By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
So farewell the PUP. Instead of PUP/UVF it’s now UUP/UVF, as some members of the assembly murmured while the UUP went to sign the assembly roll on Monday.
Farewell the prospect of any working-class based unionist party.
Farewell too Davy Ervine because, given the collapse of his party’s fortunes, he knows he’ll never be elected again.
In the end that’s probably why he threw in his lot with the fur coat brigade he has so often derided instead of staying with the 9mm brigade. Now unionists know if you vote PUP you get UUP.
It’s the end of a project which began 32 years ago in September 1974.
The UVF front the Volunteer Political Party stood in West Belfast in the October 1974 British general election five months after the UWC strike during which the UVF killed scores of people in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and in random sectarian carnage in the north.
Gerry Fitt trounced them. The VPP got 2,690 votes. Fitt got 21,821.
Instead of the VPP, unionists preferred the DUP candidate, the ranting extremist Johnny McQuade. He polled 16,265. So, no change there.
Ervine has finally conceded that the unionist vote is a purely tribal vote. He has given up and returned to sectarian politics.
All that rubbish he used to spout about supporting left-wing politics was just hot air. He’s joined the most conservative group in the sham assembly with an economics spokesman who makes Lady Hacksaw sound like Che Guevara.
No matter. For Ervine, as he kept repeating to the cameras on Monday, all that counts is maximising the unionist vote.
Oh dear. If the assembly ever gets up and running he’s going to have to eat a lot of those big words he loves to learn to pronounce.
This was the guy who raised the scandal of the appalling education system which, in some years in the poorest unionist districts like the Shankill, produced not a single 11-plus pass and in good years saw one pupil get through.
He deplored the UUP insistence on maintaining the grammar system which perpetuated that inequality. Now he’s going to be in the UUP group voting to continue the very system he attacked. Yuk.
In some respects it’s a return to basics. Unionism used to be a tribal all-class alliance until Paisley’s toxic cocktail of rabid anti-Catholicism and working-class populism split its monolith.
Before the DUP there was always a place for guys like Ervine in the Ulster Unionist Party, as long as they knew their place, which was to misrepresent a middle-class party in a working-class district in Belfast.
Oh yes, Ervine will still spout socialist rhetoric. In fact that will be his role in the UUP assembly group, a working-class gas-bag sitting beside that famous orator, the UUP’s other working-class mascot, Fred Cobain.
Like Cobain, Ervine can emit all the vapour he likes and you do have to feel sympathy for the UUP assembly group when you think of the length of their meetings with Ervine holding forth.
He can talk all he likes but he will not get a single motion through the group. The UUP has captured him and his party.
He can’t escape, because if he tries, he will look an even bigger ass having somersaulted twice.
What’s in it for Ervine? The ability to report the inner workings of the UUP group to the UVF? Hardly riveting stuff.
No. Could it be simple vanity? A rush of blood to the head? Courted by the UUP, a momentary delusion of grandeur.
‘Yes, I can be a king-maker. Yes, I can say I’ll support him for minister but not him. I can turn the tables on Sinn Féin.’
Nope. Fatal move. Ervine’s apostasy will only have an impact on internal unionist politics.
Ervine will bite the dust with the UUP in the next election, which there will be.
The DUP’s Peter Weir put it best. For the UUP to take on board a member whose party represents the UVF, a group not even on ceasefire, which deals in murder, drugs and prostitution in loyalist districts, is, said Weir, “assisted suicide” for the UUP. So maybe that’s Ervine’s cunning plan?