Thursday, 1 July 2010

TUV - a testimonial party?

Since the election the future of the TUV has only been paid limited attention.  It has publicly committed to continuing but with an internal grouping to examine its future.  However, to conclude the TUV is finished would be premature, the Westminster result left it seriously wounded not dead.

A few weeks ago, the unsuccessful TUV Lagan Valley candidate, Keith Harbinson, gave an interview to the News Letter in which he said:

"Mr Harbinson acknowledges that the timeframe for the task the party set about achieving - voluntary coalition government at Stormont with an opposition - has now "probably lengthened" but insists it is still possible."

This is not an insignificant shift.  This is essentially the position the DUP adopted in 2007 (pdf file): 

"While the changes which we have made to the Belfast Agreement have transformed the political institutions in Northern Ireland our long-term goal remains to have a voluntary coalition Executive.  The new arrangements represent a fair deal.  They do not represent a final settlement. It is widely accepted that while the new arrangements are a massive advance on the Belfast Agreement they still do not offer the best way for Northern Ireland to govern itself.  We continue to believe that a voluntary coalition is the best permanent solution for Northern Ireland to provide good government for our people."

So one key area of difference appears to have been removed. With the possible exception of the PUP, all unionist parties are now signed up to voluntary coalition as a longer-term goal.  However, the moral objection remains (even if it is not clear-cut as they imagine) so in this respect the TUV maybe does have a distinct role.  It is a possible British example of the phenomenon in Dutch politics called a testimonial party:

"...a party that focuses on its principles, instead of adapting them to local or temporal issues in the pursuit of coalition government participation."

The Reformed Political Party (RPP) is the best modern example.  Although it is hard to see how such a role is the basis for growth or a sustainable future, like the RPP it would most likely be:

“an almost perfect illustration of Duverger's category of “fossilized” minor party.”

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