What is the UUP for?

Alex Kane offers his answer on the UUP’s role and future. He believes:

there is room for two mainstream pro-Union parties here, co-operating when necessary, while competing to attract and maximise the total pro-Union vote.

He defines the UUP’s future role as:

the role of the UUP is to be the voice of pluralist, co-operative unionism…to espouse and promote a philosophical vision and a socio/economic agenda which places the general needs of Northern Ireland above the specific electoral needs of Sinn Fein and the DUP

However, is the UUP capable of this role and is it a distinctive positioning? This sounds close to what the UUP tried in the Assembly election and it didn’t reap rewards this time, was it simply voter disbelief? Also he seems to pin some future electoral hope on the mythical 100,000/150,000 referendum voters:

If they can be motivated for that sort of poll, as they were for the 1998 referendum, then it is surely possible that they could be motivated on other issues, too.

Would there not be more immediate gains in the UUP identifying and targeting the 40-50,000 formerly regular UUP voters who haven’t switched to other parties but sat at home in 2005 and 2007?

  • IJP

    You know, if I was in a party that didn’t listen to me to the extent that I had to go public with my views on which strategy it should take; and then it still didn’t listen to me… well… I’d leave it!

  • against the head

    I think a lot of it has to do with personality. Not being particuarly into politics, I could maybe name 2 or 3 UUP politions, compared to maybe 8-10 DUP. UUP are missing personality, maybe because they donøt get the TV coverage like they used to? Reg had got to go – doesnøt appeal to young voters, looks too much like that guy from the simpsons.

  • IJP

    Reg had got to go

    That’s what they said about David F four years ago.

    They were wrong.

    Believe me, I’ve been there, seen that – leadership and personalities have nothing to do with it. Purpose (or apparent lack of it) is the problem.

  • Yokel

    Who from The Simpsons?

    40 000 stay at homes would be enormous in a local context and would, even given the vagaries of spread provide a much different result for them. From what I saw of election counts the UUP simpy didnt get the votes out. Equally amongst those who did vote UUP there were local signs that they didnt transfer to the DUP as well as the DUP types transferred down the card to the UUP. Psephology types can confirm or reject that initial impression.

    Do those stay at homes have a greater percentage of any particular bloc (eg liberal unionists) than another?

  • Hugo ‘George Osborne’ Rudd

    Alex Kane is describing Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition party there; he often gets them confused with the UUP. On the UUP…

    Alan McFarland has a better chance of leading the party to new pastures than the Child Catcher, IMHO.

    IJP, there’s one reason your party listens to you; you’re the only youngish member of the party worth listening to. You’re a big fish in a small pond, and I have no idea if that’s a compliment or not.

    I know my party listens to me, but I’m pleased to say there are a couple of hundred thousand other members who enjoy the same respect, who get a chance to speak at conference, and who sit on policy boards. I’m not sure that they all get a christmas card from the leader though 😉

    Incidentally, how someone from a party that made Sean Neeson party leader for a period before the early bath can say personality isn’t important…

  • Inspector Clouseau

    If the UUP want to go down the route outlined by Alex then they’ll need a “David Cameron” figure as leader. Empey, Kennedy and even McFarland are too “OUP” to realign the party.

  • mnob

    IC – they dont need *A* David Cameron – they need David Cameron.

    If they moved over to be COnservatives then they would do everyone a massive favour.

    And what exactly is Alex Kane proposing ? The ‘keep the other lot out but look more reasonable while doing it than the DUP’ party?

  • Cato

    I think the writing is on the wall for both the UUP and the SDLP, regardless of who leads them. If someone like Basil McCrea took over as leader of the UUP, he would be seen as a Unionist Mark Durkan, smart and relatively young but the leader of a party which has never been particularly dynamic.
    Perhaps it is time for a debate over whether Northern Ireland can reasonably sustain five major political parties in the future.
    I think there will be a gradual realignment to the point where there is a single nationalist force, a single unionist force and a united community coalition, the latter of which could actually be in government if it got its act together.

