Monday, 8 September 2008

McGimpsey's view is grounded in outdated assumptions

To a degree I sympathise with the dilemma posed by the proposed Ulster Unionist – Tory pact for those who share an outlook similar to Chris McGimpsey. He regards himself as a custodian of the working class community in West Belfast which he represented for many years. His view of UK politics is still formed by the assumption that the Conservative Party’s policies are inimical to the interests of poorer sections of society, whilst Labour’s instincts are more inclined towards social justice. Whether he still believes there is a clearly defined left – right divide, certainly he retains a strong aversion to the Tories.

I understand the instincts which caused McGimpsey to pen an attack on the possible realignment, but I believe that he is wrong.

Labour governments, under Blair and Brown, have instigated a string of measures which have all but severed any lingering association that party may have had with social justice. It was a Labour government which abolished the 10p tax band. The system of benefits and credits which Labour has constructed actually fails to reach the lowest earners and those suffering most deprivation, instead focussing on helping the aspirant lower middle class. The new system of taxing cars levies a surcharge on those who cannot afford to upgrade their vehicle to a newer model. It was Labour that oversaw the demolition of free higher education in this country. Labour has systematically removed legal safeguards and freedoms which underpin democracy in the United Kingdom. Labour has taken large numbers of young men, most drawn from communities like McGimpsey’s, and sent them to die in Afghanistan and Iraq, under the flimsiest of pretexts.

Although David Cameron’s rhetorical commitment to social justice has not been tested, there is not a shred of evidence to support the contention that his party would marginalise poorer communities any more than the current Labour government has already managed. Conservative inclination, under the present leader, strays far from unalloyed adherence to market economics and big business. Cameron’s developing credo is a communitarian conservatism, which prefers evolution to wholesale reform, but in its instinct to preserve the essential fabric of society, necessarily must address concerns of social justice. Whether these theoretical niceties will translate into effective policy remains to be seen, but amongst all classes, the perception is that Labour is demonstrably failing.

Although Conservatives have previously failed to establish a meaningful toe hold in Northern Ireland’s politics, Empey’s initiative is not, as McGimpsey contends, destined to fail. When Tory candidates previously stood, they were hampered, in large part, by a dominant centre ground UUP, which commanded votes from those who may otherwise have been inclined to vote Conservative. The proposed realignment should, by all accounts, retain a distinct identity for Ulster Unionist candidates, whilst making their concrete alignment with the Conservatives explicit. This is a very different model to the precedents which McGimpsey attempts to invoke.

Whatever proposals eventually emerge from the Working Group, by no means will the result deprive unionists of a vote for social justice. On the contrary, voting Ulster Unionist will be a positive step towards ensuring our representatives have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I don't think it is going to work if it is just some piecemeal affliation to the Conservatives.

It must be the full merger of the two organisations with candidates standing under the title of "Conservative" or perhaps "Conservative & Unionist" or else the electorate won't perceive any difference - they will only think that it's a half-baked exercise at rebranding by the UUP.

Joint candidates / taking the whip etc just won't do.

Anonymous said...

Further to my comment at 16:54 - there would of course still be scope for Northern Ireland specific policies and a Northern Ireland leader, as is the case with the Scottish Conservatives.

Chekov said...

Anon. My understanding is that the CDU / CSU model is what the two parties have in mind.

Anonymous said...

chekov, I think that is one of the options, but to me I think it wouldn't really serve the purpose of building a new and wider support base for both parties as it's still going to be under the UUP brand.

The one area on which I think McGimpsey is right is when he states that that the talks will lead to a full merger. The Cameron-Empey document talks about creating a new organisation or party.

Anyway, we will soon see. The working group must be due to report soon - I wonder if there will something at the Conservative Conference in three weeks' time?

Chekov said...

I think that undoubtedly the nomenclature will change anon. Candidates will stand under the Conservative label to some respect whether it be with a stroke between Con / UUP, Conservative and Ulster Unionist or Conservative and Unionist. I believe that it is in both parties' interests though to retain some distance and I fully expect some distance to be retained. That should not undermine the fundamental nature of this proposal.