There will always be a place for the DUP but in the 21st century it should be a junior partner in the unionist family
A letter from John Gemmell:
I do not know whether I would be allowed to join the Ulster Unionist Party, as I live outside Northern Ireland. I have never dared ask. But, the UUP under Doug Beattie’s leadership would suit me far better than any political party around in these parts.
I despair of the options where I live. The UUP, on the other hand, seems to be one of the most sensible political parties in Western Europe.
Many commentators are being generous to Edwin Poots, the new DUP leader. It has been suggested, for example, that his election is about changing the current hierarchy within the party, rather than a lurch to the right. I’m sad to say it’s about a lurch to the right.
He may astonish me with his nomination for first minister, but I doubt it.
This reminds us why Doug Beattie is correct to be against the creation of one large unionist party. If it seriously disappointed voters, through either its personalities or policies, there would be nowhere positive for them to go.
However, the current array of unionist parties represents a fraught and attenuated political landscape. Those suspicious of unionism may see a sort of UUP/DUP good cop, bad cop routine, not to mention the TUV, which is a very old-fashioned cop indeed.
‘Bad cop’ is unfair to the DUP, of course, let us just say they are more ideological, more strident even. The problem is that they drown out the more moderate voices of the UUP. Those considering voting Alliance, Green or abstaining hear the stridency of the DUP, not the wise words of the UUP.
But, individual leaders can shift public perceptions and capture imaginations. It’s to be hoped, therefore, that Doug Beattie can raise the profile of the UUP in the minds of floating voters and others. I think he can.
There will always be a place for the DUP and its more traditional values. People like me occasionally forget that those values deserve respect, even the more challenging ones. But, as we move through the 21st century, the DUP should be a junior partner in the unionist family, always with a place at the table, but not at the head of it.
John Gemmell, Wem, Shropshire
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