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Dawn Purvis and the PUP: What next? June 4, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Progressive Unionist Party.

Dawn Purvis’ resignation from the PUP, I think it’s fair to say, came as a surprise, despite her warning of serious consequences if the UVF were proven to be behind the Moffett murder. I watched Dawn Purvis on the BBC’s Hearts and Minds show, where she both made it clear that her decision was unlikely to be reversed and that she still saw the need for a Progressive Unionist Party. She said however she no longer felt comfortable within it given its links to the UVF/RHC, and the failure of those organisations to disappear. She also said that she would continue to pursue the same political principles and policies as an independent MLA, with, it is clear, the acceptance of the PUP that she does so. Obviously, this all raises a number of very interesting questions. There is Purvis’ future, the future of the PUP, and what this move might mean for the left and the forthcoming elections in NI.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Purvis is the Assembly’s most left-wing MLA. The UUP-Tory alliance would seem to rule out her joining the UUP, which might otherwise have been her most likely home, while she said on Hearts and Minds that she had difficulty seeing herself fitting into the DUP or Alliance because of her socialist beliefs. I think that she will remain as an independent MLA until the next election. If she stands at the next election as an indpendent, her designation will be of great interest. I doubt she would stand simply as an independent unionist, where she might well stand as an independent progressive unionist. I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of possibility she would stand as an independent socialist, but we may never find out. When Noel Thompson asked her why she didn’t seek to break the PUP link with the UVF rather than leave, she said that she did not think that was possible at this point. If that break is made, I could she her going back to the PUP. It doesn’t seem very likely though, as she probably would have hung on had she thought it possible. Whatever else, she has now ensured that she will not stand or fall on what the UVF does, while she seems to have maintained the goodwill of the PUP.

As for the PUP. Clearly this is a serious blow. The footage of the last PUP conference was clear evidence of its decline since its heyday of about a decade ago, not just in electoral support, but in organisational terms. If Purvis takes a lot of her supporters from east Belfast with her, it could have serious difficulties continuing. A point Purvis made and the implications of which are often not realised is that the relationship between the PUP and the UVF (or indeed the UDA and UPRG) is not the same as that between the political and military wings of other movements that have roots within republicanism. The PUP has never enjoyed the same level of support or interest from the UVF, or from its broader support base. It is not seen as an essential component of a two-track movement, and there are large swathes of the UVF and its support base that feels better politically represented by the likes of the DUP. There is also of course the issue of being apolitical in the sense of not being interested in party politics. It cannot be assumed that the PUP will survive in the medium term. I would be surprised to see the link with the UVF being broken in the short term, but in the medium term, self-interest would seem to make that the sensible option.

Whether it happens or not remains to be seen. It’s clear there are those who think loyalist paramilitaries need some form of political representation, and they would be reluctant to let the PUP go. One of the more surprising aspects of this whole thing has been the carelessness with which a leadership that has nutured the PUP has risked it by such a blatant and brutal act of murder. Shooting someone in broad daylight on the middle of a street in front of passersby seems to have deliberately been making a point to be seen to be ruthless. One of the less remarked upon issues of the Moffett murder has been the fact that while calls for no retaliation have been discussed, there has been no discussion of who might be doing the retaliating. Is there something factional going on behind the scenes here that hasn’t real come to light? It seems possible, especially if the reports of threats about vigils etc are true. There may well be more to come here, and the credibility of the PUP would most likely not survive another feud. It is a dangerous time for the PUP, but not for the broader peace process. Personally, I’d like to see the PUP continue to work to build a left-wing unionism. Beats the DUP, the TUV and the Tories it seems to me – the 11 Plus being one good example of why.

And what of the left more generally? As I said earlier, it would be a shame if Purvis loses her seat, as the Assembly would lose its most left-wing voice. And Purvis did suggest she would find it preferable to have a party machine behind her. John Lowry has argued that these events make still clearer the need for a re-alignment on the left as nationalism and unionism both seem to be moving further towards an overwhelmingly dominant party on each side. Given the great deal of talk about left unity and Purvis’ support for the United Community group at Stormont, what chance Dawn Purvis being the figurehead of a broad left coalition going into the next set of NI elections? Not inconceivable, and having a seat to defend may well be the focus needed to make greater left cooperation a reality. Interesting times.

Adds: Another view from Splintered Sunrise


1. JG - June 4, 2010

Very interesting piece, Garibaldy. A left alliance with Purvis as figurehead would be a really interesting and positive development. I hope she doesn’t quit politics, she has a lot to offer.


2. Ramzi Nohra - June 4, 2010

Good Analysis G.


3. que - June 4, 2010

Dawn would have a very localised vote that was coterminous with a UVF fiefdom.
Assuming UVF dont turn against her then she should be okay but will it be difficult for her to build an alternative party machine in that area without their tacit acceptance.


4. Garibaldy - June 4, 2010

Thanks JG and Ramzi. I doubt she’ll quit politics but where she ends up seems up in the air. Doesn’t look like the PUP have given up hope on persuading her back. I’m not sure the left alliance would come off, but neither am I sure it’s beyond the bounds of possibility either.

Que, interesting point. I’d be inclined to agree. I think she might have more difficulties if she was canvassing in other parts of the city than east Belfast.


5. The Resignation of Dawn Purvis « Garibaldy Blog - June 4, 2010

[…] Resignation of Dawn Purvis By Garibaldy I have a piece on Cedar Lounge Revolution discussing the issues raised by Dawn Purvis’ resignation from the […]


6. Jenny - June 5, 2010

Very interesting piece, and as you say it does highlight the degree to which a swathe of people who woudl normally be involved in Left politics are in a political wilderness in NI.

Also interesting that Left-inclined nationalists suddenly go quiet when the debate starts to focus on bringing Left-inclined unionists into a broad alliance. Any Left alliance would have to agree either to leave territorial aspirations at the door, or that one option is not any more ‘socialist’ than another.


LeftAtTheCross - June 5, 2010


Wilderness indeed.

Could you see Purvis in any of the NI socialist parties such as SP, CPI, SWP/PBPA which have historically “sided” with the nationalist view? Hardly.

I’d like to think that the WP could claim common cause to some extent, but would that be a stretch too far, for the WP, for Purvis, for her constituency. Presumably so.

As as Labour(British) person yourself could you see her residing there for example?


7. Jenny - June 5, 2010

LeftAt – I think she would fit right in – but to the Labour Left rather than the mainstream. She’d also shake up the feminist wing!


8. shane - June 5, 2010
9. sonofstan - June 5, 2010

Interesting view but he rather lets it down with statements like this:

When the ceasefires came, although the loyalists may have ceased fire on Catholics, they continued to prey, vampire like, on the working class unionist communities they infest and continued to be the major reason why these areas have degenerated into sink estates and urban wastelands.

So not the decline in heavy industry, the consequent loss of male jobs, and a few decades of market led government at W’minster then?


10. The SDLP and SF… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 1, 2010

[…] and in any event Alliance is arguably sui generis in and of itself in the context of the North. It would be heartening to think that Dawn Purvis or someone like Dawn Purvis might provide a focus f… but is that likely to […]


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