UUP and P&J: battles, unicorns and the Northwest passage

The dust has settled on the Policing and Justice vote and as Mick and others pointed out, despite the UUP’s decision not to support the vote there seems to have a conspicuous absence of the sky falling in on anyone’s heads. Now with the advantage of a little time it might be worth looking (somewhat less hysterically) at possible reasons why the UUP made the decision they did and what if any the political ramifications of these decisions may be.The first suggestion might be to take the UUP at their word that they did not agree to the devolution of P&J for the reasons they claimed: namely that the executive is extremely dysfunctional and has no realistic ability to agree a programme for government that takes any remotely controversial decisions. There is no agreement on education which has been reduced to the state of a farce; a very black one when the fact is that it has caused confusion and despair for many parents and has resulted in children sitting more tests with less certainty than ever before. Genuinely having made such an unbelievable hash of education should the executive be given further power? Clearly much of the chaos has been driven by the ideological zealotry of Catriona Ruane but she is still there as large as life, as zealous and useless as ever. To be fair the favourite putative P&J minister, David Ford, a man lacking in any ideology it seems save that of his own self aggrandisement, presents less such problems. However, a combination of the high likelihood of P&J being led by the weakest minister (both politically and personally) in the United Kingdom and with his strings being pulled by such diametrically opposed parties as the DUP and Sinn Fein, is enough to make anyone outside the cosy cabal of Sinn Fein, the DUP and Mr. Ford uneasy.

However, whilst the UUP may have had good practical and principled reasons for opposing P&J devolution there is a significant feeling that there were also party political reasons for this recourse to principle. The UUP’s whole strategy in this may be an extension of the one I suggested some weeks ago: the Battle of the Nile strategy or that which Jim Molyneaux used relatively successfully in the 1980s and early 1990s (the incongruence of likening Nelsonian leadership to that of Emepy’s or Molyneaux’s is sufficiently amusing to bear repetition). Essentially this was (like Nelson at the Nile) to attack on both sides of one’s opponents. For the UUP the idea is to offer unionist voters a party simultaneously more liberal and yet more hard line than the DUP. Molyneaux managed this by having leading members more liberal and more hard line; simultaneously more socially and economically left and right wing than the DUP. Duncan Shipley Dalton has very correctly pointed out that this strategy fell apart when any form of active move forwards was required and was correctly called by John Hunter “Steady as she drifts” but it remains an attractive concept for the UUP.

The UUP may, in their more deluded moments, feel with their alliance with the Conservatives that they may be able to achieve the same sort of result and produce a united unionist party by destroying the DUP. The UUP have consistently been seen as more liberal than the DUP from the time of Molyneaux onwards; Trimble having rapidly abandoned the hard liners who elected him. Furthermore their alliance with the Conservatives could be seen as a further example of becoming more liberal within a Northern Ireland context. Hence, the CU tie up could be a good way to gain that mythical beast of great electoral power: the garden centre Prod. It could also appeal to that sentiment most common amongst unionists within the Pale that Northern Ireland should be and indeed is as British as, if not Finchley, at least the leafier bits of greater Birmingham. Additionally if the CU project could produce in material voting form that other fantasy creature, the Unionist Catholic then the CUs would indeed be on the way to electoral power. Hence, the CU pact has the potential to further “out left” the DUP and maybe eat into the Alliance vote.

Such a strategy, however, depends on the strength of the two righteous mythical creatures, the unicorns of unionist fantasy: the Garden centre Prod and the unionist Catholic. Unionist analysts have long disagreed regarding the existence of these beasts and indeed a number of quests over the years to find and exploit their power have ended pretty tragically for all concerned:Franklin’s lost expedition to navigate the North West passage comes to mind as an analogy.

Set against the dangers of a Franklin typed disaster there are of course other strategies to gain unionist support back to the CUs and it is in this context that the most cynical analyses of the UUP decision to oppose P&J devolution are made. It is abundantly clear that a significant segment of the DUP’s previous support is now very annoyed with their former party of choice. The double jobbing, dynasties and perception of arrogance all worked very strongly against the DUP in the European elections; now in addition Irisgate has been added to the mix. Most importantly, however, is the simple fact that many harder line unionists disapprove of the DUP’s decision to share power with Sinn Fein and in June last year took their revenge on the party by voting for Allister. It is unlikely that much of that anger will have dissipated now that the DUP have been seen to have had to accept a deal which, whatever their protestations, looks like a defeat for them.

