During the Cold War, the doctrine of ‘peace through strength’ was adopted by the United States.
It recognised that in order to make progress one needed a strong base from which to operate.
The same is the case for unionism today. Northern Ireland and unionism will not prosper unless it has strong and sensible leadership. This is vital at a time when republicans are upping the ante across a range of issues.
Whether it is driven by a need to react to the dissident threat, to pander to internal opposition, to divert attention from their failure to achieve a united Ireland, or just a matter of taking orders from their party masters in the Republic of Ireland, it is a retrograde step and a failure of leadership.
A political process dominated by division is not what the DUP has sought but if republicans are going to be politically aggressive, then unionism must be strong. To be its strongest it must be united. Only the DUP can provide that leadership.
On May 22 it is likely that there will be only two nationalist candidates contesting the election, representing Sinn Fein and the SDLP. While on the unionist side there may well be six, seven or even eight parties or candidates. This is not a good situation for unionism. The advantage of greater choice has to be weighed against the weakness that division and undoubted arguments brings.
Each unionist party is perfectly entitled to stand and in fairness each party will have slightly different cases to make. UKIP are a national party that wants to see the UK out of Europe – although Euro-scepticism is already well provided for here. The TUV want to bring down Stormont and hand power back to those who would sell us out in an instant, NI21 want anything the other unionists don’t and don’t want anything the other unionists do, the PUP are the political voice of the UVF, the Conservative Party is a national party with no significant base in Northern Ireland that wants to see a referendum on Europe, and the UUP is yesterday’s party and is presently struggling to find a reason to exist.
No one would deny any of these parties the opportunity to put their case but neither should anyone ignore the damage divisions within unionism will do to our cause.
In the last few years it has been left to the voters to force the pace and take those decisions by uniting behind the DUP. In moving from a party of opposition to one of government we have broadened our base of support and been strengthened by defections from other parties to ensure that the DUP best represents unionism as a whole.
Unionists must not only be strong but smart as well. They must act not just for the short term but be vigilant for the long term. Unionist voters know that the DUP is their strongest voice in Northern Ireland, at Westminster and in Europe. A resounding vote for Diane Dodds on May 22 and a commitment to transfer to ensure the election of a second unionist candidate is the best way to strengthen our hand in the challenges that lie ahead.