Morning View: Election Will Provide the Real Litmus Test of Unionist Attitudes
Anew opinion poll makes for encouraging reading for unionist supporters of the Good Friday Agreement, who are often made to feel as if they are engaged in the futile act of flogging the political equivalent of a very sick horse.
Against expectations, it indicates that UUP support has strengthened in recent months, and that while its new mandate will not reach the heady heights achieved at the last General Election, it has recovered from a low of under 20 per cent, towards the 25 per cent the UUP needs if it is to emerge unscathed from the 2001 campaign.
Just as significantly, the poll suggests that support for the DUP is quietly on the wane, with supporters appearing, not surprisingly, to be somewhat confused about where the party stands in relation to the future of devolution and the extent of future involvement in the Assembly and its Executive.
To be fair, the strategists at DUP election headquarters will not lose sleep over the findings. The party is confident of wrestling two, if not more, seats from the clutches of the Ulster Unionists as a result of the only poll that matters, on June 7.
The most optimistic DUP members have high hopes that they will be sending no fewer than five MPs to Westminster, its highest-ever total, and three more than it managed in its disappointing March '97 campaign.
While the Belfast Telegraph/Independent poll suggests that DUP confidence is misplaced, David Trimble's party knows it has the fight of a lifetime on its hands if it is to repel the DUP invaders this time around.
William McCrea already has the upper hand in South Antrim, where he overturned the late Clifford Forsythe's towering majority in last year's by-election; Cecil Walker's grip on North Belfast is being loosened with every new day of the campaign, and John Taylor's departure from the relatively safe Strangford constituency has set the scene for a real dogfight between his possible successor, David McNarry, and one of the DUP's strongest candidates, Iris Robinson.
Within unionism, it is understood that the June 7 poll has little to do with picking the best candidates for Westminster, and everything to do with current attitudes towards the Good Friday Agreement. …