Unionism needs a strong and united DUP ahead of crucial next year

The News Letter editorial from Wednesday, April 28.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 7:00 am
News Letter editorial

Arlene Foster will need a remarkable great escape act if she is to survive as leader of the DUP.

As Sam McBride, our political editor, reports, at least three quarters of Mrs Foster’s MLAs have signed a letter calling for a leadership election.

Half of the party’s eight MPs and at least one of the party’s five peers have also backed what is effectively a vote of no confidence in Mrs Foster’s leadership. At grassroots level, there is also a widespread lack of confidence in the leader

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With the DUP never having held a leadership election before, the process is somewhat unclear to those outside the party. But whether those eligible to vote include MLAs, MPs and peers, or just MLAs and MPs, the arithmetic looks stacked against Mrs Foster.

The former Ulster Unionist proved incredibly resilient in the face of previous pressures on her leadership, going right back to the RHI scandal, but it’s impossible to see how she can emerge stronger from this crisis.

Mrs Foster would be best advised to stand down rather than subject herself to what would almost certainly be a heavy defeat.

Unionism needs a strong and united DUP ahead of next year’s Assembly elections and a leader commanding the confidence of the whole party is essential in what will be a pivotal poll.

The identity of Mrs Foster’s successor is unclear. The DUP continues to be handicapped by many of its biggest political beasts being Westminster MPs as opposed to MLAs.

For that reason, a dual leadership structure, with an MP as leader of the party and an MLA succeeding Mrs Foster as first minister, may be an option.

Initial speculation suggests that Edwin Poots, the agriculture minister who is back in good health after undergoing surgery for kidney cancer, could succeed Mrs Foster as first minister. The experienced Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, or the highly regarded Gavin Robinson, seem likely leadership contenders from the party’s crop of MPs.