Parties need to develop policies
The English language has a multiplicity of words and terms that essentially mean the same thing — middle ground politics, bread and butter politics and re-aligned politics.
What all these mean is the political parties offering a stronger and realistic policy focus, rather than a constitutional one, and that these policies are potentially attractive enough to break down traditional voting patterns and are relevant to the new minority ethnic communities.
First, the development of a stronger and realistic policy focus is going to happen in unionism whether it has a cross-community appeal or not.
Voter loyalty is waning and policy ideas may be a means to attract and maintain voters. Also having power means politicians need answers to the problems on their ministerial desks. This will be even more crucial as we try to wrestle with the slashing of public spending by the Government.
Second, it needs to be recognised that there is small scale non-communal voting, for example socially conservative Roman Catholics who vote DUP for its pro-life stance and pro-European Protestants who vote SDLP.
Also the proportional representation system with its preferences provides an easier means for a voter to break from predictable patterns but more likely in their lower preferences.
Third, we have two good lessons in how not to do it with Sinn Fein’s self-justificatory ‘unionist outreach’ and the equal measures of naivety and condescension that pervaded UCUNF’s approach.
As for Alliance, it is more of a hindrance than a help. It represents a more socially acceptable and safer ‘half-step’ for people rather than full step.
The dead-head thinking that passes for much political commentary in Northern Ireland has condemned moves towards unionist unity claiming that it would prevent the development of this politics.
If the unity is simply a means to ‘reinforce the ramparts’ then it will. However, if it’s shaped to be unionism moving out ‘beyond the city walls’ then it will actually help.
So a more policy focused politics will develop. However, a realistic attitude to the likely results is needed. Identity politics is a powerful and lasting force.
Breaking it down will be a generational task and even then will most likely have only attracted a minority of voters away from identity politics.
Lee Reynolds is a DUP adviser who blogs at Ultonia.blogspot.com