The NI Conservatives clamber back on the first rung…

The NI Conservatives  would probably be the first to admit that the performance of their eight candidates in the recent council elections was less than stellar. They would, however, also be justified in claiming as a minor miracle that after the traumas of the last three years, there was a Conservative presence at all on the ballot paper. 

The aftermath of the UCUNF fiasco and the UK leadership’s apparent lack of commitment earlier this year, not surprisingly, took their toll on both the local branch’s morale and (I’m guessing) membership figures but they do now at least appear to be back on the local political ladder again, albeit on the very lowest rung. 

A big plus point in their favour is that they also now have a full-time campaign manager, Owen Polley, working on behalf of the party. Owen is no stranger to many here on Slugger and is, in my opinion, a very perceptive and clear thinker on both N.Irish and the wider UK’s political affairs. His main task will be to initially generate interest in the party and also (re?)-build its grassroots network in the hope that when the next round of elections come round, the Conservatives are in a position to, at the very least, influence the final result. 

Not an easy task by any means but as Irwin Armstrong, the party’s chairman in Northern Ireland, pointed out last week, over 45% of people in Northern Ireland chose not to make their voices heard at the last Assembly Election and:

“For a huge swathe of society there is nothing on the menu of parties to tempt their political palates.”

 The new Northern Ireland Conservatives website is now live here.

 Along with a new Facebook site here.

And (just about starting) on Twitter.

  • dennis the menace

    “For a huge swathe of society there is nothing on the menu of parties to tempt their political palates.”….

    as in england, scotland and wales.. NI is just becoming normal in their voting patterns

  • Michael Shilliday

    “was less than stellar”

    It does however prove beyond any doubt that UCUNF votes were UUP votes and not transferable to NI Tories. It proves to CCHQ that the UUP are an electoral asset to them far and away more valuable than their own members, however unfortunately does not prove to the UUP leadership that their unfortunate belief that the Conservative brand is a hindrance to them is incorrect.

    NI Tories are an active hindrance to a renewed relationship to between the two parties, and now need to be dispensed with, as should have happened when UCUNF was forged

  • Your post is a rather optimistic gloss on Conservative prospects.

    There are those in the Northern Ireland Conservative Party who think that Northern Ireland Unionists will all come to them when they have “seen the light” and do not need to defend Northern Ireland within the Union. They believe that the Party should be embraced because, they imagine, they are the natural home for Unionists to go to when they have “moved on.” .

    If the script had gone according to this wishful thinking, the Belfast Agreement should have been the driving force of that process.

    Here we are, 12 years later, and the Conservatives still can’t work out why nobody wants to vote for them. Owen Polley is very able political columnist and blogger. I’ve no doubt that he will also be a good manager. He knows, very well, however, that the party will not get anywhere unless it properly addresses the reasons why it has made less progress than even the Green Party.

    I feel for the party workers who have ‘worked their socks off,’ knocking on doors, distributing leaflets etc. It is almost a complete a waste of time. Some, like me, understand this and are not prepared to ‘knock our heads against a brick wall,’ knowing that the Conservatives have no sellable political product.

    The party is being subjected to useless diversions, such as the following:

    ”over 45% of people in Northern Ireland chose not to make their voices heard at the last Assembly Election”

    I notice that Irwin Armstrong keeps wheeling out these statistics. Most of that 45% will never vote. There is no evidence that even a substantial minority of them will ever see the Conservatives as their political champions.

    Reading other blogs recently, I have detected a recent shift in the thinking of grass roots NI Conservatives. I sense that most now realise that they won’t get anywhere without making their position much more Northern-Ireland-centred.

    My view is that nothing short of creating an independent party will be effective at all. My understanding, having read what Owen has written, is that he has a traditional ideal of equal citizenship. Presumably, he would oppose any move towards the creation of an independent centre-right party. This is a rather depressing backdrop.

  • Michael,

    It proves to CCHQ that the UUP are an electoral asset to them far and away more valuable than their own members, however unfortunately does not prove to the UUP leadership that their unfortunate belief that the Conservative brand is a hindrance to them is incorrect.

    Strategically CCHQ will have or will be still weighing up how much an electoral asset the UUP were/are/could be to them.

    Actual bums on the Westminster and Brussels pews at the moment doesn’t seem likely to exceed Jim Nicholson- I genuinely can’t see where the next UUP MP is coming from at this moment in time. So, in real terms, where it matters (Stormont, like Edinburgh and Cardiff is too detached in the bigger picture), no real voting assets.

    Electoral asset in the more abstract sense?
    Part of Cameron’s thinking behind the UCUNF project, I’m sure, was that a closer link (or even amalgamation) with a party in NI would have completed the 4 nation picture essential for a party that was wanting to portray a UK Unionist vision (perhaps to compensate for the decline of the Scottish Cons). But the problem is that too many in the UUP could not see the real strategic benefit to themselves of that relationship (ie being able to see a genuinely UK form of Unionism) and it’s that still existing element rather than the NI Conservatives, which means that it is now a dead concept surely?

