After the PUP’s failure at the Stormont assembly elections Brain Ervine the leader of the PUP has announced that he is going to stand down. This will be the third leader the PUP has lost in little over two years. Dawn Purvis of course resigned over the murder of Bobby Moffett after having become a member about the time of the Loughinisland murders and remained a member and subsequently leader for some two dozen murders following the ceasefire. After Purvis’s resignation Dr. John Kyle an East Belfast GP became interim leader. He proposed breaking the link between the PUP and the UVF but his party disagreed. Despite that Kyle remained interim leader of the PUP (still UVF linked) until Brian Ervine became leader and announced that it was no mere link but a bridge.
Whatever the link / bridge it remained, complete with a good old fashioned cheerlead by Brain Ervine protesting against the arrest of loyalist criminals for crimes predominantly against working class unionists. Ervine stood unsuccessfully (as did Purvis) in May and the party are now left with two councillors (one being Kyle). The party apparently had a deficit of £57,000 last year.
Having singularly failed to gain support from working class (or other) unionists (or anyone else) this may be nearly the end for the PUP. Such a demise may well be lamented amongst some of the chattering classes who seemed bizarrely attracted to the UVF cheerleaders and failed to understand why they received so few votes from their supposed target audience. Unfortunately for the PUP, telling working class unionists that they had been foolish – even stupid – for having voted for mainstream unionist parties was never a particularly good vote winner. Insulting and condescending to your electorate is remarkably ineffective and although it may have cost the chattering classes little to insult and condescend the unfortunate truth for the PUP was that doing so seemed, unsurprisingly, a turn off to potential support.
In addition the simple truth was that the PUP always seemed more interested in supporting the UVF than the people it purported to represent. Since the UVF along with the UDA have always been amongst the worst oppressors of the working class unionist community (both before and after the ceasefire) it is hardly surprising that the PUP gained so few votes.
There remains the truth that working class unionists are often inadequately represented by the mainstream unionist parties. The answer to that is hopefully for the mainstream parties to listen to working class unionist needs and encourage members to come forwards from those communities. As has been seen from the PUP’s disaster the solution is not criminality but in addition not people lecturing from a distance.Rather it is for the working class communities to bring forward their own representatives. In actual fact in East Belfast there seemed to be some recognition of this with the UUP having Michael Copeland and the DUP Sammy Douglas who have at least some credibility in this regard. Now it is time to ensure that Stormont delivers for working class unionists as well as everyone else. The PUP with or without either of the Ervines or Purvis were always a distraction to this: hopefully they will be a distraction for very little longer.