So here we go again. Ten years of successive leaders in the Democratic Unionist Party being hailed by the usual media suspects in Ireland and the United Kingdom as the “moderate” face of the party, politicians that governments in Dublin and London could “do business with”, bar the short-lived tenure of Edwin Poots. It began with Peter Robinson and his, um, profitable alliance with anti-peace process blow-ins from the Ulster Unionist Party, and his outreach to “garden-centre Protestants” and “unicorn Catholics” that never amounted to anything more than the desperate spinning of a few desperate pro-union journalists.
Then came the elevation of defector-in-chief Arlene Foster, the supposed F.W. de Klerk of Fermanagh unionism, who surprised no one by being more interested in starving crocodiles and keeping community tensions at fever pitch (while facilitating her colleagues and associates plans in keeping other things at, er, high temperatures…).
Now, following the oddly self-inflicted knifing of Poots and the kneecapping of the Paisleyites, we have the urbane Jeffrey Donaldson lined up for the top job. And sure enough, we have the accompanying deluge of newspaper articles and broadcasts predicting a new era (the third, fourth or fifth?) of unionist outreach to northern nationalist voters. Or constitutionally non-aligned voters (yeah, right!). Or liberal pro-union voters. Or whatever you’re having yourself.
Of course, to predict all this you have to ignore some inconvenient bits of history about the Lagan Valley MP. The bits where he and his supporters took down Edwin Poots on the basis of his implied acquiescence to Irish language equality in the Six Counties through a promised intervention by the British government at some future date. Or the bits where Donaldson has strongly indicated that wrecking Stormont is a price worth paying in order to protest the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
You could go back a wee bit further, to the Brexit referendum of 2016 and its aftermath when Jeffrey Donaldson was – and remains – the chief Brexiteer in the Democratic Unionist Party. An enthusiastic advocate for a no-deal withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, with the side benefit of the re-imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Or take his entry into the DUP as a defector from the rival Ulster Unionist Party, where he was a leader of the reactionary wing of the organization, agitating against the required outworking of the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish-British peace process in general. Until he jumped ship to the hardline DUP, having laboured with others to wreck the electoral prospects of his old party from within.
Then we could move right back to his first baby steps into unionist politics, a member of the Orange Order, a soldier with the notorious Ulster Defence Regiment, and an aide to another political renegade, the infamous Enoch Powell, the Conservative Party grandee who predicted rivers of blood in response to immigration to Britain and who became a lauded political refugee in the last outpost of empire.
All things considered, Jeffrey Donaldson a moderate? Sure…