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Defence in depth and time to attack

The current nationalist hysteria over the possibility of a CU / DUP pact / understanding / whatever is most interesting; at some level they may have a bit of a point. Owen Paterson may well have been trying to shore up DUP support in order to get them to do a deal on P&J. However, it seems that some sort of electoral pact was discussed and that might be seen as counter to the spirit of the Tories desire to stand in all 18 constituencies. However, if the DUP simply stand aside in FST and South Belfast it would be difficult to blame the CUs if lots of evil, bigot, cave dwelling, uneducated, Neanderthal, culchie Prods (no doubt myself included) vote CU to stop a terrorist cheerleader in chief and sitting non MP taking FST.

Of course we have to remember that the SDLP itself, that bastion of non sectarian politics, stood aside to allow an IRA man, in the middle of committing suicide, a free run in FST (we should give Austin Currie an honourable mention as an SDLP member who opposed this decision). Furthermore the non sectarian SDLP’s name seems absent from the candidate list at the election following Mr. Sands’s untimely demise. Of course more recent history has no lesser a figure than St. John of Foyle; that man utterly opposed to sectarianism, agreeing to joint proposals with the leader of Sinn Fein, whilst the IRA were in the middle of their sectarian murder campaign. If John Hume’s joint approach was righteous and helped peace why is the Tories talking to the DUP wrong?

A more likely reason for the faux anger of both nationalism and republicanism is that they have again been outmanoeuvred. Ever since the TUV appeared and promptly took over a third of the unionist vote at Dromore, Sinn Fein has thought that it had the whip hand over the DUP. When Jim Allister turned the DUP’s European majority to dust, it confirmed to republicans their advantage. Due to the delicious irony of Peter Robinson’s tactically sound but strategically appalling decision to make the largest party have the First minister’s post, SF knew that all they had to do was collapse the agreement and gain the first ministership. If unionists could not stomach that humiliation they would have to walk away and, so SF reasoned, would take the blame.

This strategy has just been completely turned on its head. Whether or not the UUP and DUP manage to come up with a unity system is almost less important than that the fear of this will change SF’s calculations. It also frees the unionist community from the fear of an IRA godfather first minister and gives unionism additional confidence; something I have previously argued there was reason for but had begun to ebb in the last few weeks with Irisgate etc.

I mentioned on slugger that a political party should increase its own options and narrow its opponents (thanks to fair_deal for the illustration). The reality is that the DUP anxiety over the TUV and latterly crisis over Irisgate was the first time in a while that republicans had gained many options. In actual fact republican’s options have been narrowing for years.

When the troubles first started there was a time when Northern Ireland looked on the brink of chaos. However, the republican blitzkrieg failed, floundering on the bravery of the RUC, British army and UDR; the refusal of the overwhelming majority of unionists to support a tit for tat loyalist terrorist response and possibly most centrally on the refusal by the majority of Catholics to support the IRA’s sectarian murder campaign.

Gradually the troubles died down, though they were stoked again by the MP for FST’s suicide. By the late 1980s, however, the republican movement had largely lost the ability to be a threat to the state’s survival: yes they could murder policemen, soldiers, those at Enniskillen war memorial and only just fail to wipe out Tullyhommon and Pettigoe’s Girls and Boys Brigade; but they could not destroy the state. The madder notions revealed in more recent years that they planned a Tet offensive in the Clogher valley are just that: mad notions. Anyone who knows the Colgher valley will know that the proper Vietnam analogy would have been Dien Bien Phu with the IRA cast as the French.

However, after the ceasefires the republican movement started a new blitzkrieg: a political one. The end of the IRA campaign should have been seen by unionists for what it was: the IRA’s admission of defeat. The error was to allow them to pull some sort of victory (at times looking like complete victory) from their defeat. In that of course the UUP were hindered by the British government’s refusal to let the IRA be humiliated and also Molyneaux’s inaction and Trimble’s lamentable series of failures.

Trimble had one line in the sand after another. Each was breached serially. Rather like the French and British in the Second World War Trimble set up his defences only for the shock troops of Sinn Fein to cut the line (with British government help) and leave him to fall back. Unionist confidence was smashed time and again. Similarly to France in 1940 or Russia in 1941 when a numerically inferior force inflicted a humiliating defeat on a once proud army. As an aside in the British case in 1940 an army was defeated which had comprehensively beaten the Germans in 1918 only to stop with the armistice (an American general bitterly objected and suggested that eventually they would have to come back and finish the job: Pershing I think and a very prescient comment in view of the next generation).

