Northern Ireland news

DUP rehuffle: Edwin Poots ignores Sun Tzu advice to 'keep enemies closer'

Edwin Poots looks on as Paul Givan talks to the Press. Picture By Hugh Russell.

IT was a nail-biting wait, preceded by 12 sleepless nights and anxious days, but yesterday Edwin Poots was finally given the happy news that Edwin Poots was allowing him to stay on as Agriculture Minister.

One can picture the happy moment the news was broken.

"The thing is Edwin, you don't mind if I call you Edwin, do you?" Edwin asked Edwin.

"The thing is, what with the Protocol and all, I need someone I can trust in charge of the ports and something tells me you won't let me down."

"You can count on me, Edwin," Edwin assured Edwin, marvelling at how he managed to be the only serving minister to retain his portfolio.

It probably goes without saying at this stage that the new DUP leader is no Sun Tzu.

Certainly the self-styled general in the "fight" against the Northern Ireland Protocol has eschewed that tactician's advice to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer".

Then again Ms Foster would probably advise Edwin Poots to keep a close eye on Edwin Poots in case he is tempted to make history by becoming the first politician to mount a putsch against himself.

Of course, as we have repeatedly been told there are no enemies in the DUP (just friends that haven't resigned yet).

And so the new appointees trotted two-by-two after the leader and his deputy Paula Bradley down the marble staircase of Parliament Buildings to be formally introduced to the media.

It is not often that the public get to see the audition videos for multi-million pound budget ministerial posts, but this time most of the faces were familiar from the video endorsements for (then leadership candidate) Edwin Poots posted on social media a few short weeks ago.

That allowed journalists and commentators to indulge in a game of `Happy Ministers' ahead of the announcements, working out who might be going where as Poots supporter after Poots supporter was taken out of contention with appointments to various committee chairs.

To little surprise or fanfare campaign manager Paul Frew, along with Michelle McIlveen - the previous Agriculture Minister - were revealed as ministers for Economy and Education respectively.

Then came Junior Minister Gary Middleton and the leader's Lagan Valley stablemate Paul Givan, who succeeds Arlene Foster as First Minister.

Much was made yesterday in some quarters of the "journey Paul Givan has been on" to become First Minister, which - given his career started as a part-time constituency assistant in Lagan Valley at the age of 18 - has arguable mostly consisted of carrying Edwin Poots's bag around for 20 years.

With Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's bid to lead the party including an intention to contest the next assembly election, had he won the vote at least one of the pair would have been out in the cold.

Instead Diane Dodds and Peter Weir felt the chilly removal from office, with both former ministers taking to Twitter to voice their disquiet at the freezing out of their `wing' of the party.

"It is regrettable... that the new team announced today does not match the rhetoric about healing and bringing the party together," Ms Dodds tweeted.

Mr Weir agreed "in the balance of appointments it is sad there is little sign of healing or reaching out".

Of course it is possible Mr Poots is cunningly reversing the strategic thinking deployed by former Conservative leader John Major when he retained three Eurosceptic cabinet members, despite the difficulty handling them.

In 1993 he was caught on a `hot mic' explaining he was following Lyndon B Johnson's maxim - a reference to the US president's refusal to sack FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on the basis `it's probably better to have him inside the tent p***ing out than outside p***ing in".

Mr Major, then with a dwindling parliamentary majority, was infamously the last leader of a Conservative government for 18 years.

However, it is worth noting that his party limped on in office for four more years after that as a result of the strategy of inclusion.

With the reshuffle finally out of the way the clock is now ticking for Edwin Poots and his dream team to turn the party fortunes around.

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