There were only three interesting stories emerging from the local election results following Thursday’s general election. One was the toppling of the Sinn Fein majority in Fermanagh South Tyrone (the result of a sectarian Unionist pact). The second was the toppling of Naomi Long in East Belfast (the result of a sectarian Unionist pact).
The third was a much more gratifying outcome – the UUP’s toppling of the gospel-singing Reverend William McCrea in South Antrim. This victory was all the sweeter given that the victor was the socially liberal Danny Kinahan. Indeed the new MP was the only Ulster Unionist to vote in favour of same-sex marriage. I’d encourage readers to watch this video. In reaction I’d say, “Well said Mr Kinahan.”
A little over five years ago, when I was still involved in the Conservative Party, Danny Kinahan was one of the most vocal advocates for the partnership between the UUP and the Conservative Party. In the early days of the negotiations, Danny was involved in the so-called ‘working party’ that was put in place to investigate how some type of merger might work. The Conservative Party locally was left in no doubt that Danny was campaigning for change within the UUP – and that he fully understood and advocated the need for Northern Ireland having a voice in the mainstream political debates of the United Kingdom.
Yesterday morning I was asked to take part in the post-election Good Morning Ulster programme on Radio Ulster. On air I made the point that it would be especially gratifying if the newly elected Danny Kinahan might take the Conservative whip in the House of Commons. But I wanted to elaborate on why I think he should.
First of all, if local MPs want to have influence they can only achieve it within the governing party. The Conservative Party has a slim majority. Danny could enhance that majority. That puts him in a position of strength. That would reflect well on him and his constituency.
Second, if Mr Kinahan were to take his seat on the Conservative benches, there is a real prospect that he could, ultimately, take a seat in government as a junior Minister at the NIO, or, ultimately, as Secretary of State. This could give him the option to be seen as the chief arbitrator on stalled government initiatives – such as welfare reform – stuck in the decision-bereft Stormont machine. In effect, he could flex his government muscle to insist on change. If necessary, he could bypass policy stalemates at Stormont by initiating emergency legislation at Westminster.
This would allow local politicians to be able to wash their hands of legislation or policy positions being foisted upon them from Westminster. (The SNP is able to do this by simply blaming the Conservatives and being untainted in the process).
Yesterday I made the point, on air, to Simon Hamilton – the Finance Minister at Stormont – that he needed to be able to, in effect, let Sinn Fein “off the hook” on welfare reform to unblock stalemate. He needed to make clear that the welfare reforms needed to move forward without Sinn Fein approval – given the UK-wide policy requirement of the Treasury. But, given the cross-community arrangements at the Executive, it’s clear he has no ability to get things moving without NIO involvement.
My view is that Danny Kinahan would be well qualified to provide this bridge between the government and the Executive to make things happen and to get things done – despite the clear deficiencies of devolution here. He could also take a lead role in ensuring that the Northern Ireland version of Devo-Max has built-in structures for removal of policy road-blocks.
Danny Kinahan will be an asset to Westminster and to Northern Ireland. His victory in South Antrim was a noble one.