  • Hugo ‘George Osborne’ Rudd

    Genuinely, we don’t want them. The Lady in Red is hated on the Tory benches; she walks through the Government lobbies more often (by proportion of when she’s in Parliament) than some Labour MP’s.

    Get rid of her, or reign her in, and we can talk. Also, lose Danny Kennedy. Chocolate fireguard.

  • JD

    “they dont need *A* David Cameron – they need David Cameron”

    Spot on! If the UUP and SDLP want to serve a purpose they need to be part of a broader pluralist narrative – that’s would be better realised by the UUP merging with the Tories and SDLP merging with Irish Labour – leave the liberal middle ground to Alliance and the tibal politics to SF/DUP.

    There’s no point being a watered down version of SF/DUP. If you want to be pluralist join mainstream governmental parties – the SDLP & UUP’s sister parties are the best match for this. While they won’t displace SF/DUP as the main parties they would serve a purpose. While Irish Labour and the Tories might not want to be part of the executive they would provide a more purposeful opposition.

  • mickhall

    Come on, the two UUP leaders prior to Reg hardly had ‘personality’, what they and their party have always had to give them additional clout was the solid backing of the UK State, once this was removed they were revealed in their actual colors, rather dingy shades of grey. What you see now is what nationalists and non NI residents of the UK have seen all along. Little people, pompous and self important due to the said UK clout.

    JD is right, there is no where the UU membership can go but back into the Conservative Party from wench they came. For since they broke that link they have become an ever diminishing force. For like it or not the DUP represents the majority of Unionists, blunt, intolerant and when in their cups or amongst their own extremely b i g o t e d.

  • another_pleb

    I think that when a party (any party) begins to see a certain section of the electorate as belonging to them, then that party is simply setting itself up for a fall.

    Instead of actively going out and trying to justify their existance, the UUP and to a probably lesser extent the SDLP have been extremely complacent about convincing people to vote for them.

    The SDLP and UUP have been relying on people to not vote for their respective “nasty” alternatives for far too long.

  • IJP

    Hugo

    I didn’t get a Christmas card from the Leader…

    … right, that’s it, Ford must go…!

    But seriously, I didn’t join Alliance until late ’02, however I’m quite sure the party’s problems in ’98-’01 were to do with lack of apparent purpose (the purpose was always there, but the context had changed totally and the party hadn’t reacted).

    Seán’s personality had nothing to do with it. If you want reference to his personality just take a look at the Carrick Council and East Antrim parliamentary/Assembly votes we’ve (he’s) received for the last generation – and note ’01 was the year he didn’t stand…

    The only distinction with the UUP is I’m not at all sure the purpose is there.

    JD

    If the UUP and SDLP want to serve a purpose they need to be part of a broader pluralist narrative.

    In theory this is correct.

    In practice, the UUP and SDLP are deeply entrenched, sectarian parties.

    If people want the broader pluralist narrative, they should vote and campaign for it. But first they should recognize that it will not and cannot be delivered by entrenched, sectarian parties.

  • Loyalist

    Hugo Rudd can blather on all he likes about getting rid of Hermon or Danny Kennedy, but the truth is that the Ulster Unionists have about thirty times the support of his party in Northern Ireland – he’s in no position to be making demands.

    PS. What happened to Leslie in North Down – all that Central Office support – Cameron recording a broadcast and what was the result? Fewer votes than the Greens!

  • To return to the question at the top of Alex’s piece, the answer is “sod all”. The UUP was so badly managed in the Trimble era that not only did it hand over a decisive segment of unionism to the DUP, it also lost, or dissuaded from joining, the very people who might just have dug it out of the hole. At times during the Assembly campaign, it looked like the party was trying to be more wet than Alliance. That might appeal to the Duncan Shipley-Daltons of Ulster but it’s a recipe for, well, 14.5pc in the results.

