Kane resignation letter, and Trimble’s emails…

WHAT is being billed as Alex Kane’s resignation letter as UUP director of communication has been published online, as well as email correspondence from November between him and David Trimble, who is reportedly smarting from his appearance in the Mo Mowlam film the other night.

On the assumption that the published resignation letter copied to the comments of Jeff Peel’s blog is genuine, Kane writes:

I have chatted to the three of them [UUP Leader, Chairman and Treasurer] since then and thought that maybe we could reach an arrangement which would allow me to do my job to best advantage. But events over the last couple of weeks have caused me great personal concern. I still don’t know what is happening with the Joint Committee and the exact nature of the relationship between the UUP and Conservatives. I wasn’t told about the Hatfield House talks until the story broke; and nor was I told about the Orange Order-brokered talks until the day that Spotlight ran the story.

Putting it bluntly, a Director of Communications who isn’t told what is happening is a Director of Communications who cannot do his job properly, let alone professionally.

A few weeks ago we were in control of our media agenda. The DUP was clearly on the backfoot and struggling for credibility. The UUP, on the other hand, looked like a credible alternative. Today, however, we are back to the era of mixed messages and solo-runs. There is genuine surprise among the public, the media and our own grassroots about how we seem to have assisted in giving Peter Robinson and the DUP a leg-up. Let’s face it, how do we attack them when it looks as though we have been cosying up to them?

Again, after very long thought, I have reached the conclusion that any sort of deal with the DUP at this point would thoroughly compromise and tarnish this party.

Malachi reports that Tory NI spokesman Owen Paterson believes the same, though I missed it myself.

I’ve copied the Trimble correspondence from DT’s own website to below the fold. Hat-tip to Bobballs, who brought it to my attention, but is confused by its appearance – I don’t blame him, as it’s not even apparent that Trimble ‘wins’ the argument. Still, very much worth a read, as it cuts to the core of arguments over the Agreement, Assembly structures and the purpose of the UCUNF pact.A conversation between David Trimble and Alex Kane

This conversation began in a reaction by Trimble to the following concluding paragraphs of Kane’s column in the Newsletter

Alex Kane, Newsletter, 17 November 2009

In a letter to this newspaper on Saturday, Jim Allister responded to some questions I had raised in a previous column. Thank you for the courtesy and honesty, Jim. You make three points in particular with which I agree: “The only route into government is through the persuasion of other parties to agree a programme with them”; “If Sinn Fein are only democrats so long as they are in government, then they are not democrats at all”; “When the present unworkable edifice inevitably collapses it need not mean a reversion to direct rule.”
Actually, I suspect that a majority of the pro-Union community would agree with those points – which means that there is both an opportunity and a challenge for the next Conservative government; namely, to introduce the necessary legislation to bring full-blooded, unambiguous democracy to the Assembly.
David Cameron says he wants to be Prime Minister of the entire United Kingdom, so let him also be Prime Minister of a United Kingdom with equality of democracy, accountability and responsibility in each of the four countries. That, of course, will mean a willingness to face down Sinn Fein, but it’s upon that perceived willingness that he and the Conservatives will be judged anyway.
Yes, others can talk about the need for change in the mechanics of the Assembly, but Cameron may, in a matter of months, be in a position to deliver that change. So some pre-election steers on how he would bolster and promote good, accountable, fully democratic government here, would play well in pro-Union circles.

Trimble email contra Kane

Unionists should regard the Agreement as the constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland. They would be fools not to as in constitutional terms it embodies the best deal offered to unionists by any British Prime Minister in the last 40 years.
Therefore any change to key element of it has to have the same degree of consensus as was required to reach agreement in the first place. Making a major unilateral change would be a repudiation of the Agreement and its founding principle of consent. It would be a godsend to republicans.
David Cameron accepts the Agreement and understands this and Jonathan Caine will join me in keeping the party to the Agreement.
Furthermore exploring changes to the Agreement will seriously threaten the Conservative and Unionist project by ammunition to nationalists who suspect that it is just a cover for old communal unionism, rather than the civic unionism the project embodies.
It also will not work in practice. Voluntary coalition was a good idea in 1975. It would have worked then if Paisley under pressure from the element which now form the backbone of TUV had not turned turtle. Today it will not work. The SDLP did not support exclusion in 1997/8 when Sinn Fein were a minority among nationalist. It will not do so today when SF are the majority among nationalists. If they did then the nationalist electorate would consign the SDLP to oblivion, which the Church and many middle class nationalist voters are not now prepared to do.
In any event ask yourself, will we attract many Catholics to vote for us by threatening to “face down” the majority of nationalists.
17 November 2009

