An interesting press release from the DUP is doing the rounds: Tommy Sandford ex PUP councillor (and ex loyalist prisoner) has joined the DUP. I will reproduce the press release below:
The Democratic Unionist Party has announced today that well known East Belfast community representative Tommy Sandford has joined the Party. Mr Sandford is a spokesman for the Cregagh Community Association and was a PUP Councillor for the Castlereagh Central area between 2001 and 2005.
Speaking today Mr Sandford said, ‘I believe it is vital that unionism has a strategy and vision for the future and that the unionist community can unite behind a strong, united and forward looking party. It is for those reasons that I have joined the Democratic Unionist Party and I look forward to playing an active role within the Party in East Belfast.
I believe that the message being set out by the DUP is one which unionists of all shades can unite behind, and indeed it is a message which resonates beyond just the unionist community to everyone who wishes to see a new and better Northern Ireland. In these difficult economic times it is reassuring to know that there is a party which has as its goal, the development and growth of our economy alongside ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.
Welcoming Mr Sandford, East Belfast Constituency Chairman Lord Browne said, ‘Tommy is a well known figure in East Belfast, and particularly in the Cregagh area where he is active in the local community association. I have no doubt that he will be a great asset to the Democratic Unionist Party in East Belfast and he, like many others who have joined the party in recent times, has responded to the strategy and leadership displayed most obviously by the Party Leader Peter Robinson.
People from all walks of life are responding to the message put forward by the Democratic Unionist Party and we want to see people from all backgrounds playing a full role in bringing about the new Northern Ireland that we all desire.’
This is a suprising development, not really in terms of Mr. Sandford wishing to join the DUP but in the DUP being happy to make a bit of a splash of accepting him. They may calculate that he will bring a few votes with him but it must be remembered that Sandford only held the seat for one term and lost the seat in 2005. As such he brings little political capital to the party.
The ready acceptance of his membership, however, may be more of a turn off for the liberal Alliance typed voters who helped defeat Peter Robinson at the Westminster election. In addition accepting an ex UVF prisoner will probably play poorly in many areas outside Belfast especially the rural areas west of the Bann where the UUP with their shiny new non dinosaur leader will hope to make gains.
Tom Elliott made a good speech at his party conference (not as good as Robinson but far from poor). This defection to the DUP and that speech do not alone make the situation rosy for the UUP. However, after several weeks of bad news stories for the UUP they may be beginning to get a run of better luck.
Accepting Mr. Sandford especially with any fanfare (albeit minor) may be a decision the DUP will later regret.