The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Coulter's Choice

Election Coverage

An assessment of the the fate and fortunes of Ulster Unionist boss David Trimble as Thursday's crunch General Election looms, and predictions for the 18 Northern Ireland seats.

Dr John Coulter • 2 May 2005

David Trimble, joint Nobel Peace Prize winner and suspended Executive First Minister, may be staring at the last days of his 10-year reign of the Ulster Unionists, and his 15-year stint as a Commons MP.

Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Trimble has become the Great Houdini of unionist politics, escaping repeated plots and coups within the party's ruling 900-delegate Ulster Unionist Council.

His vision for unionism was helped by his acute legal brain, but his political epitaph will be written because of his perceived 'stand offish' personality with both public and party workers.

When he won the Upper Bann by-election in 1990, his majority was almost 14,000. Fifteen years later, he is battling for his very survival, defending a 2001 Commons majority of just under 2,000.

Like Terence O'Neill in the late 1960s, Trimble faces his 'crossroads election'. In spite of the euphoria marking the UUC centenary celebrations in March, it seems the UUP is destined to become the 100-year-party, with 'meltdown' being the nasty buzz-word floating around Ulster Unionist circles.

Already, the party's so-called 'men in grey suits' are preparing Trimble's exit strategy. Even before the election results are announced later this week and early next week, numerous senior figures in the UUP are already suggesting Trimble will quit no matter what the outcome.

Even if he wanted to remain leader, nothing short of maintaining the party's status quo at Westminster and local government will satisfy the 'Trimble Must Go' camp within the party.

However, even the dogs in the street expect the UUP to lose further ground to the rival, rampant Paisley camp. Spurred on the by the prospects of a meltdown in the Parliamentary party, Trimble has set himself a punishing schedule of tours around the constituencies to rally his troops.

The Paisleyites - and even many within Ulster Unionism - have managed to reduce Trimble's vision of a New Unionism and the merits of the Belfast Agreement to a popularity poll on Trimble's personality.

Compared to his predecessor, many consider Trimble's perceived 'stand offish' personality as the root cause of UUP electoral problems. When wee Jim Molyneaux - now Lord Molyneaux - was party boss, he had a sterling reputation for chatting endlessly to party workers at branch meetings.

Molyneaux, it was said, kept the grassroots informed of UUP policy and direction. It is perceived Trimble has a small clique huddled around him based in the party's HQ and that communication with the grassroots has effectively collapsed, or is non-existent.

The source of Trimble's woes is not his lack of political vision; it's just that he can't seem to get the message across to the party faithful.

This uncertainty has bolstered DUP criticism of Trimble's leadership and led to defections and apathy within UUC ranks.

As one senior Unionist, who was once one of Trimble's right-hand supporters, noted: "To quote an old Russian proverb - a fish rots from the head. As a leader, Trimble is a loner; he's not a team man. Molyneaux took time to visit the workers on the ground; he was a 'people first' leader. With Trimble, it's his way or no way."

Trimble's main weakness has been his inability to prevent the DUP stealing his policies and political clothes. Through lack of communication with his UUP grassroots, Trimble has allowed the DUP to occupy the Centre-Right which was once the bastion of the Ulster Unionists.

This has forced the Upper Bann MP to lurch from time to time to the Radical Right in desperate bids to 'out-Paisley' the DUP. They misfired, leaving the UUP rudderless.

His big image problem is that many within the entire unionist family blame their woes on him personally. A simple perception has emerged - dump Trimble and the unionist garden will become rosy again.

In spite of any successes or holding the fort in the local elections, unionists are political animals who view success or failure by the number of Westminster seats. Ironically, Trimble could gain 50 seats in local councils, yet lose one MP and the rank and file will be calling for his head.

His fate rests not with his party's fortunes at the ballot box, but with the two dozen members of the Assembly party, long regarded in the bruising battles with dissident unionism as Trimble's Pretorian Guard.

The Assembly may have been in suspension since October 2002, but the MLAs have acted as his personal political bodyguards - stamping out coups, seeking out rebel plotters, and trying to explain Trimble's 'vision' to the constituency associations.

The crunch meeting will come within the next fortnight at the first meeting of the Assembly group when all the results have been declared. Already, there are strong rumblings that he will be reached his political sword and told to fall on it.

In the final week of election campaigning, there are some already laying plans for South Belfast MLA Michael McGimpsey to become party boss. There are even some who dare of wanting to bring Jeffrey Donaldson back to a post-Trimble UUP.


Dr John Coulter predicts the 18 Northern MPs who will be returned to Westminster later week:
East Antrim: Sammy Wilson, DUP
North Antrim: Ian Paisley, DUP
South Antrim: Willie McCrea, DUP
East Belfast: Peter Robinson, DUP
North Belfast: Nigel Dodds, DUP
South Belfast: Michael McGimpsey, UUP
West Belfast: Gerry Adams, SF
North Down: Peter Weir, DUP
South Down: Eddie McGrady, SDLP
Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Michelle Gildernew, SF
Foyle: Mitchel McLaughlin, SF
Lagan Valley: Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP
East Derry: Gregory Campbell, DUP
Mid-Ulster: Martin McGuinness, SF
Newry and Armagh: Conor Murphy, SF
Strangford: Iris Robinson, DUP
West Tyrone: Pat Doherty, SF
Upper Bann: David Simpson, DUP




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 May 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Daily Ireland: It's Not Over til It's Over
Mick Hall

Education Cuts
Sean Smyth

Rate My Teachers Blocked
Michael Hussey

* Election Coverage *

Greens Endorse McCann
John Barry and Kelly Andrews, Greens

Young People Are Not the Problem
Tish Murray Campaign Press Release

Liam Kennedy and West Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

Coulter's Choice
Dr John Coulter

Send Mitchel to London
Brian Mór

Flashback: A Coversation with Lindsay Whitcroft
Anthony McIntyre

29 April 2005

I Believe
Eamon Sweeney

Behaving Justly
Anthony McIntyre

Stop the Cover Up -- Give Us Peace
Kathleen Coyle

Justice Needs Done
Damien Okado-Gough

More Than Politics to NI Process
David Adams

Jude the Obscure Republican
Anthony McIntyre

Shared Ultra Conservatism
Dr John Coulter

* More Election Coverage *

Europe and the General Election
John O'Farrell




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices