After the election… the DUP…

In putting together these post election profiles it is obvious the degree to which we arriving at a common Irish political culture based on the use of the Single Transferable Vote system of PR north and south. It concentrates the mind of political parties on the precise needs of their own voters (almost to the exclusion of all else) to a much greater degree than under systems elsewhere.

It also makes matters difficult for external pundits to figure out what’s going on with political parties, and complicated for the political parties themselves to figure just exactly where they stand with voters. The often complex relationships involved require constant attention and care. It’s one reason why the ubiquitous constituency office is so prominent in Northern Irish high streets.

In 1992 in his longitudinal study of the first twenty years of regional democracy in Italy Robert Putnam wrote…

“…institutional changes were (gradually) reflected in changing identities, changing values, changing power and changing strategies. The new institution nurtured a more moderate, pragmatic, tolerant elite political culture”.

Given how Northern Ireland’s headlines in the last few years have been dominated with disputes over flags and thwarted Orange marchers, and the seemingly dysfunctional relationship between the First and deputy First Minister, it’s difficult to read such a rosy prognosis from Northern Ireland’s newly fledged political institutions.

David McKittrick recently compared Peter Robinson to David Moyes.  I see where he’s coming from (Paisley’s former deputy was never going to fill his old master’s ten league boots), but Robinson has been in charge for a couple seasons now and though he’s shipped a few knocks along the way, he has put in a sound performance in terms of where his team is in the league.

That would be exactly where big Paisley left it, right at the top of what passes for Premiership politics in Northern Ireland.

What this analysis seemingly neglects is that for all the imagined peace and harmony of the Chuckle Brothers short lived era there was not a great deal happening at Stormont at the time, and that this as much as the big man’s fraternising with McGuinness was causing some disquiet amongst party activists.

Under Robinson’s tenure his party has busy in almost every department they have had but his own. DUP ministers have put in action broad reforms of primary care in the NHS, seen substantial rises in FDI and begun a substantial reform of social housing seeking to bring in major housing associations from England.

More controversially at Simon Hamilton’s Department of Finance and Personnel they’ve managed to snag a block to some of the more impactful aspects of the Tories’s Welfare Reform much of which has not been available to Wales or Scotland. And aside from abolishing the bedroom tax it is unlikely that a new Labour administration will roll many of these reforms back.

Very little of this detail ever figures within the media coverage of Stormont. Opposition is mostly couched as a simple no thanks, we can’t touch this.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 16.36.32Sixteen years after the Belfast Agreement, it is still Prods versus Micks on the streets of Belfast that sells newspapers, gets out the film crew and rocks the political world. The disinvestment of the BBC’s coverage of live proceedings in Stormont doesn’t help. Nor does the FM and dFM’s own joint decision to reduce their own exposure to the Assembly to just once a month each.

Outside the democratic institutions, the failed Haass negotiations over the tripartite issues of flags, parades and dealing with the past is likely to give rise to further edge to a nasty Hobbesian gridlock, particularly in some of the interface areas where the party’s loyalist support now annually faces off with Sinn Fein’s republican base on the streets.

And yet, for all the frustrations of being unable to settle these long term and ongoing disputes, the party’s leadership position within unionism is still undisputed. The performance of their sitting MEP improved even if it still lagged behind the party’s falling share of the vote in local elections (from 30% in 2005, 27.2 in 2011 to just 23.1% this year).

That fall in vote share at this stage seems to be as much to do with the diversification choice within unionism as any loss of (non existent) momentum. Losses in the party’s share of the unionist vote have to some degree been compensated by the general innervation of the unionist electorate by the decision by the Belfast City Council to end the flying of the Union flag all year round.

If anything, whilst reversing a very long term trend for falling turnout in working class unionist areas in Belfast and beyond, the flag dispute also seems to have left many ordinary Catholic voters relatively cold.

That said, Mr Robinson is what he always was, a technocratic general, more often bent over a map and micromanaging the movement of troops and resources than out in the field leading them. Or as Rick Wilford put it on BBC NI’s The View recently he’s more of an engineer than an architect.

He has little of his predecessor’s wit to level out what usually comes across in public as a rather dour and begrudging manner.  If he  has less of his ego, sense of mission and eschatological certainty, he also lacks Paisley’s common touch.

