An open letter to Owen Paterson: Where now for a *UK* Conservative Party?

Three weeks ago, myself and another pro-Union blogger contacted Owen Paterson’s office. To date, we have had no reply from Mr. Paterson or his staff to our email and we are sending it this morning in the form of an open letter in hope of some kind of response:

Dear Mr. Paterson,

We are writing to you concerning the position of the Conservative Party vis-à-vis its activity in Northern Ireland. As Conservative and Unionist bloggers we have been firm supporters of Mr. Cameron’s policy of political engagement in the province, and we hope to be able to continue to facilitate in our small way the efforts of the party there. In recent weeks there has been some confusion about the future of the party in Northern Ireland, and if you were able to clarify that position for us, we would then be able to pass it to our readership. 

Kind Regards,

Dilettante, oneill

In interests of transparency: Dilettante is a full member of the Conservative party; whilst I have been a member of both the Friends of the Conservatives and the UUP previously, I no longer have any official connection with either party.

Our real, “off-line names” have been used in the communication to Owen Paterson. 

Why did we write it? 

As enthusiastic supporters of the original premise behind the Conservative and UUP link-up three years ago, we had been bemused at the turn of events pre-Christmas when the backroom deal between officials of the two parties effectively isolated Northern Ireland once again from the mainstream of United Kingdom politics. 

At the time the Conservative leadership gave no public explanation for this retreat; it was also unclear as to whether they saw any future for the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland or indeed for the concept of a genuinely UK-wide pro-Union party. 

They shouldn’t be that difficult questions to address but they are ones Owen Paterson and others remain reluctant, well over a month later, to publicly answer. 

And with the news of an *arrangement* being reached between the DUP and UUP in North and West Belfast, can we now also assume that the UK Conservative party is an integral part of what is obviously an ongoing “Unionist Unity” project?

Cross-posted at:  Dilettante, Open Unionism, Unionist Lite

  • Drumlins Rock

    O’Neil, if I got an email like that I wouldnt reply either, could you not take the time to sit down and draft a proper letter? also should it not be adressed to the party chairman?

  • alan56

    Will be interesting how the North Belfast scenario plays out. Share of vote between UUP and DUP will be interesting. Cobain needs to be careful?

  • Turgon

    o’neill,
    I have a high regard for you both personally and for your writing. However, I must agree with DR.

    Leaving aside that issue we have to remember that as bloggers we are not that important. I do not say that to disparage you or anyone else. Blogs have some importance but it is not vast. I do not think Owen Paterson is likely to give a scoop to any given blog. I believe he reads NI blogs but no we are not that vital to the political discourse in NI.

    I enjoy blogging and maybe it has some slight effect on people’s views but it is extraordinarily slight: less important than the likes of letters in the papers. We need to remember that our hobby (for that is what it is) may make us of some importance amongst fellow hobby-ists (let us face it internet geeks) but in the real world we do not matter very much.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Alan, Personally I always vote right down to the last candidate, sometimes I leave the last one blank, makes no odds, and in a STV election getting people to continue to transfer is the only way of party co-operation, so thats what they are talking about in North Belfast, and I’m sure many other areas. Interestingly if the AV system is introduced in the UK wide elections will you eventually see Conservatives asking for transfers to Labour to block the SNP? never mnid the obvious Lib Dem transfers.

  • DR & Turgon,

    We certainly don’t have any illusions about our importance as bloggers but the tool is there to be used and it can be used occasionally as an effective means to a desired end (which is not, in this case anyway, to obtain a scoop for our respective blogs.)

    As an example, Nick Bourne, the Welsh Conservative leader has replied to a similar email from Dilletante previously.

    I’m sure in the modern technological age, Mr Paterson’s office has no objection to obtaining communication by email rather than letter and as I said it wasn’t that difficult a question to answer, especially to people who do consider themselves to be fighting on the same side as himself

  • Sixstring

    just on a purely technical note, if it was sent to the SofS’s ministerial office, they would be unable to deal with that e mail as it is a party political matter and it would be passed on to the Minister’s constituency office to organise a response. That might explain the delay. The authors may wish to re send it there to ensure it is properly dealt with.

  • oneill, I was bemused by the link-up between the Conservative Party and the UUP in the first place. NI’s constitutional question means that both Unionist and Nationalist parties here have to appeal to a wide spectrum of opinion, not just to Conservative, Labour or Liberal sentiment.

    Has a NI Conservative candidate won a seat in a council election or by-election here in the past ten years? Even in North Down its vote share has fallen from 11% in 1993 to under 2%.

  • dwatch

    What about the ‘UK Independence Party’ are they not standing for assembly elections in May, or have they also fell by the way side?

    UKIP SET OUT STALL IN NORTHERN IRELAND
    Wednesday, 1st December 2010

    UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall has launched the Party’s bid for success in next year’s Stormont elections with an article in the Belfast News Letter.

  • Tomas Gorman

    I find the whole affair slightly tragic.

  • “O’Neil, if I got an email like that I wouldnt reply either, could you not take the time to sit down and draft a proper letter? also should it not be adressed to the party chairman?”….. Drumlins Rock 24 January 2011 at 10:17 am

    “o’neill, I have a high regard for you both personally and for your writing. However, I must agree with DR.” ….. Turgon 24 January 2011 at 10:53 am

    Gentlemen/ladies,

    It is naivety, bordering on delusion, to imagine that however well composed and sent, there is more of a likelihood of you being ignored than of there ever being a hard copy reply. Haven’t you yet realised that for a politician to reply to a missive is to acknowledge receipt of it, and to have one’s views out in the open for all to see and peer review, and to be held account for. They are not in the business of servering you your needs, they are in the business of maintaining and improving theirs and their controllers/financial donors, at the expense of yours.

