Rich harvest for most visionary party?

Interesting piece on the Business Post site which outlines the current state of play in Northern Irish politics. Interestingly it suggests that UUP at last seems to have found a role for itself in a newly aggressive role of in house critic of the bigger parties. It has also been involved in a degree of re-engagement with grass roots activists, and lopping off some of the dead wood it has accrued over the years. It is less sanguine about the SDLP. However it notes that there could be big prizes on offer:

With a growing economy and a self-confidence obvious to anyone who takes the time to watch BBC Northern Ireland or UTV, there is a rich harvest for the party that articulates a vision of ‘where to next?’. When you take the time to think about it, that’s not a lot different to the political situation in the rest of the island.

And not dissimilar to the situation in the rest of the archipelago!

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

  • jaffa

    If the SDLP and UUP were really ballsy and wanted a clearer distinction from the competition they might swap places on the economic spectrum also. The SDLP sits on a broad nationalist left with Sinn Fein and the UUP on the Unionist right with the DUP. If the UUP move their economic policies to the centre left and the SDLP to the centre right they distinguish themselves from the competition.

    I guess an FF merger takes care of that for the SDLP but what similar trick can the UUP pull? Maybe revisit that merger with the PUP and/or cede the Tory association to the DUP and recast as Liberal Unionists / Christian Democrats in all-Ireland partnership with FG..

  • Twinbrook

    “The SDLP sits on a broad nationalist left”
    Sorry is it April fools already!

  • jaffa


    The SDLP is a self-declared member of the left; a member of the socialist international and is associated with the UK Labour Party but is insufficiently revolutionary for voters such as Twinners so may as well abandon the pretence and embrace it’s position as a centre-right nationalist party.

  • JD

    “If the UUP move their economic policies to the centre left and the SDLP to the centre right they distinguish themselves from the competition. ”

    There’s something in that. I think one of the spin offs from a FF/SDLP merger would be that a handful of SDLP reps will defect to Irish Labour (they’ve a ready made safety net set up for them). I don’t think Irish Labour want to carry the can here and will want a link with British Labour. The question is would the UUP be ballsy enough to link up with a post nationalist Labour Party? They’ve a fair few Tories in their ranks – although Minister McGimpsey would be a Labour man.

    I think an FF/SDLP merger will see the emergence of some Irish-Britsh Labour organisation. Perhaps the UUP could form with the Alliance Party a Liberal/Progressive Democrat Party that could be to the DUP’s left.

    So many ifs – lets wait and see what happens with FF/SDLP

  • Liberal

    Sorry JD, I thought Alliance was already a Liberal party to the DUP’s left.

    What’s the UUP got to offer such a perspective?

  • harry

    The SDLP sits on a broad nationalist left”
    Sorry is it April fools already!

    Posted by Twinbrook on Jan 07, 2008 @ 04:24 PM

    sure, psf dont even sit on the broad nationalist left.

  • Elvis Parker

    Some would say that the Ulster Unionist Council – which was essentially a merge of Conservatives, Liberals, etc in a reaction to the nationalist threat has achieved it goal and the UUC and hence UUP should now dissolve into the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties

  • Truth & Justice

    Interesting piece however that is not the case in North Down the UUP are doing nothing for any community!

  • Twinbrook

    “sure, psf dont even sit on the broad nationalist left.”
    Harry I have reread my post numerous times and for the love of me, I can`t see where I said or implied this…
    Now maybe you`re into hidden meanings or maybe just misinterpretations…if so, can I be so kind as to call out tomorrows geegee card and maybe you can pick me a winner!

  • JD

    “Sorry JD, I thought Alliance was already a Liberal party to the DUP’s left.

    What’s the UUP got to offer such a perspective? ”

    I agree – I’m just trying to kick around the original ideas on this thread. If the UUP were to move to “the Left” (whatever that means nowadays), they would be converging with Alliance.

    I do think that like the south the social conservative consensus will eventually crack and the party that is ahead of the curve in this regard will reap some benifit. Perhaps moderate unionists should form a Liberal Party along the lines of the now defunct Progressive Democrats in the South. Like the south in 1980s the economic corporatism of the dominant parties will be challenged by the middle classes at some point and a combination of the Alliance and Liberal wing of the UUP could offer this.

