Below the fold we have a letter from four prominant party dissidents to the New Force deal between the UUP and the Tories… Their case, in part, is that the local party is putting the whole of its not inconsiderable political capital up for grabs to a new set of political opportunists (ie, the Cameroons)… Jim Nicholson’s loss of the role of Quaestor is just the first of a number of political prices the party will have to pay if it continues down the route it is going… But perhaps the key point, from their point of view, lies in the following rhetorical question:
Will those working class constituencies which have always returned Ulster Unionists still do so once it becomes clear that the Ulster Unionists have become little more than the eccentric old maiden aunt who lives in David Cameron’s house but to whom no one pays a blind bit of notice.
Hmmm… A maiden aunt to join the the mad old uncle drinking himself to death in the attic?
Dear Sir Reg
If there is one thing that the Ulster Unionist Party did not need it was a short term fix. Throughout its history the UUP has been a party which had the foresight and the commitment to fend off Irish independence, to form the Government of Northern Ireland, and to keep Northern Ireland running over half a century, including the challenging period of the Second World War. Today it appears that the UUP does not have the vision to see across to the far side of the Albertbridge Road.
There is no doubt that our Party had been floundering to redefine its role within Northern Ireland after the DUP stole its clothes and brought in a large number of UUP members to steer the DUP along the route laid out by David Trimble and the Ulster Unionists. But, rather than despairing and embarking on a journey which, as history tells us, will lead to betrayal and disappointment at the hands of the British Tories, the UUP should have forged a Unionist strategy for Northern Ireland.
The new arrangement is a great deal for the Conservatives.
They tried and failed to gain support here over a decade ago. In the 1992 General Election they received 5.7% of the popular vote. Their last outing was in the 1993 Local Government Elections when 9437 brave souls gave the Conservatives their First Preference Votes.
Under this new dispensation the UUP leadership are offering the Tories a Northern Ireland wide organisation, tens of thousands of loyal voters, around 150 councillors, over 20 MLAs and two seats at the Executive table at Stormont.
What does our Party receive in return? At one Executive Committee meeting we were assured that we would have two seats at the Cabinet table in any new Tory administration. Furthermore there are winks and nudges about strong financial support from Tory Central Office. Spin doctors, psephologists and various other types of tactical support will be forthcoming we are assured. Well, we will wait and see.
In return for this the UUP leadership has clearly handed over control of the new movement to the English Conservatives. The very name Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force indicates our subordination. But one need look no further that the European Election . The UUP had been members of the European Peoples’ Party for all of Jim Nicholson’s European career.
It was a grouping he was happy with and it had treated him and the UUP well – making him one of its three Quaestors. However, David Cameron did not favour the EPP and because Jim had to take the Tory whip he had to leave and join another more right wing group replete with some fairly dodgy eastern European MEPs.
In addition,we are now approaching a General Election wherein our candidates have to be jointly selected by the handful of Northern Ireland Tories. Some constituencies have been told that they must select Tories irrespective of the wishes of the local activists. Others have been told to delay selection meetings until secret discussions have been undertaken with London. Never in the history of the UUP have we submitted to another party having the final say as to who we should run for election.
Historically the Ulster Unionist Party was a uniting force within the pro-British community. Irrespective of your national politics you could be an Ulster Unionist. Left and Right could sit together in the same branch. Even when our MPs took the Tory whip the party remained a uniting force within Ulster. No longer.
Having shackled ourselves to the Tories what happens to UUP influence when they are not in office? What do we do if Cameron does not win a clearcut majority at the next election? Our Westminster strategy will lie in tatters.
Perhaps more to the point, how will this effect our opportunities of maximising UUP representation at Assembly and Council level. Will those working class constituencies which have always returned Ulster Unionists still do so once it becomes clear that the Ulster Unionists have become little more than the eccentric old maiden aunt who lives in David Cameron’s house but to whom no one pays a blind bit of notice.
The Ulster Unionist Party had had a pact with the pro-British community in Ireland and subsequently Northern Ireland since 1905. We were always an amalgam of Left, Right and Centre. That has been jettisoned by the leadership. At Council level we may well suffer a reaction from working class districts, especially in urban areas.
Perhaps you, Sir Reg, and the rest of the leadership should remember the advice given to Edward Carson when he followed a similar road. “Be careful Edward, the Tories have never adopted a cause yet but they have betrayed it in the end.”
Roy Garland, Dr Christopher McGimpsey, George Fleming, Councillor Ronnie Ferguson.
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