UUP remember the Ides of March

The Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague was in Belfast today at the UUP conference. Again this was an example of the new pact which has so excited the UUP and again Hague was showing his and his parties commitment to the union. However, one of the fundamental defining characteristics of the Conservative Party has been its willingness to switch position in order to gain or retain power. This is not a criticism per se as pragmatism is a necessary attribute in politics. The UUP are pinning their hopes in this pact to the suggestion that Cameron and his senior team are passionately in favour of the union: a modern diverse and dynamic union with Northern Ireland an integral part of it. That is in many ways a reasonable gamble to make but it is still a gamble. The Conservatives desperately need to ensure that they are not simply the party of rural and leafy suburban England which they temporarily became after Blair’s crushing electoral triumphs of 1997 and 2001. Whilst they will without doubt advance into much of England at the next election (indeed they already made inroads in 2005); it is practically inconceivable that they will hold a majority of seats in Scotland or Wales and Cameron probably understands that being a Conservative PM of the UK with very few Scottish (or Welsh) MPs does fuel the SNP’s campaign for independence.
The current crop of Tory potential MPs may not be particularly passionate unionists but Cameron and Hague probably appreciate that although a break up of the union is relatively unlikely they should attempt to avoid antagonising Scottish opinion in the manner which at times Thatcher at least appeared to do: such as when imposing the Poll Tax on Scotland first as if as some sort of laboratory experiment. Thatcher stands, however, as the supreme example of the supposedly conviction politician who on some issues (especially Northern Ireland) seemed willing to adopt positions which appeared governed much more by pragmatism than conviction. The UUP should remember that Thatcher represented the ideal PM for unionists who betrayed them and as such defence of the union from Cameron who is “not a deeply ideological person,” but “a practical one” needs to be viewed with a little suspicion.

One maybe should go back and remember that prior to Thatcher’s victory in 1979 the Northern Ireland Secretary of State was the (to unionists sainted) Roy Mason: a man who presided over an end to political manoeuvring and instead adopted a firm line on terrorism including sending in the SAS. The man who should have been SoS under Thatcher was of course Airey Neave who strongly supported and Mason and might well have followed many of his policies. Instead after his murder a series of Secretaries of State followed who had less interest in Northern Ireland affairs, were generally quite “wet” in Thatcherite terms.

Thatcher herself of course presided over the Hunger Strikes where she would make few concessions and then, after 10 people had died and she had effectively become midwife to Sinn Fein’s political campaign, to quote Alex Kane (a Thatcher admirer) “As soon as it was over she gave them everything they wanted anyway.” Of course as Rusty Nail has painstakingly documented on slugger it seems as if Sinn Fein was very keen to help Thatcher as accidental midwife to their political ambitions but it still needed Thatcher’s refusal to compromise to help that birth from ten men’s deaths.

In terms of political processing Thatcher also seemed to change from a hard liner to what unionists would call a Lundy. In 1981 she memorably told Garret Fitzgerald that Northern Ireland was “as British as Finchley,” and in 1984 there was the “Out, out, out” interview. These comments seem a long way from the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985.Of course many of Thatcher’s changes in position were probably brought about by her wish to find a solution to the ongoing IRA terrorist campaign: a threat which at least currently has less potency. However, although Cameron now tells us of his passionate support for the union it must be remembered that the Conservatives under this and previous leaders have been known to change their position when the deem it in their own political best interests. At the moment Cameron may seem a committed unionist and there are be good practical reasons why he probably is. However, in 1979-84 Thatcher was a committed unionist. The UUP who are today basking in the glow of their alliance with the Conservatives, should maybe remember that in politics loyalty is not always absolute. Reg Empey should remember the Ides of March: “et tu David?”

  • thereyouarenow

    Unionists should indeed be wary of the Conservatives. They may be using this grá for the Union in NI as a cover for a deal that they may do with the SNP in Scotland to scupper Labour and its number of MPs from Scotland.

  • borderline

    The alternative to trusting in Tories from across the watter is gaining and receiving the trust of your neighbours across the fields Turgon.

    The ones who, like you, live and die under Ulster’s sky

  • Greenflag

    ‘although Cameron now tells us of his passionate support for the union it must be remembered that the Conservatives under this and previous leaders have been known to change their position when the deem it in their own political best interests’

    The Conservatives are hardly alone in looking to self interest as a political party . The party that doesn’t change in it’s own best interest is the party of the permanent past .i.e the one going nowhere fast and the one destined for eventual irrelevance and extinction . We have seen no end of ‘principled ‘ unionist parties emerge over the past several decades only to see them being outflanked by even more ‘principled ‘ unionists .

    Instead of et tu David Cameron would’nt et tu TUV be more appropriate ?

