UUP, DUP and suits

The recent talks between the TUV and UUP along with the previous discussions with the Conservative party about a possible merger elicited a very sharp response from Edwin Poots as Mick has noted below. It was one of the best comments I have heard from Poots in a long time. Incidentally I am a fan of Edwin Poots’s pin striped suits. I have a couple but Elenwe is a bit dubious about anything other than the most subtle of pin striping. However, it did set me thinking about why the UUP are trying to look in so many different directions. I will come back to suits at the end.

The answer is actually pretty obvious and itself illustrates one of the enormous problems that the UUP faces if it wishes to advance, let alone ever regain top spot within unionism; a feat I suspect is beyond it.
To understand why the UUP are trying to reach in several directions practically at once one must remember where they came from. Remember that the UUP was once the only unionist party. More importantly until only a few years ago it was much the largest unionist party. The DUP had only Paisley, Robinson and Willie McCrea. All the other MPs were UUP. They of course included a very broad spectrum of unionist opinion, if one includes the MLAs etc. it was even broader. It simultaneously contained on one end the likes of Duncan Shipley Dalton (Duncan if you are reading I hope you do not mind being described as on the liberal wing) and Willie Thompson and Willie Ross, neither of whom were exactly liberal or pro agreement. Indeed I remember one member of the UUP commenting on Gregory Campbell’s defeat of Willie Ross in East Londonderry that the more liberal unionist had won.

Such was the remarkably broad (and at the time successful) coalition which the UUP was that David Trimble was elected by the hardliners on that September night (I remember, I was there) and then ended up being supported by the liberal wing of the party whilst the hard liners tried repeatedly to remove him.

Of course since the leadership and membership of the party was extremely diverse in political viewpoints (something Jim Molyneaux frequently boasted of) it makes sense that the supporters were as well. Therein of course lay the UUP’s power base but also therein lies the cause of its current difficulties.

The UUP still wishes to get back to the position of the majority unionist party. However, it has lost votes in a number of directions and as such is trying to look to regain votes in a number of directions. There is nothing wrong with such an approach per se but it tends to result in them appearing to shift in multiple directions at the same time.

Many within the UUP correctly identify that the majority of the lost voters have jumped ship to the DUP. As such to be DUPish would seem a good way to get them back, except of course a number of ex-UUP leaders are in the DUP which will help to keep those voters. Then there are some ex-UUP types who have gone all the way to the TUV, directly or via the DUP. Hence, talks with the TUV make sense if one is trying to win their support.

Against that of course there is the vote which the UUP has lost to Alliance. This is actually a much smaller number of votes but it is centred on the UUP current relative power base of the Pale (greater Belfast). As such it might make sense to appeal to a liberal, largely middle class urban elite. Some of these people will no doubt be quite attracted to the Conservative party of David Cameron and as such talking of uniting with them may help.

Then of course many UUP members are obsessed with the garden centre Prod vote. I heard this at the slugger awards: a very worthy UUP member pointing out that a very large number of people do not vote. There is often an assumption that these people are predominantly unionist in outlook. There is also often an assumption that they are rather liberal unionists and as such by becoming more liberal the UUP could attract them. I suspect that those assumptions are of progressively decreasing likelihood. Most garden centre types may be unionist (be they Protestant or Roman Catholic). However, a number may actually be hard line unionists; some may support complete integration (once a pretty popular unionist position). Finally some of these voters just may not care and may not vote under any circumstances.

As such the UUP is trying to appeal in many different directions simultaneously. Once it was a coalition of unionists with very differing views. A large number of those people (both leaders, members and supporters) have moved elsewhere. However, they have not moved in one specific direction and winning them back is not a case of moving to the “right” or “left.”

The UUP are not helped by the fact that they feel that the DUP have stolen much of their clothes and have become a pro agreement party. The UUP can feel bitter about that but feeling bitter does not get those votes back. In addition the fact that the DUP have been a bit more successful in extracting some concessions from SF simply adds insult to injury. Rather than having stolen the UUP’s suit of clothes the DUP have purchased very similar ones. However, the DUP’s suit is more Paul Smith to the UUP’s Marks and Spencer and once people have started buying expensive suits they are less inclined to go back to cheaper ones.

  • ggn

    “I have a couple but Elenwe is a bit dubious about anything other than the most subtle of pin striping”

    Ah Ha! That why you arent in the DUP! Where tailoring is more AK47 than PPK.

    Iain Paisley Jn. has to be the worst dressed politican in Ireland.

    Lets have a best dressed politican thread!

  • Tory

    Of course, I would say this, but….

    The Conservative deal offers the only way in which the UUP can hope to square the circle that you vividly describe.

    The national politics factor and the chance to get unionism playing a real and influencing role in that can appeal to those passionate unionists who have drifted to the DUP.

    At the same time, the modern Conservative brand will reach out to those more liberal unionists who have gone to Alliance.

    There is no other show in town which offers this combination for the UUP.

  • Alex S

    Strange that Edwin should spend so much time talking about the UUP, were’t they surposed to be dead in the water?