But at this stage, Robinson and the DUP have two ‘interesting’ problems going forward:

  • One, he enjoys the near absolute enmity of a media that not alone dislikes Robinson but is far less afraid of him than it ever was of Paisley, or indeed remains of Adams. Paranoid or not they are out to get him, with or without the help of his old boss.
  • Two, although the gains made under Robinson should not be underestimated they are far less tangible to the public than those made under Paisley. Conquest of the office of First Minister resonates more deeply than its consolidation.

Much of his party’s collective and individual demeanour still resembles that famous chant of Millwall’s of the 70s “No one likes us and we don’t care”. Of course, Fianna Fail prospered in the Republic under those conditions for years, knowing that their own voters understood the rules of their compact with the party even if the Dublin based media didn’t.

The problem is though, once again, they have lost that larger narrative thread they were trying to weave about representing all the people of Northern Ireland. As one DUPer put it to Slugger a few months back, “every time we try to get ourselves out of the front door someone kindly starts a fire in our backyard”. Those backyard fires are not going to go away.

If the DUP are not afraid to exercise power they also suffer from a severe lack influence both within the media and in broader civil society. Yes, they have smart urbane new generation players coming through like Simon Hamilton, Gavin Robinson and Michelle McIlveen along with highly capable rural conservatives like Mervyn Storey.

But the opportunities to deploy any larger, longer term and, dare I say it, more generous strategies seem remote whilst there is no prospect of a genuine two party occupation of the power sharing institutions.

One way of short circuiting the impasse could be a campaign of ‘unreasonable graciousness’. Rather than submitting themselves to endless rounds of fruitless (or worse) negotiations, start putting some precious items (the Irish language, say) on the table capable of attracting popular support from all sides of the community (‘reverse the polarity’ as Jon Pertwee’s Dr Who might have said?)

The likely response would probably consist of that old Machiavellian saw that it’s better to be feared than to be loved. That, and of course the fact that Robinson already has a handy get-out-of-almost-any-fix-in-Unionism-free card after he changed the terms for choosing the First Minister from largest block to largest party: vote for us, or you’ll get Martin?

Yet for all the talk of shared spaces, bitter past experience leads most people in Northern Ireland to prefer the safety and security of ‘living amongst their own’. And they vote accordingly. It’s the nature of our politics and the broader political reality that has to change, rather than further techno-tinkering with the institutions.

As Putnam noted more than twenty years after the onset of the Italian reforms, “factionalism and gridlock, inefficiency and simple incompetence still plague many regions”.  Robinson knows there is no alternative. He knows too that there are fewer points to be earned by him or his party for abandoning the offices of power to join the rabble on the street.

Without a willing nationalist partner in power though, changing the subject is likely to take a very long time.

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  • Mc Slaggart

    “it is obvious the degree to which we arriving at a common Irish political culture based on the use of the Single Transferable Vote”

    Forget the ” Single Transferable Vote “its the Single Family member” seat.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, McSlaggart, is it not interesting that the Neo-UUP have seemingly discovered that the old Fermanagh mafia policy of “keeping it all in the family” ticks the “Nepotism and possible corruption” box for most of us, while the DUP simply continue ape their one time betters, running on the old long rusted tracks of pre-1968 practices, perhaps an example of “the first time in tragedy, the second in farce.”

  • “complicated for the political parties themselves to figure just exactly where they stand with voters. The often complex relationships involved require constant attention and care. It’s one reason why the ubiquitous constituency office is so prominent in Northern Irish high streets.”

    Joe and Josephine struggle with the complexity of bureaucracy and sometimes punitive penalties when they make mistakes so it’s hardly surprising that they should turn to political parties for assistance and that they should then reward them at the ballot box. The other parties have been slow to react to the tactics operated by both the DUP and SF in the provision of such a service – and the associated photo opportunities.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    What’s the yeller card for, you mercurial devil you!

  • Seaan, I like your ‘nepotism and possible corruption’ reference. It was such activities in Ireland that caused me to lift a few stones in Northern Ireland, mainly up in my neck of the woods in the Kingdom of Moyle. My NALIL blogs barely scratch the tip of the ice-berg.

    Developer connections aren’t restricted to the DUP or, indeed, to politicians. I was approached by SF politicians through a third party to see if I would write a blog on one of their favoured projects. I agreed to do so – if they would name the developer. Funnily enough, the request went cold at that point 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s for the encouragement of others…

  • “in some of the interface areas where the party’s loyalist support now annually faces off with Sinn Fein’s republican base on the streets.”