    Look back 15 years ago. Whatever outsiders might think about them, the party through Molyneaux and Smyth was entwined with the Orange establishment and through it the Loyal Orders as a whole. It also had heavyweight figures (literally so) in Taylor and Maginnis. Look at the party now: a predominantly elderly Assembly grouping filled with local council ballast, with only 2 new members elected in McCrea and McCallister. When these men (and of course they are all men) retire, their seats all are very vulnerable to the DUP.

    About the only one who impresses me is Basil McCrea who seems a cut well above his colleagues. The future is always unpredictable but the UUP is probably too decayed to challenge the DUP. It has been locked for some time in a relentless circle of decline because it has long lost touch with the unionist electorate. A bad Westminster election awaits in 2009 followed by final collapse in the Assembly elections of 2011. I think Alex should turn his attention to what a united unionist party, based upon the present DUP but probably post-Paisley, might look like.

  • Crataegus

    I just don’t see room for the UUP or SDLP in their current form. Their fortunes seem more closely entwined with the success or failure of the DUP and SF. It would take those parties to make a right horlicks of it because both the UUP and the SDLP just don’t seem to land any blows that damage. Has someone removed their teeth?

    I agree on the bread and butter approach but you would need to target strategic sectors and be identified with them, and the UUP carries considerable baggage. I do feel that they need to skip a generation because the road back is going to take a long time based on current showings.

  • willowfield

    The UUP’s role is to reach out to, and provide a voice for, those voters put off by the ethnic unionism of the DUP.

    It is also to make a pragmatic and objective case for the Union.

    Within 20 years or so, the “middle-ground” constituency of voters who identify neither as Protestant or Roman Catholic will become significant enough to swing a border poll either way. Relying on Protestants (as the DUP does and only ever will do, and the UUP has to date) will not be enough. Unionists need to start planning for a border poll and working out how they can win over this middle ground with convincing arguments. This is the UUP’s job.

    I doubt, though, that they have even considered it. Why, for example – when so much is talked about the stay-at-home-unionists or garden-centre-Prods – has no major research exercise been commissioned to establish the following?

    (a) Are the stay-at-homes really unionists; or do they just not care either way?; and
    (b) If the former, why do they not vote, and what would be likely to entice them to vote?

    If unionists do not plan for the future, unionism will be finished within a couple of generations.

    To quote Saturday Night Fever: “the future catches up with you, and fucks you”.

  • mnob

    Maybe if the UUP and SDLP left the stage, then the fact that SF and DUP have signed up to the constitutional status quo would mean that the only difference between them is good old fashioned left/right wing policies.

    Then they would evolve into proper parties.

    After all this is the route most of Europe took to democracy.

  • John East Belfast

    IJP

    “You know, if I was in a party that didn’t listen to me to the extent that I had to go public with my views on which strategy it should take; and then it still didn’t listen to me… well… I’d leave it!”

    Is Alex Kane not a paid journalist who has been publicly airing these views for years.

    I dont know why he does it – other than the remuneration.

    If he was wanting to communicate with the Party there are many mediums within which to do it – he could go on a lecture circuit around the local Associations and Branches.
    If he wanted to change things from within and had the time why doesnt he put himslef up for a Party Officer position ?

    Meanwhile all he does is create sport for our political opponents

  • Greenflag

    willowfield,

    ‘I doubt, though, that they have even considered it. Why, for example – when so much is talked about the stay-at-home-unionists or garden-centre-Prods – has no major research exercise been commissioned to establish the following?

    (a) Are the stay-at-homes really unionists; or do they just not care either way?; and
    (b) If the former, why do they not vote, and what would be likely to entice them to vote?

    Good question and the same could be said for the albeit slightly smaller number of nationalists who also ‘couch it out’.