  • I think you have hit the nail in the head with different parts of the UUP wanting to pull in different directions. I’ve covered a bit myself here:

    http://redemptionsson.blogspot.com/2008/07/battle-for-unionisms-centre-ground-part.html

  • The Raven

    Good point, Alex S. I am always amazed at how much vitriol any UUP thread seems to attract on here. It nearly strikes me as a case of “methinks the DUPers doth protest too much”.

    All things must pass. Perhaps the UUP has served its purpose, is of its time, and must now shuffle off this political coil. Ditto the SDLP and Alliance. Perhaps it *is* that simple.

    But what is also “that simple” is the fact that the DUP, with its current leadership, or perhaps in its current guise, does not, will not and cannot speak for many Unionists in Northern Ireland.

    There IS a middle unionist ground to be found. While I am not a UUP supporter, I do believe that of the fragmented panorama of unionist voters/supporters/members of that community, this party is the only one which represents any “hope” for how we see a shared future.

    Many of us are disgusted with the ongoing policing situation.

    Many of us have no political or philosophical axe to grind with an Irish Language Act.

    Fundamentally, many of us abhor the utter political arrogance that the DUP has displayed, not just to the UUP or Sinn Fein, over the past two years, but to the electorate of this region.

    And that’s why I don’t believe the UUP is dead. Not at all. It is stuck in the same way the Conservative Party was stuck after Blair’s initial victory. It’s not enough to rouse sympathy in me enough to get my vote – not by a long shot.

    But I think the answer as to how to get mine, and many of those “garden centre” unionists is so simple, and so “right in front of their noses” that they are almost scared to grasp it.

  • Peter Brown

    I’m trying to work out if the Pale analogy is mine or whether you used it before me….

    Isn’t the UUP’s difficulty Turgon that once upon a time it led the unionist electorate who followed almosy unquestioningly wherever the current UUP policy took them? Thye followed like sheep because they trusted the UUP which is why many UUP voters supported the Agreement – they believed what the Party and DT in particular told them it meant because they couldn’t understand it but if the UUP and that clever Trimble fellow thought it was a good idea then it merited their support.

    But having followed the waiter’s recommendation when the dish was actually served to them they didn’t like it and not without justification felt the waiter had misled them and blamed him and to totally stretch the analogy even though the Head Waiter has been replaced they still won;t eat in that restaurant again.

    The trust has broken down and now it is impossible for the UUP to once again be all things to all men because if the electorate aren’t following anymore to move in several directions at once is simply going to pull the party apart?

  • IJP

    The Raven

    Possibly re the UUP and SDLP.

    However, Alliance most certainly has not served its purpose.

    Our purpose is the replacement of an Executive based on carving up power between parties with competing and mutually exclusive positions (inherently unstable) with a stable democracy committed to tackling the effects of segregation, re-balancing the economy so we create our own wealth, and delivering sustainable public services (both in the good long-term governance and eco-friendly sense).

    The DUP-SF-UUP-SDLP Executive has diametrically opposed all of these objectives – at best through inactivity due to deadlock, and at worst through policies which render them even harder to achieve.

    The four parties want sectarian carve-up and never mind the inevitable consequence (constant instability). Alliance wants genuine power-sharing, real ambition, and clear vision. You may agree or disagree with the latter, but it’s definitely a clear purpose.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Nah seems like a fair description to me and one I self adopted anyway. I don’t subscribe to the view that the UUP can never be the larger unionist party again but I don’t believe that there will ever again be a single unionist behemoth either. Mind you whilst I don’t rule it out as a possibility that the UUP can regains the top spot the odds are very low and it won’t happen inside of 10-15 years in my view.

    The UUP has done positive work and I have been pleasantly surprised by Reg and what he has achieved in necessary internal party reform terms. It hasn’t though translated to wider political success and at this stage it’s hard to see how it will in the near future. The discussions with the Conservatives offer potential in reshaping the UUP as a political movement but they are not a panacea and if the tensions that seem to be surfacing with Sylvia continue then it may come at too high a cost. I make no secret of the fact that on the mainland I support the Conservatives (at least I do when I don’t read ConservativeHome anyway). In NI the calculation is different. I have a personal preference for a link up with the conservatives because I would like to see the broader approaches of Cameron integrated into the UUP policy platform and I would like to see NI MP’s playing a wider role in the UK parliament. A merger is not on the cards and I would not support it. The UUP should continue to exist as a separate political entity. It may be linked to or cooperate with the Conservatives but it would be wrong to subsume itself into the Conservatives. I don’t see much benefit in joining up with the Conservatives if it comes at the price of giving North Down to the DUP.

