Tories and UU’s score a palpable double whammy…

Bottom line on the competition between Ulster Unionists and the Tories versus the DUP remains a one horse race, particularly on the ground where most of the former’s battleground seats remain without an obvious contender with possibly less than a year to go to the next Westminster election. But in at least one scrap they have bested their bigger rivals: the media ruck over MPs’ expenses. It began with a weak and entirely disingenuous interview by Gregory Campbell on Hearts and Minds, who fudged the issue of multi mandate seats by making references back to the poor performance of single mandate UU MPs, few can remember the names of. And Conall takes the view that Peter Robinson losing his temper in an interview on Newsline the other day was a big PR mistake.

His Deputy’s typically ballsy reply over those two rented houses in London the party’s MPs seem not to be using that the British Government owed his party millions, and that “those people who argue Sinn Fein is not entitled to this money the same as all the other parties need to catch themselves on” will go down better with their base.

However, the Tories and the UU’s have bagged themselves a couple of very palpable hits at a time when momentum seemed to be draining away from them with the messy business surrounding the UCU-NF name. It should be warning to both parties at the top of Northern Irish politics that the inveterate civil warring in the Castle (and the ensuing lack of product) will not necessarily be filled by a vacuum, but by rivals who not quite as down and out as they may have previously presumed…

It remains to be seen whether the Tories make good their pressure on Sinn Fein… There is no sign they have given much thought to tackling the issue of MP’s expenses beyond the next election when the ennui currently consuming large parts of the British press will no doubt dissipate when it finds other ways to employ itself… But the Tory capacity to catch their opponents unaware was proven in this last week…

Mr Empey may not have the iron clad instincts of political battler… but he knows a man who does…

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