Monday, 10 November 2008

Developments needed by conference deadline

More speculation in the Irish Times that progress is imminent as regards Sir Reg Empey and David Cameron’s efforts to forge a new Conservative and Ulster Unionist political movement. Frank Millar reports that the two leaders have agreed to create a ‘joint Conservative-Unionist committee to oversee the forthcoming European and Westminster elections, with Mr Cameron and Sir Reg jointly nominating candidates’. (H/T Peter Baker).

When I met Owen Paterson and representatives of the NI Conservative party last week the suggestion was that negotiations were ongoing. Certainly they were surprised by rumours arising from a previous Millar article, that a UUP Executive meeting was being called over the weekend just past, in order to consider an important development about to be announced. Whether this new rumour has more substance remains to be seen.

Inevitably both parties retain, to an extent, slightly different visions of what a Conservative and Ulster Unionist movement might comprise. I got the impression that the Conservatives are open to an evolving relationship, as long as an initial substantial development can be announced to show unequivocal commitment on the UUP’s behalf, and as long as it is clear which direction the relationship will move.

The UUP’s conference on 6 December continues to provide an incentive to achieve substantial developments within the next month. If the party wish to have David Cameron and other Tories providing their support from the platform, there must be considerable progress for the Conservatives to get behind.

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