The TUV why it will not just go away

The TUV stubbornly refuses to die. Despite their poor showing in the Westminster election they refused to go away and despite only getting Jim Allister elected to the assembly they are still there.

The single biggest reason for their continued survival is of course Jim Allister himself. His opponents hoped he would be an irrelevant lone voice in the wilderness. He has indeed proved to be pretty much a lone voice of opposition.

Alliance followed its leader David Ford to become an executive party: The truffles of power being enough to bring all the Alliance snouts to the trough apart from Naomi Long stuck at Westminster, able only to sniff the much larger power truffles there, without any hope of her snout reaching that ultimate trough. Allister does have two “colleagues” in opposition but David McClarty seems to have largely vanished from the radar following his success in East Londonderry and subsequent refusal to be wooed back into the UUP fold. Steven Agnew has made a few contributions but has been less obviously active in Stormont than when he was campaigning.

Jim Allister has had the huge advantage of having been in the European Parliament for one term and as such was a well practised and notably effective parliamentarian prior to his Stormont election. He has used that experience along with his forensic lawyer’s approach to great effect. His lists of questions both written and oral have unearthed a number of issues the main parties especially the DUP and Sinn Fein would rather have left either hidden or minimally discussed: these have included the issue of special advisers and more recently the possibility of Patten-esque changes to the prison service. The attempts to ensure that Jim’s questions are not answered verbally but in writing has not stopped their efficacy. The extremely cack-handed attempts by Willie Hay to silence him has had no effect on Allister’s efficiency as an opposition spokesperson and has even raised some private disapproval from within the DUP as well of course as gravely undermining Hay’s credibility.

Jim Allister is undoubtedly the single person most responsible for the TUV’s survival and the main reason why should there be an election in the near future it is almost certain that the TUV would retain their one seat and might well gain another one. However, it is not merely Jim’s competence as a spokesperson which has helped ensure that a dissident unionist view has survived. The fact remains that there is a significant part of the unionist electorate who either reject or at least have grave misgivings about the current agreement.

There are no doubt some unionists who reject the agreement for straightforwardly bigoted reasons: there are no doubt some who simply cannot stomach the idea of power sharing with nationalists who are committed to an end to the union. This view, however, seems to be a small minority one: it does not explain the level of support or the resilience of the TUV; it certainly does not explain the European election result of two years ago. A variant of that view is probably the one which simply picks the hardest line unionist position and votes for it.

A more common position amongst TUV supporters is that of opposition to power sharing with Sinn Fein. Many may feel that we need to move on but there is a significant group within the unionist community who, whilst happy to have nationalists in government, remain extremely unhappy with terrorists and their cheerleaders in power. The counter that it is not for the unionist community to decide whom the nationalist community elect as their representatives is one which convinces many unionists but there remains a constituency who answer that by simply saying that they would rather have no power than share power with terrorists.

A further group of TUV supporters are genuinely despairing of the uselessness of the form of government we have here whether it be the sectarian carve up or the inability of the system with its interlocking vetoes to achieve anything quickly, allied to the lack of a properly constituted opposition. Such people are sometimes remarkably liberal but see in the lack of a proper democracy such a problem that it makes Stormont unacceptable and see the TUV as the only party whose prime aim is complete reform of the system.

The above views or a combination of them along with Jim Allister’s personal qualities have prevented the death of the TUV but thus far failed to achieve any significant breakthrough beyond Jim’s his own seat. However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that these positions – especially the latter two do not have a significant resonance within the unionist community and possibly even further afield. Frequently people suggest that they are emotionally and intellectually sympathetic to the TUV’s position but do not vote for them. One of the most common reasons those who claim to be sympathetic to a TUV position give for not voting for them is the danger that if the TUV were able to defeat the current system that it would result in the resumption of violence. The TUV have repeatedly suggested that this means that people are bring blackmailed as well as conned but it is a fear which has been repeatedly articulated. As time goes on and the distance from the Troubles increases, however, this fear reduces and the intellectual justification that the current ugly scaffolding of the agreement is necessary becomes less convincing.

The TUV are unlikely to be able to bring down the agreement any time soon. However, there remains a potential constituency for them which is considerably larger than their vote at the Westminster or Stormont elections. Furthermore with Jim Allister at Stormont they have a voice out of proportion to their representative strength. That voice has proven far from one dimensional: Allister has demonstrated himself to be an oppositional politician par excellence and has gained respect grudging or otherwise within the assembly and in the media. As I said some time ago if the TUV did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.

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  • Jack2

    Turgon – why do you describe the Alliance members with the phrase “snouts at the trough”? You have done it twice now in articles posted today.

  • Decimus


    There is no doubt that Jim Allister is a very capable politician, and I would say that his stock has risen amongst unionists since his recent contributions in the assembly. I confess that I laughed out loud when he was discussing David Ford’s ‘open door’ prison policy.