David,
It would seem, then, that you accept that we are lumbered with a system which cannot be changed.
No formal, funded Opposition. No real accountablity. Ministers on solo runs. Veto and mutual hostility the keystones of the mechanics.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein and the SDLP will continue to preach a Shared Future doctrine which insists that unionism and republicanism can be treated as equals—and while that remains the case the walls will get higher and the ‘us-and-them’ divisions will prosper.
You know my difficulties with the Agreement. You and I talked about them at the very start and you did tell me that “the faults can be addressed further down the line.” How, precisely?
Unionists will make a decision on whether or not to trust Cameron on their perception of how likely he is to back their cause—this is, after all, a Conservative and Unionists project.
How do we inspire voters with a mantra of “yep, it will be same-old, same-old, we don’t want to rock any boats. So you’re lumbered with a mandatory coalition in which Sinn Fein will retain their veto and pick off their targets one by one.”
I have been very supportive of the UCUNF project. But we are going to be asked some tough questions about the difference that the link with the Conservatives will make. And I would wager a considerable sum of money that the increasing number of unionist/pro-Union people sick of what presently passes for government in Northern Ireland would like some signal that an incoming national government would make a serious attempt to address the real, very real, problems we have with the Assembly.
And, by the way, this isn’t about winning over Catholics. This is about presenting a vision and version of Unionism which promotes the values and democratic realities which exist elsewhere in the UK—or at least to push for something as close as possible.
But here is the bottomline question: Between 1989 and 2007 the Conservatives made no breakthrough in NI. What’s the magic ingredient for 2010?
Regards
Alex.

thanks for your reply for which I will give you an answer later in the day. But I’m off now for the state opening.
dt
18 November 2009-12-04

Further thoughts
Alex,
There are two main issues, the evolution of the Agreement and the nature of the Conservative and Unionist project.
On the Agreement, I use the term “evolution” deliberately. The Agreement can change – it expressly recognised that by providing for reviews, but that change can only come about by the same processes that created it, ie when there is a sufficient consensus. It is folly to think that change can be unilaterally imposed against the wishes of either a majority of unionists or a majority of nationalists. Tearing up the Agreement in that way would put the constitutional position back on the table.
Nor would it actually change the make up of the NI Executive. While SF remain the majority nationalist party it will not be possible to put together a NI administration without them. While that is the case the only effect of switching from a compulsory to a voluntary coalition would be the exclusion of UU and SDLP. And if you want that result it can be realised tomorrow by their resignations.
On the project your test is whether Cameron will back the unionist cause. How is that cause to be defined? Is it the Union or “facing down” nationalists? The project has the potential to widen and deepen the union. I know that large numbers of Catholics are effectively little “u” unionists. I was talking to several at last night’s Queens University Association London event, where I was speaking on this matter. But big U ethnic unionism will exclude them and force them back into ethnic nationalism.
The project was never about lining up the Conservative party alongside ethnic Unionism, but about replacing political structures based on constitutional and national issues, with politics based on social and economic issues using the same party structures that operate elsewhere in the UK. Incidentally for this we need the participation of Labour as well as the Conservatives. Between them Catholics can be offered something better than SF to vote for.
Insofar as SF have a veto they have it because of their vote. Reduce that vote and you eliminate the veto. Then change can come organically. My view of the project at least has a real chance of producing change. The view you seem to espouse can only return us political instability.
On the Assembly, the problem is that the Brothers Grim cannot govern. The answer is not a return to direct rule but by giving the electorate an alternative. We need to be preparing that alternative for an Assembly election could be on us very quickly. And on this, and the other matters mentioned above, flirting with the TUV takes us in the wrong direction.
Regards
David.
19 November 2009

