Definitions and opportunities

We’ve seen the reaction to one comment in Sir Reg Empey’s opinion piece in today’s newsletter. It is to an extent quite predictable, but perhaps not as reflective as it could have been given the excellent work of Iain Duncan Smith, work which to a large extent defies traditional assumptions about what it is to be on the left or right. The talk of the “nasty party” is gone and the Centre for Social Justice must take some of the credit for that. And when one takes Sir Reg’s paragraph in it’s context, is there really much to be disagreed with? What are Labour doing for working class communities in London, Manchester and Belfast?

However, as Chekov has pointed out in the comments, that remark is a very small aspect of the piece, and the piece deserves consideration as a whole.

Again, critics of the relationship ask the question: how do we overcome the Conservative “legacy” on Northern Ireland? …It is very likely that the Conservative Party will win the next general election. The cold hard fact is that David Cameron probably doesn’t need a single UUP vote or seat to get him into Number 10. He didn’t need to come to the UUP conference last December. He didn’t need to distance himself from the “no selfish, strategic or economic interest” doctrine of British government neutrality on the Union. He didn’t need to embroil himself in Northern Ireland politics and risk shattering the bi-partisan approach that has dominated Westminster for thirty years. That being the case, it is a reasonable assumption that he is personally serious about our place within the United Kingdom.

Legacy issues were a potential problem for this project, however seem to have been dealt with well. Thatcher stopped short, but only just, of stating that she regretted the Anglo Irish Agreement in her memoirs. Peter Brooke’s speech in 1990, borne out of the AIA, was directly contradicted by Cameron at the UUP Conference last year. The good faith of the Conservative Party at this stage can only be taken at face value, they have gone out of their way to make that so. The Anglo Irish Agreement is dead and regretted, Government neutrality on Northern Ireland seems to be going the same way.

Ultimately, though, it won’t be the self-serving criticism of our political opponents which will determine the future of the UUP-Conservative pact. While the DUP have chosen to concentrate on building their relationship with Sinn Fein, we have chosen to concentrate on building our relationship with a pro Union Conservative party. And when the electorate begins to realize that the Conservative Party is solidly and unambiguously committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom: and that a manifesto from Conservatives and Unionists is offering deliverable policies rather than vague promises—then I believe that they will be prepared to cast their vote for something new and tremendously exciting in Northern Ireland and UK politics.

This is the vision for the future on which the pact should be judged upon. Electoral politics is about making things better, and with a real opportunity to change the lives of Northern Ireland’s people for the better, the UUP has positioned itself at the heart of Northern Ireland’s future.

I used to write and get paid, now I read and don’t.

Former UUP staffer, currently living in London. @mjshilliday