    One needs only to think on the present state of play, to realise the truth of that.

    It is an excellent tactic though, should you feel strongly enough about something and/or have something of significant importance to say and share with government, to do as oneill has done, and to both send privately in a letter or email or whatever, and also very publicly with a carbon copy sent to the Internet for all the world, a man and his dog to see who is not doing what.

  • Cynic2

    Why do you assume that it’s Owen Paterson’s responsibility to sort out the NI Branch? By nature I am a Conservative. Would I joiun the NI Branch? Well, I have never seen a reason to and the culture I perceive in that Bracnh might give me pause to thgink should a membership card ever fall in my lap.

    The Branch really needs to sort itself out and answer the following questions

    1 what does it see itself as for in NI?

    2 what is the platform it will present to the public?

    3 who is going to communicate that?

    4 who is the target electorate?

    5 what’s the strategy and how will it fund it?

    Until it can answer these fundamental questions, it cannot make progress. At the moment it is almost invisible

  • Rory Carr

    Perhaps, in order to ensure a reply, you might have considered following the example of that inveterate correspondent, Henry Root*, and enclosed a fiver along with your enquiry.

    You could of course also follow Root’s example of stamping a heavy, “No Reply !” across copies of any correspondence that fail to elicit a response – which might be the sensible course of action in this case.

    * http://www.duncanwil.co.uk/roo1.html

  • Dilettante

    Having read some of the comments, I feel the need to clarify a couple of points as regards the length of the email and our reasons for making it public.

    This was not intended to be our published correspondence. Below is a link to an open letter I wrote to Nick Bourne, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. It provides a model of the sort of thing we were hoping to write. However, we first sought to clarify the Conservative position, as we couldn’t write a fair critique if we didn’t know it. As we received no response and thus could not proceed further, we made this email public.

    This wasn’t done out of outrage, pique or a sense of entitlement. Rather, our motivations were threefold: to highlight the fact that basic and non-time consuming queries about Conservative policy went unanswered; to hopefully bring the email to Mr Paterson’s attention if he was not aware of it; and to hopefully elicit a response either from Mr Paterson or someone else in a position to shed light on Conservative policy.

    I hope that clears things up.

  • Dilettante
  • Sixstring,

    It was sent to his MP’s correspondence address and not theministerial office.

    Nevin,

    NI’s constitutional question means that both Unionist and Nationalist parties here have to appeal to a wide spectrum of opinion, not just to Conservative, Labour or Liberal sentiment.

    I’d argue that the constitutional question is not as important as it was to the electorate (evidence falling % of people voting, the E Belfast result etc).

    But what I believe is less important than what the Conservative hierarchy believe is the short-term future of politics here and putting it mildly, they’ve given a mixed message on that over the last 12 months. That’s what we were trying to clarify.

    Cynic 2,

    Why do you assume that it’s Owen Paterson’s responsibility to sort out the NI Branch?

    We don’t.
    But we do assume that he knows what the leadership wish the future (or if they are even to have one) of the NI branch to be. There’s no point even starting on all those valid questions you raised, if HQ believe there is no further meaningful role for the party in NI.

    Rory,

    Perhaps, in order to ensure a reply, you might have considered following the example of that inveterate correspondent, Henry Root*, and enclosed a fiver along with your enquiry

    I’m sure if we had, we would have got it back.
    But we didn’t, so we haven’t;)

  • Just to go back to the end of December, you will recall that the NI Conservatives believed that they had the “go ahead” from CCHQ to field candidateas at the Assembly Election. A week later, there was confusion when it was announced at the UUP conference that the Conservatives would not be contesting in the Assembly. Then, at the beginning of December, Irwin Armstrong tendered his resignation as regional chairman after an apparent “u” turn by CCHQ.

    The information I have summarised is what is in the public domain. Since then, everybody will have noticed that there have been no announcements about where exactly this is going.

    The position, legally, is that the “decision” not to field candidates in the Assembly election is not valid until the Board of the Conservative Party have ruled they can not. So far, a board meeting has not yet been held to make that decision.

    Meanwhile, the NI regional Conservatives are fighting ferociously behind the scenes for their rights. They will not give up until the Board makes that decision.

    I can not say any more than that, except that it is very probable that the position will crystalize, almost certainly, within a week.

  • Relevant to that last point by Seymour, this article posted on Conservative Home by Owen Polley sets out the case for the Conservatives fighting the Assembly Elections:

    http://tinyurl.com/3a7ya9n

  • Rory Carr

    I’m sure if we had,[sent a fiver] we would have got it back.

    My point exactly – it would have ensured a reply and, if that reply was unsatisfactory, an opportunity to write back demanding to know what, if a fiver wasn’t sufficient, exactly his price was.

  • The Conservatives have made an announcement this morning. Hopefully, somebody from Slugger will post about it very soon.

    Jeffrey Peel was the first to write a post. The link is here.

    http://jeffpeel.net/2011/02/03/conservatives-dump-uup/