On Unionist Lite I’ve been engaging in debate, presumably with a member of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, as to whether unionists might find a more constructive home within that party, rather than becoming members of a Northern Irish unionist party. In common with many unionists of a pan-UK bent, I am sympathetic to the idea that the national parties should organise in Northern Ireland and that ideally they would form the most natural home for unionists who simply wish to play as full a part as possible in UK politics and who do not view the label ‘unionist’ merely as communal shorthand for the term ‘Ulster protestant’.
The ideal scenario whereby I would be happy enough to join one of the national parties is not yet in situ. Firstly, the choice in Northern Ireland is confined to the Conservative Party, and I am deeply sceptical as to whether the Conservatives constitute my natural political home. In addition, that party shows no signs of acquiring anything close to the electoral strength which might allow it to challenge the other parties in Northern Ireland. And rather fundamentally, I am doubtful about Cameron’s unionist credentials. Contradictory and equivocal noises have been forthcoming from the party under its current leader, in turns affirming its commitment to the Union and courting English nationalist sentiment.
The Conservative Party NI, in arguing that their branch of the party has the ear of its national leadership, often aver the frequent liaison between their members and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Patterson. Patterson yesterday gave an interview to provo hate rag the Andersonstown News. Whilst treating with appropriate caution anything that issues from this deplorable group of government subsidised newspapers, a direct quote leaps out from the interview.
“We have made such progress, very much thanks to close collaboration between London, Dublin and Washington. That is a very critical link to keep going.”
Patterson’s comment is linked to his contention that there remains a distinct role for a Secretary of State in Northern Ireland. Now I happen to agree that Secretaries of State should remain within the UK’s devolved regions in order to liaise with the local administration and represent Westminster in matters which are not devolved. Their role certainly should not be to collaborate with other governments in running the province. Patterson’s comment suggests that he views Northern Ireland more as some manner of international protectorate, nominally under the control of Great Britain, rather than an important and integral region of the United Kingdom. It seems to me that he is not singing off the same hymn-sheet as the Conservative Party Northern Ireland. That dissonant note between the two epitomises the reasons why I do not believe the NI Tories represent a convivial home for unionists.