We’ve been picking up a fair amount of frustration in and around the UCU – NF, that new force that seems reluctant to speak its name. Chekov gave pretty gentle vent to some of the frustrations being felt inside the party at Reg Empey’s reluctance to actually make a decision. So far the Tories have committed money and are building capacity at the Central Office end, with the addition of heavy weight Jonathan Cainer to Owen Paterson’s NI team. But as we head towards the end of the year whilst the Tories have long since chosen their candidates, neither the party leader nor the Minister for Health have made it clear where they stand on their own possible candidature in East and South Belfast respectively.There is a lot of residual annoyance amongst some parts of the UUP not so much with the London end of the party with what they see as a presumption of seniority by some of the Northern Ireland based Tories. And, as Chekov points out, there are still some who are still thinking they may hold out for an electoral deal in south Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone; regardless of Cameron’s promise to run in all 18 constituencies.
The feeling is not exactly reciprocated, but there is a growing sense of frustration amongst the Tories that they have lined up their ducks in a row and are ready to go. Yet they can’t until Reg makes up his mind of course.
There also seems to be a difference of opinion within the party about just how much the Tories have contributed to the collective pot in relation to how much the Ulster Unionists have managed from their recent downsizing of assets. There are some who claim that nearly 2/3 comes from London to 1/3 from Belfast; a claim it has to be said which is strenuously denied by senior party officials.
Here’s the problem. The game of politics as played in Northern Ireland is different from the varity played in Britain. In Britain Ashcroft’s money has gone as much into backend research on who the swing voters in any given constituency as in the front line material. In Northern Ireland the long term effects of PR have fragmented the parties, and then you have to factor in the sectarian divide. Here, that kind of research effort is of limited provenance. What counts is getting the candidate known and getting them as far into the party friendly spaces as they can for an election date which is rapidly approaching.
And they go in a man (their only man, well woman) down. To come out this in any shape at all, they have to even the score or preferably go up one. Strangford and South Antrim offer them that possibility. Even a narrow defeat in one would be an asset going forward.
But as the waiting goes on the party is losing vital time on the ground getting their candidates valuable face time with voters. Worrying about East and South Belfast, which at best (under Cameron’s terms at least) are only secondary targets, is to lose sight of the real game.
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