    I have tried to avoid this because the assumption is that it’s all about my grievances but I hope I can be objective. Right now the UUP does not have any potential candidates to win the Westminster seats that might plausibly be in play. It does come to personalities and Michael McGimpsey will not win in South Belfast. He does not poll well. He is well known has high recognition numbers as they say in the US but despite that he polls weakly. I like him and he is a great affable bloke in private but he is not a vote winner. David Burnside is quite likely to seek selection in Antrim South. If its left up to the SA Association he may well get it. He will lose. He cannot win the Westminster seat. He is not an affable and pleasant bloke in private (in my limited experience) and he does not poll well. I do not like him, not a big secret. In fact his vote has consistently declined at every election he has stood in with the exception of the 2000 by election when he did increase the vote at the following general election. I take the view that he cannot win that seat back and a blue rosette won’t do it either. In my view those two represent the only seats plausibly in play for the UUP. FST is a SF hold. E Antrim is safe for Sammy for now. E Belfast is untouchable, Strangford can be improved but it’s not winnable (sadly), N Belfast is now solid Dodds after Glengormley got moved into it. So where is the potential pick up? If you give away N Down in a pointless fight with Sylvia then what purpose does a Westminster pact with the Conservatives serve if you don’t have a single seat in Westminster? Its a dilemma.

  • “then what purpose does a Westminster pact with the Conservatives serve if you don’t have a single seat in Westminster?”

    the question remains what purpose it serves whilst the UUP retain North Down…

    it has only been a source of division and bad publicity since its announcement….

    check out the letters pages of the NL today for instance…. its held in equal disdain along with the TUV link up/pact/agreement/woteva

  • Tory

    DSD,

    The answer to your last question is:

    Because the UUP is going to go nowhere without a new product – whatever that product may be – to take to the electorate.

    One could turn the question around: What’s the point of having one MP who just acts totally independently of the party in her voting patterns anyway if it comes at the cost of political revival?

    With respect to the seats, think outside the box. New candidates are possible. One of the UUP’s biggest problems is it’s failure to bring up new people – in total contrast to the DUP.

  • Turgon

    Peter Brown,
    It was indeed your creation (the Pale) and I am indebted to you for it. It is an excellent analogy. Sorry for stealing it so often.

    regards

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Tory,

    I agree to an extent. The UUP does need a new product or at the least a marketing rebrand anyway. The Conservatives have shown that can be done but it’s a product of believable and deep leadership change e.g. Cameron. A linkup with the Conservatives is one way to do it the other would be to change leader and leadership in a way that was reflective of major change. Sylvia is not independent of her party in her voting patterns and has a 100% record as far as the UUP whip is concerned. For those who think I was overly maverick I also had a 100% record of voting in accordance with the UUP whip at Stormont. What you mean is that Sylvia does not vote 100% of the time with the Conservatives. As I pointed out on another thread she does so around 69% of the time. I am not sure quite why she is so resistant to the linkup but there you go.

    The UUP needs new personalities to front it and will need new candidates in those seats that are in play. My point in the post above was to say that I don’t think the UUP will come up with new people. It’s not a welcoming place a lot of the time. This is not an organization that reaches out to new talent and promotes it. I agree with you in principle but my experience is that local associations will not pick people capable of broad appeal and thus making those seats winnable. The new changes in the party constitution might allow HQ to overrule them and put candidates of their choice in place instead but I doubt the willingness or ruthlessness of the leadership to do it. There is also the problem that no obvious choices exist. New people need to be found and cultivated and promoted and that is a tall order for the UUP to do. So if we are looking at a Conservative linkup that gives us Burnside as a candidate in SA what’s the point? He can’t win and if you have no-one in Westminster I fail to see the purpose of the Conservative linkup.

  • Tory

    DSD,

    I will take your word for it on the UUP whip. Though, I was thinking – who decides on the UUP whip at Westminster? Who broke the whip on 42 days – Lord Laird or Mrs Hermon?

    On candidates, the model of alliance the UUP wants with us stops short of a merger. This will mean that candidates are likely to be subject to joint agreement between the two parties. That arrangement opens up the possiblility of bringing in some new people.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    The problem still exists, what new people from where? It takes time to establish a face and there is just not a pile of latent talent sitting there at Stormont waiting to be plucked is there? A mutual veto may not work either. So Sylvia is to be a candidate only subject to acceptance by the NI Conservatives? Hmmm.

    Oh yes and a bit of tangent but who is writing for Poots? If he came up with that speech himself I am a monkeys uncle. Edwin is not usually known for his wordsmithing.

  • Tory

    DSD,

    LOL re: Poots!

    Obviously, no sitting Cllr/MLA/MP/MEP is likely to be deselected unless they wish to leave or have done something wrong. I was thinking in terms of the selection of new people. I know that we have people of talent who would definitely wish to stand in future elections.

    However, I think we should wait until after the deal before getting further into these details.

  • TWH

    Well lets be honest the Dup have copied many of Trimble,s policies.

  • Driftwood

    Re: The NI Assembly
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7674853.stm

    Who was it said Satire died the day Henry Kissinger got the Nobel peace prize?

    Unbelievable

  • East AntrimUUP

    “check out the letters pages of the NL today for instance…. its held in equal disdain along with the TUV link up/pact/agreement/woteva”

    Thats right because obviously the Dundela Avenue children had no part whatsoever in making up those letters. Like “J Sewell from Jordanstown..an Ulster Unionist member” who is (a)not on any electoral register for Newtownabbey (b) is not and has never been on the membership list of East Antrim UUP.

    ie is a made up sock poppet