    I suspect that many of the sit at home unionists actually do care but not in the way that the DUP nor UUP might care to notice . These people may feel that the ‘union’ is no longer worth voting for and also not worth voting against . They may be more interested in the longer term survival of the ‘unionist people’ in Northern Ireland than in the survival of ‘unionist political parties’ per se . They may already feel that a UI is inevitable and that voting for any Unionist party is merely dragging out the inevitable . They of course came out to vote for the GFA as it seemed to offer at least some political progress. After 10 years of stop start they probably now have more than just second thoughts . Many of these people would probably abstain in a border referendum . The circumstances which pertained at the last border referendum are very much changed in both States on the island.

    I’d suggest that a large part of the stay at homes on the nationalist republican side can be divided between those who are irredeemably republican and thus still refuse to vote and those voters who still prefer the UK union over a UI but cannot bring themselves to vote for either Unionist party .

    Also of course in both groups there are those who simply don’t care either way and who are switched off NI politics to a degree that probably can’t be measured or who prefer the tv and a ‘real’ soap opera to having to hurt their brain by making a political decision ?

  • Greenflag

    As to the question ?

    ‘What is the UUP for?’
    Some answers :

    The Knacker’s yard just ahead of the SDLP ?

    The Ulster Museum ?

    The GAA ? (Geriatrics Anonymous Association )

  • BP1078

    I suspect that many of the sit at home unionists actually do care but not in the way that the DUP nor UUP might care to notice

    Greenflag
    All of the things you’ve said may be true but you omitted the possibililty that they may have finally realised that each Assembly/General/Council election here is not a Border Referendum.

    They’ve looked at the calibre of Unionist candidates on offer and thought “No thank you”. The other parties haven’t done quite enough yet to persuade them to vote across the traditional faultlines on normal bread and butter issues.

  • IJP

    John East Belfast

    Alex has at least succeeded in uniting us on such issues – I’m 100% in agreement with you on this one!

  • mickhall

    I feel what some may be over looking is that the UK state may not be entirely happy to turn the north over to SF/DUP, whilst paying the bill indefinitely. Especially if the SNP does well in May and the Union begins to look a little shaky. The UK LP may seriously consider organizing in the north under GB. Would NL be an attractive alternative to many of those who are disillusioned with Unionism?

    The Cameron Tories are still unionist to the core, and bar the union have little in common with the DUP, they may decide to save the UUP in some way in the hope of further solidifying the union, a merger perhaps? If the two main UK parties organized in the north, would the alliance be able to refuse a merger with the UK liberals?

    Politics in the north have been stagnant for a decade if not more, i really cannot see the UK state, no matter what they have told him, allowing Gerry Adams to sleep quietly in his bed. The way Paisley has been Lording it of late cannot go down well with those in London who have had the measure of the man for decades, far from being the man of the moment most people across the Irish sea feel he has as much to answer for as the bearded one.

    interesting times could be ahead.

  • Sceptic

    “2 new members elected in McCrea and McCallister”

    Well, George Savage was elected too Darth

    I’m amused to see the Tories here represented by Ben Archibald smugly calling for the head of Danny Kennedy and seemingly having blithely forgotten about the new dawn for the NI Tories they were hailing! I’m interested to hear why Ben doesn’t run himself

  • finesco

    If Mr B Mcrea takes over the uup leadership there will be an almighty uproar,he`s not the dynamic personality everybody claims he is indeed far from it….as for all the other stuff…..

  • Observer

    I dislike Basil McCrea.

    If the situation was right for him at the time he would have been in the Alliance Party.

  • D’Oracle

    I wonder. If the mission statement of UUP is to act as the “.. voice of pluralist, co-operative unionism…to espouse and promote a philosophical vision and a socio/economic agenda which places the general needs of Northern Ireland above the specific…” how would that differ from the Alliance Party one ?

  • Greenflag

    BP1078,

    ‘All of the things you’ve said may be true but you omitted the possibililty that they may have finally realised that each Assembly/General/Council election here is not a Border Referendum.’

