As the moment when the Ulster Unionist and Conservative parties must reveal the detail of their new relationship draws closer, perhaps some of those in the smaller party can be forgiven the odd wobble of resolve. With the modalities as yet unclear, and the stakes for the UUP undoubtedly higher, it is natural for party members to wonder whether the course their leader has set is the correct one. If, to extend the Politics Show’s rather laborious metaphor, Empey and Cameron are on the cusp of political marriage (an interesting image I grant you), there were always bound to be some pre-wedding nerves.
With the Conservative party conference commencing yesterday, commentators have begun to reflect some of this last minute anxiety, particularly as theory is put into practice and the Tories and UUP begin to sound like one party. Lord Trimble rounded off the conference’s first day by rallying his Conservative colleagues to contest every seat in the UK. This explicit statement of intent has worried Ignited, who explains his apprehension on Redemption’s Son. He is concerned that Trimble’s declaration might suggest an arrangement rather different from the CDU/ CSU model which Ulster unionist blogs have advocated as the probable shape for the emerging movement.
I disagree. I do not see anything new or threatening in Trimble’s remarks. From their inception, the idea of talks between the two parties was to emerge with a movement whereby the Tories could claim to encompass the whole of the UK. I don’t think that Ulster Unionists need be disconcerted by the rhetoric which accompanies this. Yes, the UUP must retain something of its own identity and ethos, but equally, if it is to mean anything, the realignment must connect the two parties in a clear and unequivocal fashion. Ulster Unionist candidates will be representing their own party in coming elections, but they will also be representing the wider alliance with Conservatives. They will be Conservative and Ulster Unionist and if the Tories have any compunction in claiming them as their own, then, frankly, the deal has not been worth pursuing.
I have stated previously that by no means do I think of myself as naturally conservative. Nevertheless, the predominant emotion which I am feeling on the verge of Sir Reg and Dave’s nuptials is one of excitement. Excitement that a UK-wide unionist movement is being forged, excitement that Northern Irish unionists are being invited to play a full role in their nation’s politics and, increasingly, excitement that the side we will be on, is the side which is committed to preserving British civil liberties and ousting the political bankruptcy of Gordon Brown’s Labour Party.
There is one thing which I must insist. Sir Reg is the groom.