  • Master McGrath

    Living in Scotland now and working in the charity world one of the things that is most noticeable is the growth of charities in the Veterans and ex-service area and especially with those dealing with service personnel damaged by their service latterly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    New ones, all with the best of intentions, seem to be constantly springing up.
    The problem is that it means perhaps a case can be made for there being too many of them already and confusion is beginning to emerge about why there are so many but what can be confidently said about almost all of the newer ones is that they are wanting to do in their own name what other more established charities are already doing.
    Duplication does not strengthen the effort but rather weaken the impact for all.
    It seems to me to be the same with political parties in the Unionist tradition in NI.
    What really do the NI Conservatives bring to the party that is not already being said in some way or another by all of the Unionist parties already? – and that really includes the Alliance Party.
    Simply by importing the Tories as a party is not going to make NI as ‘normal’ in politics as anywhere in England.
    Scotland is already an almost Tory free zone and has been for quite a number of years now and what is noticeable about the last election here is how the SNP stole the Labour party clothes and won the election – in much the same way as the DUP has done for years to the UUP.
    The only Unionist party that could bring something new to the NI political table would be the Labour Party if it was to try and organise again but that is not going to happen.
    If it did actually decide to treat its members in NI as full members and organise it would put the cat among the SDLP pigeons and might ask hard questions of the Centre Left that they claim to be leading as to where they go next to look for a vote.
    The Tories in NI will simply have the effect of splitting unionist opinion into smaller stacks and given the way the Assembly runs that is not good for unionists longterm.

  • Drumlins Rock

    0.2% of the council vote, for that to count as the first rung to even being the largest party on one council the ladder would need to be over 100ft high!

    The conservative brand does not work here full stop.

  • Seymour,

    Your post is a rather optimistic gloss on Conservative prospects.

    Other than the fact that I said it’s a miracle the NI Conservatives were competing at all and that I think Owen is a capable operator, I don’t think I was that optimistic? Bottom rung of the ladder and all that.

    As to why it didn’t make progress this time, I really think the disasters that plagued the UCUNF are one very big factor why the party is starting from ground level again. If in three or four years time you are seeing the same results as couple of weeks ago, then it’s probably time to shut up shop. But three or four years should give them enough time to put their thinking caps on and also build up a network on the ground. And whether the NI Conservatives will be an organisation which concentrates on the first part of that title or one which leans more towards a more Cameronite *equal citizenship*, UK-orientated version is something which still could be debated within the party?

  • Langdale


    “If in three or four years…”

    The NI Conservatives have been here since October 1989 (and earlier than that if you count the ‘Model’ associations). 0.2% after 21 years would suggest that you really do have a terribly optimistic disposition!


  • otto

    If you want to be part of a UK orientated westminister represented “euro-realist” atlanticist free market conservative party would it not be better to spend your three or four years entrenching the DUP as a Tory sister party? Tories don’t run in the Channel Isles or Man. They’re effectively gone from Scotland. Why the desperation to bring them to NI?

  • Langdale,

    Not to overplay that 0.2%(!) obviously but still I think the fact that only 8 council seats were fought for (fact that Drumlin also seems to have conveniently *mislaid*;)) is worth also mentioning.

  • Langdale


    Actually, the fact that ONLY 8 (out of almost 600) council seats were fought for is the most interesting aspect of the story.


  • Drumlins Rock

    O’Neil, can you give us the returns for the DEA’s the candidates stood, thanks.

  • granni trixie

    I agree that Conservative votes in NI are likely to be at the expense of unionists. But unlikely to be at ther expense of the Alliance party. I say this because (aside from a publicised defector from APNI to the Conservatives) in my experience APNI activists and supporters are left leaning.
    If Labour set up properly here however that could impact on APNI.I and several I know in APNI lean strongly towards Labour and would have a conflict – who knows where it would end?

    I agree that the post has an “optimistic gloss” – infact it flies in the face of the evidence. The Conservative brand is toast in NI.

  • granni trixie

    Or should I have said pants instead of toast.
    (have been waiting for some time to use ‘pants’ – I love this expression! So modern (whatever it means).

  • Drumlins Rock

    looked up North Down, best result had a quarter of a quota, would need to triple to have a chance at least, and that’s just to get one seat!
    Then that would need to be repeated over 4 DEA’s, and doubled again in at least two of then to be in with a slim chance of 6 seats, to catch up with the seconds biggest parties.
    Then double the vote again to catch up with the biggest. Now throw the whole thing in the air and start again with the new super council.
    If that is the first rung then it looks like Jacobs ladder has been relocated to North Down.

  • antamadan

    I would imagine that even the Oh So discredited Fíanna Fáil would poll a full percent or two if they entered Northern elections.

