SO here we are in September. You remember September: that was the month when the DUP were supposed to go back to Stormont. They would have received a nicely-patterned fig leaf from the Westminster government and they would have marched proudly back into Stormont, flags flying and shouting loudly, to anyone who’d listen, about the way Westminster had been pressured into delivering. no, not a fig leaf at all, but a major concession. Others might prattle about fig leaves, but this was a strong, firm-as-a-rock commitment that NEI would be a part of the UK for the next 1,000 years at least.
But what’s this? Now September has arrived and there’s talk of the DUP digging in its heels, shouting not about assurances but the lack of assurances about its place in the UK. It appears Jeffrey Donaldson likes the Windsor arrangement better than the Protocol, but it’s still not nearly enough for him to get his men and women (yes, Virginia, there are indeed women DUPers) in neat lines, marching as a single mighty party into the house on the hill.
In the real world, the coming weeks could bring major embarrassment, as various global economic movers and shakers converge on NEI for an economic get-together. It’ll be hard to reassure potential investors that this is a promising place to invest in when they see there is no functioning government in place. Steve Baker, a minister in the NEI government, has done his best to make empathetic noises. "Sir Jeffrey has got my sympathy," he said. "He has got a very hard problem to deal with." Baker notes how there are people objecting to the Windsor Framework who also have consistently objected to the Good Friday Agreement. But still, never let anyone say that Stevie doesn’t have high hopes: “ I hope everyone will be practical and realistic about what's possible." Like, yeah, Stevie.
Unlike Boris, Steve Baker tells the unvarnished truth to Unionists: no other Brexit or Union is available. It never was. Now get on and make NI work- or don’t and take the consequences.pic.twitter.com/QHsP4d4UaW— Duncan Morrow (@duncan_morrow) September 6, 2023
Or maybe it depends on what you see as practical and realistic. Jeffrey Donaldson seems convinced he’s doing the right thing, the right thing in politics ultimately being the thing to keep the votes flowing your way. Opinion polls seem to show that Jeffrey’s followers are impressed with his tough-guy routine. But perhaps he should stay alert, because what was hailed as a heroic stance one week can booed to the echo as pig-headedness the next. And as days and weeks pass, followers can grow weary, or disillusioned, or even hostile. Jeffrey’s followers may eventually decide that what they deemed as heroic about the DUP’s not-an-inchness has now become more an embarrassment. If you’ve promised your followers the moon and sixpence, and what they actually get is a lot of potential investors climbing aboard the first flight home, your followers may decide you’re a political eejit rather than a political genius.
Here's a tip, Jeffrey. If you’re trying to put the squeeze on someone, it’s important not just that you apply firm pressure on them, but that you know when enough pressuring has been done. Don’t overplay your hand, or you may find yourself even worse off than you were in starting. And you should never, ever, let the DUP big beasts like Sammy Wilson, Nigel Dodds and Ian Paisley push you around. The word is that this trio are manipulating the mild-mannered Sir Jeff. And while the DUP leader is said to have “really good garden party manners”, garden party manners are not quite what’s called for in dealing with the Terrible Trio. You need sharp political elbows and hob-nailed political boots.
If you let September drift into October, Jeffrey, you’ll be faced with an annual party conference from which you might be lucky to emerge with your political life.