Home > Uncategorized > On the Twelfth Day of July, is the DUP bleeding?

On the Twelfth Day of July, is the DUP bleeding?

“The price for power-sharing.” With such words was the news greeted last year that six councillors in Ballymena, a DUP stronghold, were defecting to the Traditional Unionist Voice. Since then, defections have continued. Sixty-six thousand votes in the European elections later, TUV have lost their only MEP – Jim Allister, who was elected under a DUP banner – but they have not been alone in their losses. Apart from defections to TUV – which amounts to something like 13 councillors, the DUP have also recently lost one in Dungannon to the UUP and one in Ballymena to the Conservatives.

If I was asked for some poetic reasoning behind these defections, I can do no better than to turn to Cllr. Robin Sterling, who jumped ship from DUP to TUV soon after Ian Paisley was removed as Moderator by his own creation, the Free Presbyterian Church: “I think a bigger factor is that the DUP are attempting to modernise and to free themselves from Paisley’s past – his extravaganza of throwing bibles, the street politics and the tasteless attacks on the Roman Catholic church.” In a nutshell this encapsulates the appeal Paisley exerted on Unionist grassroots.

Unionism is a contradiction, seeking to politically mobilise the Protestant working class even whilst it demands that this working class accept a leadership that doesn’t act in working class interests. As the DUP ‘modernises’ itself, in response to the demands of the Northern Irish political establishment and of power-sharing with Sinn Fein, it loses the ability to reconcile these elements through charismatic figures such as Ian Paisley. Indeed Ian Paisley built up his credibility by attacking Unionist politicians and dispensers of patronage who danced the very masquerade of ‘community dialogue’ and power sharing that has characterised Northern Irish politics since Sunningdale.

Continuing this contradiction will either destroy power-sharing, or destroy the DUP, as a new charismatic leader emerges to continue the myth so necessary to sustaining the position of the Loyal Orange Lodges, Unionism and a vitriolic Protestantism in the eyes of half the Northern Irish working class. The Republican movement is subject to this pressure as well, but it does not share many of the traditions of the Unionist movement – there is no clear precedent for knifing one’s comrades, and no touchstone over which to do so, such as the forced collapse of the Sunningdale executive forms for those seeking to overturn the Good Friday Agreement and current power-sharing.

Today is the Twelfth of July, a day significant for the Unionist population of Northern Ireland. Last year, at Orange marches scheduled around the Twelfth fortnight, some DUP politicians were given a cold reception by the grassroots. David Simpson (an MP) was heckled from the sidelines, and refused to return the way he had come, after marching with the Orange Order through Scarva. Daryl Hewitt was also heckled. It will be interesting to see how the senior figures of Unionism, of the DUP stripe, are received this year. Peter Robinson, First Minister and DUP leader, has been meeting with the reviled Republican, Brendan MacCionnaith.

MacCionnaith heads the residents association of Garvaghy in Portadown. This is a vital area as the Orange Order holds a big march (and often a subsequent protest when they are refused their march by the Parades Commission) up the Garvaghy Road. In 1995 and 1996, this resulted in widespread riots and the seizure of roads and public transport on the part of both Republicans and Unionists. It is a continuing bone of contention, over which the UUP was seen to be more amenable to compromise while the DUP maintained their hard line. As the issue seems to be less pressing than in 1996, the DUP have escaped with some fudging.

Traditional Unionist Voice are still hot on the issue. In his (pisspoor) policy document, which relies heavily on the book of a Daily Mail columnist, Jim Allister, leader of TUV and now former MEP, declares, “The fundamental problem lies not with the Loyal Orders but with Republicans”. Compare this to MacCionnaith’s assessment of Peter Robinson, who ostensibly toes the same line as Allister: “He accepted that there was widespread opposition to the march through the nationalist community in Portadown. He is trying to see the views on both sides of this.” All the potential fault lines are there; a little stress and the Unionist vote is off to the races.

A slow haemorrhaging of councillors or unionist sympathy from the DUP could be just the beginning of a realignment.

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  1. July 23, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    A well written piece but I don’t agree with all of your conclusions.

    I agree that the DUP and TUV are fighting over the same vote and this will undoubtedly be a battlefield worth watching in Northern Irish politics.

    However there is some hope. UCUNF fought its first electoral battle and won. The DUP have topped every Euro poll since their beginning. For the first time they were elected 3rd sub quota and behind UCUNF’s candidate Jim Nicholson.

    UCUNF also dramatically increased thier percentage of the vote up 14.8%. (The DUP down 39.5%)

    UCUNF is also the only unionist party to challenge Unionisms traditionally inward looking nature. UCUNF is the only unionist party with genuine cross community appeal.

  2. July 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I don’t know that I would describe UCUNF (an unfortunately chosen acronym if ever there was one) as ‘hope’. I don’t deny that there is still the middle class Protestant/Unionist vote to play for – but with power comes patronage and the DUP have that in spades. Moreover, the success of UCUNF underestimates just how badly the DUP did because of the candidacy of Diane Dodds, who was remarkably bad at campaigning.

    As for being ‘cross-community’, I don’t see how UCUNF has anymore cross-community appeal than any other Unionist party. Care to elaborate?

  3. July 23, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I will agree that UCUNF is a very very silly name.

    The first point I am going to make is that I dont see a massive class division in my own politics or in politics ar large certainly not to the extend of politics in the wider UK. The Ulster Unionists in the past still polled a respectable enough vote in working class areas.

    The crudest way I can describe the cross community appeal of UCUNF is that for the first time Roman catholics in respectable numbers are voting for a Unionist party. Roman Catholics have also been joining both the conservatives and the Ulster Unionists in record numbers (no records are kept obviously forgive this turn of phase) since the deal.

  4. July 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    In reply to your first point, I didn’t expect you would. Whether or not you see it, it is there. It is the reason why Protestants in the ship yards threw their erstwhile Catholic workmates into the Lagan whilst Catholic and Protestants of the professional and capitalist classes slept soundly opposite one another on the Malone Road. It’s why the Conservatives haven’t done well in heavy industrial areas since Joseph Chamberlain.

    As for the rest, never heard the terms Castle Catholic or West Brit? There have always been plenty of Catholics willing to co-operate with the Unionists, especially during the period of the Stormont Government. I would be interested to see the statistical breakdown showing these ‘record numbers’ of Catholics joining up, but on the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised if they are hardly from bastions of radical Republicanism. Which, incidentally, are more often found in working class areas.

    So a few Catholics from Bangor joined up. The same can be said of the Alliance Party. Big deal. What does UCUNF offer that other parties don’t? After all, all the four parties are socially conservative and economically in favour of privatisation and the expansion of the market.

  5. July 23, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    I have indeed heard those terms, they are not however terms I have heard in polite society. I prefer calling them Unionists, if I must Unionists who happen to be Roman Catholics. I will agree with you that these Unionist I have encountered are predominantly from middle class (if I must use a classist interpretation) backgrounds, however you dont have to look far within our ranks to see members from Lurgan and West Belfast who happen to be Roman Catholics. Do I have to provide examples or is my assurance enough?

    The Big Deal is that for the first time their is a genuine level of engagement from roman catholics in Unionist parties. The Alliance were always a cross community party and for many years presented the only genuinely acceptable alternative that both communities could back. What held them back was their failure to take a critical mass of votes to win westminster seats so they were dismissed as an irrelevance and have never really challenged either tribe. What is different about UCUNF is that it presents the same acceptable face as alliance but has the local credibility of the Ulster Unionists and the National credibility of the conservatives this means people realise that UCUNF will eventually be the party of government and are more willing to vote for them.

    Another Big Deal about UCUNF is that we are the only Westminster Party that will form the next government. We are not the lone voices or part time MP’s Northern Ireland has come to expect and as David Cameron put it.
    “Northern Ireland now has the opportunity to re-enter the mainstream of national politics. That is what the Conservatives and Unionists offer.”

  6. July 23, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Well I don’t know what polite society is, but they are terms I grew up hearing. I remember having to ask my grandfather what they meant. As for a Unionist Catholic from West Belfast, that I would pay to see; but I’m sure they exist now just as they did then. If you’ve provided them with a political enclave, fair enough – but let’s not pretend it’s something new.

    I suspect that in South Belfast and other similar seats, the Unionist Parties there have known well that they need to appeal to Catholic voters for some time. It has a Protestant majority, but the split between two parties can gift it to the nationalists. A few Catholic voters – and there are many to be had – can give control of the seat.

    To you personally may I say, please don’t do me the disrespect of talking at me like you’re a mobile campaign flyer. The ‘local credibility’ of UU, the ‘national’ credibility of the Tories? Perchance a better organised membership base might help you somewhat more than an ephemeral credibility that could evaporate should the UUP Westminster votes remain static at 2005 levels. But in your hurry to propagandise, you get off the subject.