Jim Allister and the TUV were of course the main beneficiaries of the fall in DUP support at Europe. However, the very clear voting dynamic whereby TUV supporters transferred to the CUs was present. In the Westminster election the TUV will of course not stand in every seat and in addition there are seats where the UUP were close to the DUP in votes and as such some TUVists might lend their vote to the UUP to bash the DUP. The exact extent of that (especially the latter) part of the voting dynamic is difficult to assess and may be small. However, it is at the heart of the CUs (or more exactly the UUPs) desire to “out right” the DUP and capture some TUV support.

In that context opposing the devolution of P&J makes sense and if the suggestion can be put across that the reasons for opposing P&J are politically “left” (in terms of competence and opposing a sectarian carve up) as well as “right” of the DUP then it might have been and may yet be a cleverer tactic than many of its detractors within the DUP and indeed the media have suggested. It is possible that opposing P&J might gain TUV typed support without further endangering the Franklin-esque quest for those unicorns. Media commentators (with a number of honourable exceptions) have for many years now, been very poor at assessing the voting patterns of unionists and suggesting that the UUP’s decision was so very flawed on P&J may be even more naive than those very commentators were suggesting that the UUP were.

However, although the plan may be a good one and may look like a Battle of the Nile, it could end up being more like the Lake Balaton Offensive, the last German advance of the Second World War where, desperate to regain the oil fields around the eponymous lake, the Germans made one last attack against the Russians and after a few brief gains were forced back yet again.

The reasons for such pessimism regarding the CU’s chances are not simply in the potential the P&J decision has to annoy the unicorns but probably more significantly (like the Germans at Lake Balaton) the lack of resources available to the CUs. The candidates they have are not especially convincing and as I noted previously there is an apparent disconnect in the matching of the candidate and the seat in question. This is nowhere more stark than in Upper Bann where Harry Hamilton, local candidate and no doubt all round nice guy that he is, has his work cut out trying to persuade TUV types to support him over Simpson; even more so if the TUV do not run.

The problem for the CUs is their lack of talent and almost complete absence of strength in depth: a problem which of course afflicts all Northern Ireland’s political parties but is particularly evident for the CUs in view of their very considerable ambition; namely to overtake once again the DUP and become the major unionist party. Ideally, should Franklin return triumphant, along with added unicorns. A further related problem for the CU’s is of course the DUP’s incumbency of the seats in question and now since Lady Hermon will not be standing in North Down for them, they have no incumbent MP. Incumbency is a major advantage, apart from where the MP in question has been a major disaster (Strangford) or has failed to really gel with the constituency (South Antrim). In all the other seats where the CUs are targeting the DUP, they are taking on an at least semi competent incumbent. North Antrim of course will not have an incumbent but there unless the CUs can resurrect Lord Carson or Viscount Craigavon, it will be a battle between Jim Allister and Ian Paisley junior and the lack of a current MP is most unlikely to be of any real help to the CU project. Even the most ardent CU fantasy explorer has not claimed any significant unicorn sightings up in North Antrim.

The decisions the UUP made over P&J may have been in part both principled and those of low political cunning. However, a political party should try to increase the options and electoral base open to it whilst at the same time reducing the options open to its opponents (or rivals to use Fitzjameshorse’s excellent explanation). The decision on P&J may have been lambasted by the chattering classes and those in the current cosy cabal up at Stormont. However, the lack of executive competence may play fairly well to the more moderate potential CU voters (and any unicorns out there), whilst more traditional NI political views may please the TUVists (the fantasy ogres if one wants). Hence, it is just possible that with the Conservative tie up nailing down the space to the “left” of the DUP, the opposition to P&J devolution can be utilised as a device to open up support opportunities to the DUP’s “right.”

In spite of the fact that the UUP’s decision may have been far from a bad one, the reality remains that the CUs may not do very well at this election: that probably has a great deal more to do with their inherently weak position and talent base, along with some poor candidate / seat matches than it has with the supposedly awful decision to oppose the transfer of P&J.

