Wednesday, 28 October 2009

No credible critique of UCUNF has emerged from within the UUP which rejects the Tory link.

When four Ulster Unionists signed a letter of protest, attacking their party leader’s decision to forge an electoral pact with David Cameron’s Conservatives, I welcomed the opportunity to bring dissent out into the open. Roy Garland was one figure whose name appeared on the letter, and its contents reflected closely the preoccupations which colour his weekly column in the Irish News.

In common with two of his fellow dissidents, Garland is no longer a UUP representative. He exercises influence through his articles (with which this blog frequently disagrees). After enduring months of innuendo and sniping through that medium, Sir Reg Empey finally chose to respond to Garland’s criticism in the Irish News’ letter pages, last week. Their differences have now been made explicit.

I believe that this type of internal debate should have been fought, and won, earlier, in order to let UCUNF make its case to voters with unity of purpose. However the maxim ‘better late than never’ is applicable.

The UUP’s Conference demonstrated that the vast majority of Ulster Unionists are supportive of the Conservatives and Unionists pact. If the leadership is prepared to stick to the principles of the deal which it has struck, propound its benefits to unionism wholeheartedly and defend it against criticism, from whichever source, then it will emerge in good shape for an election battle.

Alternatively, if a few incessant, doubting voices are left to go unchallenged and, in deference to the sensibilities of a tiny number of members, the party continues to underplay the significance of UCUNF, it will appear that the UUP itself is not convinced of the deal’s merits and it will have no chance of convincing voters.

The truth is that no credible, coherent critique has emerged from within the Ulster Unionist party which rejects the Conservative link. Garland’s latest Irish News piece epitomises the scattergun nature of criticism thus far. The only thread which ties together his arguments, and the patchy dissent from other figures, is a tribal loathing of Tories.

There are the predictable, snide insinuations that the Tories are ‘English’, can’t be trusted and so forth. We have the, fairly transparent, cross-class community solidarity stuff and an absurd suggestion that William Hague, by deploring loyalist paramilitaries, described ‘working class unionists’ as ‘thugs’. It’s thin, distasteful gruel for any civic unionist.

Meanwhile, the only significant figure to oppose the arrangements, Sylvia Hermon, has yet to rationalise her reticence, other than to claim, with lip aquiver, that she is not ‘a Tory’.

The facts are that the Ulster Unionists will be contesting the next election in conjunction with the Conservative party and that joint candidates will stand in all eighteen constituencies.

In order to send MPs to Westminster, and the government benches, the UUP will need to robustly defend its arrangements, whether the attacks are coming from outside the party or from amongst its ranks.

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