Let’s start with the good news for the Ulster Unionists. Membership is up. And up by quite a bit for a party that’s not exactly been making all the best kind of headlines. Some estimates put it at about 2k. Which (if they are paying their dues) is not bad at all.
The bad news is that the failed tie up with the Conservatives, continues to become ever more thin. Jeff Peel (who has consistently blamed the UUs for never having bought into the deal in the first place), was first with the news that the alliance was effectively at an end now the Conservatives are plotting their own competitive future in Northern Ireland.
But its worth taking note of Alex Kane’s column today where he suggests that Conservative Party vascillation means that local Associations will not be able to pick up on that competitive future in time for May’s Assembly elections:
If the Conservative Party, one of the most successful election machines in the world, had wanted to field candidates then it could—and very easily—have put an infrastructure in place. And if it was serious about success at the local council elections being held on the same day, then it would have put up Assembly candidates in some key constituencies and looked to benefit from a trickle down vote. The fact that it chose not to do so tells you everything you need to know about Central Office’s definition of ‘unequivocal support.’
So Irwin has been forced into the absurd position of saying that ‘we will therefore watch with interest the results of the Assembly elections in May and then decide on a detailed long term strategy… and put up credible candidates with the experience that can provide the leadership Northern Ireland requires.’
What is the point of planning to put up candidates in the future? What is the point of walking away from yet another battle? Irwin Armstrong is a thoroughly decent man, a man of utter integrity: but he and the NI Conservatives have signed up to a very bad deal, a deal that will kill off all hope of an electoral breakthrough. Let’s face it, twenty-one years is a very long time to still be talking about a long term strategy!
And in the Irish News Roy Garland believes the Tories had the UUP in mind:
The Conservative Party is not likely to abandon the Union but, as expected, have abandoned the UUP instead. Almost exactly a year ago I warned the Tories they were “out of the depth” and would “live to regret their dalliance” with Ulster Unionists. The Tories have now taken their revenge on a lacklustre UUP that is already on its last legs by kicking them in the teeth.
Hmmm… Whatever the intention, Mr Cameron must be regretting the day ever involved himself in Northern Ireland’s political quagmire.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty