Sunday, May 08, 2005

More on the NI Election

I've already engaged in a small spat over this, in comments to Paul's post and in my own post yesterday.

Well, I am blogging today though, after a rather late night, I'm not quite awake. So I'm settling for a quick comment on the DUP. David Vance, Paul and (another) David have raise interesting points in the comments to my previous post, but I think they miss something fundamental. That is, that elections are as much about electioneering as they are about principle.1

David holds the UUP responsible for selling the Unionist electorate a pup in the GFA, while Paul thinks that Trimble was let down by Republicans (et. al?) in such a way that his authority was shattered. The other David thinks that the GFA was a shoddy document but that Trimble was sincerely doing his best.

But it all seems to boil down to the fact that Unionists turned to the DUP is because they don't want to see terrorists in government. Chats with Unionist friends does confirm this almost trivially basic point: for Unionists, UUP = Adams in power.

Thing is, I would suggest that the same is true of the DUP. Indeed, Eamonn Mallie was on Irish radio this morning (not sure where: I got this second-hand), saying that Paisley had told him that he wanted to die as the Prime Minister of NI. I'm not sure how much credence to put on this, but the fact that it seems plausible is itself the point. As Tom Griffen points out, Paisley could well be 'the new Dev!'

We need to remember that the DUP were a polaroid away from going into power with the Shinners before Christmas. I guess that they'll enter some sort of power-sharing arrangement with SF sooner than we think.

Given that the distinction people made between the two parties is probably unwarranted, the chief reason that the DUP swept the board is that they managed their campaign very well. They were spectacularly professional. Despite the fact that it was nothing of the sort, they set an agenda that presented the election as a referendum on whether Adams should be in power or not.

Simultaneously, the UUP were banging on with their muddled and vaguely offensive 'decent people' and 'simply British' campaigns without any real focus to their message (beyond an attempt to play the DUP on their own ground, a mistake that they consistently made in the last number of years). Where, for instance, was the effort to encourage tactical voting from nationalists?

Elections are, at some level, about the constructions of beliefs in the minds of the electorate. And the DUP did a first-rate job. If you want to know why they won, the play of principles will only tell you so much. You need to find out who Peter Robinson has brought into Dundela Avenue and how they decided to play the electoral game: how the captured and shaped the themes of the election. And indeed, how they captured and shaped the initiative in Unionist politics for the previous 8 years (perhaps 40 years!).

Not, by the way, that this sort of thing is unique to the Unionist camps. The SDLP were lucky to get away with this election: they could easily have been routed for exactly the same reason. Why, instead of playing the Shinners on Shinner turf, did they not try to construct the choice facing the nationalist portion of the electorate as between them and the mafia?

Every time Durkan was on the television he should have been saying 'we stand for law and order. They knife people outside bars.' That's the sort of stuff that wins elections. Instead, the SDLP effectively ran the SF united Ireland campaign. It's baffling.

In short, as Mick put it over on Slugger, this election marked the death of amateur politics in Northern Ireland.

And in the meanwhile, some of us return to one of NI's Summer sports: assaulting children.

1 I should say that this point is a bit more limited to the manner in which I proposed it yesterday. In other words, I take on board a lot of what Paul and others had to say about the position the UUP found itself in.

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