David,
A majority of unionists would be thoroughly opposed to what Caitriona Ruane is doing; a majority of her Executive colleagues are opposed; a majority of her Education Committee is opposed; a majority of MLAs is opposed—-and the reality is that nothing can be done to stop her. Indeed, we only have a selection process because our grammar schools have been forced to opt out and do their own thing. In other words, they have been let down by both the DUP and SF.
I suspect that a growing number of people, from all political persuasions, are pretty fed up by the sort of government we have now. That disenchantment will manifest itself in an ongoing downturn in voting (particularly within mainstream unionism), which will, probably, allow SF to top the poll—and thanks to the DUP’s stupidity at St Andrews and the arrival of the TUV on the scene, enable SF to take the post of First Minister. And I’d love to see the unionist who would sign up to the post of Deputy in that scenario!!
To use Paul’s phrase, the ‘Garden Centre Prods’ are appalled by the amateurish nature of our present devolution. What might attract them to the polling booth is some sort of hint or indication that it would be actually possible to address and resolve the inherent flaws. The last big effort was St Andrews, but, as I wrote at the time, ‘it has simply made matters very much worse.’
As I keep saying, I am supportive of the UUP-Conservative project, I’m just not sure what the USP is supposed to be? The promise of a Cabinet seat for a UUP MP or Peer. The promise of inside influence with the next government. But what about addressing the elephant in the room—the travesty of what passes for government in Northern Ireland?
It’s almost ten years since we kickstarted the Executive in 1999. I don’t see any incentive for Sinn Fein to reach a voluntary decision on Opposition and accountability, so where, exactly, is the room for ‘evolution?
You say that the UUP and SDLP could resign from the Executive tomorrow. But where do they go? There is no formal, funded, official Opposition in the Assembly–another issue I have been banging on about since 1998.
David, you know very well that I don’t want political instability. I am simply asking questions which I think need answered if the UCUNF project is really to take wings.
And I’m not advocating any sort of flirtation with the TUV. Indeed, in a previous column I said that I thought that the TUV was in precisely the same position as was the DUP between 1998 and 2006. It has no real alternative to what exists now.
Regards
Alex.

Alex,
You ask what is our USP. It is simply that we are bringing them normal politics – moving away from communally based constitutional politics to politics on socio-economic issues.
At the Westminster election we can say a vote for us will help to get rid of Gordon Brown’s government and a vote to any other party in NI will make absolutely no difference.
At the Assembly election (which might even come before the former) we must offer an alternative to the brothers grim. And when, hopefully soon after Labour does its duty and campaigns in NI, the British national parties form a significant element in the Assembly, then a different way of forming an administration can be contemplated without causing a crisis.
This route to change will work sooner and better than the effusions coming from Robinson, Allister et al.
Sorry for delay in reply – much of yesterday and today spent going to and from Torbay in support of local candidate, who will get elected. As always on these trips there is considerable support for unionism and pleasure with the conservative and unionist linkup.
Regards
DT
21 November 2009

Correspondence posted 1 February 2010

  • aquifer

    “If Sinn Fein are only democrats so long as they are in government, then they are not democrats at all”

    -and should be permanently excluded from government?

    Nice TUV slogan, but pretty much useless by now.

    Nice that David Trimble has the time for tutoring.

    He should take bigger classes.

  • seosamh

    I thought we had a law against Assisted Suicide here?

  • Garza

    I’ve always maintained that Trimble was always 10 years ahead of all other unionist politicans.

  • Cynic2

    Trimble is quite clear as are the Conservatives

    T%he Agreements have settled the constitutional issue for the foreseeable future. NI is and will remain a part of the UK unless the majority of its people vote otherwise. That wont happen in most of our lifetimes, if ever.

    The aim for Unionism now, within that protected position, is a new future based upon a new model for NI politics. We need to create a new party based upon the re-merger if the UUP and Conservatives. A party that is National and Unionist. A party that lifts us out of the local gutter and into mainstream real politics both in NI and Nationally. A party that is non-sectarian and starts to break the link between political belief and religion

    This is what SF tried to do in Ireland and failed miserably. Unionists can succeed.

    If the current talks do collapse and the DUP staggers to the right then perhaps there will be many DUP voters who were former UUP supporters but cannot now stomach some its madder polices and members. They will then have an alternative. But above all we need to re-energise those people who are pro union but have just stopped voting because they abhor tribal politics.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It also will not work in practice. Voluntary coalition was a good idea in 1975. It would have worked then if Paisley under pressure from the element which now form the backbone of TUV had not turned turtle.

