Trimble, joint Nobel Peace Prize winner and suspended
Executive First Minister, may be staring at the
last days of his 10-year reign of the Ulster Unionists,
and his 15-year stint as a Commons MP.
the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Trimble
has become the Great Houdini of unionist politics,
escaping repeated plots and coups within the party's
ruling 900-delegate Ulster Unionist Council.
vision for unionism was helped by his acute legal
brain, but his political epitaph will be written
because of his perceived 'stand offish' personality
with both public and party workers.
he won the Upper Bann by-election in 1990, his majority
was almost 14,000. Fifteen years later, he is battling
for his very survival, defending a 2001 Commons
majority of just under 2,000.
Terence O'Neill in the late 1960s, Trimble faces
his 'crossroads election'. In spite of the euphoria
marking the UUC centenary celebrations in March,
it seems the UUP is destined to become the 100-year-party,
with 'meltdown' being the nasty buzz-word floating
around Ulster Unionist circles.
the party's so-called 'men in grey suits' are preparing
Trimble's exit strategy. Even before the election
results are announced later this week and early
next week, numerous senior figures in the UUP are
already suggesting Trimble will quit no matter what
if he wanted to remain leader, nothing short of
maintaining the party's status quo at Westminster
and local government will satisfy the 'Trimble Must
Go' camp within the party.
even the dogs in the street expect the UUP to lose
further ground to the rival, rampant Paisley camp.
Spurred on the by the prospects of a meltdown in
the Parliamentary party, Trimble has set himself
a punishing schedule of tours around the constituencies
to rally his troops.
Paisleyites - and even many within Ulster Unionism
- have managed to reduce Trimble's vision of a New
Unionism and the merits of the Belfast Agreement
to a popularity poll on Trimble's personality.
to his predecessor, many consider Trimble's perceived
'stand offish' personality as the root cause of
UUP electoral problems. When wee Jim Molyneaux -
now Lord Molyneaux - was party boss, he had a sterling
reputation for chatting endlessly to party workers
at branch meetings.
it was said, kept the grassroots informed of UUP
policy and direction. It is perceived Trimble has
a small clique huddled around him based in the party's
HQ and that communication with the grassroots has
effectively collapsed, or is non-existent.
source of Trimble's woes is not his lack of political
vision; it's just that he can't seem to get the
message across to the party faithful.
uncertainty has bolstered DUP criticism of Trimble's
leadership and led to defections and apathy within
one senior Unionist, who was once one of Trimble's
right-hand supporters, noted: "To quote an
old Russian proverb - a fish rots from the head.
As a leader, Trimble is a loner; he's not a team
man. Molyneaux took time to visit the workers on
the ground; he was a 'people first' leader. With
Trimble, it's his way or no way."
main weakness has been his inability to prevent
the DUP stealing his policies and political clothes.
Through lack of communication with his UUP grassroots,
Trimble has allowed the DUP to occupy the Centre-Right
which was once the bastion of the Ulster Unionists.
has forced the Upper Bann MP to lurch from time
to time to the Radical Right in desperate bids to
'out-Paisley' the DUP. They misfired, leaving the
big image problem is that many within the entire
unionist family blame their woes on him personally.
A simple perception has emerged - dump Trimble and
the unionist garden will become rosy again.
spite of any successes or holding the fort in the
local elections, unionists are political animals
who view success or failure by the number of Westminster
seats. Ironically, Trimble could gain 50 seats in
local councils, yet lose one MP and the rank and
file will be calling for his head.
fate rests not with his party's fortunes at the
ballot box, but with the two dozen members of the
Assembly party, long regarded in the bruising battles
with dissident unionism as Trimble's Pretorian Guard.
Assembly may have been in suspension since October
2002, but the MLAs have acted as his personal political
bodyguards - stamping out coups, seeking out rebel
plotters, and trying to explain Trimble's 'vision'
to the constituency associations.
crunch meeting will come within the next fortnight
at the first meeting of the Assembly group when
all the results have been declared. Already, there
are strong rumblings that he will be reached his
political sword and told to fall on it.
the final week of election campaigning, there are
some already laying plans for South Belfast MLA
Michael McGimpsey to become party boss. There are
even some who dare of wanting to bring Jeffrey Donaldson
back to a post-Trimble UUP.
John Coulter predicts the 18 Northern MPs who will
be returned to Westminster later week:
East Antrim: Sammy Wilson, DUP
North Antrim: Ian Paisley, DUP
South Antrim: Willie McCrea, DUP
East Belfast: Peter Robinson, DUP
North Belfast: Nigel Dodds, DUP
South Belfast: Michael McGimpsey, UUP
West Belfast: Gerry Adams, SF
North Down: Peter Weir, DUP
South Down: Eddie McGrady, SDLP
Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Michelle Gildernew, SF
Foyle: Mitchel McLaughlin, SF
Lagan Valley: Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP
East Derry: Gregory Campbell, DUP
Mid-Ulster: Martin McGuinness, SF
Newry and Armagh: Conor Murphy, SF
Strangford: Iris Robinson, DUP
West Tyrone: Pat Doherty, SF
Upper Bann: David Simpson, DUP