Dodds decision reflects waning local influence of MPs

Morning View
Morning View

The decision of Nigel Dodds not to stand for DUP leader has taken political pundits by surprise.

The party’s deputy and Westminster leader is currently at the height of his career.

The North Belfast MP leads a contingent of eight MPs at a time when David Cameron only needs to suffer rebellion by six backbench Tories to lose his Commons majority.

Mr Dodds has plenty to concentrate his mind at Westminster, and he said as much in his statement yesterday afternoon.

Even so, it is surprising that he has decided not to seek a position that was, it seemed, his for the taking.

Mr Dodds has been prominent in unionism for 30 years yet is a relatively young 57 – a decade younger than Peter Robinson. 
His background as a Cambridge-educated barrister would win the respect of the Tory elites that could prove so useful in the current parliament. But the logic that Mr Dodds cited for not standing yesterday, and indeed previously, is compelling. A DUP leader based in Westminster would face managerial headaches, now that being both an MP and MLA is thought unacceptable and with key party operatives at Stormont.

It is an indication of the ultimate success of devolution (for all its day-to-day failings in practice) that being an MP has now returned to the status it had in the 1950s and 60s: a privileged elected position for sure, but one that is removed from all the main decision-making relating to Northern Ireland. In that sense, it is an almost sad end of an era when Westminster was the heart of the action, both locally and nationally.

Now the exact role of MPs is uncertain. English votes for English laws could place Ulster, Scots and Welsh MPs on an outer tier of influence. Meanwhile, the European Parliament could grow in significance or – if we quit the EU – have no UK relevance at all.

With Mr Dodds out of the running as an MP, there is irony in Sammy Wilson’s emergence as a possible contender. He reluctantly quit Stormont to stay at Westminster. Perhaps he is partly staking a claim for the importance of MPs.