    And as for forming the next government, I suspect that the UCUNF members will be just as ignored as most Northern Ireland MPs usually are, unless the whip counts are tight. From the People’s Budget until last year when the government needed the DUP votes, this is how it will always be, whatever fancy rhetoric David Cameron comes up with, in which to couch the reality.

    The bottom line in all of this is simple: UCUNF is a banner of convenience. The Tories have money to splash around, for party building, and in the event of a hung parliament a few Northern Irish seats might give them a filip. When it comes down to cutting public spending – as the Tories will do (not to say that Labour wouldn’t) then UCUNF will disentangle once more or face public crucifixion as the DUP champion the ‘rights’ of the Province against a Tory administration trying to balance the budget.

  7. July 23, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    UCUNF isn’t about winning a seat or a matter of “a few catholic voters”. Its about fundamentally changing Northern Irish politics. I believe that the Union is in the political, economic and social interests of everyone in Northern Ireland regardless of the class or religious differences that are percieved in our society.
    For too long this message has been compromised by sectarianism whether real or imagined and this will finally be put to bed with UCUNF.

    Despite your protestations the credibility brought to this deal by the conservatives and the Ulster Unionists is a key point. In the past cross community politics has been blighted because no one takes it seriously. Now they have too. The Ulster Unionist party is and will remain the natural party of government in Northern Ireland. The DUP’s woeful performance in government only re-enforces their image as an opposition party and 100 years of Ulster Unionist history won’t be erased by one electoral showing. Indeed the last 10 years of decline didn’t kill the UU’s and they came back with an impressive performance only a few months ago. This cannot be denied and quite frankly you are foolish to write us off when the electorate endorsed our cause so recently.

    As for UCUNF’s role in government that remains to be seen. Cameron has indeed made promises which will be fulfilled. If they are not bragging rights to you. However I for one am more comfortable offering people the hope of playing a meaningful part in our national government than I am with taking a defeatist attitude and again writing off Northern Ireland. Your historical point is simply inaccurate I can point to several Ulster Unionists who formed part of conservative governments throughout the period you mentioned.

    Unsurprisingly I disagree that UCUNF is a banner of convenience. No political party wastes money anyone involved in politics will attest to this. If the Conservatives want a few extra seats their money would be better spent in Wales and the North of England. Your point about a hung parliament is ridiculous as anyone who has seen the polls in recent weeks will agree. The conservatives are investing in Northern Ireland because they know that with UUP help they can fundamentally change our politics and establish a long term stronghold in Northern Ireland comparable to labour’s historical hold in Scotland. Your point about the economic situation is spectacularly proven false if you simply look at what the people of Northern Ireland are saying

    http://unionistlite.blogspot.com/2009/07/new-unionist-economic-strategy-1-gird.html

    Flip me people in Northern Ireland having a reasoned debate about the UK economy and not simply adopting the DUP’s begging bowl approach who would believe it.

    One of the most conserning things arrising from this debate is the contempt in which you regard the electorate of Northern Ireland. You have repeatedly pointed to a percieved inability to overcome sectarianism portraying it as the be all and end all of our politics. More over you have rubbished any suggestions that the people of Northern Ireland are prepared to vote for a new dynamic and sincere force that can for the first time offer real politics.

    You can accuse me of touting my manifesto if you wish but unlike many in the UK and especially amongst the labour camp I actually believe my manifesto.

  8. July 23, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    You are welcome to your beliefs, but my first point of reply is to ask you, where’s your evidence that the Union is in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland? Without prejudicing the argument by bringing in my own obviously class-orientated point of view, don’t you think it’s a bit preposterous to suggest that something of such magnitude can be in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland?

    Now if you had said most people, most of the time, I might have let it go. The hyperbole reflects badly on you.

    If you think that one more party spouting non-sectarianism (which I’d bet money won’t be the ultimate line of UCUNF when it gets down to brass tacks) is going to magically win votes then I suspect we’ll have to agree to disagree. I won’t even say something like “time will tell” because even if the UUP stages an electoral comeback, you might as well read tea leaves as say that it is a result of a perceived non-sectarianism.

    Non-sectarian parties are nothing new, but escaping the sectarian paradigm is beyond conservatism (as preached by all four parties) generally and certainly beyond the UUP.

    When the Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998, there was a huge outpouring along the lines of, “finally we’ll get back to the politics of Left and Right” or “finally we’ll be able to talk about bread and butter issues.” Eleven years later bread and butter issues haven’t squeezed out sectarian nonsense. The NI Forum and the Assembly itself saw some anti-sectarian headway, only for it to be crushed between the behemoths of nationalism and unionism as they manoeuvered for dominance in their own camp.