    Like the PDs in the south it will be interesting as to whether Sinn Fein/DUP can adapt to such a challenge like Fianna Fail/Fine Gael did to the rise of the PDs.

    While not the traditional continental Left/Right divide – the North’s politics could realign on an economic Liberal V Statist lines. Sinn Fein/DUP v Liberal Unionist/Fianna Fail, outside of this there might be a smattering of Labour and Green representatives.

    The SDLP and UUP do need to be re-invented – it is only a question of how

  • uupobserver

    “[The UUP] has also been involved in a degree of re-engagement with grass roots activists, and lopping off some of the dead wood it has accrued over the years.”

    Mick, if you had not used the words ‘a degree of’ and ‘some of’ I would have assumed you had got this sentence directly from the spin doctors at Party HQ! Even your cautionary qualifications are too kind.

    If the recent ‘illegal’ selection meeting in Dromore is anything to go by, then real ‘re-engagement with grass roots’ and ‘lopping off…dead wood’ has a very long way to go. The ‘dead wood’ in the meeting sticking to the old ways was predictable, but that a ‘progressive rising star’ in the Party should indulge in those same old ways, bodes ill for the future. I think a walk along the Damascus Road would be appropriate, before it is too late. Old habits are infectious and hard to change.

  • kensei

    “Certainly the quality of its politicians, per capita, is far higher than in the jurisdiction governed from Leinster House.”


    This article makes claims so general as to be impossible to contest, like the SDLP might get it’s act together and then might win back some support, or is just flat wrong.

    I see absolutely no signs that either of the two main parties are particularly vulnerable to challenge at the present time. I don’t see any particular anger that things being done or not done yet. Any wounds have been entirely self inflicted – the Quinns with SF, and the Causeway affair with the DUP. The UUP’s position really looks like weakness rather than strength from the outside looking in, and blimmin’ ineffective at that. In government? Out of governemnt? A wee bit of both? New leader? No?

    Yes, at some unspecified point in the future either party might get their act together and do better, but that is a tautology.

    Personally I’m hoping for FF to shake things up a bit here. A party that has developed both credible policies and a ruthless machine; just forcing SF to compete properly in the North for the first time in ages would shift things up a notch. Oh, and despite his present troubles, Bertie Ahern is a far, far more skilled politician than the Six has manage din quite some time.

  • Objectivist

    Have there been any opinion polls which include a hypothetical NI FF option?

  • jaffa

    I think Liberal and JD are right but I don’t think the Ulster Unionist parties future is as far to the left as anything like a merger with Alliance. Here’s another suggestion…

    For a while the Ulster Reform Club had a political committee which was associated with the Ulster Unionist Council.

    Maybe the UUP’s future might be in a return to 19th Century Whig roots.

    There are actually five main points of focus/locus for parties in the European political mainstream. These are;

    Conservative & Nationalist (and often Euro Sceptical)
    Christian Democratic (and often pro-European)
    Liberal Democratic
    Social Democratic

    Clearly the DUP are in the Conservative and Nationalist position – and didn’t Dr Paisley call the Eu a “tower of Babel”.

    Making more of the current reality; membership of the European People’s Party alongside Fine Gael and a commitment to “United Community” and effective all_Ireland liberal (in the economic rather than social sense) politics, whilst making Ireland safe and useful to the middle class Ulster Prod/West Brit constituency (priorities to include more Ulster Players in the Ireland Rugby team and easier access to Trinity! 🙂 ) would give the UUP a distinctive position without asking Alan McFarland to take up weed or wear sandals.

    Every day I drive down the Holywood Road and see the UUP logo with the crown and something that looks a bit like a Orangeman’s collarette around it.

    I’m a potential core voter (East Belfast born, North Down reared, Grammar School, own business) but I’d need the UUP to seriously rethink itself as something more like the Irish/Ulster Reform Party and dump the “Unionist” badge. I’m not going to invest my vote in more wasteful separatism.

    They wouldn’t even need to change that Collarette logo much – there’s a very nice stained glass window in the Reform Club that includes in the traditional Ulster flag and in one quadrant the Thistle, the Rose and the Shamrock.