    This is a topic for another thread, Mick. I think the nuances in both the unionist and nationalist ‘tribes’ could do with teasing out. It’s been my impression that the ‘reaching out’ by both Peter and Martin, in competition for the FM’s revolving chair, has produced a space for unionist and nationalist ‘dissidents’, as reflected in the local election results. I’d be surprised, for example, if all of the republican groups in and around Ardoyne flew the SF banner.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hello Mick, I’m sincerely interested in exactly “why the yellow card?” Its hardly my gripe about Tourism over on anothert thread!

    I imagine its the reference Nevin enjoyed so much, which I should have clearly stated to be something that is simply flagged casually in the minds of those giddy conspiricy theorists such as myself who listen to the brew of malicious rumours that abound about every party. I did however think that clearly stating “possible corruption” (anything is, after all, possible) and utterly rejecting ( I repeat, I utterly, without evasion or equivocation, reject!) any claim that these rumours might fact be in any way probable. I had hoped that “possible” showed that I did not even begin to believe the malicious slander directed to to particular people.

    But please let me know your reasoning so that I may conform to correct posting behaviour in my future rants, as I’m keen to simply comment and would rather not be the cause of any legal problems for the site. I am only too aware that anything stated as even “probable” would have to be supported by hard legal proof………

    And, Nevin, I really must say that your NALIL blogs are a model of responsible and yet informative commenting. I will try to follow your excellent example. Security fencing on the Dark Hedges indeed!!!!!!!!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sorry. Mick, but the garbled sentence should read:

    “I did however think that clearly stating “possible corruption” (anything is, after all, possible) and utterly rejecting ( I repeat, I utterly, without evasion or equivocation, reject!) any claim that these rumours might in fact be in any way probable. I had hoped that “possible” showed that I did not even begin to believe the malicious slander directed to to particular people.”

  • How deluded is the DUP [in the person of Poots to suggest in the BT while keeping a straight face that right wing catholics should vote DUP on religious grounds alone while insisting OO should get to march through catholic dominated areas and with no code of conduct to restrict their boorish behaviour. That is the real reason they lost Drumcree, Whiterock Ormeau Rd and now ardoyne, not a culture war. Where they behave they get to walk. Not rocket science.

  • Mick Fealty

    True. Eamonn McCan has a good piece in the Irish Times yesterday, pointing out that all this polarisation over jobs as some serious downsides.

    The problem is as of SF’s support has admitted, nonengagement is their preferred strategy. Ministerial busyness and engagement with their own order base is the DUPs.

    Ironically one of the things outside OFM ‘trick’ mentioned above, the greater level of competition within constitutional Unionism is more likely to keep the DUP on its toes and its younger talent said with ambition.

    For all Sinn Fein is undoubtedly successful filching of talent that would otherwise have gone to a more successful SDLP until such times as the leadership’s accumulator bet in the south comes good there is nothing for them to do.

    Sleepers you might call them. Let’s hope they are still awake when duty finally calls (if it ever calls)…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And I’ll try in future and stick to the point in the lead article (another posibility?) and not go riding my hobby horses “Tristram Shandy” style all over serious issues. The ability of the DUP to deliver a serious, progressive modern Ulster to us all is of considerably more import than my ill conceived attempts to commnet after being drawn into minor issues by other posters. My own attempt to offer serious advise to the DUP in modern marketing stategy for our New Ulster are still up, I see, over on the “the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned…” thread.

  • Mick Fealty

    No worries. My guess is that McS just an unbiddable sheepdog who occasionally likes to worry the sheep.

    A whack of an Oul Red every now and again generally does the trick.

  • “your NALIL blogs are a model of responsible and yet informative commenting.”

    Thanks, Seaan; it comes down to enlightened self-interest. I want to keep a roof over my head and my knees intact. If I don’t have documented evidence, I can always ask questions to which I already have a good idea of the answers. Sometimes this elicits responses – on Slugger and elsewhere – from ‘whistleblowers’. It may have limited effect but it does appear to keep some folks on their toes 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks Mick. My only excuse is that I get carried away. I actually have some friends in the DUP (and SF, Alliance, UUP, UKIP…). So like Swift, it’s the vice rather than the name I’m after. Will try harder…..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But still very effective, Nevin. Thank you for all you do to clarify much of what goes on on the north coast.

