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.

Long time political hack