People often think of the blitzkrieg as unstoppable, even invincible. However, it has been stopped and defeated on several occasions. The secret as demonstrated by Fermanagh man Claude Auchinleck at the First Battle of El Alamein and most brilliantly by Georgy Zhukov at Kursk was Defence in Depth. This involves having multiple lines of defence which gradually weaken an enemy. In addition they narrow the front over which the attacker pushes forward and leaves his flanks vulnerable.

The DUP seem to have managed this tactic very effectively: They have narrowed SF’s attack to P&J alone and keep hurling up one defence after another. Republican morale has been steadily eroded and they have become progressively more remote from their support base which has become disenchanted by the poor progress and the end of any hope of the 2016 dream of a united Ireland.

The appearance of the TUV and now Irisgate have, however, demonstrated a weakness in the DUP. So hard have republicans pushed the DUP that like at Kursk the defences have come close to being breached. The possibility of an understanding between the DUP and UUP may shore up that defence and allow the DUP to hold the line: something all unionists should welcome. It should be welcomed because no one should be so naïve as to think that if P&J is devolved, after the DUP defended it for so long, it would do anything other than damage unionist confidence: unless the concessions republicans made were truly momentous (such as voluntary coalition). In addition if P&J is devolved the republican attack will switch to other issues and eventually the defence in depth tactic will be overwhelmed.

However, defence in depth is not the only important tactic: it is after all a defence and unionism should seek to move forwards. If the line can be held, then the next step must be to move forwards and fall upon the exposed political flanks of republicanism. These flanks include their utter ineptitude in government; their refusal to divorce themselves from terrorism as evidenced by their objection to arrest of South Armagh tax dodgers, failure to give adequate support to the rule of law in relation to the Quinn and McCartney murders etc.; refusal to consider anything other than a bizarre ideological attack on education.

The aim of the counter attack must be to return Northern Ireland to a sensible system of government: not simple majority rule; rather an equitable and fair system of weighted majorities with government and opposition and the ability to change the parties of government. The UUP and DUP, whilst theoretically signed up to such a long term aim seem reluctant to push this issue and defence in depth should be the prelude to attack. Sooner or later if unionism is to advance towards its longer term goals it must stop defence and begin this attack. If the TUV are to be the shock troops (or Penal Battalion) of this counter attack then so be it.

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13 Responses

  1. St Etienne says:

    I’ve heard a lot of spin on this over the last few days. I cannot pretend to think anything other than the return of the 3 Conservative candidates to the political shadows is an opportunity lost.

    It may be that it’s just the pragmatic acceptance that unionism as a whole, despite the language, is not yet ready to advance non-sectarian (in it’s non-inflammatory sense, Dr McDonnell take note) politics here.

    If indeed things are as you say, that this is a form of regrouping in preparation of a more intelligent battle further down the line it would make things more palatable; I have no indications (least of all from the UUP leadership who should be the ones driving this if they had any strength of conviction or political dynamism) whatever that this may be the case.

  2. Framer says:

    Been here, on the Conservative thing, a generation ago.

    It might have worked in 1986/7 but it didn’t and it seems to have failed again in 2009/10.

    So be it.

    Don’t see it as a disaster rather it is reflective of the fact of (a) London having to behave mostly as a referee according to the FO, and (b) the UUP continuing to be a communal party.

  3. Boycott says:

    Every unionist should welcome unity in electoral terms.

    Virtually every person on the street wanting to vote for a unionist party would be happy to vote for agreed candidates.

    So some non-entities decide to huff because they **might** not have gotten to run. I say non-entities, because where is their history of working for the Loyalist people? It doesn’t exist, they were only in the picture for selection BECAUSE they were catholic, and THAT is sectarian.

    Best Unionist for the Job, whatever their race, creed, colour or faith!

  4. Boycott says:

    Excellent post BTW.

  5. St Etienne says:

    absolute rubbish.

    So in the DUP’s case the ‘best candidate’ has been a protestant every time since it’s inception?

