I do not wish to comment directly on Harry Dunlop’s decision to switch to the DUP, as he and Roberta have both been very good to me during my time on Council. One thing I would say is that they have both proved themselves loyal friends to those close to them and, even when that wasn’t to my advantage, I saw the merit in their case when they chose to prove it!
However, there is a general trend here. The DUP is being ruthless in seeking out new members; having moved towards the centre ground of Unionism while also maintaining a general pledge to “Unionist Unity” (under its own definition), it is preparing to broaden its support using every conceivable route to do so and on the back of an organisational culture which puts the party first. The Alliance Party doesn’t do “ruthless” in quite that way and is more inclined to wait for people to approach it, but it too seems prepared to broaden the ground upon which it stands to the extent that it is undergoing a process of change which could be bumpy but will almost inevitably result in a significantly larger (and notably younger) party. The UUP, on the other hand, is being picked off one-by-one; its leadership is in a state of denial about this (although it is now reaching near “Comical Ali” proportions), but insofar as it thinks about it at all, it has completely the wrong analysis – the issue is not so much policy, but rather a combination of a return to old-fashioned values and, even more relevantly, horrendous organisational incompetence.
It has been stated before on this blog that the UUP seems close to unique in the way that it seeks out a market, rather than positions itself to sell its case. I believe it is not coincidental that so many people in the current Leadership are businessmen (including farmers), for whom “seeking out a market” is the natural way of things. It is in business, but it is not in politics. This is the reason for the sheer mystification that while the UUP Leadership fiddles while seeking out its market, its operations staff are disappearing to its competitors who already have one.
Politics is in fact quite the contrary to business. The UUP needs to seek out its ground (state what it stands for), and then sell it to the electorate as the best way forward; to continue on this flawed quest to seek out a market and only then take any political position will only see the gaps closed.