Alex Kane’s column from the News Letter today in which he tells the UUP (and the Tories) more than a few uncomfortable truths:
Putting it bluntly, the UUP needs a convincing answer to one simple question: what is the point in voting for the UUP rather than the DUP?
If they don’t have a convincing answer to that question then the DUP vote will remain steady, non-voters won’t be attracted and some of the UUP’s own voters may choose to either stay at home or switch to the DUP.
This is a crucial period for the UUP and it strikes me that they are in danger of running out of viable options.
In choosing to support the DUP/Sinn Fein decision to shut down the Department of Education and Learning and trap David Ford in the justice role (a decision that the other parties had no input to) the UUP seem to have completely ruled out an Opposition role and stranded themselves in an Executive in which they have little or no influence.
It’s a particularly sharply drawn point. What do they have to offer other than best supporting role so long as they work quiescently inside the system? The problem though with most of the arguments advanced for walking out of the Executive is that they tend towards the purely Athenian appeal that ‘the people must have good government’.
What’s missing in both the UUP and the SDLP cases is the answer to Alex’s first question, what they are they for? Which may prompt a second: who needs them? For either party, their biggest problem is that the current system will give a certain number of politicians a decent living. It’s what Patrick Murphy scathingly referred to as the comfort zone of the SDLP.
David McNarry’s complaint that the Tories were trying to poach two of the UUP’s MLAs is indicative of a party grown too comfortable to work out that it needs to be up and figuring (as the NI Tories clearly are) how they might grow rather than keep the ageing assets of what they already hold.
Last word to Alex:
Now that the Conservative link has been closed down the UUP needs to concentrate on deciding to whom it wants to market itself.
It also needs to hold open the door to all of those members who seem to still want to belong to the Conservatives rather than the UUP and send them on their way with a smile and a handshake.
If there are UUP members who genuinely believe that a Cameron-centric Conservative Party is the best way to normalise politics here, then maybe they should join it and market that brand rather than constantly persuading the UUP to become something it isn’t and doesn’t want to be.
One thing is for certain, the UUP cannot make electoral progress while it remains in the grip of what sometimes looks like a permanent identity crisis. [emphasis added]
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty