stay out of politics. His heckles had been raised by Robert Saulters, Grand Master of the Orange Order, who last weekend called for a single unionist party.
It says something that Elliott, who has spoken enthusiastically on the theme of ‘unionist unity’, felt moved to slap down Saulters. The Grand Master is closely linked to the DUP, and indeed he signed Ian Paisley Junior’s nomination papers for the Westminster election.
Clearly Elliott feels that there was a partisan subtext behind Saulters’ comments which ran beyond concern for the Union. He is quite right that the Orange Order should not intervene in politics, because its interventions are usually disastrous for unionism.
Since its formation, the Orange has tended to undermine constructive unionism and bolster its regressive wing. Indeed the Order, which might present itself as a stalwart of the Union now, took a while to be convinced of its merits.
Senior Orangemen were leading proponents of Dublin rule for the first part of the nineteenth century. Government from Westminster threatened to introduce a modern form of citizenship which, they rightly feared,, might even extend the franchise to Catholics.
So the Order stayed neutral on the Union and a substantial section of its leadership actively advocated a return to a Dublin parliament. British allegiance wasn’t allowed to trump anti-Catholic prejudice.
While Liberal and Peelite Conservative voices in Ulster championed the Union for its ability to reconcile Protestant and Catholic neighbours, sections of the Order raged against Catholic emancipation, a Catholic university, the Reform Act, anything which might make Irish Catholics feel comfortable and included in the United Kingdom.
Which meant that Orange voices were amongst the most vocal campaigning against the development of the tolerant, modern British state which we enjoy today.
Despite all the public relations reverses unionism has suffered due to its Orange connections, not much has changed, and its influence can still be decisive. During the election campaign, in South Belfast, the Order intervened to undermine a bright, articulate and moderate candidate in favour of an Ulster nationalist dinosaur.
Now its most senior figure is hoping it can act as midwife for a united unionist party which, if it were formed with Orange interference, would have even less chance of attracting liberal and Catholic pro-Union voters.
Of course the Orange Order is not the ogre of nationalist myth. As a fraternal organisation it can play constructive role in communities. Its Christian ethos might seem to hinge more on pathological anti-Catholicism rather than a positive engagement with Protestantism , but no doubt it is important to members who share a faith.
As an historical remnant the Orange Order could, one day, even become quaint, but as an organisation aspiring to play an active role in unionist politics, it has absolutely nothing positive to offer.