By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
A couple of weeks ago you read here that electing Poots leader would hasten the demise of the DUP.
No one imagined it would happen so quickly but, whatever anyone says, dress it up how you will, the party came to an end last Thursday night in the Crowne Plaza. People talk about the fissiparous tendency in unionism being on display. In this case fissiparous meets entropy. Yes, it will take some time for heat to dissipate from the corpse, but the inexorable process is underway.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. Think about the extent of the split and its acrimonious nature: threats, smears, social media assaults, back biting, provoking walk outs and resignations. The secret DUP briefers of the BBC’s angry man’s radio show are now stabbing each other in the front. Roll up! All the fun of the fair!
Now think about what you can loosely refer to as the DUP assembly party or maybe that should be parties? Will the MLAs on the losing side meekly row in behind the winning Paisley wing? No. Foster says she’ll resign from the party. So she’ll be an Independent at Stormont or will she resign her seat? Will any follow her? What about the embittered losing MPs like Donaldson, Robinson and Campbell? We now have at least two parties on the green benches at Westminster with the leader leading the losing faction. What larks!
There’s one consequence for certain. If Poots provokes an assembly election his raggle-taggle team will be slaughtered. For a start, where would he find candidates in Fermanagh/South Tyrone? Perhaps the best fun would be in Lagan Valley. Donaldson will have to find a new constituency office or else partition the one he shares. Would the Donaldson wing stand candidates against the Poots wing, yet both be DUP candidates? Impossible. Maybe there’ll be Official DUP and Provisional DUP? In that event it won’t be too long until somebody tries to set up an umbrella party like in the mid-seventies when there were fifty-seven varieties of unionism which is why the UUP had to call itself the Official Unionists. Ah yes, that shimmering Shangri-la: unionist unity.
You can see the problem for MLAs and MPs as the corpse twitches and bits fall off. Do they resign now and try to cultivate an independent role? Do they hang on and fail to gain a nomination for the next election? Do they win nomination but get buried in the electoral backlash against Poots’s stupidity? Do they stick it out and try to do as much damage to Poots and the Paisley wing as possible? Or, do they try to join the UUP? Not as easy as you might think. They wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms by long suffering UUP people on the receiving end of DUP abuse who are hoping to be nominated themselves. They don’t want carpetbaggers camping in their territory.
As for the deeply unpopular Poots, 64 per cent of whose party voters would have preferred Donaldson, he has no choice but to make a deal with Sinn Féin and desperately hope that he can postpone the final disintegration of his party until next year.
Who could have foreseen the self-destruction of the DUP in such rapid order? Obviously Poots and his crew haven’t read Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’ on that matter. When the character Mike Campbell was asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”, he gave a self-contradictory answer: “Two ways: gradually, then suddenly.”
Exactly like the DUP, the gradual part beginning with the misguided embrace of Brexit in the expectation that a hard Brexit which they espoused would produce a hard British border in Ireland. The sudden part being hit in the face with the boomerang of the hard Brexit they advocated and its inevitable consequence: the DUP border in the Irish Sea which killed the party.