After the failure of the Balaton offensive, Hitler ordered that the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler remove their Adolf Hitler armbands as they had failed to fight properly. If the CU’s latest battle is a failure no doubt some will try to pass the blame for the failure to the P&J decision. It will be as nonsensical as Hitler’s hysterical order. However, when the T-34s, be they real or metaphorical, are about to overrun the bunker, rationality is often absent. Or turning back to Franklin: the main reason he failed was that he was about 100 years too early to have the necessary nuclear powered ice breakers.

  • Paul

    core blimey turgon you are so out of step with the unionist community it really is unreal.The UUP are all over the place they have moved to the right of your dinosaur party.(TUV)I predict that Ian jnr will win NA comfortably.Unless the UCUNF wakes up and does a deal on FST and south belfast in other words one for one the UUP could well return with 0 seats.The TUV will get a hammering I predict. People have moved on and want to move on and are sick tired and sore of the TUV politics..

  • granni trixie

    Turgon: do not altogether follow you and the fault may be my own. However, you may be analysing too deeply the UU decision best represented (to me at least) as a Kama Kasi exercise. Infact when I saw Regs wee face in the States to celebrate St Patrick’s bold as brass,I said to myself “he just doesn’t get it”.
    I had been sure that this time at least he might have had the dignity to stay away.

  • alan56

    As usual a comprehensive and interesting analysis.Your ‘ 2 front ‘ theory about UCUNF though I am not convinced by. Indeed I think therein lies Reg’s problem. Which direction to go in? Ref your assertion that there does not exist a sizeable ‘Catholic unionist’ vote, I would disagree here too. They may not use the word ‘unionist’ but do prefer the constitutional status quo. According to the BT poll that is around 25% of Catholics!

  • An Phoblacht Abu

    25% of catholics who read the belfast telegraph, thats about 4 then?

  • It was obvious by the utterances of the UUP on the subject of Police and Justice for about a year that they were jockeying for a credible anti-agreement position. (It must have been equally obvious to the Tories that they had entered into league with what was effectively an anti-agreement party.) So I think it is fair to say is that although the UUP are an now an anti-agreement party that is a position that has been opportunistically arrived at rather than being arrived at for principled reaons and they could therefore easily flip-flop the other way if it suited them or more importantly if that didnt suit the DUP. Most Unionists will of course understand this as they see a party still smarting from having been almost totally eclipsed by the DUP.

    So having become an anti-agreement party and being unlikely to attract anti-agreement voters (who will opt for the principled TUV) or those of good-god-fearing-pro-agreement-Unionists like my good self they are now stuck in no man’s land and when the battle of Westminster commences the hapless feckers will get (deservedly) blasted by all sides.

  • dodrade

    You are giving Empey far too much credit, he is the Chauncey Gardiner of Ulster politics. So inept, he couldn’t beat a nudist at strip poker.

  • granni trixie

    MU: you credit the UU too much to say that for a year they were planning to be “anti-agreement”. Infact do they even see themselves in this light today?

  • apollo293867


    “David Ford, a man lacking in any ideology it seems save that of his own self aggrandisement, presents less such problems. However, a combination of the high likelihood of P&J being led by the weakest minister (both politically and personally) in the United Kingdom and with his strings being pulled by such diametrically opposed parties as the DUP and Sinn Fein, is enough to make anyone outside the cosy cabal of Sinn Fein, the DUP and Mr. Ford uneasy.”

    David Ford has not got the job yet and you have judged him “the weakest minister”

    Your crystal ball must be brilliant!

  • Rory Carr

    “Franklin: the main reason he failed was that he was about 100 years too early to have the necessary nuclear powered ice breakers.”

    What then, I wonder was the main reason that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsun in the Gjoa only 60 years later managed to cross the Northwest Passage despite a lack of access to nuclear ice-breakers which were not developed until more than a further half-century had passed ?

    I suspect it was probably that he was merely a stupid Norwegian and didn’t know that if the British admiralty had failed then it was pointless anyone else trying to succeed until new, as yet unheard of, technology became available in about a hundred years. Some people just don’t recognise their own station in life.

    Never mind, Turgon, this collapse of yet another of your tortuous and increasingly irrelevant (but hilariously entertaining) analogies does not necessarily mean that it will be at least another century before the TUV manage to have anyone elected.

    Not necessarily as I have said, but, let’s face it, more than likely !

  • granni trixie,

    “Infact do they even see themselves in this light today?”

    The spin is that they are pro-agreement but if you vote in favour of unravelling Hillsborough which took months/years to put togther you cant have that claim taken seriously.

