The increasing intra-unionist pressure to find a ‘unionist unity’ candidate to stand in Fermanagh and South Tyrone (FST) has caused the DUP to blink again. Peter Robinson already blinked first, in October 2009, when he said that “the Democratic Unionist Party will not be the stumbling block to agreement within Fermanagh and South Tyrone”, just after announcing that Arlene Foster would be the DUP’s candidate for the constituency. The DUP continued to promote the Foster’s candidacy while repeating, time and time again, that they sought a single unionist candidate for FST.
Today even Foster has offered her own head on a plate to the UUP, by stating that “if I do step aside or need to step aside for a unionist unity candidate it's something that I will do because it's in the better interests of unionism”.
The UUP (aka UCUNF – the Tory wing currently appears to be either non-existent or paralysed), have yet to announce their candidate for FST. They are busy sounding out a number of potential candidates who may not yet be members of either party – but must be by election day or David Cameron will have been shown to be a liar. If UCUNF selects anyone who is not currently associated with the UUP (i.e. Tom Elliott can forget his chances!) then the DUP will hide behind this fig-leaf and accept them as a ‘unionist unity’ candidate.
But a fig-leaf is all it will be. The DUP, through Foster’s statement today, have effectively surrendered FST to the UUP. It is now up to that party, at their leisure, to pick a candidate of their choice, secure in the certainty that Foster will stand down. This represents a significant surrender by the DUP, who are actually the larger of the two unionist parties in FST. It shows that when put under pressure the DUP caved in first – hardly the mark of a strong or self-confident party. Others will notice this and exploit it too. This is a bad start to the election campaign for the DUP.