Henry McDonald reports in the Observer that West Belfast Catholic and former Top Gear producer Peter McCann – a totemic figure if ever there was one -. has launched an Exocet at the pan unionist- conservative electoral strategy even before its been properly launched. Sir Reg was washing his hands of it as purely a matter for the Conservative side of Ucunf. That wont wash. It looks as if Reg is prepared to sacrifice two prominent Catholics on the altar of getting a clear run from the DUP in contesting two seats. The Conservative spokesman makes it worse. Confirming that the Conservatives and Unionists will stand in all 18 constituencies can only mean that under the circumstances, Empey and Patterson knew the Conservative Catholics would pull out in disgust at talk of an understanding with the DUP, to be replaced by Protestant Unionists. Deny it if you dare Reg. The de facto ousting (with McCannvomiting) of two Catholics from the unionist mix is a disaster and leaves the party open to a hugely damaging charge of naked sectarianism. And it gets worse.
(Adds Below the fold, I add a par about Louis Boyle, a Catholic and brother of old civil righter and distinguished prominent HR academic Kevin, in 1969. What’s changed?
From the Observer report
Senior Tory figures were demanding the head of shadow NI secretary Owen Patterson. A subsequent meeting between Paterson and three potential Tory candidates, including McCann, PR expert Sheila Davidson and Deirdre Nelson, failed to quell their anger about the Conservatives’ talks with the two main unionist parties. This meeting confirmed our fears that the party leadership is preparing to agree to a sectarian DUP-UUP carve-up of constituencies. Peter and others resigned on a matter of principle, that principle being a wholly secular, inclusive pro-union politics untainted by sectarianism.
In Conservative Home last October, Patterson was lauding the presence of the same two Catholics on the Conservative short list.
Only last week, local Conservatives short-listed Catholic businesswoman, Sheila Davidson, in Lagan Valley, in South Belfast, Peter McCann, a Catholic former BBC producer of Top Gear from West Belfast
We can assume that Ms Davidson, – a Catholic and a woman!! – was heading for rejection too.
What price now the survival of the Ucunf never mind pan unionism? It looks as if the Hatfield House strategy has been badly bungled. If McCann etc had been taken into the plotters confidence, might it have been possible to sell a DUP-UU-Tory understanding as evidence of a reformed, power sharing DUP Ulster Catholics could accept? Now that would have been a breakthrough. Instead it looks as if were getting unionism united over youve guessed it not to have a Catholic about the place.
As late as 1969, the failure of Louis Boyle, a Catholic, to secure the Unionist nomination as a parliamentary candidate led to his resignation from the party. In his resignation speech, Boyle said:
“One of my main hopes and guiding aims as a member of the party, has been to work towards a newly structured Unionist Party in which Protestants and Catholics could play a part as equal partners in pursuing a common political end. Now I know this is not possible…The Unionist Party arose out of, and is still essentially based on a sectarian foundation, and only a reconstitution of the party away from its sectarian foundations could make Catholic membership a real possibility.”
More in the fairly sympathetic study of Ulster Unionism in the 1960s by Marc Mullholland
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London