DUP conference: Insults and hubris won't make Brexit a success

Arlene Foster and the DUP enjoyed a victory lap at the weekend conference. Picture by Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
Analysis by John Manley

AT last week’s Ulster Unionist conference, Mike Nesbitt’s referenced Oscar Wilde’s oft-quoted observation that there is only one thing worse than being talked about – not being talked about.

The former UTV anchorman can rest assured that his name is never far from the lips of his main political rivals.

In fact his ears must have been red hot on Saturday afternoon as the DUP faithful gathered at the La Mon Hotel.

Not so long ago it was Sinn Féin and the Irish language that were the butt of jokes at the conference but with the executive’s new entente cordiale, the focus of the jibes has turned to Stormont’s opposition parties, and especially the UUP.

A degree of gloating is acceptable. After all, the DUP had a strong assembly election and have just welcomed two former UUP councillors into their ranks.

Some side swipes at your adversaries are also inevitable when speakers are playing to the conference crowd.

But the insults and hubris were laid on a bit thick.

Casting Mike Nesbitt and Colum Eastwood as the dysfunctional TV sitcom characters Steptoe & Son was a high point and arguably the sort of banter that should pepper a leader’s speech.

Elsewhere, however, the unrelenting attacks, like those aimed at ‘the media’ and unnamed ‘commentators’, became a little tiresome.

Anyone seeking insight into the party’s proper post-Brexit vision or the benefits of power-sharing with republicans was left wanting.

Whether so much energy is focused on belittling the opposition because it’s easy or because the DUP feels threatened is unclear.

Yet the attacks also serve to distract attention from the marriage of convenience at the heart of the executive, which still gets up the nose of many party rank and file.

Criticism of Sinn Féin, if any, was implied rather than direct.

Abortion, gay cakes, flags and parades didn’t get a mention, while the past was only raised to reiterate the point that it won’t be rewritten.

The criticism of the Irish government and an unsubstantiated claim that its representatives were “poaching our investors” also appeared to be little more than gung-ho.

The DUP is entitled to a victory lap at the end of a successful electoral cycle but in its support for Brexit it is also at the forefront of the most seismic political change since devolution.

Ensuring ‘our wee country’ prospers when the UK leaves the EU will require a lot more than just bashing Mike Nesbitt.

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