Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Pragmatism, the moral high ground and moving between the two

Saturday morning saw me tramping around Belfast’s limited collection of book shops searching for a copy of Frank Millar’s, David Trimble – The Price of Peace, to no avail. Amazon also currently list the book as ‘out of stock’ despite its release date being last month, although that site does include a page advertising a previous edition of the book as David Trimble – The Prince of Peace, which made me chuckle. To compound my frustration, Alex Kane has clearly acquired a copy of the book and discusses its contents in his News Letter column.

Kane’s piece draws on Millar’s book and a polemic by A Tangled Web’s David Vance (Unionism Decayed) to illustrate two very different strands of unionist thought. Frank Millar’s sympathetic treatment of Trimble, Kane views as representing the pragmatic strain of unionism which prioritises carving out the best deal available and Vance's book is an example of what the columnist describes as “moral high-ground unionism (the view that almost anything is better than terrorist appeasement)”.

The DUP are not the only unionists to have made the journey from ‘moral high ground unionism’ to pragmatism, but the rapidity, sophistry and cynicism of their transformation has been staggering. Between 2006 and 2007 the party’s rhetoric underwent a 180 degree about turn, simply because circumstances were right to propel them into government and Paisley into the First Ministership. Kane describes the DUP’s conversion as a ‘hop, skip and a jump into government with Sinn Fein’.

David Trimble’s UUP did the heavy lifting which eased the DUP’s passage into government. However Kane views the ascendant party’s hardest challenges lying ahead. He quotes Millar, “the DUP will have to reinvent itself all over again”. The party faces the difficulty of retaining its core support whilst proving that it can deliver effective government despite mutual veto (with the compromises which that necessarily implies). And if there is to be any progress beyond the current community carve-up, the party must also effect reconciliation and sharing, despite its own sectarian past and the violent sectarian past of its government partner.

As a postscript I have ended up ordering the book via publishers Liffey Press.

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