‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ is how some have described the DUP’s decision to elect unionist extremist and religious fundamentalist, Edwin Poots, as its new leader.
Both MPs and Assembly members of the hardline unionist party had been presented with a choice between Poots (pictured, left), the openly bigoted Agriculture Minister at Stormont, or the slightly more ‘moderate’ candidate, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson.
At one point last week, the odds turned to favour Donaldson, the more polished media performer. However, by just 19 votes to 17, his Lisburn colleague triumphed and will now take over from the deposed Arlene Foster at the end of June.
Although the party will likely remain in a state of turmoil for some time, commentators have suggested a potential split could be one possible outcome, as the party turns to the right.
Poots is a science denier who has rejected the theory of evolution. He is also a homophobe who has described homosexuality as being against “the natural order”.
Closely associated with the bible-thumping sectarianism of the late Ian Paisley Sr and his Free Presbyterian church, his elevation will wreck the party’s ability to appeal to younger and middle-aged voters
University of Liverpool politics professor Jon Tonge describing the election as the DUP “reconnecting with its past”, despite claims by both of the two contenders to be targeting the outcome of Brexit.
Having failed to achieve their goal of a hard border across the line of partition in Ireland, the DUP is furious at measures designed to provide the north of Ireland with trade access to both the EU and to Britain. They have dubbed new red tape for shipments across the Irish Sea as the ‘Irish Sea Border’.
After winning the vote on Friday evening, Poots called for unity to “fight” the Brexit outcome, which he said was “proving to be a massive challenge for us”.
“If we are to fight this to ensure that everybody in Northern Ireland is not worse off as a consequence of the protocol, then it’s for us to do that together,” he said.
Despite calling for unionists to ‘work together’, he said: “This party has been the authentic voice of unionism and will continue to be the authentic voice of unionism under my leadership.”
Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said he believed the new leadership represented a “seriously divided party”.
“It’s a step backwards in every sense,” he said. “Edwin Poots’ antics will guarantee instability – he will refuse to operate the north-south strand of the Good Friday Agreement.”
He said the necessary Stormont vote for Poots to become First Minister “could be so contentious it could mean the collapse of the executive”.
NEW UUP LEADER
Meanwhile, the second largest unionist party has also been replacing its leader, although with much less drama.
‘Submarine’ Steve Aiken, who led the Ulster Unionist Party for the past 18 months, announced his resignation on Monday amid growing impatience within the party over its decline in the polls.
Former British Army Captain Doug Beattie (pictured, right) is the only candidate to succeed him, and he is expected to be confirmed as the new UUP leader within days.
“I want to represent a pro-union politics that offers a modern, progressive vision for the future of the UK,” Beattie said on Monday. “I want to build a Northern Ireland where everyone is able to enjoy a true peace and its benefits, not just the absence of violences.”