    I didn’t know Trimble was pro-Sunningdale at the time. Wasn’t he marching about the place with Vanguard ?

    Interesting exchange and a lot of sense being talked, though.

  • I think Trimble is talking about the voluntary coalition that Vanguard proposed a year after the collapse of Sunningdale, which they argued was different from the Sunningdale power-sharing model.

  • Framer

    Trimble “ten years ahead of other unionist poiticians”?

    ‘Fraid not. He is twenty years behind the arrival of the Conservative Party in NI.

    That happened at one of those moments where UK-involvement rather than Stormont was an option, perhaps for the first time since partition.

    It wasn’t to be, and with a working, if hiccoughing, Stormont anything more than an informal UUP link with the Conservatives is doomed to frustration.

    Labour’s arrival here is both half-hearted and a quarter of a century too late.

    Until the ‘process’ totally collapses and devolution is seen, not as locals working for locals (DUP self-serving spin), but as a SF vehicle for unity, UK involvement is off the cards.

    Perhaps all you moderate unionists and liberal Protestants, not to mention conservative Catholics, would just let the electors maximise the number of unionist-minded MPs and keep our Westminster hand in.

  • doflan

    Correct me if i’m wrong but isnt this the same Vanguard that used the term liquidation in reference to Republicans /Nationalists at that time. Hardly the basis for voluntary coalition.

  • Alias

    I think Trimble’s missus published Alex and David’s private correspondence to show that Kane’s problems with the UUP predate recent events, specifically that it was Trimble’s and the Tory party’s plan to keep a system in place that Kane believed to be fatally flawed. A bit of a cheap shot and one that seems self-defeating.

    Trimble, of course, is right when he says that the GFA is the best deal offered to unionists in 40 years. How could it be otherwise when the competing nation accepted the Unionist Veto, elevating it to the status of a principle, and formally renounced their nation rights to self-determination? Essentially, the game-plan is to get the muppets to focus on everyday matters and forget all about national rights, such that the Irish nation lives happily within a British state.

    But as Kane probably understands, what is the point of British control of the state if unionists cannot fully exercise their validated right to self-determination within it?

  • topcat

    i’m disappointed in Trimble. they should take back his Nobel peace prize

  • Frustrated Democrat

    On Newsnight Owen Paterson unequivocally laid down the law, any UUP deals with the DUP and there will be no deal with the Conservatives.

    This needs to be clearly understood by everyone in both UUP and the Conservatives, the Conservatives came here to bring national non sectarian politics to NI, not in search of seats as some suggest since when the talks started 1 or possibly 2 seats were all that were envisaged.

    Alex Kane’s letter makes the potential division in the UUP clear – ‘Let’s face it, how do we attack them when it looks as though we have been cosying up to them?

    Any move by the UUP back to dealing with the DUP or the OO suggesting policy are not compatible with the stated Conservative objectives. The choice is clear, back to the past or forward to the future.

  • Frustrated Democrat,

    “On Newsnight Owen Paterson unequivocally laid down the law, any UUP deals with the DUP and there will be no deal with the Conservatives.”

    I have not been following this story closely but perhaps you could put me right on the following points?

    Havent the Tories admitted that they organised a meeeting between the UUP and the DUP?

    Havent the Tories admitted that Reginald neglected to tell them about that meeting?

    Havent some who were at that meeeting agreed that the issue of Unionist unity was discussed?

    If the DUP stand down unilaterally in FST and SB do you not agree that it will be a very strong inidcation of an ‘understanding’ between the UUP and the DUP.

    Does you seriously believe that if the Tories need DUP seats for a majority they will give precedence to the UCUNF project over their arangments with the DUP?

  • Driftwood

    if the Tories need DUP seats for a majority

    Given the toxicity of the DUP to mainlanders, and their history being scrutinised in the mainland media, a non starter.

    Any UK government in that situation wouldn’t last 6 months, and leave a bitter legacy.

  • Stewart

    Also heard Peter McCann on Newsnight last night equate a UUP – DUP pact to a Conservative – BNP pact.

  • Driftwood,

    If the Bullingdon Boys Club are faced with no government or government with the DUP they
    will swallow their medicine as required irrespective of it’s ‘toxicity’.