  • David Crookes

    Mick, when I watched your final link (DUP Local Government Election Broadcast 2014), it struck me that Deputy Dawg is being set in place as the next leader of the party, and that the ‘symbols of unionism’ (or in basic English, flags and marches) will be at the heart of DUP thinking for the next lot of years.

    Doesn’t sound like a bag of laughs. I reckon that the DUP’s short-term policy is to retain the leadership of unionism, and that its long-term policy is to make UI impossible, using lawless loyalism as its weapon if necessary.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s fine David if you buy into the media conspiracy that Peter is currently packing his bags (tut, isn’t he always though?)… not sure I read that out of it though…

    I saw it as an attempt, as I mentioned in the link, to change the subject… This is trench warfare, and the DUP is just digging in by trying to broaden how it gets defined by its electorate…

    Flags is in there, but its not exactly screaming at you… animal welfare was I thought an interesting new departure… Not exactly liberal, but a pretty broad almost apolitical appeal to urban, lower middle class voters…

    Something to space hold whilst waiting for the next summer meltdown in North Belfast…

  • Morpheus

    I find it difficult to talk about the DUP and elections without mentioning some of the things that have happened over the past 18 months leading up to the present day:

    1. The leaflet – in a vain attempt to run The Alliance Party out of Belfast and to cover the fact that they did nothing for 10 years to prepare their electorate for a possible change in the flag flying policy at Belfast City Hall, the DUP/UUP circulated tens of thousand of leaflets attacking The Alliance Party, in particular Naomi Long, and didn’t even have the balls or the integrity to put their party logos on them – instead denying all responsibility until caught red handed. This was well outside the usual rough and tumble of politics and shows the character of the decision makers in the party.

    2. The Flag Protests – after unleashing the beast they couldn’t get it back under control and before too long fellow elected representatives had received bullets in the post and had their offices burned. Here we are now with millions of pounds wasted, hundreds of people with criminal records, dozens of officers hurt and so on. That shows their leadership ability.

    3. Castlederg – the DUP showed their hypocrisy yet again by going on the offensive when it came to a republican march to commemorate people who tried to blow up the town but remained remarkably silent when it came to an annual loyalist parade to commemorate people who tried to blow up the town. Silent at a loyalist event in a council facility but up in arms about a republican event in a council facility. The hypocrisy is nauseating

    5. Haass – the DUP had an unelected, unrepresentative member of the Orange Order to represent unionism in the talks, voted against any chance of progress and to this day have not had the decency to come out and say what exactly they had issue with. Couple this with the stats released in the Belfast Telegraph showing just how out of step the party are with the ordinary people of Northern Ireland in terms of their OO representation and it sure does paint a picture.

    6. Welfare Reform – in a mad rush to implement cuts hitting the most vulnerable in society the DUP’s Finance Minister still hasn’t debunked the NICVA report which says that £750m will be taken from the NI economy every year if these cuts are just implemented. He doesn’t know how much will be taken out so can he possibly know what impact it will have on the average Joe or what steps we need to take to mitigate the loss? They are rushing to blindly implement the Tory cuts with little to no regard to the consequences. The DUP are in charge of finances of NI PLC, show us the plans for the foreseeable future, reassure us that the impact won’t be disastrous.

    And all that is without mentioning the mess the health service is in, elderly care, the u-turn on The Peace Centre, the massacre comments on Facebook, blood donations, same sex marriage, the manufactured OTR ‘crisis’, attempts to ban a play, Pastorgate and perception that The First Minister of Northern Ireland is more afraid of the Grand Master than the electorate who put him there in the first place. He had such potential.

    To me any chance of a shared future will be lost in the mad dash to the looney-tunes far right to get the high-rollers in the party back in at the next assembly elections with their salaries/pensions/expenses intact.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Mick. I groaned when I saw the marching band. But the animal welfare idea was excellent. Maybe it was aimed at younger voters. Whatever the case, let us hope that the DUP’s MPs, MLAs and councillors will back up their broadcast by taking a serious interest in the living world. A campaign against vehicles that poison the air with carcinogenic black exhaust-fumes would be a good start.

    The trouble with putting some issue before the voters in a political broadcast is that you are obliged to take some real action in respect of that issue before the next election. Otherwise your use of the issue will be revealed as insincere.

  • “In putting together these post election profiles it is obvious the degree to which we arriving at a common Irish political culture based on the use of the Single Transferable Vote system of PR north and south.”