    By the way it’s November – The Ides of March are a little before St Patrick’s day . I expect Gordon Brown to be still hanging on to his No 10 home by then unless of course the pound sterling attempts to sink or be helped to sink to the bottom of the channel before then 🙁

  • Drumlins Rock

    Turgon, reality in politics is you cant fully trust anyone, thats life, business, friends and family often arent much better! all you can do is try to lessen the chance of it happening or lessen the consequences, being right in the centre keeping an ear on things and trying to influence them can only help.

  • granni trixie

    The Tories attempts to emphasise their commitment in NI to the Union just now is potentially dangerous – it goes beyond ‘no strategic or selfish’interests (or how did Major put it?). It also suggests that the ‘New’ party will welcome a Catholic – yes, as long as they are unionists ie a cold house for Nationalists. So back to square one….nothing new there then.

  • But what then


    The tores are a pro-union party, SNP supporters won’t vote for them in Scotland and Nationalists wont vote for them here.

    Speaking with some of the expected candidates today I got a sense that this is not a gimmick, the next election will, from a CU point of view, be largely vote on the grounds of what Patterson has said “There are those who have an ambition for a united Ireland. That is a completely legitimate ambition as long as it’s pursued by democratic legitimate means. But we think we can move on from that.

    Maybe we can finally start seperating religion from politics here.

  • Seymour Major


    There is nothing wrong with making historical comparisons to current events. I do it all the time. The trouble is, you tend to miss out on factors which distinguish the past from the present.

    I agree with your comments on the Conservative view of Scotland but your portrayal of Cameron as some sort of Shakespearian assasin is rather wide of the mark.

    When Mrs. Thatcher was in power, it would have been very difficult to be in any sort of alliance with any of the Unionist Parties and try to find solutions to Northern Ireland’s problems at the same time.

    Following the Anglo Irish Agreement, Conservative Associations in Northern Ireland formed. Mrs. Thatcher did not stop them from organising but she did not give much support to them either. The position was similar during John Major’s administration.

    After the Belfast Agreement, it was a much better time for the Conservatives to get interested in building a power base in Northern Ireland AND the Conservatives are now pouring considerable money and resources into the regional party. The Commitment from David Cameron is total. So long as they are committed to partnership and the terms agreed in it, so also is his commitment to the UUP.

  • Turgon

    Seymour Major,
    I accept that the Cameron comparison is a bit unfair: I was trying to get a bit of Shakespeare into it; childish I know. I am, however, concerned that Cameron is portraying himself as a committed unionist. Thatcher and others have played a similar line and then ended up doing something very different. Cameron proclaims himself a pragmatist and “not a deeply ideological person:” as such I am not certain that his unionism will not vanish should expediency dictate.

    I really hope to be wrong and I really hope your project works. I am just pretty sceptical. Incidentally as a fellow Fermanagh person do drop me a line some time.


  • Greenflag


    ‘Maybe we can finally start seperating religion from politics here.’

    A nice thought but desperately naive . The state itself was based on NOT separating religion from politics but actively encouraging the union of state and religion with a whole plethora of quasi fascist paramilitaries such as the B specials and the myriad Orange , Black and Purple Orders , Apprentice Boys etc etc . The political party structure is such that this non separation is reflected across all parties bar Alliance who get maybe 6% of the vote ?

    Another beautiful theory murdered by the usual gang of facts conjured up by the scool of hard knocks and brought to you at every NI election since 1920 . Why do people think that the UUP/Tory temporary arrangement will make the slightest dent in the hard set sectarian cement?

    Can’t see it happening for UCUNF . I would even hope to be wrong but there you have it !

  • frustrated democrat

    Those who believe that we should look forward and not back should be supported. The border issue is irrelevant if you have no job or you or your family is sick or you can only get a second rate education for your kids.

    Wanting the UK or a UI is fine but priorities need to be looked, at your famuly should come before worrying about whether a border should exist or not.

  • andrew whitea

    Wanting the UK or a UI is fine but priorities need to be looked, at your famuly should come before worrying about whether a border should exist or not.
    Posted by frustrated democrat on Oct 24, 2009 @ 11:33 PM……….

    so the UUP would be in favour of getting rid of the border if it meant more jobs then?

  • Open your eyes

    Why would a pro-union party be in favour of a UI? What FD is discussing here is somethig that scares the shit out of your party and Sinn Fein – the thought of Catholics and protestants working together, and voting together for politicians who focus on the issues that affect their lives and not on which flag they find most pleasing.

    The day that happens both parties will disappear into the history they were responsible for creating.

    And god how I pray I will live to see that day.