    To believe otherwise would surely be naive in the extreme.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Driftwood said

    ” if the Tories need DUP seats for a majority

    Given the toxicity of the DUP to mainlanders, and their history being scrutinised in the mainland media, a non starter.

    Any UK government in that situation wouldn’t last 6 months, and leave a bitter legacy. ”

    It would be a tricky place for either the Tories/Labour to be (Relying on the Dup)

    It could only be a short term thing and there would have to be another election.

    Religious Fundies are so yesterday on the Isle of Britain.

    Just witness the reaction to the Popes intervention (On equality legislation). Well its gone down like the best friend of John Terrys wife.

    The Dup might be able to wrangle something short term (If they have MPs) but they would be well advised not to be too uppity.

  • Driftwood

    MU
    They’ll go with the Lib Dems if they have to push through big spending cuts and a possible public sector revolt.

    Relying on the Reverend ‘Dr’ Willie McCrea ‘PhD’ and co. to get through the storm would be insane. And if the mainland public thought NI was getting preferential treatment the Tories would be crucified. I do not believe it’s an option.

  • Driftwood,

    What I said was “If the Bullingdon Boys Club are faced with no government or government with the DUP they will swallow their medicine as required irrespective of it’s ‘toxicity’.”

    Clearly the Wooly Liberals would be a preferred choice.

  • Alias

    [i]”On the project your test is whether Cameron will back the unionist cause. How is that cause to be defined? Is it the Union or “facing down” nationalists? The project has the potential to widen and deepen the union. I know that large numbers of Catholics are effectively little “u” unionists. I was talking to several at last night’s Queens University Association London event, where I was speaking on this matter. But big U ethnic unionism will exclude them and force them back into ethnic nationalism.

    The project was never about lining up the Conservative party alongside ethnic Unionism, but about replacing political structures based on constitutional and national issues, with politics based on social and economic issues using the same party structures that operate elsewhere in the UK. Incidentally for this we need the participation of Labour as well as the Conservatives. Between them Catholics can be offered something better than SF to vote for.”[/i]

    Trimble clearly understands how the GFA was designed by the British state to maintain the union, but it’s surprising how many unionists still don’t “get it.”

    That block might be rooted in a culture that was based on ascendancy and privilege where they find it hard to adjust to a new post-WW2 culture of universal human rights and international law that makes it impossible for a state to discriminate against its own citizens or a realisation that their right to self-determination can only be maintained by severely curtailing the exercise of it – or a mixture of both.

    Trimble is undoubtedly correct to say that “that large numbers of Catholics are effectively little ‘u’ unionists” and that this group can be persuaded to develop allegiance to the British state. That is confirmed by the willingness of NI’s Catholics to renounce en masse their former right to a nation-state, declaring that the nation that they belonged to could live within a British state as a non-sovereign nation. Once they have renounced the right to their own state then it is just a matter of devising suitable mechanisms that encourage them to develop loyalty to the British state and of managing that ‘integration’ process.

    The British state is ideally suited for that purpose since it is an alliance of non-sovereign nations. The Irish state, being a nation-state, would have to convert itself into a mini-UK to offer the same sales pitch to the British nation.

    If Trimble can explain the pro-union purpose of the GFA to more of his own tribe and get them to overcome their own inner demons and embrace its pacification policy then his place in history will be alongside Carson – where Paisley would dearly love to be.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Are we not missing the elephant here, it was the CONSERVATIVES that arranged the meeting at Hatfield that caused the latest hulla balu, lets skip the conspiriacy and spin here, the tories were sucking up to the DUP as they see the opinion polls narrow, Peter very cleverly used it to save his skin, but I think as a result has scuttled any improvement in relations between the parties.

  • DerTer

    Alias
    You’re at it again. “How could it be otherwise when the competing nation accepted the Unionist Veto?” Give us a bit of precision please. What competing nation are you talking about? And who said, and when, that it was competing; and for what was it competing? Thanks

  • Davros

    “That is confirmed by the willingness of NI’s Catholics to renounce en masse their former right to a nation-state, declaring that the nation that they belonged to could live within a British state as a non-sovereign nation.”

    Sovereignty, smovereignty. Small u Catholic unionists just know that a united Ireland would probably cost them money. Whose going to pay their retired teacher final salary pensions?