Friday, 11 November 2011

Tories & The UUP - The end of the affair.

When you first read the letter from The Conservatives to the leadership of the UUP, in which they advise the UUP to disband and effectively let The Conservatives take over, you can’t help but laugh at the sheer audacity and cheek of it. Here you have a party with no foothold whatsoever in Northern Ireland suggesting to the oldest party in the province – and despite recent election results, a large, well represented party - that they pack up shop and move out of the way so that The Conservatives have a free run.  It appears idea of crazy men. However, the intriguing thing is that it isn’t. At least, while the idea may be crazy, the men behind it most certainly are not.
Don’t underestimate The Conservative Party: they are not stupid – quite the opposite – and don’t do things without first thinking of the consequences. If we look beyond the suggestion within the letter we start to understand that the suggestion wasn’t at all serious but the message behind it most certainly was – any UUP led partnership with the Conservatives in NI is over. The Tories in NI will play their game now and it will be their rules. If the UUP want to make use of The Tories in future, they will have to accept that.
It’s easy to say that the UCUNF project was always doomed to failure but it wasn’t and for the most part the only thing The Conservatives did wrong was formalising the link up in the first place. After that, every mistake was down to the UUP and those mistakes were borne from the UUP’s own organisational problems. It’s likely that had the UCUNF project never happened, the results we saw for the UUP would have likely been the same save for one or two notable exceptions (yes, I am referring to Lady Hermon). The UUP have no significant activist base (members are not activists by default) and their constituency associations are run almost autonomously by their Chairs.
The only way the project would have worked is if the two parties formed a joint executive that really did have executive power over the two parties. It’s important to be a democratic party, of course, but there are some areas where it’s not democracy that is needed but instruction and orders. None of this brief retrospective analysis is entirely scientific but from the outside looking in, it always seemed like the UUP were in it for the money, so to speak, whilst The Conservatives genuinely thought they were entering a genuine partnership based on mutual objectives.
Now, it seems to me, they Conservatives have re-evaluated exactly what benefit, if any, a formal link with the UUP can bring and have summarised that there is none. Consequently the Conservatives have to assess how they can steal the UUP vote because without a good chunk of that, it’s unlikely the Tories in NI will make any significant electoral impact. How do they do that? Well, getting a few disillusioned UUP members or, even better, elected reps to leave the UUP and join the Tories would be a good start. It’s always easier to campaign with candidates that already have a profile in the community.
My guess is that this letter was an initial step in that strategy. It is a message to UUP members that the Conservatives are serious about their ambitions and that the UUP are now an obstacle to achieving them. The mention of the Secretary of State and The Prime Minister being entirely supportive of the proposal (though one wonders just how much consideration David Cameron really afforded the issue) is there to reinforce the message. How successful the Tories will be in NI is inextricably linked to the UUP whether they like it or not – the stronger and more successful the UUP are, the harder the Tories will have it but if the Tories continue with what I believe is their strategy, then they could well speed up the decline of the Ulster Unionists.

6 comments:

  1. ItwasSammyMCNally

    David,

    I agree, nobody should believe the Tories (the leadership at least) are 'stupid'. But, as the recent affairs with Fox (and perhaps May) illustrated - nobody should believe that they dont do really, really stupid things.

    And talking of really stupid things. The UCUNF project(which has been blogged to death) was probably the best illustration of the failure of British politicans to understand the Irish (albeit the British Irish) since the hunger strikes.

    Ulster is a region whose constitutional status is governed by an agreement (GFA) with a country whose National objective is to take it over (peacefully) and with Nationalist demographics (now enjoying a majority in the schools and Universities) at a minimum at least sympathetic to Irish unification. So trying to pretend that Ulster has the same problems as Surrey is not something the British Irish believe or will buy into.

    ... if you doubt the disconnect between Tory ideals and reality on the ground for 'moderate' Unionists - check out Ulster Unionist officers membership of the Orange Order - to get elected, you have to play the game and pretending otherwise will simply deliver another UCUNF debacle.

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  2. David?

    Anyway, I don't think for a second that The Conservatives at CCHQ care too much about the constitutional question or, for that matter, the whole Unionism aspect that NI Tories subscribe too. I imagine that CCHQ see NI, correctly, as an area where, with the right amount of effort they can gain 2 or 3 seats where their (only serious) opposition never will. That is the objective, not some high minded ideal of protecting the Union.

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  3. ItwasSammyMcNally said.

    Ed,

    Sorry, about the David. T'was late when I posted that.

    "That is the objective, not some high minded ideal of protecting the Union."

    I appreciate that is the Tory position but from a grass root (including much of the middle class) Unionist perspective it is difficult to see how the Tories can navigate being 'Unionist' (as expected by Unionists in Ulster) and being bipartisan as expected by the British people and parliament. An excellent example of this problem was the transfer of Police and Justice where both Unionist parties knew that having SF anywhere near that department/responsibility meant opposing it. The Tories, of course played the issue with a straight(ish) GFA/STA bat and told Unionism (UUP and DUP) to toe the line.

    The problem for Unionism in relation to the Tories as spelled out by the DUP post STA - is that you simply cannot trust the British with the Union, or at least that version of the Union that appeals to Ulster unonists (DUP and UUP).

    ... and I see nothing other than theorising/wishful thinking by a small band of Liberal Unionists and naive Tories that challenges that - however sensible and desirable it undoubtedly is for Unionists to ditch all the Orange/Sectarian malarkey they cling to.

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  4. Ah, I can see now that I may have given the impression that this whole agenda would be a success but that's not the case. I only meant to point out why The Tories feel it would be.

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  5. ItWasSammyMcNally said

    Ed,

    "Ah, I can see now that I may have given the impression that this whole agenda would be a success but that's not the case. I only meant to point out why The Tories feel it would be. "

    If, as you are suggesting below the UUP will further 'decline' as a result of Tory 'strategy' then presumably some party has to be the beneficiary of that decline?

    "then they could well speed up the decline of the Ulster Unionists"

    I always found it puzzling, why historically more Unionists were not more integrationist(although that is a bit late now post GFA)- I think it simply boils down to the recently expressed DUP take on matters constitutional, ie Unionists need to keep an eye on the treacherous British(English) and keep seperate and vigilant for fear of concessions to the South.

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  6. "presumably some party has to be the beneficiary of that decline?"

    Yes, but it's more likely to be the DUP or even Alliance. The Tories may enjoy a minor boost but they won't achieve critical mass.

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