  • Drumlins Rock

    PS, I see the North Down Conservative Chairman is claiming 3% of the vote there, might have did my sums wrong, but I worked it out as 2.48% which is a good bit out from what he claims.

  • O’Neil, can you give us the returns for the DEA’s the candidates stood, thanks


    I’m waiting for Mr Whyte’s figures on that myself, hence the use of the Beeb’s data in the link.

    Re the ladder- being “allowed” to stand by CCHQ and actually having candidates in the hat is the first rung; as I said in the post an internal recovery from the UCUNF trauma is, I’m guessing, still a work in process.

  • Michael Shilliday

    O’Neill, the NI Tories mustered fewer council candidates than dissident republicans of various shades. The could be “allowed” to stand for every seat in every election in NI over the next ten years, they’re still not going to have enough people, never mind anyone who is going to get near being elected.

    The NI Tories are a pointless excuse for a side show. It’s about time all involved accepted that and moved on. Drumlin’s Rock is however entirely wrong. The Conservative brand *does* work in NI, but only when put forward by grown ups.

  • otto

    “The Conservative brand *does* work in NI, but only when put forward by grown ups.”

    ….which does or doesn’t include the current membership of the UUP?

  • Zig70

    I’m confused – I’m a fan of non sectarian left right politics in the north but what is the difference between the UUP and the NIC? They both claim the same MEP? Is is different policies, maybe different focus on policies but the same representatives? Or maybe they just the same only one doesn’t wave union jacks?Or even completely different, Either way, that’s Irish.

  • OneNI

    Michael how wrong can you be.

    The failure of UCUNF was due to UUP failure to recognise how tarnished and irrelevant their own brand had become.

    Back sliding and duplicity by UUP leaders meant the project was never given a fair wind. However over 100,000 people voted for a Conservative manifesto and candidates committed to taking the Conservatives Whip.

    Go forward a year and the UUP standing alone fails to maintain that vote share. It even exceeds its 2007 disaster. No amount of spinning can disguise the fact that the UUP are in terminal decline.

    Sadly the electorate where not offered the opportunity to vote Conservative and Unionist i.e. Conservative Party candidates at the Assembly election.

    Your thoughts that CCHQ might regard the UUP – esp one lead by Tom Elliott as an asset are truly laughable.

    Personally I believe Cameron should make the offer of a merger one more time and if it is rejected then it is clear the UUP leadership prefer oblivion

    Your attempt to suggest that there are two perceptions of the UUP – one held by CCHQ and one held by members in NI is incorrect.

    Michael from your garret in London look at reality. The UUP is a minor declining party in NI with no chance of MPs in future and no link with UK politics.Their influence on the politics and policies of govt even in NI is marginal

    The Conservatives may be weak in NI but they are the main centre right political party of the UK and are part of the Govt of the UK. Your desire for them not to be involved in NI politics is bizarre for a man whom describes himself as a unionist

  • otto

    The only way “The Conservative Party of Northern Ireland” would have relevance is as an independent sister party of the England & Wales Conservatives, like the Greens. It would need to align itself with local business groups likd the IOD, FSB or maybe UFU and to put aside constitutional obsessions. It would also need to refuse Tory whips so it could champion the regional interest without compromise.

    I’m not sure anyone in the UUP has the wit to make a contribution to that or whether anyone feels the business friendly position isn’t served by the DUP and/or Alliance

  • Dewi

    “The NI Tories are a pointless excuse for a side show. It’s about time all involved accepted that and moved on. Drumlin’s Rock is however entirely wrong. The Conservative brand *does* work in NI, but only when put forward by grown ups.”

    By grown ups I presume you mean the UUP.
    So grown up means:
    Non secular vison and catholic candidates – Yes then No.
    Stand in every seat – Yes then No.
    Carve ups in Castlereagh and an attempt in Belfast.
    Sinn Féin “scum” (from the leader!!) and the tricolour a foreign flag in Fermanagh.
    It get’s worse – the only internal opposition wants public annual performance appraisals of MLAs. Like, we present to the electorate Mr x, the 7th best performing UUP MLA…elector – “Eh, why don’t we get your best performing MLA?”
    Grown up? Dunno. Strange? Yes. Funny? A bit but mostly sad.

  • Master McGrath

    I read all the above with interest BUT the questions remains ‘What would this new Conservative party initatve actually bring to the electorate that would be different from the Unionist parties already offer?’
    To prosper with the electorate they have to be/do/offer something that the others are not already doing.
    The Big Society has not been a new cement for social cohesion on my side of the seuch so far and does anyone see it being the mass muster point in NI?
    I do think though that there is much to cogitate about here in what is the future and the future direction for Unionism for all the political parties with the notion that our politics works best for Unionists in a pro-Union forum..

  • Master McGrath

    line 2 after from and before the insert ‘what’.