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By Dr John Coulter
Unionist unity is the mythical beast stalking the constituencies in the run-up to the expected General Election on 6 May – try instead, the political creature known as tactical voting in the Unionist family.
With the exception of North Down, the key question many Unionist voters will ask – who is the candidate most likely to give the DUP a political bloody nose?
Take the cockpit North Antrim DUP bastion. For the first time since Paisley senior snatched the Commons seat from sitting MP Henry Clark in 1970, a Paisley may not romp home with a stunning brilliant majority.
Whether the New Force decides to run a local Ulster Unionist or a Tory, there will be considerable tactical voting by UUP supporters for Allister, the TUV boss.
And there are several other DUP held constituencies where the intervention of the TUV will see the seat either move back into the UUP fold – with Mike Nesbitt in Strangford, Flash Harry in Upper Bann, and Adrian Watson in South Antrim.
But the real challenge for Unionists of any ticket is to encourage more pro-Union votes not to be bitten by the apathy bug – a scourge which could see some seats remain in nationalist hands.
The New Force can reinvigorate faith in the ballot box from apathetic Unionists by embarking on a manifesto based on Compassionate Unionism – a Unionism which carries the ethos, Putting People First.
Do pro-Union voters really want to see another round of the DUP gutting the TUV and vice versa, with the New Force hammering anyone not calling themselves Conservative and Unionist?
The New Force needs to champion a People’s Manifesto – putting patients first, putting pupils first and putting pensioners first. Stick to the bread and butter issues, and let the DUP and TUV slash each other’s political jugulars.
Supporters of the New Force boast they want to create a secular Unionism for a pluralist society. But they should not ignore the core vote of Unionism over the generations – the churchgoing Christians, especially in the new evangelical denominations, such as the Elim Pentecostal movement and the Baptists.
The danger for the Unionist family is not that churchgoing Christians will defect to the TUV or liberal Christians move back to New Force, but that many in the Bible Belt will simply remain at home – potentially handing some seats to nationalism
Compassionate Unionism, with the strong hint of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, may just be the tonic which ideologically and theologically persuades the Bible Belt to abandon the notion of ‘Come Ye Out from amongst them’ and re-engage in voting.