    The success of the DUP was in never being outflanked to the Right, in keeping the grassroots onside. We might see TUV outflank them to the Right, and the mixed blessing of being in government destroy sections of their mainstream support, but this will not represent any overcoming of sectarianism even while it might signal a return to prominence for the UUP. Similarly, even if the UUP go into government with Sinn Fein, they’ll still be called to answer the issues thrown up by the basic faultlines of Northern Irish society.

    And then we’ll see whether the successors of Trimble will hold hands with the successors of Paisley as they force their way down the Garvaghy Road.

    Contempt does not lie in asserting that sectarianism is very difficult to overcome (as you accuse me of) but in believing that sectarian people are by nature stupid, as you seem to assert with your (again, hyperbolic) claim that the three other parties don’t offer ‘real’ politics. The politics of sectarianism confuse a lot of issues, but they are no less real for that, insofar as they evidently motivate a lot of people to action and sometimes violence.

    You act as though it will magically disappear when you take your wonderful manifesto to the masses, and you do so at your peril.

    Two appendices to the main argument.

    1. On the nature of UCUNF.

    That opinion polls show the Tories in the lead now does not guarantee them the sort of majority which Labour gained in 1997. For a start, it’s evident from polling comparisons that Cameron is not actively supported to the same degree of Tony Blair, he’s just not as disliked as Gordon Brown and the perception of Labour’s agenda since c.2006.

    With Lord Ashcroft practically throwing money at the Tory marginal constituencies, I suspect national polling will prove to be skewed and the Tories will get a huge victory, but there’s no reason why the Tories wouldn’t take precautions. Blair himself, even though polls for Labour were regularly going over 50% approval, approached Paddy Ashdown about a coalition in case of a hung parliament.

    That Northern Ireland could ever be to the Tories what Scotland is to Labour is laughable. Labour established itself in certain parts of Scotland and Wales as the result of politico-economic struggles that took decades. It was the result of miners and dockers and other industrial workers needing to unite against the rabid exploitation of their bosses and the poverty conditions sustained by laissez faire governments. Tory triumphalism over the deindustrialisation of these areas (and subsequent mass unemployment) made them unelectable.

    There’s nothing equivalent to this sort of political pressure in Northern Ireland.

    2. On the nature of my economic remarks.

    You said my point about the economic situation is proven false by that link. Either you haven’t read that link or you haven’t read my remarks. CEBR said that public spending will mitigate the worst effects short term, but that longer term it’ll stiffle private enterprise etc. Standard stuff from the private sector: too much public spending, not enough profit being made as a result.

    This supports the notion that the Conservatives will cut public spending. Now, whatever way you look at it, even after cutting back frivolous defence expenditure, that will involve cutting money to public services. This will mean lots of people unhappy that services they use are decreased or removed. That’s as much true for Yorkshire as for Northern Ireland.

    The advantage to the devolved governments is that they can secretly accept that it has to be done while attacking central government for cutting the amount of money being received by the devolved parliaments. The SNP have become masters at blaming literally everything on Labour in Scotland and the DUP will (and this is a suspicion of mine) have no problems blaming the Conservatives for the same.

    This will be problematic for any party standing too close to the Conservatives, and will risk UCUNF being caught in the crossfire. Opportunism is everywhere in politics; learn to anticipate it.

    Since you bring up the BNP on your own blog, another example of opportunism (this time from the Tories) will almost certainly be as follows. After rolling back the planning restrictions that demand 25% social housing in major new developments, and cutting the amount of money available to the unemployed and unfit for work, the Tories will publicly deplore the (continued) rise of the BNP in Yorkshire, which is exactly what these cuts will precipitate.

  9. July 24, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    “The Republican movement is subject to this pressure as well, but it does not share many of the traditions of the Unionist movement – there is no clear precedent for knifing one’s comrades…”

    Really?! To take just 3, admittedly, literal examples, the murder of Michael Collins by anti-Treaty forces, the various inter-republican feuds in the 1970s (provos v stickies, INLA v Provos) right up to the murder of Denis Donaldson by most likely dissidents surely proves you wrong there? The 1st item on the Republican Agenda has always been the next split and how we get rid off the last lot of traitors.

    But apart from that, a reasonably good summary at the likely split within the ethno-nat/cultural wing of Unionism-unfortunately for the DUP, Allister’s stance re sharing power with SF makes much more sense to their hardcore support than Robinson’s rather pitiful “We are only in coalition to put manners on SF” line. But more interesting, as Boxer has said previously, is the increasing split within the wider political Unionist movement between the cultural version on offer from the DUP, TUV and still certain elements amongst the UUP and the still minority (but increasing in strength) civic version which has emerged mainly over the last 10 years from the younger pro-Union sympathisers.

