By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
A former special adviser to Arlene Foster has warned that the election of the DUP’s new leader will leave a “toxic legacy” with voters in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Foster resigned her position as first minister at Stormont this week after she was ousted as party leader and replaced by Edwin Poots.
A number of councillors have left the party after the acrimonious leadership process in which Mr Poots defeated MP Jeffrey Donaldson.
Former Belfast councillor Lee Reynolds was one of Mrs Foster’s special advisers, and has also left his position this week although he is still a member of the party.
Writing in the Irish News, Mr Reynolds said the brand of the DUP had been “damaged” by the events of the past two months.
He said: “It is the DUP brand that is in greater trouble. Arlene Foster’s popularity had dropped but not as much as the DUP’s.
“The events of the past two months will have harmed the brand further.
“The ‘Poots putsch’ of Foster will have a toxic legacy, especially amongst women voters.
“As Peter Robinson (former DUP leader) has argued, the same result could have been achieved without the public brutality, but a few consciously chose it to be that way – the actions of lesser men.”
Referring to new party leader Mr Poots, Mr Reynolds said: “He has negative favourability ratings amongst all age groups, both genders, DUP voters and voters of all other parties.
“In the public mind, he is part Jeremy Corbyn, part Tom Elliott (former Ulster Unionist leader).
“This is not a recipe to keep voters, attract new first preferences nor transfers in an Assembly election.”
Referring to the 19 elected representatives who voted for Mr Poots in the leadership election, Mr Reynolds said: “Nineteen people may have drunk the kool-aid but there is no independent evidence that voters have or will.”
He added: “Then we have the Vote Poots – Get Paisley dynamic. This will drag the DUP brand down even further.
“Policy is to remain the same. If they have a plan, it appears as well developed as the American plan for the invasion of Iraq.
“The DUP benefited from a general shift in voters. However, it may now have created circumstances in which it will be the loser from another such shift.”