    Finally realised ? I think you underestimate the political intelligence of said non voters . The ability to distinguish the letters of the alphabet one from the other would be the usual starting point . Secondly the ability to distinguish between such similar word combinations as BORDER REFERENDUM and ASSEMBLY ELECTION would not be overly taxing I’d have thought .

    The other possibility you omitted in your ‘research’ is that these people may have finally become pissed off voting for an Assembly which even now several weeks after the election nobody is sure will actually sit and even if it sits there will be no surprise if it ‘unsits’ within a few months !

  • Spinster

    Why don’t the UUP as the natural party of government try to out-Orange the DUP and then have the DUP present themselves as financially astute partners in cross community government, in fact as the (game over)

  • David

    The UUP/OUP has never been able to form as a political party. It was formed as a collection of interests and thus represented the broad Unionist constituency for two generations. Thus it contained landed, business and labour interests. It was democratic in the sense that debate occurred within.
    Since the Peace Process it has struggled as it has too diverse a membership. The UUP needs to redefine what it stands for, a process which will be painful as some will not like it. It also does the UUP no favours to blame people……….D. Trimble, S. Hermon or even D. Ervine. The organisation is not fit for contemporary purpose. Perhaps it is also worth asking what the DUP might stand for in ten years. We are probably witnessing their high water mark. It really is all to play for in Unionism.

  • Spinster

    The DUP’s allegiance to law and order was always provisional,threatening to arm people to achieve their goals. How stridently have they campaigned to disarm the protestant paramilitaries? They are in no position to take the moral high ground, not that the UUP seem to notice.

    The DUP have failed to enlist the English in their mission to oppress catholics and may have destroyed Unionism as a live political project able to recruit all citizens.

    What are the UUP for?

    First of all they are there to align themselves with the state and law and order. But as they are ambivalent or afraid about protestant paramilitaries they are the dog that will not bark.

    Plenty more dogs at the shelter.

  • BP1078

    Steady on there Greenflag, I’ve never doubted the spelling abilities of the typical NI voter…simply the DUP and UUP to a lesser extent have sold each election as a vote on keeping the Union solid.

    I’ll only speak for myself, (as my research isn’t as extensive as you seem to believe), I no longer vote for the UUP or DUP-I don’t agree with their policies. I don’t think I’ve weakened the Union by taking that stance.

  • Greenflag

    bp1078,

    ‘I no longer vote for the UUP or DUP-I don’t agree with their policies.’

    I can imagine your dilemma . One party almost dead and the other despite winning the internal unionist election can’t seem to make it’s mind up on what to do next . I’m reminded of the story told about NI’s earliest UUP Prime Minister who after a moderately successful military career suddenly found himself in Stormont .

    After pacing his office for a few hours and wandered through the old building he finally cried out in desperation to an official .

    ‘What am I supposed to do in this job ‘ ?

    A little later he began to see that the atmosphere in Co Fermanagh was Protestant and that smuggling cattle across the border from the Free State was more lucrative and exciting than being UUP leader .

    ‘I don’t think I’ve weakened the Union by taking that stance. ‘

    I agree . The Union (in it’s present format is weakening anyway due to forces beyond the control of any individual ) . The only question is what ‘format’ will replace the present one .
    As of now it looks like it will be Plan B for a decade or so by which time the DUP old guard will have had enough time to navel gaze and to consider whether or not the lost opportunities of the St Andrews Agreement were greater or lesser than those lost at Sunningdale . By then of course the ‘navel gazing’ may be purely for academic interest. The world will move on anyway.

  • bob Wilson

    ‘there is room for two mainstream pro-Union parties here, co-operating when necessary, while competing to attract and maximise the total pro-Union vote’

    Yawn, yawn Alex. All that would do is perhaps maximise the vote of those who are willing to play the ‘Protestant Unionist’ game.