    Surely this attempt to secularise our argument and push it onto the socio-economic faultlines which exist in the rest of the UK is to be at least welcomed, if not actively encouraged, by even those on the British Left whose natural inclination would be for the 32 county state?

    You’ve raised doubts over the UUP- Conservative alliance, I (being a social-liberal by nature) also have my reservations, but in the end what the Conservative link-up gives us who are Civic Unionists:

    1.A closer psychological and practical link with mainland politics (meaning that probably my next argument with you will be on economic and not constitutional topics!).

    2.More financial, intellectual and logistical resources to sell our vision of an inclusive, secular United Kingdom.

    3.The chance to have a greater influence at the centre of the UK’s decision making (your argument that NI MPs can have no influence over what happens at Westminster would surely also apply to MPs from, say, Yorkshire who were standing as Independents- which in effect is what the UUP and DUP MPs presently are).

    What it doesn’t guarantee, obviously, is a larger number of people voting for us, but, surveys and opinion polls constantly show a 55-65% (versus 25%-30% pro UI) percentage of adults in NI who are happy to continue with the present constitutional position. Unionist parties at present attract about 35% of the total possible vote, that gives a large target to work for.

    I’m perhaps slightly more cynical than Boxer about what size of change is possible both within the internal UUP collective mentality and within the wider electorate, but I believe that it is the right and moral thing to at least try our very best with to push politics here beyond the present sectarian comfort-zones.

  10. July 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Oneill, you’re right in that there are examples of backstabbing in Republican history – but north of the border the divisions over the treaty are practically irrelevant to the nationalist movement. Of course, this is based on my own experience.

    Divisions between Hoods, Stickies and Provos are taken a little more seriously, but at no time have any of these groups been so all-important as the Ulster Unionist Party was to Unionist politics. So the examples you provide aren’t as immediately relevant, or at least they aren’t treated in the same way in Republican discourse as the fall of Sunningdale and ‘No Surrender’ culture are treated by the other side.

    Again, as I would stress, this is all based on my own experience with both sides.

    On the subject of civic Unionism, I welcome any attempt to secularise politics and, as you say, align it to socio-economic faultlines. On the other hand, the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the UUP have had secular arms for quite some time. Advocacy of secularism cannot and will not succeed independent of the other concerns with which religious and cultural inclinations are tied up. So forgive me if I’m a little dismissive. Obviously a paragraph is not all the argument there is to be had on the subject of secularising politics and I would welcome it if you wished to write an article at your own blog, linked to this one, to which I could reply in more depth.

    Now we can return to the subject of UCUNF, though before we begin I’d like to stress something. I’m not in favour of a United Ireland and there’s absolutely no article on this blog which supports (or at least supports unconditionally) the idea. I’m not terribly ‘in favour’ of the Union, except that insofar as it is the status quo, I’m quite happy to push for socialist change within a framework which will be rendered outdated by such change in any case.

    If I was asked my preference, it would be a federal republic comprising southern Ireland, northern Ireland, highland Scotland, lowland Scotland, Wales, and an England divided up on the basis of the European constituencies. I mention all this because at points you seem to think I’m a United Irelander.

    Back on topic. You have a list of advantages given by UCUNF. I can’t speak to the psychological link, but as to the practical, Ulster Unionists attend any number of Tory gatherings here on the mainland. Plus television, internet and radio, which predated the change. I don’t see much of a practical link beyond the fairly friendly pre-existing relations. You are probably correct as to the financial resources, and you’ll pick up the handful of Conservative activists on the ground.

    But I continue to dispute the notion that UCUNF will permit the UUP any greater inflence at the centre of the UK’s decision making process. In parliament, there are a great many more Tory MPs than there are NI MPs, and the sort of majority everyone is expecting will render the role of Northern Irish MPs even less important. A few individuals may achieve promotion – but this is no different to the promoting of Scottish or Welsh MPs: it is a boon to the individual not the region.

  11. July 25, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    David,

    Your own views on Irish “Unity”, I think, wouldn’t be typical of “the left” in the rest of the UK, but, OK, I should watch the sweeping wide-brush statements!

    I’m in the process of doing a post on the importance of religion with regards to prospective MPs both in NI and Scotland and I’ll be tying that in with the wider point on secularisation and will link you in on that one.

  1. October 29, 2009 at 8:22 pm

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