Tuesday, June 20, 2006

DUP Failing To Provide Leadership For Unionism

Despite being by far and away the biggest northern party both at Stormont and at Westminster, the DUP is failing to provide effective leadership for the unionist community.

Rather than guiding it in a direction that will benefit those within it, the DUP continues to play the role of rabble-rouser as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, despite now having a democratic mandate which demands of them a much higher degree of responsibility.

Key among the casualties of this abandonment of leadership has been the perception of unionist culture. Most nationalists have never had much regard for the Orange Order or its associated ‘festivities’, but in the past decade the reputation of this stalwart of unionist society has taken a nosedive. And no one is doing anything about it. The leaders of the Order seem to ineptly stumble from one debacle to another, in the meantime ‘condoning’ violence and such. Meanwhile the DUP cheers and jeers from the sidelines, rhetorically pushing impressionable youths at the sectarian coalface towards raucous behaviour, and then retreating to their often resplendent suburban homes to watch the aftermath unwrap on TV.

For many nationalists, unionist culture can now be summed up by: environmental disasters in the form of badly managed bonfires, blocked roads, Orangemen forcing their way through housing estates where they are not wanted, and loyalist youths engaging in vicious violence when they don’t get their way (with the apparent silent blessing of unionist leaders who ought to know better). Whether this is a fair opinion or not is open for debate, but what is certain is that it has been formed through an ongoing series of public relations trainwrecks over the past number of years.

The Ulster Unionists are at the minute too weak to take any decisive action- it is only the DUP who have the influence in loyalist areas to effect change. However, until now they seem to have preferred to push unionist culture beyond the realms of decency in order to promote their own narrow agenda (for instance, look at their protestations over the current Whiterock ruling, a decision with which they should be more than happy). Meanwhile, its attitude and electioneering brinkmanship continues to act as the water which is flushing unionist culture down the gutter.

And now rumours are circulating that the DUP is in internal crisis.

On one hand we have those who have been happy to engage in sectarian rhetoric for years, but now taste power in the form of a Stormont Executive- they are willing to actually bring the DUP into the realms of realpolitik by forming some sort of government, rather than wallowing the world of ‘never, never, never’.

Yet we also have the hawks- the hardliners who would still feel at home in the Ulster Hall engaging in blood-and thunder-rhetoric, the type that would rather drink a pint on a Sunday than sit with Sinn Féin (or perhaps any nationalist politicians) in a power-sharing arrangement.

These two (or possibly three, if we take into consideration pragmatic conservatives who see powersharing as distasteful, but regard it as perhaps the best way of trumping the UUP, thus forcing them into oblivion) are heading for a collision course, which in the worst case scenario for the DUP could result in a major split and spark the formation of several new parties.

Of course, this revelation comes as no surprise- it is the direct result of having engaged in the politics of ‘no’ for so many years. The juncture has come whereby this attitude is no longer tenable- the people of the north are demanding better government than the current direct rule arrangement provides, and the DUP knows it has to deliver. However it has created a beast, one hand of which recognises the need to deal with the realities of post-decommissioning provisional republicanism, and the other which adheres rigidly to the idea of sole unionist hegemony.

As the marching season passes and the autumn dawns, it will be interesting to observe what turn next unionism in Ireland will take.

1 comment:

William said...

We can only hope that the old bastard drops dead soon, and the moderates/prags can take ahold of the party. Otherwise, SF and the DUP will continue butting heads, and probably continue picking up votes because of it.