Usually bloodless political coups take time. There’s a rumble of dissent which then recedes, followed maybe by another couple of efforts to storm the citadel, denied of course by the coup leaders. Finally, a full charge is mounted, the main gate stormed and a new dispensation is in place.
Not so with the DUP, it would appear. Did you think that Arlene Foster’s main weakness was that she wasn’t sufficiently right-wing? Not me. Her petrol-bomb words on the Irish language, her comments on Leo Varadkar, her expressed determination to get rid of the Protocol – you’d have thought she was, whatever her faults, in close touch with the backwoodsmen and women. Alas no.
Whoever replaces her will be crucial. Will it be someone who sees the need to reach out to soft nationalists, Alliance or SDLP voters who simply want a settled life in the UK and who have a faith in the good ship Britannia? Or will note be taken of the fact that, among other things, Arlene is seen as having sinned by abstaining from a vote on therapy to cure the gay population?
Most journalists and pundits are mentioning three names: Edwin Poots, Gavin Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson. If I were a DUP supporter, which would I choose? Probably the good knight Sir Jeffrey who, whatever his inner convictions, presents a mild and squeaky-clean image to the world – an image very different from what the DUP has at present.
The smart money, however, appears to be on Poots or maybe Robinson. The argument for Poots would be that he’d be 100% pure DUP – a man who frowns on homosexuality, gay marriage, evolution – add to the list as you wish. Gavin Robinson is a younger, less in-your-face candidate whose heart is with those in working-class unionism who feel betrayed by the DUP.
So who’s going to win the big cigar? I have no idea. The dark and echoing chamber that is the DUP mindset is a mystery to me. It’s clear that the party is about to have a mental breakdown any day now, as it gets rid of Arlene Foster and puts in place someone more right-wing than her. Yes, Virginia, I’ll repeat that: the DUP plans to put in place someone more right-wing than Arlene Foster.
The old saying describes the thorny place in which the DUP finds itself: ‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad’.