Thanks to Seán at ira2

And now the real fun can commence...

(Jude Collins, Irish News)

Well, that's the yawn-a-day campaign over – tedious but instructive.
Of the four party leaders David Trimble, amazingly, had the best
campaign. When the UUP man's back is up against a wall he becomes
strangely forceful, convincing and almost human. Gerry Adams was as
usual good-humoured and presidential. If he ever learns to stop
massaging his hands on-camera and saying "First of all", he'll be

Early in the campaign Mark Durkan's foot got stuck on the verbal
accelerator, so that people didn't so much listen to him as try to
avoid being run over.

As for Ian Paisley – 'O what a fall was there'. When his studio
debate chair was filled by underlings, it looked bad. When he
appeared on camera in person, he looked terrible.

Equally instructive was the kind of outside help parties here
attracted. Beauties like Andrew Hunter, who crossed the Irish Sea to
offer his moth-eaten carcass as a DUP candidate. Lib Dem chief
Charles Kennedy, over to hold the hand – or was he feeling the
pulse? – of an ailing Alliance. The Greens had a man from Scotland
and Sinn Féin had several southern TDs up to add pizzazz on the

Top draw, though, was the SDLP. They got Fine Gael advisers, they got
Fianna Fail advisers, they got PD advisers, they got Pat Rabbitte
Labour Party advisers, they got Tony Blair Labour Party advisers.
They even got Brian Kennedy, who urged everyone to "put the ballot in
the box" – helpful advice, I expect, for those voters who had been
planning to put it somewhere else.

And what now? Well, the UUP will do better than predicted. Opera-
lover and street-fighter, man of intellect and man of action, the
Cunningham House contender has sent a shiver of delight through
unionist drawing-rooms.

Who would ever have thought the Garvaghy Road prancer had so much
guts in him?

The DUP insist that legions of former UUP supporters have flocked to
their banner but I think not. Distaste for the Big Man runs deep in
Ulster Unionist circles.

He may be a good laugh on Give My Head Peace; but the real thing,
roaring into a microphone that God is standing shoulder-to-shoulder
with him and unionism – oh dear. All right for a crowd of clod-
hoppers in a tent around Ballymena, but not in the more refined
environs of Stormont. Strong as their distrust of equality-for-taigs
talk may be, it's not as strong as their distaste for Paisley's dung-
on-the-boots yahooery. No, David Trimble's post-election headache
will come from the UUP enemy behind him, not the DUP enemy in front.

But supposing the worst happened – the DUP passed out the UUP, became
the official voice of unionism. For months we've been assured that
this would result in political stalemate, especially if Sinn Féin
topped the nationalist poll, and that we'd be in for a period of
direct rule that could last months, maybe years.

Codswallop to the power of ten.

Sinn Féin have not come all this way – through so many physical and
political dangers – to allow such a vital bridge-head to be washed
away. They want an assembly and an executive – and they will have it.

As for Peter Robinson, after all those weary years enduring the
deafening roars and flying spittle of his master – Crown Prince Peter
will be wild to mount the first minister throne. The words 'rat'
and 'drainpipe' and 'up' come to mind.

The truth is, our politicians like exercising local power. It's like
a drug, and over the past five years all the major parties have
ingested some – UUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin, DUP. Nationalists won't want
Westminster to step in and take away what makes them feel so good –
nor will unionists.

So even if the unionist electorate went mad yesterday and elected the
DUP to be their voice, fear not. By Easter at the latest, the Peters
and the Nigels and the Gregories, who insisted during the campaign
that they would never share power with Sinn Féin – they'll put their
little heads together and

come up with a formula that will allow them to be true to their word
while at the same time sitting down in cabinet to work with Sinn Féin
and the rest. They'll do it, given the chance, because even DUP top
men must have their fix.

But that scenario – the DUP wrestling with their conscience and
winning – is, as they say, strictly hypothetical.

Because the DUP will not speak for most unionists. For better or
worse that poor deformed creature known as the UUP will.

Anyway, goodbye tedium, hello fun. It's count time.

November 28, 2003

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