Following my last announcement that I would be resting from blogging for a while, a story by the BBC has just caught my eye. Now it goes without saying that I can not resist reading the political rune sticks.
It is reported that Peter Robinson is now committing his party to the integration of Northern Ireland schools with a particular proposal to cut off the funding of schools which are run by Churches. The idea that this will be extremely difficult to achieve in practice, particularly with EU Law as it stands and the fact that the Catholic Church will fight to oppose the proposal is not the main point. The point is that the DUP is now championing anti-segregation.
Segregation by reason of religion, in schools, has been identified as one of the pillars which re-enforces social and political sectarianism. Peter Robinson’s party depends upon the sectarian system for its existence. That makes it all the more refreshing that Peter Robinson has made this statement.
Two months ago, Robinson unveiled his party’s own proposals to tackle sectarian violence. At the time that the announcement was made, I suspected that the proposal was carried by the DUP as part of the price for the Alliance Party accepting the nomination for the Justice Ministry.
Two weeks ago, on the Politics Show, Peter Robinson indicated (for the first time I heard him say it) that the DUP was “unionist centre-right.”
I sense that all of these events are connected to a DUP medium term strategy to move its party away from Protestantism to a position where it conducts its politics solely on the left-right political spectrum.
I dare say that some of those reading this post will find the idea of the DUP becoming a moderate party rather difficult to swallow. I don’t. It is entirely logical and consistent with a will to survive long term. By moving itself further into moderate terrain, the DUP is positioning itself to consume as much UUP support as possible. At some point in the future, it will reach the same line that currently cuts between the liberal and traditional wing of the UUP.
With the destruction of the UUP now imminent, that line is becoming an increasingly wide river. The DUP will find it very hard to cross with its current generation of politicians. It now seems likely that this line will soon become a new front line for political dogfights with a Conservative Party, boosted in size by disaffected ex-UUP supporters.
If that scenario represents the near future of Unionist politics, it is not necessarily a good thing for the Conservative Party. Just because they will be somewhat larger, it will not necessarily mean that they will be electorally successful. They will need the support of Nationalist Conservatives just to be able to compete for the ultimate prize of becoming the pan-Northern Ireland centre-right party.
This is a medium and long term war which the Conservative Party must aim to win. If they do not build the party quickly enough, they will lose it. Unfortunately, when it comes to political strategics in relation to Northern Ireland, the party has been found wanting because heart still gets the better of head. At some point in the future, the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland will ‘cotton on’ to the fact that it too will have to change and become something that the DUP never can be, in order to survive. I just hope that when that does happen, it wont be too late.