Friday, 7 March 2008

Grumbleweeds to replace the Chuckle Brothers?

Jeffrey Donaldson had barely been sworn in as Junior Minister before he appeared to signal the end of the ‘chuckle brothers’ routine at Stormont.

Following Ian Paisley’s political demise, the expected elevation of DUP Deputy Leader Peter Robinson – a man not publicly renowned for jocularity in any event – to the position First Minister and Leader of the DUP will undoubtedly lead to a period of ‘cooler’ relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin in public.

Undoubtedly there will be cross words in public order to reassure the post-Dromore electorate that the DUP have not ‘gone soft’.

Ironically, as noted last week with regard to the row about the use of the Long Gallery for an event to commemorate Mairead Farrell (the IRA member who was shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar) such rows will also help Sinn Féin reassure ‘the base’ – their core Republican supporters.

Both parties will be concerned however that a ‘Grumbleweeds’ routine cannot guarantee electoral salvation. The DUP in particular will remember what happened to a political party – the Ulster Unionists - who sought to be a party to a deal but remained unwilling to sell the deal.
Fortunately for them, the electoral and political system bolsters their positions – not least by keeping the UUP and SDLP tied into the tent.

A few weeks ago in the debates over the Budget and the Programme for Government, the SDLP Assembly team left the Executive tent to vote against the Budget and Programme but left their Minister in the tent – even though they let it be known that she would have liked to have left the tent too.

It would be interesting – a few weeks after the event - to know what the impression this has had on the electorate – or more precisely that section of the nationalist electorate that a) cared and b) understood the tactic.

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