There’s an irony at the heart of the verbal war being conducted at present between the DUP and Sinn Féin . It’s an irony that none of our mainstream thinkers/journalists appear to have addressed, and it’s this: it doesn’t matter.
Let me explain. Gregory’s laugh-our-asses-off routine at the DUP conference was intended to appeal to those in the electorate who think that mocking the Irish language and dismissing with bum-wipe contempt the position of political opponents is funny. Why did he want to appeal to them? So they’d vote for him and other DUP candidates come May.
Gerry Adams’s slip-of-the-tongue (thinks: not like Gerry, that) and talk of using the Trojan horse of equality on the refuseniks in unionism was intended to show his republican audience and wider afield that Sinn Féin aren’t sitting on their bums and letting the DUP verbally mug them without responding. He apologised for his terminology but he didn’t apologise for his attack on the DUP. You may be sure he did this with part of his mind on the Westminster elections.
Which brings us to the irony: the Westminster elections have no practical worth. Sinn Féin work hard to get as many seats as they can but they don’t enter the British House of Commons chamber. This has earned them criticism from unionists and even from the SDLP. But their strategy is to bring as much political power onto the island of Ireland as possible so for them it makes perfect sense.
The DUP work hard to get as many Westminster seats as possible because, they say, they want to influence other MPs and the British government in the House of Commons. Mmm. Have you ever watched a session in the Commons when our little stateen was being discussed? Echoing voices, empty seats: virtually all of the other members have cleared off to their office or the bar or somewhere something interesting is happening. The DUP talk about the possibility of their being the power-brokers after the election, holding the balance of power between Labour and the Tories. Oh really? Ever heard of a little outfit called UKIP, chaps? So although the DUP will take their seats in the Commons, it won’t make a blind bit of difference: the British government will do what the British government wants. You think being button-holed by Nigel Dodds or Jeffrey Donaldson will persuade them to change their minds? Oh, and did I mention the absolute and total necessity for the DUP to regain East Belfast from the Alliance Party? Peter of course won’t stand there again – too risky. But probably young Gavin Robinson (no relation, I believe) will enter battle on his behalf and pray that they win the day. They can’t lose face again.
So although both the DUP and Sinn Féin will go flat out to get as many seats as humanly possible, in terms of practical outcome it won’t have any effect. Except that it’ll give the public a sense that the DUP is growing or declining in strength, and ditto Sinn Féin. But then in politics,public perception is a vitally important ingredient.