In this election campaign the DUP campaigned on a platform of wishing for a hung parliament. They got what they wanted.
And did they get any benefit from this result? No. I listened to Jeffrey Donaldson on the Nolan programme the other day making it clear that there had been no contact with the Conservatives, ‘not even a phone call’, as he said petulantly.
Of course we were disappointed not to have done better in the election. But if this had been a PR election we would have won three seats, and if it was an Assembly election we would have added to the eighteen seats gained last time. This is not the result of a party or a project rejected by the electorate.
It is all too easy after the event to pick over the entrails and talk about what went wrong, and there is a place for that; but it is best done behind closed doors and only in so far as there are lessons to be learned for the future. We should not be indulging in ‘blame game’ politics or calling for heads to roll.
I believe we should strongly resist siren voices calling for so-called ‘Unionist unity’. Two years ago we started down the path of linking up with the Conservative Party, offering a vision of bringing normal politics to Northern Ireland, moving away from the narrow sectional tribal politics we have had for decades. We had a good result in the European election, not as good as we hoped in this election, but then the Conservative Party nationwide did not have as good a result as it would have hoped for.
If we continue to build on our alliance with the Conservative Party, we will be continuing to offer an opportunity to truly cement the union by remaining a part of the party of government, in a position not dissimilar to the Scottish Conservative Party.
But if we go down the route of ‘Unionist unity’, what will happen – we will be absorbed into the DUP. I believe they are not truly a Unionist party at all, but more like an Ulster Nationalist Party. It is only necessary to refer to on comment from them: ‘England’s difficulty is Ulster’s opportunity’ to sum them up.
They have no thought for the good of the country as a whole. They are simply holding out their begging bowl to ask that they get preferential treatment over and above any other part of the UK. Their line in the election paralleled that of SNP and Plaid Cymru. One wonders if there is in fact any Unionism left within that party, or are they content for it to be obvious that they are an Ulster Nationalist Party.
If we were to end up with one Unionist bloc, how long would it be before Sinn Fein absorbed the SDLP, and we would be left with a single nationalist bloc also. But if we continue to offer national politics, particularly if other parties such as Labour come in as well, then support will be drawn off from DUP and Sinn Fein, who feed off each other, and political life will be healthier.