In the advent of the Jim Wells debacle at the South Down hustings I found myself in an unfamiliar situation, I, as a liberal pro-union voter, had front row seats to a DUP disaster movie that I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch but yet couldn’t look away from. I’m on record stating how comfortable I am with voting Sinn Féin, I probably sit very close to Alliance-but-not-quite-entirely-there but ultimately, if I had my way..my dream scenario, there would be a dominant party that leans towards the union but isn’t even remotely afraid of nationalists. A party that understands that there is a place for economic conservatism in the free market. A party that by all means has members who are of a religion or religions but that understands that the party itself does not. A party that acknowledges that in a society where a person has to ask for equality and that another person has the ability to give equality, we are not yet equal.
I could set up a new party, try and try and try to gain the kind of dominance that the DUP enjoy, maybe in a couple of generations (or more) with the right kind of weather I could see a pro-union party established that I could vote for. Do I have that ability? Probably not..Do I want to wait that kind of time to finally have a party I could comfortably call home?…Probably not. So what choice do I have?
Back when the BNP were unfortunately having to be acknowledged I regularly suggested that people of different ethnicities should hijack the party. The BNP had just over 4,000 members at the end of 2013…so if 12,000 people flooded their ranks from differing ethnicities they could internally vote to change the direction of the party, make them the party that celebrate differences, vote to change the name to the Be Nicer Party… essentially, hack the BNP and repurpose it using it’s own mechanisms. Can this concept transfer to the DUP?
There are quantities within the DUP that are unknown to many, statistically speaking there cannot be as much value-cohesion within their ranks as the spokespeople would have you believe, and those cracks are beginning to show. Many people within the politics industry (for it is such) speak of the DUP in multiples, the Free P’s, the moderates and the Robinson acolytes. We as a society rounded on Jim Wells last week, but is Wells the head of the snake so-to-speak? Given that following Wellsgate very few people within the party spoke out, Gavin Robinson said the minimum that needed to be said and Pam Cameron said what we all think should have been said…Peter Robinson gave his excuses and said very little whilst saying a lot… Does this indicate that the party was rocked by the public & media furore, fearful that the prevailing opinion from the benches were so nearly outed? Perhaps it means that the benches were more populated by MLA’s silently grateful that the extremely-religious-conservative fringes of the party will have realised what public outcry will follow their outing if and when it arrives.
AlanInBelfast wrote that
In response to Pam Cameron tweeting re: Wellsgate
If what I am hearing from
#sdhustings is being reported correctly I as a DUP MLA disagree and disassociate myself from such comments.
Whilst Peter Robinson said in his Belfast Telegraph response to Wellsgate
As Jim has said, those comments were neither his view nor the view of the Party. Indeed, they never will be the view of the party.
Is what Pam Cameron said really that different from what Peter Robinson said? How many within the party would have acted in the same manner as Cameron? Is Robinson so set on pleasing the super-conservative cabal that he would echo what an MLA said and at the same time punish someone who he essentially publicly agreed with?
There are many rumours circulating on when Robinson will step down as leader, with Edwin Poots famously saying in late 2014 that Robinson would step down before the next election, with 1 year to go…what kind of a DUP will Robinson leave behind as his legacy? Will it be the same old-same old of Wells, McCausland, Storey, Campbell et al or will he aim the party towards the future? Putting a “lowly councillor” in to run against Naomi Long in East Belfast is setting an interesting precedent, is he perhaps acknowledging that he lost in 2010 against the Alliance party because he is too intrinsically linked with old-school-DUP? Gavin Robinson is a political lightweight in comparison to some of the battle-hardened old dogs standing for election around the province, yet Peter Robinson has put him into arguably the seat they covet most? Did he not trust someone like Wells to win back East Belfast?
There is dissent within the party, we should acknowledge this and try to shine a light on the moderates, I and many others want a future away from “all of this”, as Megan Fearon said in her assembly speech in favour of Equal Marriage…
…the reality is that those who will vote against this today will be on the wrong side of history.
I’m not for one minute suggesting there is severe internal bickering going on within the DUP on equal marriage, but how many MLA’s see comments such as Wells’ or Peter Robinson saying on The View that if homosexuality was made illegal, he hopes people would obey the law, and think “I am in their party…I am on their benches, but this does not represent me.” Robinson said that the party have supporters who are gay & lesbian… more than that Peter, your party has relatives who are gay & lesbian… how long will these elected representatives within the party sit quietly and nod at the appropriate times along with statements such as these… How many MLA’s are truly comfortable thinking ahead to their retirement, however far away that may be, and mulling over what their legacy will be. We saw recently with the passing of Ian Paisley that despite all he achieved, his place in the good books of history is far from assured… When this generation of DUP politicians passes the torch down will they be handing down something they’re proud of or will it be a case of “here you go…sorry about this but good luck and all that…”
It is a widely held belief that had NI21 flourished from the beginning instead of it’s inward trajectory, it was a game changer for the DUP and unionism as a whole, a step away from “if you’re unionist, you have to be ok with being socially conservative” giving an actual alternative choice that hasn’t really existed before, the UUP & DUP being not-too-far-away on most things… Who knows when next the DUP will have to take a seriously hard look at itself, now is the ideal time. Now is always the ideal time, look at the double-back that Peter Robinson has had to make on the Fatal Foetal Abnormality-Abortion issue, this was promised to be a free vote by the leader of the party himself, and then suddenly he backtracks to “this isn’t going to pass…it’s doomed,” this says to me as an onlooker that the party is polarized, that those in the same corner as Wells have kicked their heels in, will anybody be kicking back on the other side?
By all means I intend to look at the DUP through a glaze of disappointment, that this is what my forefathers left me as the face of unionism…but with the right winds of change and a few, just a few MLA’s who understand that for the party to survive it has to adapt and engage, I also intend to look with a little wisp of hope, I will note vote DUP this election but I do think that some day it will be a party I can vote for, not because I want to or need to but because it needs me to want to.
Their core vote are dying out, apathy is the opinion du jour… and what are they going to do about it…? And what specifically needs to change…I know my “DUP policy shopping list,” what else is there?…and is there anything left within the party that can surprise us…?
Part 1 of 2…
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.