    It is quite clear to the vast majority of Unionists (and Nationalists) that they would we be more than willing to destroy years of progress in Ulster (including some excellent work by their UCUNF partners) in order to get revenge on the DUP.

    Do you not see it that way?

  • Turgon

    In general I agree. I think the plan will fail. However, it will be difficult to tell the extent to which it failed because it was a bad plan and the extent to which it was doomed to failure because of the UUP’s lack of talent.

    You might well think that; I could not possibly comment.

  • granni trixie

    Appolo: Sorry, notaltogether clear about your meaning. But what I am clear about is that you are wrong about DF ,infact you seem to be subject to projudice whereas I am in touch with DF and totoally admire him. I would have sussed out anybody which had self nterest at their core.

    DF has no self interest and I support him as someone I trust,dedicated to doing the best for NI.

  • apollo293867


    My point was ironic. Turgon appears to have an ability to read a future completely beyond us mortals.

    In fact DF is an honourable man who I believe will make a good minister. His intentions, core beliefs are a great asset to NI

  • Turgon

    GT and apollo,

    Yes indeed David Ford is a man of complete and total honour. A man who became the principled opposition to the executive until the opportunity of a job opened up. The man whose party decided to vote against one of its own motions and of course we have these principled words from Mr. Ford himself:

    “This executive is incompetent, it’s time they got with doing the job that they were set up to do,”

    and referring to taking the justice ministry

    “It’s a very definite and a very emphatic no.”

  • Driftwood

    Its hard to disagree with the lack of talent within the UUP. Indeed all our parochial parties. But Trevor Ringland seems their best candidate and should have been given winnable South Antrim.
    I was reminded of Sir Reg tonight watching the leader of the UNITE union defending his privileged BA members against the wrath of the PM.

    I remember the tag lines for Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 masterpiece

    The land had changed. They hadn’t. The earth had cooled. They couldn’t.

    They came too late and stayed too long.

    Nine men who came too late and stayed too long…

    Unchanged men in a changing land. Out of step, out of place and desperately out of time.

    Of course this charge could be levelled at the DUP and others. NI desperately needs new players, and the Tories are the only cavalry at the moment.
    At least the CU’s have put up some new faces for Westminster (the only show that really matters) but Reg and Co. need to start from a fresh perspective.

  • granni trixie

    I am not stupid. DF was not seduced by the prospect of a job. He is the best hope for the future.

  • alan56

    Any predictions on final state of parties (in terms of MPs) after genral election?

  • Turgon

    granni trixie,
    “DF was not seduced by the prospect of a job”

    Really? Fancy explaining why he has U turned so comprehensively on: “It’s a very definite and a very emphatic no.”

    As to him being the best hope for the future: unfortunately for you the people of Northern Ireland seem to feel differently. However, his and Alliance’s lack of popularity seem to be no bar whatsoever on ministerial office. I suppose historically membership of the Alliance party was the best way to get a good Quango job so the DUP and SF are simply continuing that tradition.

    Also he is continuing the tradition of getting his nose in the trough so impressively demonstrated by Lord Alderdice who of course elbowed his way into the speakership of the first assembly: Alliance, don’t you just love their honour.

  • Driftwood

    At least the CU’s have upheld the principle of no double jobbing. Our National Parliament at Westminster is a full time committment (at least it should be) and i assume all other parties will follow their example.

  • granni trixie,

    I’m a mild/warm fan of David Ford myself, but about a year ago he was making very similar noises to those emanating from the UUP – it would have been inconcievable that the Alliance party, with it track record, would have voted against Hillsborough but I’m afraid that he has left himself open to charges of personal and party opportunism by coordinating the Allaince’s change of heart with the offer of the justice job.

    Wee Davey deserves the benefit of the doubt but was perhaps a little naive – but that still puts him head shoulders above the clearly opportuntistic Wee Reggie.

  • alan56

    Problem is that the ‘trappings of power’ seduce all politicians… its part of their make up

  • Driftwood

    here’s the betting…

    Next British General Election
    Singles Only.
    Applies to the party who wins the most seats at the next UK General Election. Settled on final totals from the BBC.

    Conservative and Unionist 1/7
    Labour/SF/DUP/SDLP 4/1

  • Driftwood,

    “At least the CU’s have upheld the principle of no double jobbing”

    ..and very likley no single jobbing – at Westminster.