    The thing is though Bob McCartney was also a very capable player, but like Allister he ploughed his own lonely furrow. Unionism cannot afford splits and the voters understand that. That and the fact that Allister offers no credible alternative to what we have now, which is better than what went before, is the reason that he will never be anymore than a Dennis Skinner type punter raving from the sidelines.

  • tinman

    Jim Allister punches above his weight in terms of media coverage because he’s ‘the only nay in the village’ – effectively the only opposition we have and so the only truly dissenting voice around. Not sure he’d get the same airtime if UUP/SDLP finally took the plunge and formed a proper opposition. Perhaps Mr Allister should be careful what he wishes for.

  • There are actually 3 members of the opposition, at least 2 of whom have been asking effective questions. So why single out Jim Allister? Is it because he shouts louder, rather than being polite?

  • Turgon

    I think I said snouts to the trough. Alliance have not merely had their snouts at the trough but have submerged them (their snouts) into it that trough, so great has been their lust for those truffles of power.

  • Jack2

    Cheers for the quick reply Turgon but you didn’t explain why you said it. All our Political parties have their snouts firmly at the trough for a very long time.

    Nepotism is rife, jobs for the boys & girls and dont forget double/triple jobbing.
    Some parties are worse than others but Alliance strikes me as one of the better behaved ones. (Perhaps I have missed a major scoop somewhere?)

  • Banjaxed

    One of the longest whistles in the dark I’ve heard for a long time –
    as well as nasty and misogynistic to boot.

    Given that Turgon in general chooses his words VERY carefully, I wonder why he chose the porcine analogy – or extended it deliberately – to include Naomi Long who, as we all know, has an ample build.

    As for the TUV, they have one, repeat, ONE, MLA who, while he is reasonably effective in rattling the cosy partnership at Stormont, cannot hope to change a single damn thing. He even realises it himself. Hence his constant bleatings for an official opposition in order to give him a possibly stronger voice. As if any party who yearns for power would go into an election and be happy to campaign with a slogan, ‘Vote for us, we want to go into opposition, we will be able to change NOTHING!’

    As has been witnessed in the last couple of elections, the people, while they may of course be bastards, have spoken decisively and they don’t want the negative policies of the TUV.

    Whistle away, Turgon, you’re one of the few who’s listening!

  • Turgon

    Yes it is awful: imagine a politician proposing not getting his snout into the trough; just terrible.

    As to Ms. Long: careful now not to play the man / woman. I made no appearence-ist comment. If you insist on continuing with such man playing even my belief in freedom of speech will be overwhelmed.

  • galloglaigh

    so great has been their lust for those truffles of power

    Is that not what politics is all about?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Turgon – why do you describe the Alliance members with the phrase “snouts at the trough”? You have done it twice now in articles posted today.

    Dissident unionists and dissident republicans have a lot in common. They reserve their strongest venom for those in the centre. There is probably a little bit of truth in the notion that the very idea of a reasonable centre is more difficult for such people to handle than the ideas they are diametrically opposed to. I guess that is why we used to see Mark McGregor launching several bilious propaganda attacks here on Slugger on Alliance, for example, but seldom on any of the unionist parties.

    To the point itself, I fear we will always have the TUV. The party was at the point of winding itself up after the Westminster elections, and subsequently I don’t really believe Allister’s heart was in the assembly elections .. I think he was shocked himself that he managed to gain a seat.

    It is pretty clear that he has the DUP worried as Robinson hasn’t been able to hide his irritation with the line he takes during assembly debates. I’m afraid that it has to be conceded that Allister is a very effective performer in the Assembly and this is not simply because he is bellowing all day. He seems to be extremely well briefed and has demonstrated a knack for isolating and then using key details to inflict maximum damage on his target. On this basis it must be a safe bet that Allister stands a good chance of bringing in at least another MLA in the next election, although who knows what will happen over the next four years.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Not sure he’d get the same airtime if UUP/SDLP finally took the plunge and formed a proper opposition. Perhaps Mr Allister should be careful what he wishes for.

    I hate to say it but the UUP and SDLP are collectively dull witted and incompetent. Allister runs rings around the lot of them. I believe Allister has judged that it is unlikely that they will leave the executive in the short term so he is just playing to a gallery – to expand his vote beyond the lunatic fringe whose support he currently enjoys he needs to disguise his wrecker agenda.

  • I dont see any joint UUP-SDLP Opposition in this Millenium.
    Taking the excellent point about Alliance snouts in the trough on board, I can certainly see some tactical merit in UUP and SDLP in Opposition but not in any form of shared Opposition.
    Allister and TUV really needed a second voice in the Assembly. I quite like him as his main target……the only people from whom he can drain votes…is the DUP and they are genuinely embarassed each time he opens his mouth.
    Two TUV members would more than double TUV effectiveness.
    In another thread I pointed out that even in late 1960s Paisleys PUP/DUP had a couple of people to nod enthusiastically. Likewise McCartneys UKUP.
    Allister “appears” too much of an Independent rather than Leader of a Party.

