Tuesday 22 July 2008

Arlene Foster's contempt for the electorate

Following the death of Councillor Joe Dodds, and the inability of the Council to agree to aa co-option, a by-election is to be held in the Enniskillen DEA of Fermanagh District Council. The DUP (Dodds' party) wanted to co-opt a young student called Thomas Hogg, but the leader of the UUP group on the Council disagreed and thus forced the by-election. The reason the UUP gave was that Hogg was an inappropriate choice.

Logically, therefore, one would expect that Hogg would be the DUP's candidate in the by-election – after all, he was their choice for co-option. However, at the DUP's selection meeting on Monday 21 July, Hogg was not chosen. Instead, the DUP chose Arlene Foster MLA, and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Executive.

To stand in a District Council by-election!

The choice of Arlene Foster as candidate demonstrates the complete contempt with which the DUP treats the electorate.

  • Firstly, because Foster is already an MLA and a Minister – she clearly has neither the interest nor the time to be getting involved in local politics. There is no way that she would be, could be, or intends to be, a fully functioning District Councillor.
  • Secondly, because she is being brought in simply to fight the election for reasons much wider than Enniskillen or Fermanagh. The DUP is just using this by-election as an opportunity to beat the UUP, without any real interest in the needs of Enniskillen.
  • Thirdly, because the DUP already tried to co-opt Hogg. If he was good enough to be co-opted, then why is he not good enough to be elected? The DUP know that he was an inadequate choice, but thought that he could be slipped in quietly by co-option to give his political career a start. They knew that he could not get elected, as he lacks any political skills or experience. In other words, he was being co-opted for party reasons, not for the good of the people of Enniskillen.
  • Fourthly, by selecting Foster instead of Hogg, the DUP are now admitting that the UUP were correct in rejecting Hogg for co-option. And yet the DUP have not apologised or retracted any of the venom that they directed at the UUP for their refusal to co-opt Hogg.
  • Fifthly, Foster was already elected as a councillor for Enniskillen in 2005, but resigned her seat in order to give her the time to pursue her Stormont career. If she did not have to resign then, why did she do it? If she has now the time to be a Councillor, MLA and Minister, then why did she resign before?

Foster is being brought in for this minor by-election, one for a position well below that which she currently holds, purely because she is a popular Enniskillen-based politician, and the DUP are terrified of another Dromore-style failure. They want to exploit her undoubted popularity amongst unionists to score a symbolic victory over the UUP, and probably also the TUV, in one of the last elections before next year's European Parliament election.

A failure to beat the other unionist parties would seriously dent the DUP's standing. But there is another, greater risk. The electorate of Enniskillen is split almost half-and-half between unionists and nationalists. If the unionists fight a bitter fight, and thus fail to transfer between their candidates, there is a real possibility that the seat will go to Sinn Féin.

And does it really matter who wins the seat? The simple answer is 'no'. Fermanagh District Council has a clear nationalist majority, and this by-election will not change that. At present there are 14 nationalist members (7 Sinn Féin, 5 SDLP, and two ex-Sinn Féin independents) and 8 unionist members (5 UUP, 3 DUP), and the vacant seat. If the DUP succeed in winning the seat, then the Council reverts to the status quo ante (14 nationalist/9 unionist). If Sinn Féin take the seat, then the nationalist majority increases slightly.

No comments: