Outgoing DUP leader is sending mixed and unhelpful signals
News Letter editorial of Monday May 31 2021:
Recent political history in the UK is littered with examples of ousted political leaders who felt resentful towards their successor.
Margaret Thatcher, who was removed in 1990, came to be fiercely critical of John Major. Mrs Thatcher herself was not forgiven by the man she replaced, Ted Heath, who embarked on “the longest sulk in politics”.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were barely on speaking terms by the time of the 2007 handover, and relations between Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer are hardly rosy.
In Northern Ireland, there have been unhappy changes, including in the DUP when Peter Robinson replaced Ian Paisley. But typically such resentments go unsaid and are deduced from body language or coolness towards a successor or reports from ‘sources’ about bad blood between the rivals.
Arlene Foster has been unusually blunt about Edwin Poots since she agreed to step aside as DUP leader this month.
Her response to events has seemed confused. As recently as Friday she was wishing Mr Poots well in his new role, but also saying that if there is a ministerial reshuffle tomorrow she will resign as first minister (instead of staying on to the end of June, the original exit date Mrs Foster set for herself).
Mr Foster has confirmed that she will leave the DUP. It is remarkable that she is staying on in post at all if so.
Her fluctuating response to events was noticed by a Financial Times reporter at the weekend, who recorded Mrs Foster saying she was philosophical about events, then seeming to reveal that she was not when she said her treatment had been “brutal”.
Mrs Foster last week was querying the letter that led to her removal, which is surprising because few people in the DUP are disputing the fact that she had badly lost the support of her colleagues.
Mrs Foster also told the Financial Times that Mr Poots has to deliver an Irish language act, yet many unionists had been reassured by her comment that she would “never accede” to an act. Weeks ago she felt able suddenly to be generous about the language, saying sin é in Stormont but it would have been better if she had said nothing about an act.
Many unionists feel she was wrong to agree one and are hardly likely to welcome being reminded of that u-turn at a time when the UK is saying the Act of Union is partially repealed.
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