DUP loses its fizz under Foster
Posted By: March 10, 2017
Will Scholes. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, March 10, 2017
BOTTLES of white grape Shloer unopened, tray bakes untouched and faux lace-trimmed paper tablecloths still wrapped in cellophane: few tableaux of disappointment can have ever looked as forlorn as that laid out in the refectory at DUP headquarters when realization dawned that, on its watch, Unionism had ceded its majority.
The party set up might be imagined but the crisis for Unionism and the DUP is all too real.
Yes, the party attracted around 23,000 more votes than it had in the 2016 assembly election and remains Northern Ireland’s single largest party at Stormont, but no amount of spinning can present last week’s result as anything other than a disaster for Arlene Foster personally, the DUP in particular and unionism in general.
Losing a whopping 10 assembly members and dropping its share of the vote by 1.1 per cent —in the context of a 10 percentage point rise in turnout— tells a large part of the real story; the rest is written in the fact that Sinn Féin is now just a single, solitary seat behind the DUP.
It is also etched on the faces of the DUP candidates, whether elected or eliminated last Friday. The grins, bigger than their heads when the party won 38 seats last May, now look more like waxwork rictuses.
They are the grimaces of those who realize that theirs is the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory.
Or an Arlenic victory, as it could be called, for the whole shambles was forged on the anvil of the DUP leader’s stubborn refusal to take a more savvy approach to the gathering Renewable Heat Incentive scheme storm at an earlier stage. Anyone who continues to offer the opinion that Mrs. Foster is a great natural politician identifies themselves as a dunce.
The reversal in Mrs. Foster’s fortunes has been rapid and is probably irrevocable.
From being apparently unassailable as Unionism’s prima donna as recently as last May, she has seen her reputation – which had been more assumed than properly tested – for ministerial competence eroded and her suitability for office questioned to the extent that other parties will not accept her in the role of First Minister until the RHI inquiry is concluded.
In just a few short months, Mrs. Foster has gone from being buoyant and confident to a haunted figure, outmaneuvered by events which she had ample opportunity to nip in the bud. Has political capital ever been squandered so dramatically?
The image of Arlene Foster huddled in a guarded room at her constituency count in Omagh last Friday, sequestering herself from the media and other candidates, spoke of a beleaguered and isolated leader. There was no rush to Belfast to celebrate results with selfies as there had been in May; she was invisible over the weekend, only to emerge from the bunker on Monday in an awkward and completely unconvincing appearance at Carson’s statue with Nigel ‘the mighty’ Dodds.
Even the eventual show of strength with the party’s diminished assembly team in Stormont’s Great Hall on Tuesday had a flavor of the bizarre, as Mrs. Foster launched into a soliloquy about how things were generally excellent to an audience consisting of television cameras but no reporters.
A major contributory factor to the DUP leader’s fall from grace has been the arrogant and dismissive tone with which she brushed off any criticism of her handling of the RHI debacle and the way she appeared to regard political opponents as something you would tell your children not to get on their shoes; it speaks volumes when even the famously spiky David Trimble sounds plausible when he urges you to be more polite.
Few beyond the DUP will shed a tear for the predicament of either the party or its leader. That the DUP fails to appreciate how others see it is a large part of its problem.
It is the dreadful, ghastly, crocodile-baiting, utterly insufferable, yoghurt-currying, smug, self-righteous, blame-shifting, petty, Pecksniffian, narrow-minded, yo-hoing, graceless, fireside-orating, arrogant, rebarbative, disdainful, ignorant, crass, casuist hair-splitting, Arlene’s-on-fire chanting, RHI-denying, hubristic, Red Sky’s-all-right-Nelson’s-delight, Nama-mia-here-I-go-again, buck eejitistical, Spad-tastic, FOI-dodging, entitled and Sif-it-makes-you-happy party.
All that might be slightly more bearable if the DUP had ever articulated a coherent vision for the future of Northern Ireland and sharing power with Nationalists.
With hindsight, the closest it probably came was in April 2013 when Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness held spades at the Maze-Long Kesh and backed the peace center proposals; months later, that detente imploded in spectacular fashion with Mr. Robinson’s ‘letter from America’.
Arguably, relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin have never properly recovered from that. Both sides seemed content to operate the executive in separate silos, thus creating the circumstances that allowed RHI, Nama and other outworkings of Stormont’s dysfunction to develop while simultaneously allowing education and health to succumb to the grip of crippling inertia.
Mrs. Foster has frittered away an even stronger position than that enjoyed by Mr. Robinson through a set of circumstances almost entirely of her making.
With direct rule on the cards, it looks like the DUP, as well as its stocks of Shloer, has lost its fizz. But how will Sinn Féin respond?