    There is more to this than ‘just because he is a Catholic’. Because the communities are so polarised, there are well-recorded differing dynamics for each, and I’m refering to social issues as opposed to the base national question in this case. Having representation from both communities is a must therefore for any party to adequately reflect nation-wide thought.

    It will be a far more difficult task than simply appealing to the old divisions ad infinium but if we’re to improve our lot here it has just got to happen, on that there is absolutely no doubt.

    btw – Peter McCann produced one of the BBC’s most watched shows on this planet – as well as being a local man made good he is exactly the calibre of candidate to shake things up here and present a much more positive unionism on a UK platform.

    Too bad the UUP leadership are too weak to modernise in the face of little Ulstermen.

  6. Augherstar says:

    The statistic that 50% of the DUPs elected representitives are Free Presbyterians (12000 people at most) should be enough to render any pact impossible. If Reg Empey can’t stand up for non sectarian unionism then it’s time the UUP got some new leadership or if this is the will of the majority ,then I for one will be looking for somwhere new to cast my vote come the next election.

  7. Boycott says:

    St Etienne

    Has every DUP candidate been a protestant? I couldn’t make that claim. Certainly the vast majority, but in a long divided society is that not to be expected? Better that the best people for the seat get them, those who have shown, through past actions, their commitment to the union and unionist politics. These people have not shown that.

    And as for Peter McCann being a Television producer, what does that prove? It’s just a job and has nothing to do with representing people, or pursuing an ideology. Where is the history of the 3 candidates in question campaigning for the union? Where is their involvement in protests against AIA, or their defence of Britishness? It doesn’t exist.

    I repeat, the only reason these people without any previous history of unionist politics got a chance was BECAUSE they were Catholic.

  8. St Etienne says:

    you are the problem.

    He was a TV producer, one of the most successful in the country (the UK btw, and not a local variant). In a unionist family chock full of dour unwilling half-baked politicians willing to be journey men and little else, he’s a decidedly welcome break from the norm.

    You don’t want to see that side though. You cling to irrelevant bullshit like ‘defence of Britishness’. WTF is that exactly? Turning up at the Twelfth field once a year and renewing your vows? Bloody useless.

    A Catholic from West Belfast made good, standing up against the tide for principles he believes in is twice the man of anyone who qualifies for the redundant prerequisites you think are relevant in the coming years.

    Any previous history of unionist politics… sheesh. The previous history of unionist politics has been one of abject failure.

    That you don’t see that, well that says it all.

  9. Boycott says:

    St Etienne

    Well I’m just a voter like you (i presume), and luckily, in our system my voice counts as much as yours.

    Just because Peter McCann can pick a good editor, or a good cameraman, doesn’t equate to being a good representive. That would apply as equally to South Shields as to South Belfast. I want to elect someone who has a history of defending the Union. Britishness is a part of that, defending the symbols of that Union. In the Northern Ireland context, that matters. Defending the right to parade of the Orange Order, in the rest of the Kingdom, its not under threat, here it is, therefore that matters. Where is his history on those issues, or any of the other candiadates for that matter.

    Just because he is different, that does not make him better.

    And if you truely believe in Kindgom wide politics, then Unionist politics is the politics of the vast majority of MP’s in our parliament, has it all been an abject failure?

  10. St Etienne says:

    the only thing our current ‘leaders’ are capable of defending are symbols.

    Symbolising means absolutely nothing to me.

    The divide between Unionist politics on the mainland and here in NI is so great as to make one completely irrelevant to the other. For proof see the conflicting UUP pacts between DUP and the Tories.

    Unionism in NI is a poor man’s Ulster nationalism at the moment and the combined failure and ignorance of NI politicals to grasp this notion is the most frustrating thing about trying to care about politics here.

  11. St Etienne says:

    The standard of politics here is weak. To improve things we need new ideas from competent leaders in other fields.

    Peter McCann is one such individual. Because he is different is precisely the reason that he is better.

  12. thedissenter says:

    unionist unity has always been the nirvana, and detracts from the issue of moving forward – often happens as a means to stand still rather than move forward. In the end it all too often comes down to electoral mathematics: http://www.thedissenter.co.uk/2010/01/unionist-spring/

  13. Earnan says:

    Please leave the laughable WW II analogies out of your next column.

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