Unionists and Tories – enjoy the split…

OVER at ConservativeHome, Tory spokesman on Northern Ireland Owen Paterson confirms that UCUNF is standing Tory women and Catholics [his emphasis] in no-hope Ulster Unionist seats, somewhat reinforcing the view that both are second-class citizens in the UUP.

To announce it on the eve of Sir Reg’s so-called historic speech to the Tory conference merely reinforces the divisions in the UCUNF camp; the UUP South Belfast Association don’t want the SDLP’s Alastair McDonnell to retain his seat, but UCUNF is committed to standing everywhere and the only bargain to be struck is with the DUP in Fermanagh. And there is no way You Cunfs will stand aside there to allow turncoat multiple-jobber Arlene Foster to waltz home.

Even if we assume the rumour that the Tories and UUP will split the 18 constituencuies equally in order for the UUP to benefit from Conservative coffers, the choices so far indicate the Tory faction is being used as a face-saving device for the locals. As Mr Paterson stated [with my remarks added]:

Only last week, local Conservatives short-listed Catholic businesswoman, Sheila Davidson, in Lagan Valley [whose religion Paterson feels the need to emphasise for some reason]; in South Belfast [the seat where the UUP association wants a sectarian pact with the DUP to take the SDLP seat], Peter McCann, a Catholic former BBC producer of Top Gear from west Belfast; and in East Belfast, Cllr Deirdre Nelson, who defected from the DUP on Ballymena Council [a DUP defector being used to save her new party leader’s face by losing to the DUP leader instead of him].

Reg will today tell the Tory conference that “Mr Cameron is interested in Northern Ireland because of a genuine belief in the Union, rather than party or personal interest”. Well, I should hope so. Because on the current offer, there’s nothing to be gained for Cameron. The two party leaders agree that they have the final say on candidates, so UCUNF outsiders can look forward to the inevitable Schadenfreude later as the factions fall out.

Not that the Tories are offering us much either, apart from cuts, no commitment to adequately funded devolved policing and justice (although Cameron gave a mixed message) and certainly nothing for the Presbyterian Mutual Society savers.

Former UUP leader David Trimble will turn up at the Conservative conference today on crutches. Nothing could be more symbolic of the two parties’ relationship.