    Noting that specific spokespersons have been selected at the recent TUV Conference, I wonder if all of the TUV candidates from May 2011 are still fully “on board”. Some were considered quite promising.

  • iluvni

    Allister is the only MLA worth his wage in Stormont. The rest have been spectacularly useless.

  • Into the west

    man’s curiosity with dinosaurs
    can best be explained as a particular wonder and enchantment with fossils and dry bones.
    cgi techniques bring these creatures to life,
    and we get a sense of history and the pasing of time.

    I’m a big fan of jurassic park 😉

  • galloglaigh

    At a guess Jim Allister wrote that statement. Talk about self preservation. Pipe dreams and rivers of orange juice!

  • Only in Northern Ireland would holding the Executive to account – surely the point of opposition in a democracy – could be described as ‘wrecking’. Poor luvs on the Executive should be able to defend their propostion: though seem strangely ill-at-ease.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    As regards the OP title, has anyone asked the TUV to just go away?
    Also, trying to pass off electoral setbacks and lack of popular support as a virtue is patented by the WP.

  • Neil

    As a Republican I think Allister is heaven sent to be honest. As mentioned above his primary target is the DUP – the only time he really has anything to say about the shinners is to lambast the DUP for having anything to do with them. I guess what went before was preferable.

    His questions can be gold dust too, no doubt about that, and I can find much amusement in watching just about any politician being hung by their own petard. All the parties at Stormont – my own personal choice included – should have a shrewd, intelligent and noisy person keeping an eye on them. All in all, from my own perspective, he’s good value.

  • Munsterview

    Pat Mc: “…..lack of popular support as a virtue is patented by the WP…..”

    Funny enough Pat as I read the report, Thomas Mc’s pean of praise and formal congratulations by himself to himself as leader of the WP in Leinster House when he was the sole member, comes to mind.

    Whatever sins could be laid at our former Comrades door, a lack of a sense of humor was not one and ( unlike certain parties I could name here ), he had absolutely no sense of his own, puffed up, self importance either. He did a magnificent send up of himself, delivered with the ‘t in cheek’, that had the other Deputies in convultions of laughter in their seats.

    This address from the Truely Useless Vistage of Unionism could only invoke pity and embarrasment from serious political opponents, as any form of amused reaction would just be mocking the afflicted and no good could come from that!

  • Munsterview

    Neil : “… All the parties at Stormont – my own personal choice included – should have a shrewd, intelligent and noisy person keeping an eye on them…..”

    Amen to that Brother, amen to that!

  • TwilightoftheProds

    Allister is good value and a useful critical voice – ‘the beast from Ballymena’.

    but that’s it – he’s liked (and useful) for his personal approach. Ideologically his party is on the same downward trend as PUP, NIUP…it is out of step with the broad and developing political culture within unionism – it can survive like moss in a crevice but can’t really flourish or spread.

    And as an already tiny group, it won’t be considered in constituencies where there is the usual fear of splitting the unionist vote too many ways. Still, I hope he keeps in there.

  • Skinner

    Allister’s difficulty is that he has not been able to separate his two main messages:

    (1) The executive are doing a crap job for reason x, y and z
    (2) The whole idea of an executive is wrong as long as it contains the Shinner spawns of the Divil himself

    Basically, people like it when he does routine (1) but they hate it when he does routine (2). Routine (1) aims to improve an idea people yearned for but routine (2) aims to abolish the whole thing. Whilst there is this conflict few people will vote for Jim Allister.

  • streetlegal

    It would be a mistake to write of Jim Allister at this stage. He has made a big impact in what has become a largely moribund assembly since the DUP/Sinn Fein coalition assumed power. The support that he will continue to benefit upon will be drawn mainly from old school unionism who now longer have any time for Peter Robinson’s DUP. The Orange Order, also standing in opposition to the status quo, is likely to be recruited to the TUV vote. It should be remembered that Paisley’s opposition to the Unionist Party took many years to build.

  • Munsterview

    Twilight …..: “…it can survive like moss in a crevice but can’t really flourish or spread….”

    Nice one, I like it….. that is going into the keeper file. Did you coin it or do you know where it came from?

  • TwilightoftheProds


    Thank you. It just popped into my head- whether I’ve picked it up or created it I don’t know.

    Its not even meant to be pejorative. Moss will likely see off the human race!

    Streetlegal – remember Paisley grew in fertile ground-widespread demonstrations, increasing violence and constitutional upheaval. Allister might more closely resemble the ‘protest vote’ populist unionists that popped up thru the quieter years of Stormont. But again, he’s personally very able.

  • USA

    The TUV why it will not just go away

    Because people will vote TUV for:

    “straightforwardly bigoted reasons”
    “opposition to power sharing”
    “simply picks the hardest line unionist position and votes for it”