  • interested

    5.‘Ulster Unionist conference riven by row over link with Tories’

    The Ulster Unionists’ sole MP failed to turn up to her party’s conference yesterday, increasing speculation that Lady Sylvia Hermon will stand as an independent in the forthcoming general election.

    Lady Hermon is understood to be considering standing against a joint UUP-Conservative candidate in her North Down constituency. She has refused to disclose her intentions over the seat.

    The North Down Tories have already selected Ian Parsley, a defector from the Alliance Party, as its candidate, and he attended the UUP conference. His former colleagues in Alliance have indicated the party would stand down and back Lady Hermon if she chose to run as an independent in the constituency.

    There was further discord at the conference in Belfast’s Europa Hotel yesterday, when some labour and trade union-minded Ulster Unionists, led by former Belfast councillor Chris McGimpsey, urged delegates to oppose the party’s fusion with the Conservatives. McGimpsey, Fermanagh UUP councillor Raymond Ferguson and unionist historian Roy Garland said the Tory alliance would destroy the party’s support in unionist working class communities.


  • Ulster Tory

    Lets see how accurate Henry’s article in the Observer/Guardian is. Firstly he mistakes Ronnie Ferguson – Cllr in Ards with Raymond from Fermanagh. Sloppy stuff Henry
    Then he conflates Hermon’s failure to attend with some form of snub by her. She has only attended a couple of conferences in the last ten years so you’re inventing a story there I’m afraid Henry.
    She was particularly unlikely to turn up this year however as she betrayed her local Assoc and her Party by attacking the link up in the middle of the Euro elections – she specifically promised her local Assoc Executive she would not do such a thing. So she probably feared if she turned up some of the hard working volunteers – and Jim Nicholson – might have a few harsh words for her.
    Finally as for the Conference being ‘riven’ I think this is the tell-tale sign that Henry wasnt there as ‘she’ was never mentioned and the Party seemed very united to me

  • Edward de Vere

    Would it be the Ides of March 43BC that they are remembering?

  • frustrated democrat


    Some advice, only say something when it makes sense, just maybe we would never hear from you again in that case.

    The CU’s are the only party that is unashamedly pro Union, not some semi detached wishy washy party like the Labour supporting DUP.

  • thereyouarenow

    Tory devotion to the Union will be tested in Scotland. If they make deals with the SNP or connive with them then it will be seen how deep this devotion to the Union runs.

  • Guest

    “Those who believe that we should look forward and not back should be supported. The border issue is irrelevant if you have no job or you or your family is sick or you can only get a second rate education for your kids.

    Wanting the UK or a UI is fine but priorities need to be looked, at your famuly should come before worrying about whether a border should exist or not. ”

    I think what you may be trying is that if one has a good job and one’s family is in good health then one would not worry about the border.It is generally accepted that those who insist on the border as everlasting and those who most wish to see it removed are generally poorer than those who who have other priorities.If one can bridge the argument by working towards the better from the worse then one can also move the whole framework of Irish unity/Northern Irish unionism into field of economics.
    I do not believe that one can.
    I am only bringing up the point here that Unionists never bought into the Celtic tiger as a reasoning towards an united Ireland,and that the UUP’s efforts to sell the future is based purely on .well…unionism.They have every right of course as long as the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland continue to respect international law.
    The whole episode resembles test-drive parking.And beeping the horn(of course).

  • Frustrated Democrat


    Re Celtic Tiger

    I have been saying on here for several years that I always preferred relying on a wealthy old aunt rather than a nouveau riche cousin. I think I was proved correct.

    Given that any movement on the border is at least a generation away, I believe that if we move the majority of people onto issues directly related to their families and trying to offer them something better then the border will be a less emotive issue. It might even fade into obscurity as being there but not mattering in practice as people are distanced from the violence and division of the last 40 years.

    I know it is not a perfect solution but people who have access for their families to jobs, money, health and education I believe will be less nationalistic in any direction and more prepared to mix in our society.

  • Guest


    Re Celtic Tiger,

    I would personally prefer to rely on myself,but I take your point re economic argument for the union.I return to the point above,that the argument for Unity or Union will never hinge on economics.
    The Nouveau cousin could inherit the old aunts’ fortune and it still wouldn’t move unionists towards an united Ireland.I don’t believe that the inverse is possible either.The difference,clearly,is that the border does exist, and therefore unionist’s can claim that there are more urgent matters,all that time securing the continuity of the union under the guise of “parking” the constitutional
    question.This smacks of dishonesty.And in the zero-sum game,why shouldn’t it?,you may add.
    well,If the Belfast agreement is the parking space,and if we are indeed parked between those lines,why the beeping?
    Why the victory speeches?
    Why the declarations of the securing of the union?

    If one is to be neutral on the border then one cannot be unionist nor republican..