So Jim Wells has tendered his resignation. There’s something in the back of my mind about Peter Robinson threatening to resign before and withdrawing the threat when the storm had passed. Maybe I’m jumping too far ahead, though…
A lot of commentators and journalists are proffering the opinion that the post-dated resignation is to allow for the outcome of the Westminster election and that Jonathan Bell, the current Junior Minister in OFMDFM, is the favourite to take up the health portfolio. If the Nationalist vote were to be sufficiently split so as to allow Bell take the seat, the DUP would have to re-think its choice. Seems straightforward, right?
Well no, not really. The DUP faces a problem very much of its own making. The party line is that it is opposed to marriage equality and there are varying shades of personal opinion ranging from Paul McLean’s outlaw homosexuality calls to Pam Cameron’s personal beliefs being at odds with, she says, the majority of her constituent’s views. Therefore the obvious questions for the next DUP health Minister will be what are your views on Jim Wells’ comments? Where do you stand on the issue of gay men donating blood? What about gay couples adopting. Oh and can we ask your views on abortion and the fatal foetal abnormalities legislation whilst we have you here Minister?
You can see the problem, can’t you? What potential Health Minister could answer those questions in a manner that would ensure no further damage to the party? Who could ensure the story didn’t continue to have legs right throughout the election campaign? The delayed resignation is simply about minimising the potential for further damage, not seeing who’s available once the Westminster election results shake out.
The smart thing for the DUP to do would be for Peter Robinson to announce he’s asked Pam Cameron to take on some of Jim Wells’ duties until his resignation comes into force on May 11th. Now not for one moment do I think she would be permanently appointed to the role, but it would be a signal that DUP is willing to accommodate the views of those who dissent from the party line and, indeed, consider the idea that there may be more than one woman in the party who is Ministerial material.
Even with Robinson’s Radio 4 damage control interview and doing everything it can to put a lid on this, the prospect – dim as it always was – of the DUP being kingmakers in a coalition at Westminster must surely have been now completely extinguished.