Bright young things of Ucunf are now unpersons

Although I know little about them personally, I feel sorry for the former Ucunf couple Ian Parsley and Paula Bradshaw. Ian is more widely known than his political record as an Alliance and now an NI  Conservative would suggest. Theirs seems to be the only successful bit of the partnership left. I noticed him as a minor star at last year’s Conservative party conference with Sir Reg.

Paula as UU candidate in south Belfast was the victim of an Alliance surge by Anna Lo. Ian was predictably wiped out by Sylvia Hermon’s personal vote and DUP abstention in  north Down but not so badly as to make him an automatic reject for another tilt at the Assembly – were it not for the fact that he carries the taint of party switcher and modernity about him. You could say they’re both being punished for failure. But if that rule was applied consistently the UUs would be annihilated already. And are the NI Cons about to declare themelves dead?

From their profiles, Paula and Ian are just the sort of youngish people the Unionists ought to embrace. Perhaps it was Ian’s mistake that the NI Conservatives sought to reform the Unionist party from outside and appeared as opportunists to many of the old guard who went along with Ucunf only for the money. Or is  that too harsh?

How ironic that it was a standard bearer from Ian’s old party Alliance that made it to Westminster first. (Events, dear boy!)

With Ucunf, they had been groping towards a clever idea both recalling the glory days of unionism a century ago and forming a strategy for today to outflank the DUP and strengthen the Union at the same time. Their perception is correct, that Northern Ireland is not a part of the Union that matters almost as much as the constitutional link. It is not represented in the main parties who alternate the government, as Daphne Trimble likes to remind us. Here was a way of achieving it – if not yet, then on another day perhaps, when the idea and the relationship had matured.

The trouble was that Ucunf always seem like a quick raid of  a reverse takeover by a tiny bunch of tyros who had few roots in the ageing plant of UU party. For the Conservatives, the wheeze suited Owen Paterson ticking the empty Northern Ireland compartment of the box marked ” the Conservatives, “party of the Union,” even if it was the longest of long shots.

Novelty, speed, outsiders… daring to pose as the saviours of the Unionist party… all of these doomed the Ucunf kids from the start.  And “RC” here and there didn’t help, whatever Reg’s protestations .  Now I fear, the couple are being punished for their temerity. Ian now sounds rejected but right, the fate of so many other saviours of  Ulster. (Remember the younger Bob McCartney, Frank Millar, Peter McLachlan, Robin Bailie… . I could go on … )

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