    The real challenge is to reach out to all those increasing number people who do not identify (or vote for this).

    Leadership is called for – in the development of UK politics in NI.

    Everything else will continue to push down unionist turnout down and play into the hands of nationalists.

    And Alex knows that.

  • mnob

    Greenflag – as a stay at home unionist – or more accurately a unionist voting for a non unionist party voter, i disagree with your thinking that, that makes me less of a unionist or that I think that a UI is inevitable.

    Actually I am able to be a stay at home unionist because i believe the union is secure. All this talk of demgraphic change and the inevitability of a UI is claptrap. To see that all you have to do is look at what has changed over the last 80 years.

    What has changed ? Well enshrined in British and Irish law and agreed by the majority of all comunities in NI is that the constitutional status will not change without the express support of the people of NI. Thats a *big* hurdle for nationalists to overcome. Even if there were 50% + 1 people happy to vote nationalist that will not convert to voting for a UI in a referendum. What about the fear of change, the loss of cushy state jobs, uncertainty about state pensions, benefits, taxes, infrastructure payments, existing investments, currency changes ….

    Times were different in 1920, it was easier to break away from a state, now it would be horrendously complex, and cause a loss to many ‘nationalists’ so much so that they might blink before voting.

    SF have peaked – for the final push they are hoping for demographic change rather than picking up more votes. Thats desperation for you. If there was *ever* a chance of them becoming the biggest party in NI then you’d see the armchair unionists voting en masse (and a few armchair nationalists too).

    In the meantime they are banging down the door at Stormont, circulating in the corridoors of power at westminster, actually wanting to administer the state they say they dislike so much.

    At the same time, the nation state is waning, the ROI becomes more like the UK every day, and nationalists objections to the NI state come down to not being able to express their identity as they would wish.

    The question is not is this the best time for Unionists to make an agreement – it is whether it’s Nationalisms peak.

    For these reasons I am a non unionist party voting unionist, i would rather cast my votes on something that is important to me and can be influenced by my vote.

  • philip

    And you think Catholics will vote Tory! Like it or not Tory is indirectly sectarian for you endorse the union. A vote for Tory will be a lost vote.

  • Greenflag

    mnob,
    ?? I was replying to BP1078.

    Your views have been noted and I believe you mean waht you say . Just a small point . I’ve never stated anywhere that a UI is inevitable . And as for demographic change it’s not claptrap . It is , has and will continue to happen . It’s political implications are a matter of conjecture .

    BTW far from banging down the doors for power sharing it appears to me that SF seem more prepared to walk away from it than the DUP . It’s the DUP who are pleading for anothr 8 weeks whereas Mitchell McLoughlin of SF has stated that if the Assembly does not start on Monday next Mr Hain should sack the 108 MLA’s including of course McLoughlin himself 1

  • Hugo ‘George Osborne’ Rudd

    philip,

    How embarrassing. You would like, perhaps, to tell Anne Widdecombe that Catholics shouldn’t or won’t vote tory? Or Iain Duncan Smith? While you’re at it, perhaps you could have a quick flick through the mental rolodex for other sectarian clichés you’d like to chuck up to us.

    Opposing a United Ireland is not sectarian.

    People who conflate politics with religious denomination entirely miss the point. Now, if your point was ‘people who want a UI won’t vote tory’ then, that would be fair comment, because we’re clearly the largest Unionist party in the world. They probably won’t. But don’t be so bloody stupid as to equate Catholic with Irish Nationalist, as this K clearly does not = 1.

    Seriously, some people…

  • IJP

    SF have peaked

    Oh no they haven’t.

    There is no doubt that post-policing more people who did not vote SF were willing at least to transfer to them. That hasn’t been the case in the past few years.

    And history shows SF is very good at converting people who transfer to them into first-preference voters.

    If I were betting on 2011, I’d be betting already on SF having 30+ seats.