Planting the Tory flag to sway the opposition

Brian Feeney today dedicates his column in the Irish News to the UUP-Tory pact. Shedding an interesting light on the new relationship he regards the Tories move to enter a pact with the UUP as: “to plant the Tory flag in Norn Irn – so Labour can’t accuse him of leading an English party.”

He also makes reference to Sir Edward Carson, the stalwart of Unionist politics in the early 20th century. Quoting Carson from his maiden speech, on entrance to the House of Lords: “At the time I did not know, as I know now, that I was a mere puppet in a political game. I was in earnest. I was not playing with politics – What a fool I was! I was only a puppet. So also was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party back into power.” What stands out for me in this statement is: “I was a mere puppet.”

This quote reminds me of the book by Jeremy Smith, The Tories in Ireland: 1910-1914 (Published by Irish Academic Press, 2000). In the blurb, outlining the book it states:

“The struggle was not to save the Union or to save Ulster but to save the Conservative party from domestic electoral extinction.”


By Brian Feeney, published in the Irish News on Wednesday 10th December 2008

Usually it’s easy to tell the difference between a dog and a lamp post. For a start all the movement is in one direction. In politics it’s not always so simple because there often appears to be movement in two directions. Nevertheless, the person or party taking advantage is usually pretty obvious even if the victim doesn’t realise it.

Sir Reg Empey would do well to remember Lord Carson’s maiden speech in the House of Lords in 1921 after partition and the establishment of Norn Irn, something he never wanted.

When he looked back on his campaign against Home Rule he said: “At the time I did not know, as I know now, that I was a mere puppet in a political game. I was in earnest. I was not playing with politics – What a fool I was! I was only a puppet. So also was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party back into power.” Later he said that it was only when he sat down that he remembered a conversation he had had as a newly-elected Conservative and Unionist MP in 1893 with Sir William Harcourt the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Harcourt chided Carson for his enthusiasm for the Conservatives whose strong support had defeated Gladstone’s second Home Rule bill. He said to Carson: “Well sir, sooner or later there is going to be a terrible disillusion for you. The Conservatives, mark my word, never yet took up a cause without betraying it in the end.”

Carson wished he had been able to include that prophecy in his

Lords speech.

Sir Reg ‘never-to-be-MP’ Empey cut a tragic figure as he stood flushed with excitement beside the Conservative leader David Cameron after Cameron’s speech. Had Empey listened to a single word of it? It’s hard to believe he did because poor old Reg’s gloss on Cameron’s speech was at variance with its content. If you read the speech you will see that Cameron carefully weaselled his way around the serious issues while sounding as if he was supporting a sea change in Conservative policy to the north. He wasn’t.

Perhaps the most intellectually dishonest section was where he said linking up with the UUP was “in my own selfish and strategic interests”. Absolutely true.

That’s why he was over here. That’s not what poor Reg and his deluded conference heard. They imagined Cameron was repudiating Peter Brooke’s 1990 statement about Britain’s lack of interest in Ireland. He didn’t.
He carefully toyed with words to titillate his slavering UUP audience.
Not fair really.

For Cameron his trip to the Ramada Hotel was purely for the optics. He wanted to plant the Tory flag in Norn Irn – so Labour can’t accuse him of leading an English party.

It’s a cheap cruel gimmick poorly thought out by a dangerous dilettante and with possible repercussions for him a couple of years down the line if he needs the support of nine DUP MPs.

For Empey it’s pure lunacy. He will earn the undying rage of the DUP by pledging to stand in all seats for he is guaranteeing Alasdair McDonnell’s election in South Belfast and Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, though it’s likely she would retain her seat even with two unionists standing. Note the silence of the Donegall Pass community relations expert Michael McGimpsey, who sees his south Belfast electioneering evaporate.

Lady Sylvia Hermon is unbeatable in North Down even standing as an independent. She attracts a substantial non-sectarian vote which would increase if she shed her UUP baggage which she is likely to do. In short Empey has precisely nothing to offer Cameron and there’s nothing in the Conservative link for Empey except maybe a peerage so he can join his friend Trimble in the Lords. How can a party leader propose something which will guarantee his party will lose seats?

