Friday, 5 June 2009

Whatever result Monday brings, Conservative pact is future for the UUP

Attempting to draw conclusions as to a likely election result, from anecdotal evidence and vote tallying as the ballots are verified, constitutes a perilous business. The permutations of an STV poll are various and we will have to wait until the counts begin on Monday before speculation on possible winners is enlightened by even remotely reliable information. Nevertheless, conjecture is fun, so by all means get baselessly excited and explain below how, based on a box filled on Rathlin, which someone claims to have inspected, Agnew is a dead cert to top the poll.

I see little point in analysing, or giving credence to, specific contradictory rumours emerging on Slugger and elsewhere. The DUP or the SDLP may be doing well in South Belfast. The Conservatives and Unionists are either holding up stoutly in rural areas, or their vote is disintegrating across the board. A Jim might be cleaning up in Lagan Valley, but accounts as to which one is gleefully hoovering first preferences differ starkly.

Sweeping aside the more fanciful conjecture, two broad trends are being corroborated too often to be casually dismissed. First, turnout has dropped considerably. We might be looking at a record low for a European election in Northern Ireland. Second, fewer voters appear to have gone to the polls in areas which are considered unionist by tradition (see ULite for appropriate disclaimer). To make my own contribution to the gossip factory, in the Ballymena area there is some concern that stations which are normally strong for the UUP were polling exceptionally slowly.

Both the information which is attracting some corroboration and casual anecdote suggest to me that the Conservatives and Unionists need to be prepared for a result which is, at best, underwhelming. Given the nature of the alliance, the doubts expressed by Lady Hermon and the continued existence of a UUP ‘cultural unionist’ rump which still views its politics through the prism of a perceived ‘ unionist community’, anything less than a substantial increase in Jim Nicholson’s vote is not going to satisfy the sceptics. If the candidate is successful, it is unlikely to be a resounding success, and therefore there will inevitably be renewed criticism, from Ulster Unionists, of the Conservative alignment.

It is vital that in the face of some members’ disapproval the party leadership is both realistic and steadfast. Without sustaining huge financial and electoral damage, the UUP has travelled too far along the UCUNF path to retread its steps. It is not possible simply to start anew from the Ulster Unionists’ previous position or to turn the clock back twelve months.

The Conservative pact represents the only possible future for the party and if it is to be a success then it must be promoted with conviction by candidates which share its sensibility. It cannot be pursued with equivocation by candidates who share a political vocabulary with DUP opponents rather than Conservative colleagues. If that means that personnel have to be shed, then the party must be prepared to sustain that collateral.

Although the European election has provided a means by which to launch the Conservative and Unionist project, the pact, as I have remarked before, is built primarily for Westminster. It is essential that a wholehearted, united campaign, steeped in the inclusive, pan-UK unionism which has brought the parties together is put in train for the general election. Action to ensure that this happens should be decisive and should follow swiftly the announcement of the Euro poll results.


Jeffrey Peel said...

Well that is one way to look at it. Another is to ask why we didn't have a candidate selection process rather than present to the electorate a dull and unconvincing force for "change". This was the first test of the pact and the electorate was presented with a same old/same old candidate of the same old/same old UUP school. I'd be suprised if Nicholson holds his seat. But if he doesn't (or just scrapes home) this will have been a dismal start to what should have been the start of something new.

Something much more interesting could have been achieved if the Conservatives had presented the local electorate with a fresh, media savvy and articulate voice.

If he does lose his seat I think it's time to drop the Unionist word and lead with Conservative. If the UUPers don't like it they know what they can do.

Andy Wilson said...

From the tallies...

East Antrim percentages

Allister 21
Doods 25.6
Nicholson 27

Disclaimer... very difficult to tally accurately due to all ballots being kept face down.
In summary too close to call, roll on Monday.

General feeling at Kings Hall...
DUPes down in the mouth
TUV cock of the north
UUP/Cons content

Ignited said...

From all accounts a pretty dismal day for the DUP, and I hear they lost North Antrim to the TUV - Allister will be contesting Westminster there if he is smart (which he is).

Monday will shed more light on breakdown and transfers and give a clear(er) picture. But the story of the election so far is low turn out and Jim Allister.

Anonymous said...

The Unionist Party can never be more than a willing adjunct to the Conservatives. It has still to consider wider issues of the survival of the Protetant population.

Consequently the Cameron 'no deals' with the DUP policy is not an option even if deals WERE next to impossible to make.

Anonymous said...

It look the CUs will be the top unionist party, holding their previous vote, with the DUP and TUV trailing on almost equal votes and the SDLP further behind.

Seymour Major said...

"It look the CUs will be the top unionist party"

Whether they are the top unionist party, whether they get in by the scruff of their necks or whether Jim Nich loses out to turnout, we have to be focused on gelling this agreement together.

There are a lot of matters to sort out - not least the direction that the UUP wish to take on devolved matters.

Conservatives are very concerned that the UUP continue to talk about the alliance with the Conservatives in terms of the Union. That does not help voters to focus on shared (conservative) values. What Jeffrey said may have been "tongue in cheek" but the Unionist obsession with the Union is a real obstacle to developing normal politics.

Conservativism is not the same in every state but at least, unlike unionism, it is an ideology which crosses international boundaries. So please, Sir Reg, lets talk about conservativism.

CW said...

All very well, but it doesn't give much leeway for UUP voters who would be more ideologically inclined towards Labour or the Lib Dems.

Jeffrey Peel said...

CW it provides lots of leeway - they can join the embryonic Labour Party here or can vote Alliance - a Party that has, apparently, a strategic partnership with the Lib Dems.

Oh and well said Seymour. I can tell recent comments from prospective candidates in your neck of the woods have had an impact!