I’d imagine that someone in the UUP press office received quite a bollocking yesterday after a press release was issued which appeared to announce an electoral pact between the party and Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice. Danny Kennedy had the initial task of disclaiming such an arrangement on Radio Ulster and Sir Reg Empey has issued denials in this morning’s newspapers.
The mistake really was rather serious. Meeting with any party to discuss the ramifications of particular elections, or the issues surrounding those elections, is part of normal constructive party work. Issuing a joint statement with one particular unionist party leader, emphasising the desirability of unionists transferring their votes appropriately, and agreeing to campaign accordingly, has all the appearances of a pact. On Evening Extra, Mark Carruthers insisted, surely with some justification, that if it looked like a pact and it barked like a pact then it was a pact.
To its credit, the UUP leadership have been quick to recognise the error and firmly insist that there is no UUP-TUV voting pact for the European election and that, actually, nothing other than existing Ulster Unionist policy on suggested transfers, was contained in the statement. Certainly swift clarification was required. Beyond its putative adherence to the Union, the TUV stands for little which UUP members could subscribe to. It would be difficult for many Ulster Unionist representatives and canvassers to recommend a no.2 vote cast for Allister. As an Ulster Unionist voter, I certainly will not be including him near the top of my ballot paper. The TUV represent much of the type of politics that I deplore and which I want unionism to move beyond.
It is cheering that, as he moved to distance himself from the TUV, Sir Reg Empey also continues to brief party members on the proposed Conservative deal. That alignment represents modern, forward thinking unionism, whilst Allister’s party represent the past.