentation:
In moving forward it is right that we face up to criticisms that others have made of us. Like every party we have made mistakes. Some of the criticisms we have faced are fair but many others are not.
I am the first to accept that in 2007 we did not do enough to explain what we did and why we did it, but I do not for one second accept that we broke our word or went back on our election commitments. Our manifesto at the time was clear that we were committed to restoring devolution.
This sounds very like the statements produced after the by election at Dromore and again after the European election. He acknowledges that the European election went poorly but then goes back over the issue of that being a disaster because Sinn Fein topped the poll; apparently no one in DUP high command is yet willing to accept that that threat had absolutely no effect on the unionist populations voting habits last time and merely handed SF an extra victory.
The second half of the piece degenerates into an attack on the UUP and TUV. Again this has been tried before. Attacking the UUP for selling out is probably not unreasonable and few dispute that the DUP have done a little bit better than the UUP did when they were in charge, but that is the problem: the DUP have done a little bit better but only a very little..
Robinson goes over the familiar attack on the TUV that they are unwittingly (or otherwise) advancing Sinn Feins agenda. This rather poor attack has been tried since the TUVs inception and is simply nonsense: were the DUP perusing a Sinn Fein agenda when the sought to modify the Belfast Agreement at St. Andrews? (well I suppose changing the rules on the election of First minister was perusing an SF agenda but we will ignore that). This line of attack just does not work. Jim Allister has answered it as usual but it is not the fact that there is an easy rebuttal which makes it so poor. Unfortunately for the DUP the unionist community simply do not seem to accept it. Outside the DUPs inner circle no one actually takes the idea seriously but so divorced from the electorate have the DUPs inner circle become that they do not realise this. They would rather believe the opinion polls produced by the NIO; the same sort of polls which before the 2005 Westminster election predicted electoral annihilation for the DUP.
The whole DUP narrative that the agreement is the best that could have been negotiated: that the UUP did worse and that if the TUV tried renegotiation it would be worse still, is depressingly familiar. It seems to come from an analysis that Peter Robinson is unionisms great hope; that his vision is the only one which will work and that whatever the hardships unionism is best with Peter. That might conceivably be true but sounds a lot more like the propaganda of the Workers Paradise under the Juche idea of Comrade Kim Il-sung. Indeed amongst Robinsons inner circle the idea of him as unionisms great hope seems to have achieved the status of a secular religious belief. Incidentally despite North Korea being an atheist state Kim Il-sung is the “Eternal President of the Republic.”
The biggest problem with this beginning to the DUP campaign is that it is exactly the same as the failed European election campaign with a little bit of added apparent humility: that humility somewhat scuppered by Robinson extolling his small expenses claims.
To come back to the British Generals it is exactly the same idea: tweak the strategy which brought disaster in Europe and because they just about held on to the European seat then carry on as before. So stuck in this analysis are the DUP that like the British generals the Somme is a great victory: hundreds of thousands of lives lost to gain a few miles; we got back our European seat (the parallels are there). Eventually someone may wake up to the fact that this strategy is not working and think about changing it or even changing both it and the leader.