Another day, another two defections. This time, we’re talking about the Traditional Unionist Voice, which has been steadily picking off DUP councillors. And so it is that two councillors in Ards, George Ennis and Terry Williams, have proclaimed their allegiance to the Prodiban insurgency. By my maths, this brings to around eleven the former DUP councillors who have crossed over to the TUV. The main group of these have been up Ballymena way, with a scattering of single councillors elsewhere, but Ards is virgin territory. Not surprisingly, Sunny Jim is cock-a-hoop.
Local DUP honcho and Ulster Scots aficionado Jim Shannon has been downplaying the news, and to be scrupulously fair to them, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Both councillors quit the DUP a couple of years back, with George Ennis having run unsuccessfully as a Stormont candidate for the United Kingdom Unionist Robert McCartney Party. (What is it about unionists and shocking party names?) Nonetheless, the two represent something of a catch for the TUV, both of them having served as mayor of Ards and George being a former MLA. And if you take them alongside Charlie Tosh in Castlereagh (though Charlie has since fallen out with Sunny Jim), if the DUP doesn’t look out, the TUV in the Strangford constituency might get the appearance of momentum behind it.
And that in itself should give Robbo pause for thought. Nobody foresaw Allister’s performance in the European election. Peter Robinson estimated he might get 30,000 or thereabouts, when he ended up accruing twice that. The reason, I think, is that the TUV drew its support from the kind of people who the media don’t usually talk to, and who tend to be a bit guarded even when you do talk to them. You know who I mean. The dour Presbyterians of North Antrim and East Derry. The jittery, paranoid border Prods. The fundamentalists whose objections to Papists in government are as much theologically as politically grounded. In other words, the rural section of the traditional DUP base.
The Strangford constituency (Iris Robinson prop.) is a different kettle of fish. It’s got a big rural section, but it also shades into East Belfast. The rural Paisleyites never really took Robbo to heart, and he may be resigned to trouble in Ballymena, but the TUV establishing a base in Ards is just a little too close for comfort. And the more the DUP has to look over its collective shoulder, the more stresses and strains will be put on the New Dispensation. It’s in this context, I think, that we should see Robbo’s floating of a voluntary coalition with weighted majority voting. He will be hoping to defuse the unrest on his right flank by dangling the prospect of an Executive without Provos. The question is, are those who are moving to the Prodiban inclined to believe a word he says these days?
Hat tip: Turgon.