  • darth rumsfeld

    sadly the UUP doesn’t know what 19th century whig politics is- and it was really more Tory then anyway ( posting as a proud whig myself, and even sadder is the fact that the Reform Club ( of which I am a member precisely because I am an Ulster Whig) seems to be just the local Institute of Directors. It all started to go wrong when they allowed the ladies into the main dining room, and now they’re giving us a fitness suite and personal trainer. Whatever next- a list of honorary members starting with Joe Chamberlain, Edward Carson ends with… the Green Goddess

  • jaffa


    I don’t really know how to tell you and I hope it doesn’t come between us but I only really know the club because I’m a member of the IOD!

    Not that I ever use the place. I’m just subsidising your G&T;bill. I did go to the IOD lunch last year to see what David Cameron’s like (there was a funny little man handing out NI Tory business cards) and I once attended one of those IOD lunchtime talk thingies (on corporate governance – don’t ask why) where I met a nice lady from the Police Ombudsman’s office but that’s about it.

    Waste of money really. Like Gyms. Shame about the lovely snooker room. They’re not putting this Gym in there are they?

    Wasn’t Brummy Joe Chamerlain the original Liberal Unionist?

  • JD

    I’ll meet you half way Jaffa

    I think much of the UUP re-inventing itself as “The Liberal Party” (economically rather than socially – like the PDs) would have to be restricted to the six counties. Not having “Unionist” in the title might be bearable but a 32 county party with Fine Gael (a party who caters for the non nationalist constituency in the south) would be seen as a trojan horse for an all Ireland state.

    Should the PDs fold their tent in the next couple of months (which is likely). Fianna Fail will have removed their main obsticle to joining the Liberal Democratic & Reformist group in Europe. They tried to do this a few years ago but ran into difficulties at the time.

    A Northern Ireland Liberal Party made up of UUP & Alliance reps could as a sister party to an all Ireland Fianna Fail in the ELDR group offer an economic alternative to Sinn Fein/DUP without having to agree on the national question.

    Fianna Fail and a Liberal Unionist Party would not not be socially liberal but they could offer an alternative modernising agenda to what will be eventually a complacent dominant Sinn Fein/DUP coalition.

  • jaffa


    Ok. Your positioning has the merit of economies of scale for the new entity and provides the clearest distance from the extremes of post-marxism and moon howling right-wingery (although I’ve always thought that these positions were more about expropriating and defending planter property than sincerely held core principles).

    A reforming liberalism makes logical the represention of urban constituencies like East Belfast by people like Reg as well as the defence of commerce and it allows for the inclusion of Dawn Purvis if she’s interested (and if we’re over the UVF advisory role)…and I don’t think Alliance are all that socially liberal anyway.

    To branding. Potential names for this merger

    1) Alliance
    2) Unionist
    3) Liberal
    4) Liberal Democrats
    5) Liberal Democratic and Reform
    6) Democrats
    7) Reform
    8) Liberal Unionist

    I like “Reform”. It evokes Darth’s Whigs and sounds more like a call to action – vaguely evangelical. I think it’s “Leasú” in Irish which is a nice neat word but weirdly according to this;

    leasú also seems to mean manure. These Gaels must be either very conservative or very keen on manure to use the same word for both these things.

    Maybe “Liberal” then. Straightforward and there are a combination of successful and notable post-colonial Commonwealth parties for us to be mates with (including the Aussie one if you want a righter wing style of Liberalism…although it’s not in the liberal international). I like the Canadian version best.

    Incidentally the potential party already has good international standing with other liberal politicians around the world through a recent leader;

    Sadly, like Darth, I doubt that the UUP have the brains to go for this even though I believe voter preferences would show that the two are naturally close in the minds of the those people still voting UUP.

    On the other hand there are clear areas of division between Alliance and the UUP; around education for example and enthusiasm for all_ireland institutions and integration as a core thrust of policy – although Reg’s “for all of us” campaigning kind of commits him to the same.

    The UUP would need to get over some remaining cold footedness as exhibited in areas like their cultural insecurity and pettiness over the Irish language, but the potential partnership with FF is a tasty carrot and there is a certain back to the futureness about the whole idea that might appeal.

    I believe that the New Ulster Movement which led to the foundation of the Alliance Party started as the reformist wing of the UUP though joined by Independent and Nationalist MP’s on the foundation of the new party;

    Bringing the two wings back together draws a line under any told-you-so bragging by Alliance.

  • jaffa

    D’ya think the Canucks would mind if we nicked the “stronger together” tag (see link)? Seems appropriate to me.