    While both sections of the island use the same franchise system, the North is organized into uniform multicandidate constituenices for Assemby elections while the South is organized at random (or at least it seems to me as an outside observer) into two, three or four-seat constituencies.

    Thanks for the very nice pie chart. Are the figures from the local elections or from the Euro election?

  • BarneyT

    I found the pie…distasteful….well, not exactly but I wanted to support my food analogy. I was going to say it demonstrated the DUP were all thumbs…but I’d be pushing it with that one.

    Seriously though, I found it quite depressing when you think how extreme many of these parties are. Lump the DUP, TUV and UKIP together and it reflects very badly on about 70% of unionists who care to cast a vote.

    I continue to hope and believe that the majority of unionists would side with a UUP type party minus the very real lurch to the far right in search of DUP votes. I hope they prioritise as follows:

    Jobs and welfare for NI (including preservation of the NHS)
    Retain economic and cultural ties with England
    Seek economic cooperation with all on the island
    Furtherance of centre\right of centre politics.
    Integration of education.

    Whilst I wouldn’t tick all of those boxes myself, I would live, work and play with anyone that did and was prepared to reason and debate to understand an alternative want and aspiration. The above merely represents a political neo-conservative view for the most part.

    Am I being unfair here but this says that 7 in 10 unionist voters are perhaps homophobic, racist in some way, sectarian, dismissive of human development and scientific advance (creationism) and damn near immovable when it comes to compromise.

    I hate to think unionism presents as follows:

    Install a unionist government for the unionist people
    Preserve our right to march when and where we want
    NI is a country
    NI is protestant
    NI is white
    British culture only
    Ban on anything deemed to be Irish and republican in any way.
    No Gays (especially green gays)
    No abortion, even for the abused and compromised

    So lets hope there are true reasonable unionist suffering from electoral apathy…and one day soon, they will get up and out to present a kinder face of unionism.

  • Reader

    Barney T: Seriously though, I found it quite depressing when you think how extreme many of these parties are. Lump the DUP, TUV and UKIP together and it reflects very badly on about 70% of unionists who care to cast a vote.
    That vote has increased in step with the SF vote. No surprise there.
    Even the DUP have worked it out, and, at the St Andrews agreement, changed the rules for appointing first and Deputy First ministers for party advantage. Strangely enough, the people who mention it most are Shinners who emphasise that a vote for SF is a vote for First Minister.
    The parties deserve each other, and, to a certain extent, the voters deserve their parties.

  • Mick Fealty

    Here’s the full set. UTV’s unrivalled results page:

  • Gopher

    Excellent result for the DUP and especially Dodds in not losing a single local assembly vote. Peter and the DUP do it again hold off all comers and the potent Jim Allister despite being absurdly ridiculous. The penny will eventually drop with the other parties that there is only one winner in trench warfare. I think Peter might have been justified in quoting Wellington after the election.

    “They came on in the same old way, and we sent them back in the same old way”

  • Granni Trixie


    This is one of the few instances in illustrating the unionist cake where Alliance hasn’t been counted in.I take this as an advance in understanding because although APNi does have people in its ranks who favour the link with Britain, to categorise it solely as Unionist is inaccurate/misleading.

    Not making a big point, just saying.

  • Mick Fealty

    Just be prepared to be counted as Nationalist when it suits in an election or two… 😉 Or maybe we are just learning to grow up?

  • Politico68

    I don’t know why people get so worked up over alliances neutral position. Its pretty straight frwrd. They are agnostic on the constitutional question, period. Perfectly reasonable to me. Or maybe its because I am a shinner just makes me have a sensible approach

  • Mick Fealty

    Oh, I can tell you it was not always the case …

  • Politico68

    Well, nothing like positive evolution, its a pity others cant or won’t catch up 🙁

  • Comrade Stalin

    Evolution isn’t real. The world was created 6000 years ago.

  • MF ‘… for us or you’ll get martin’. It’s a delicious irony that Robbo couldn’t have predicted in 07 that the nationalist vote would fall so sharply by this time thanks to sdlp voters apathy, so now he goes into the Stormont election on the wrong side of the line, unable to exploit the reduction in the overall nationalist share. Unless of course he comes clean and admits publicly that the golf course carve up was nothing but a fig leaf to get paisley in the FM chair, and that it’s still the Good Friday agreement we’re dealing with all along. Then he could go back to the FM chair humiliated at having admitted this in order to keep that seat knowing ot’s the same value as martin’s. What a tangled web etc.