Within the last few weeks Northern Ireland has had a constantly updating list of political drama (NI protocol drama, border poll drama, TUV gaining voters drama and concerns over NI’s covid vaccine uptake) to deal with.
However, we now look back at those carefree weeks as some form of utopian dream, after this weeks political hand grenade.
To summarise, a poll said the TUV’s likely vote share for an upcoming election had increased, and the DUP’s had dropped. Due to this, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson climbed into a metaphorical crane and smashed a political wrecking ball into the NI assembly government. Jeffrey threatened to pull down the Stormont institutions if the NI protocol was not renegotiated. There is a tiny, but extremely loud, section of ‘Pro-Union with Britain’ loyalists who see the protocol as a serious concern. The rest of unionism might not love the protocol, but they do love nando’s, and McDonalds milkshakes, so they’re secretly hoping we keep it.
Jeffrey’s team released a number of snazzy graphics with a picture of Jeffrey looking suitably glum, with “his” quotes (actually likely written by DUP marketing team, but hey-ho). They seem to have misjudged the tone, and the graphics came across as less political leadership and more as A-Level politics coursework – and we’re talking Grade C level stuff.
It appears the DUP were unaware of how poorly this threat would be received, during a global pandemic, with its mile long list of associated negatives.
That’s before we mention the ongoing furore over the withdrawal of the additional covid element of universal credit, and winding down of the furlough scheme… while we’re still in the midst of the virus.
So, while Jeffrey and the DUP PR team start their search for alternative employment, the other parties rub their hands together with delight.
Impressively bearded Doug Beattie of the UUP calmly spoke about how dangerous the DUPs threat was, and actually came up with an alternative NI protocol of sorts. It was impressively out of left field, and took control of the conversation, with the calm resolve of a man who’s comfortable in his own beard.
Not to let a crisis in Unionism go to waste, Colm Eastwood – of the Nationalist SDLP – made an irate speech like an angry man who doesn’t realise he’s still arguing while everyone else has left the room. Yes Colm, we’ve all worked out the threat wasn’t a great idea.
Sinn Fein were noticeable by their absence at the beginning of Jeffreygate, but then reconsidered and thought they’d stick the boot in while Donaldson was already down. Why change the habit of a lifetime, eh?
The Alliance Party made a number of statements about the issue, but I was unable to make it out as they speak at a frequency only middle class people can hear.
Jim Allister of the TUV welcomed the threat but thought, unsurprisingly, that it didn’t go far enough. He warbled on in his miserable tone of voice, because that’s just who he is really.
We are now left in a situation where the DUP have made a threat that, if they carry it out, could lead to political oblivion for themselves. Now I know Edwin Poots thought the earth was created in 1690, or something, but even he didn’t make this much of a mess of things.
The lesson here is to not make a threat that your political enemies will want you to carry out. You’re supposed to threaten things that would worry your opponents, while you’re in a position of power. When you’re so bad at politics that you make Jim Allister look like an appealing option, it’s time to have a major rethink about your life.
Jeffrey Donaldson is a weak leader. His political prime was from a time when conflict in NI politics was a default setting. He still – along with many many others – still brings that perma-confrontational attitude to everything he does. I should never have to say this in the 21st Century, in a democracy but, Jim Allister is not a viable alternative. Seriously people, he’s the political equivalent of scrooge, but pre-epiphany scrooge. Chances are if the ghosts visited him to show him the error of his ways he’d tell them to leave because he was in the middle of dry toast and black tea for his supper, because butter and milk are probably a pan EU/Nationalist/IRA plot.
This leaves Doug Beattie in the enviable position of looking like a political heavyweight, simply by not frothing at the mouth over every single issue. He has brought together a wide UUP church including ex-members of other parties (I am certain this will lead to heartache in the future), and everybody seems on-board right now. He just has to sit back, stay calm and maintain his beard.
Jeffrey Donaldson was supposed to provide political leadership, but instead his ‘power move’ just stunk of weakness and insecurity. The DUP will trundle on with him because another leadership contest (not that it was a contest last time) would make them look like (more of) a laughing stock.
To round things up, if you want to run a successful political campaign, don’t do a Jeffrey.