Talk of a ‘new force’ in Northern politics is fantasy. Empey has set the UUP on a slope to oblivion with the Conservative albatross tied round its neck. Empey is the only one who doesn’t realise that Cameron swanned over here and used him as a lamp post.

  • elvis parker

    Very amusing. First we have SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan attacking the UUP/Tory pact and saying the DUP are much more sensible because they accept the nationalist agenda and refuse to having anything to do with GB politics.
    Now we have a DUP blogger singing the praises of Brian Feeney’s articles!
    In reality it is not as shocking as it seems. The SDLP fear that Catholics growing up in post Troubles NI might betray the tribe and vote for a party that can affect their daily lives – the Conservatives.
    The DUP fear that more and more of the Protestant electorate might see them for the anti British, insular fools they are.

  • Dave

    Elvis, isn’t there a self-defeating dynamic in hyping the ‘post-sectarian’ angle to the UUP/Tory alliance in that (a) you are conceding that your party was/is sectarian; and (b) that sectarianism is endemic in NI political parties, and (c) that you can only erase that sectarianism by importing a ‘mainland’ British party and superimposing its values and policies over your own (repudiated) ones?

  • frustrated democrat

    Don’t you just love it when a commentator doesn’t do any research and makes things up…. fact the pact was born and bred in Northern Ireland between NI people not London, so the thrust of his arguement is a complete fabrication to suit his personal political viewpoint.

    But when do facts matter when you are trying present a biased slant, his personal comments about Empey just about sum it up.

  • I’ve got to admit, I’m a bit disappointed; I expected a lot more sectarian bile from Bigotted Bri on this.

    His genuine concern for the future of the UUP is touching.

  • pith

    Feeney as ever writes like he is two paracetamol short of a cure.

  • “Well sir, sooner or later there is going to be a terrible disillusion for you. The Conservatives, mark my word, never yet took up a cause without betraying it in the end.”

    Says it all,really.

  • EagleEyes

    Lady Sylvia Hermon is unbeatable in North Down even standing as an independent. She attracts a substantial non-sectarian vote which would increase if she shed her UUP baggage which she is likely to do.

    Highly doubtful.

  • dub

    Andrew,

    Thank you so much for providing by far the best perspective on this English orange card playing.

  • bob wilson

    For the record for all you conspiracy theorists out there who like Brian who think this is some nefarious plot by Cameron for ‘English’ ends.
    It isnt.
    This alliance came about after the Northern Ireland Conservatives were approaching by a range of indivdiuals in the UUP acting independently. The Northern Ireland Conservatives then raised the idea with the Leadership and with Leadership approval the NI Tories negotiated the deal.
    So all ideas of perfidious albion in the form of Mr Cameron being up to some malevolent trickery is pure nonsense.

  • Andrew

    elvis,

    I think your judgment is misguided.

    Ulster politics has always been a place apart from the politics of GB. That doesnt make Ulster people any less Unionist. One has to question the UUP-Tory link up and I do not do this from any political angle in seeking to score political points. Fact is fact. Surely Carsons comments say it all.

    I think Feeney’s comments are spot on and further to that it can be backed up with history.

    Read Jeremy Smiths book.

  • Fermanagh Young Unionist

    So Andrew, apart from the increasingly desperate press releases coming out of the DUP central office, will the DUP we now start running press releases for Brian Feeney?

    Since when have the UUP/DUP cared about what that ‘journalist’ thinks?

    Serious question, why do the DUP care about it so much?

  • Andrew,
    Me think you doth protest too much. If the UUP-Tory link up is so certainly consigned to failure, why do MLA’s, yourself and the DUP press team waste so much of their time explaining to the UU’s why they should not be talking to those nasty big boy’s the Tory’s? Surely the DUP would be best to wait until the links impending doom and say “i told you so”

    Why not just admit it, the DUP is SCARED it has no answer and is slowly returning to what it did in the past directing vitriolic abuse at it’s rival party.