This blog first appeared as a column in The Andersonstown News.
There are other certainties besides death and taxes. There Is the fixed certainty that the DUP is in a life-and-death struggle to survive, and the related certainty that the party’s survival will depend on Jeffrey Donaldson. Let’s take a step back and consider what manner of man this is, who has been called to be a political saviour.
Well, we know he started political life as constituency agent to Enoch Powell (yes, Virginia, he of the ‘rivers of blood’ speech). We know that, at an early age, he joined the Orange Order and the UDR, stating that he felt the need to be militarily as well as politically active against the IRA, who killed two of his RUC cousins. In the UDR Jeffrey’s talents were soon spotted and he rose effortlessly to the rank of corporal. We know that he walked out of the UUP delegation on Good Friday morning 1998, in protest against letting Sinn Féin into the Assembly before they’d decommissioned. He left the UUP and joined the DUP, of which he is currently leader.
Can we draw any conclusions from this history about the man on whom so much depends? Well, the Enoch Powell connection would suggest he has no problem working with racists. And would it be possible that Jeffrey joined the Orange Order, an anti-Catholic organisation, because it chimed with something in his own make-up? His record shows he was opposed to the GFA, which has given us relative peace for more than twenty years. Finally, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, which suggests he is happy with the undemocratic institution of monarchy, and in this case a monarchy which excludes all and any Catholics however loyal or royal, from becoming Head of State.
All of which make Jeffrey sound like a dyed-in-the-wool unionist – a conviction politician, you might say, only not In a nice way. But despite that, and despite his dismissal by the good Lord John Taylor as “little Jeffrey’, he has fine qualities. He is a committed Christian – check the fish in his lapel. I know of at least one BBC producer who, while he would have had no time for Jeffrey’s politics, was loud in his praise of Jeffrey’s unfailing courtesy and gentle manner, both qualities not commonly found among DUP politicians.
So does Jeffrey continue to share the Orange Order’s sectarian stand? Does he look back on his time in the UDR, a discredited force, with pride? As far as I know, he’s still a member of the OO; and there’s a large and ugly statue in the middle of Lisburn, within Jeffrey’s constituency, honouring that regiment. It’s possible Jeffrey snap a smart salute each time he passes it, despite the many crimes linked with that regiment.
The thing is, If he’s to have any degree of credibility, Jeffrey must have clear lines of difference from the UUP, which party he left in protest. On the other hand, he must quickly rebuild the Orange Wall, which fell into disrepair when he wasn’t looking and liberated a torrent of DUP votes that flooded into the TUV.
For Jeffrey and the DUP, this is their Alamo. He has demanded that the protocol be abolished or at least radically modified, so that NEI can be brought in from the window-ledge of the Union.
Will he succeed? Will Boris Johnson abolish the border in the Irish Sea so that Jeffrey can prosper and save the Union? Johnson doesn’t do other people favours, so if what Jeffrey seeks were to clash with the political prosperity of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the guy out on the window ledge can go ahead and jump.
My advice to Jeffrey: in your nightly (and yes, Virginia, knightly ) prayers, be sure to include Alexander Boris. Faith can move mountains, so why not the monster of self-interest currently residing at 10?