Hearts and Minds: “Largest single bloc in the pro-Union community is non-voting”

To lose one Unionist leader may be described as a misfortune. To lose two, begins to look like carelessness. But when all three of them are knocked out of the ring, you really do have to ask yourself if the electorate is trying to make a point!

For Jim Allister it was always going to be a winner takes it all battle. Jim’s problem, however, is that his style of campaigning made the town crier of Pompeii sound optimistic. A political vision based on Private Fraser’s mantra that ‘we’re doomed, we’re all doomed,’ is hardly likely to attract much support—even from the zimmer frame end of unionism, which remembers Lord Carson when he was still in short trousers.

It’s hard to believe that there is much of a role left for him in politics: indeed, the passengers boarding the Marie Celeste had a brighter future ahead of them than members of the TUV do now.

Again it was hard not to feel sorry for Sir Reg, the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. He has dreamed the impossible dream for so long in his pursuit of a lasting pact with another party—any party, as it happens—that he must have believed that a parachute jump into South Antrim would work. Instead, rather than tilting at the windmills, he crash landed on them, taking the entire UCUNF project with him.

He has already announced that he is stepping down, albeit in a process which will take longer than a Cliff Richard retirement tour. There are a number of would-be leaders waiting in the wings—not one of whom has a mission of sorting out the mess, a mess that most of them have contributed to in one way or another.

The problem for the UUP is that it still regards itself as the ‘big tent’ party: but it’s a tent so big that it accommodates an unlimited number of clowns, side-shows, divas, programmes and ringmasters. You may as well try and round-up jelly as bring order to the UUP.

Meanwhile, the electorate of East Belfast did to Peter Robinson what his DUP officers didn’t have the courage to do—take him down a peg. Robinson has now reached the life support stage of his political career, with hardly a week going by without the need for a vote of confidence or a huggy-wuggy photo-opportunity from his colleagues.

He is damaged goods. He knows it. They know it. Every pat on the back from his MLA team is merely them deciding the best spot for the dagger. And he really must resist any unexpected invitations this summer for a trip on the Orient Express or a cruise on the Nile.

As ever, when things look particularly messy in the unionist ranks, the talk turns to unity and an uber Unionist entity which will sweep all before it. But let’s be honest, anything that puts Basil McCrea, David McNarry, Jeffrey Donaldson, Arlene Foster, Owen Paterson and the Grand Master of the Orange Order in the same vehicle, will turn into one of those bizarre events hosted by the World Wrestling Federation: in which a lot of spangled, aging weirdoes bitch-slap each other for the delight of an audience which can’t tell the difference between blood and tomato ketchup.

The problem with unionism is the lack of vision, long-term strategy and inspirational leadership: That— and the fact that it is fuelled by paranoia and an almost congenital disposition to see republican bogeymen and unionist moderates around every corner.

The largest single bloc in the pro-Union community is the non-voting bloc. And it is growing at each election. Maybe these people don’t have the same dread of a united Ireland; or don’t believe it will come anytime soon; or just don’t trust the present unionist machines to represent their interests. But whatever their reasons for not voting, someone needs to find out and then find a way of engaging them and encouraging them towards a polling station.

The Union isn’t dependent upon demographics alone. It needs vision and leadership: but where is the person who can provide it?