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Editor's Viewpoint

A wake-up call for leaders in a poll of fascinating insights



Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Arlene Foster

There's probably a Donald Trump quote - or tweet - for pretty much everything at this stage and it's no surprise that there's one for opinion polls. "Any negative polls are fake news," he tweeted back in 2017. Then again, this is the man who baselessly queried actual election results in the last couple of months, so his opinion of polls is suspect.

However, no doubt there will be some in Northern Ireland who would be more than happy to similarly dismiss the findings of the latest Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll, which paints a particularly stark picture for the DUP this morning, but will give plenty of others in Stormont and beyond considerable pause for thought.

The next Assembly election may be 15 months away, but Arlene Foster's party find themselves still shedding support, with Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice seemingly the main beneficiaries of this slide.

As has been written elsewhere in these pages, it would be a shock if such a result were to repeat itself in a real vote. But there comes a time surely when such statements start to wear thin. A reliance on a lack of credible, experienced TUV rivals to take actual DUP votes is hardly the bedrock of an election strategy.

The fact is the DUP got 30.6% of the vote at the last Westminster election, and were neck and neck with Sinn Fein in the last of these opinion polls.

The polling for this latest survey was carried out before last week's appeal by the TUV leader for people to take action against the Northern Ireland protocol. It also preceded the chaos caused by the EU's U-turn on triggering Article 16 last Friday which so infuriated politicians here, in particular the First Minister. Perhaps Mrs Foster's quick and strong response will have played well with would-be voters.

Our poll also indicates the rise of the Alliance Party is showing no sign of abating. Not only are they breathing down the DUP's necks, they're putting clear daylight between themselves and the SDLP and UUP, the former in particular not seeing the benefit of well-received performances from high-profile figures in Stormont and Westminster.

On the subject of well-received performances, Health Minister Robin Swann's calm demeanour seems to have struck a chord with potential voters. He has obviously benefitted from the high profile the pandemic confers on the holder of the health portfolio, but looking at his counterparts elsewhere in these islands, it's not always a given that this goes down well with the public. Maybe the falling numbers are helping, but what controversies there have been recently, the blame has not been laid at his door.

The same can't be said for his Executive colleague Peter Weir, whose performance as Education Minister has not gone down at all well.

The long drawn-out transfer test saga certainly hasn't helped matters, nor has he benefitted from being a DUP minister at a time when his party's support is on the wane.

He can't do much about school closures in a pandemic, but the problem for whoever would be Education Minister is that it's an issue that confronts parents - and voters - every single day and he's the one feeling the brunt of anger over this issue.

There's little love for political leaders across the water either, with Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis scoring particularly low in approval ratings. Brexit and the hassle resulting from the Irish Sea border and the Northern Ireland protocol largely explain the widespread disdain for Westminster chiefs.

However, Friday's inexplicable EU actions suggest there's little understanding in Brussels either over the implications of the NI protocol and how it actually affects people on the ground here.

All of which leaves us relying - more than ever - on our own parties in the Stormont executive to show leadership and navigate the twin crises of Covid and Brexit.

Experience has taught us not to hold our breath.

Belfast Telegraph