  • Wanted to pick up on one relatively minor point Turgon, in relation to:

    Even the most ardent CU fantasy explorer has not claimed any significant unicorn sightings up in North Antrim.

    CUwise this is right but I’ve noticed a few comments in cyberspace (here and on ukpollingreport for example) claiming an even odder sounding unicorn, namely that North Antrim Catholics are going to vote Paisley en masse to keep out Allister.

  • Conquistador,

    the reality of life in Ulster is that it is actually in Nationalisms interest that Unionism is split evenly 3 ways and the election of Allister would spark a mini-civil-war which if raging all the way up to the Assembly elections would guarantee SF the First Minsiter’s job.

  • Comrade Stalin


    good-god-fearing-pro-agreement-Unionists like my good self

    I wish you’d stop this stupid bullshit.

    Turgon, I wish I had the time to read your long and rambling contributions, but I’ll just have to settle with addressing your comments.

    I wish people would find another line other than the tired old one about “quangoes”. All of our politicians here sit on quangoes or similar public bodies, such as NICCY, the health boards, Equality Commission, boards of governors at schools, etc etc etc. I think Alderdice did a good job as the first Speaker, there was no consensus in the parties as to who else would do it. He didn’t “elbow” his way in but had been a favourite for some time, in the same way as Alliance have been favoured for some time for the justice ministry role. It may be popular for politicians to bitch about quangoes and how bad they are, but quangoes like the Housing Executive and the Health Service enjoy good levels of public support and woe betide the politician who proposes their abolition.

    Yes, Alliance rejected the position of justice minister that was offered through the media, and subsequently warmed to the idea after it had actually seen the detail of the proposals; it offered conditional support, and these conditions were subsequently met. What’s your problem with that ? It’s not beyond politicians to change their position, like the way Jim Allister did when he faced the electorate a member of a party that went to the polls on the back of St Andrews and a clear pathway to government, and then changed his tune later.

    It would have been utterly dishonourable for the party act to disrupt the agreement, and the political process, which for all its faults has a degree of cross-community support.

    But none of this really is of interest to you. Your party is a weird right-wing fringe nutter group, common in most parts of the EU, and nobody is fooled by your efforts to lend credibility to a party which harbours those who think that loyalists who kill civilians aren’t guilty of any crimes.

  • Turgon

    Maybe and no one is fooled by your support for a party whose deputy leader gives political assistance to the mouth piece and cheerleader in chief of sectarian murderers.

  • Driftwood

    Comrade Stalin
    Gerry Adams ordered the La Mon massacre. And Bloody Friday,… I could go on.

    Martin McGuinness ordered the murder of many, many people including people like Joanne Mathers because she wasn’t a Catholic like him.

    Have you any opinion on this sort of thing, or would you prefer we just forget about it?

  • Paul

    Allister wont get elected.People have seen straight threw him and his TUV motley crew.Who will be rejected on mass at the polls on may 6

  • apollo293867


    Really? Fancy explaining why he has U turned so comprehensively on: “It’s a very definite and a very emphatic no.”

    DF and the Alliance leadership originally said no to the offer of the policing and justice portfolio because he (and they ) wanted assurances about the powers, policies and responsibilities germain to that role. Having won that and an agreement on a shared future, the party agreed to put forward a name for the election of the minister.

    The party has won a policy victory for the P+J ministry, secured an agreement on a shared future agenda, and is in a position to serve Northern Ireland in a very difficult position. Pretty impressive I think, you can carp all you want, but I am proud of supporting the Alliance


  • Paul

    seems you are out of step turgon not just in the country but on slugger as well wake up.

  • Driftwood,

    the British government (cheeered on by the Tories) took part in an illegal war in Iraq most of most of those who died were muslims. The man leading the war on the British side was a devout Chritian and the American leader claimed he was actually on a crusade. Dont forget we are talking hundreds of thousands here and as a good-god-fearing-bowler-hat-wearing-moderate-unionist I could not possibly justify the SF-IRA war on the our great wee country but most fair minded people including many good-god-fearing-bowler-hat-wearing-moderate-unionist would agree with me that the Provo campaign had significantly more jusitfication than the British outing in Iraq.

    “Have you any opinion on this sort of thing, or would you prefer we just forget about it?”