The TUV went remarkably quiet after the May 2010 Westminster elections. However, this weekend, party members will be converging in the Royal Hotel in Cookstown for their party conference. Outside the party, it wasn’t terribly well advertised. While I received a belated invitation last week, I’m not free to attend. Not sure if anyone from Slugger will be along?
Printing out their conference programme used up more red and blue ink that I’d bargained for. There’s still the old-fashioned use of mnemonics to spell out FAILURE using the first letters of the bullet points describing “the failed Stormont we can’t afford” and ROADMAP for “the working Stormont we need”.
But the eight page booklet also reveals a party that has perhaps started to evolve.
The conference title is “Making Stormont Work”. Twelve months ago, I’d have expected it to be “Bringing Stormont Down”. Instead it’s about “our quest not to wreck Stormont but to improve it”.
It’s also out with the normal DUP-castigating rhetoric, and instead the leader’s message, along with the resolution summaries and the “5 point plan” is nearly completely devoid of mentions for other political parties. No knocking the DUP, vilifying Sinn Fein (well, just once) or ridiculing the Alliance.
In the morning, the party will debate a motion about the economy, condemning “the utter failure of the Stormont Executive to agree a coherent strategy for dealing with the Public Sector cuts and rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy in a fiscally sensible manner”. David Vance is proposing, and Elizabeth Lisk seconding. [The BBC reported this afternoon that the draft budget expected to reach the Assembly on Tuesday has been delayed by up to a fortnight.]
Then it’s Jim Allister and his leader’s speech.
After lunch they move on to a motion about Devolution brought by Keith Harbinson and Sammy Morrison. It’ll describe “the current form of devolution” as “undemocratic … unworkable and incapable of bringing either stability or good government”.
They’ll have a panel discussion on “the State of the Union” featuring Jim Allister, Keith Harbinson, William Ross and David Vance. No sign of any intention to deliberately listen to outside voices and reflect on other viewpoints.
Like all party conferences this year, there’s the mandatory education motion. It’s the only time Sinn Fein get a mention. “This conference deplores the destructive consequences of Sinn Fein rule within education.” The motion goes on to support parental choice, reflects the “need for both the voluntary grammar sector and the secondary sector”, seeks a single academic selection test and “strongly opposes public funding for Irish Medium schools, believing those who want such should themselves pay for it”.
The last motion wants “an urgent and radical overhaul in the present policing and security arrangements in Northern Ireland”, notes that “a recent opinion poll states that 14% of Nationalists are sympathetic to [dissidents]” and calls for former security personnel to have their personal protection weapons returned to them.
Who’d have thought a political party would be calling for the return of more guns to NI streets?
Four fifths of the TUV’s five point plan could belong to any party in Northern Ireland: Prudent fiscal management, employment strategy, education and security. The remaining point is their call for a “voluntary coalition” to create “a vibrant, confident and liberal democracy”.
So while there’s still plenty of distinctive anti-agreement sentiment, there’s also traces of realpolitik and engagement with some of the big issues of the day. Perhaps first generation evolution? With no mention of justice, health, environment, or social development, the TUV are still positioning themselves as a protest vote against a limited number of issues. It’ll be interesting to see the content of some of the speeches to see how they are addressed.
I’ll finish the post with the last sentence from Allister’s Party Leader message to conference delegates.
I trust you have a good day and leave renewed in your determination never to leave undone that which can be done in building towards a better tomorrow.
Hang on, is that the phone ringing? Must be the Plain English Campaign …
PS: Jim Allister’s website seems to be down at the moment.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.