Sunday, 25 October 2009

Option of a Conservative and Unionist pullout does not exist.

On Friday O’Neill offered a fairly imporous case against agreed candidates, on Unionist Lite. When I spoke to Sir Reg Empey yesterday he echoed many of O’Neill’s points. I wonder whether the Ulster Unionist leader, or an adviser, is an avid reader of the blog? It certainly provided a fine template to answer the most incessant question of the day.

Ironically, O’Neill points out below, the Belfast Telegraph reports a more equivocal response to the question of an electoral pact with the DUP, despite Empey’s grasp of the core arguments against contracting such an arrangement.

The paper points out that Ulster Unionists are prepared to have ’formal’ discussions with the Democratic Unionists, albeit that the possible theme for these talks is inferred in the article, rather than stated explicitly.

If the UUP does enter talks with the DUP then the message which they take to their rivals should be the same one which Empey described to me yesterday. If Peter Robinson and his party genuinely aspire to unionist unity in South Belfast or Fermanagh South Tyrone, they can unilaterally achieve their aim by standing aside for a Conservative and Unionist candidate.

That candidate would stand to win a seat on the government benches and represent Northern Irish unionists from the participatory heart of British politics.

Otherwise an election must be fought on the basis of the differing visions of unionism, divergent policies and competing outlooks which the two parties offer, rather than disingenuous, self-righteous, hypocritical blackmail from the DUP.

It is time that the UUP, from its leader down, accepted that part of the agreement which it reached with the Conservative party entails standing a candidate in every constituency in Northern Ireland. I believe that Empey does understand that any arrangement with a third party must, necessarily, lie within these constraints. By alluding to possible talks he is simply attempting to bat the metaphorical ball back to the DUP.

It is a risky strategy, which lacks the moral clarity inherent in O‘Neill‘s arguments. But the end result will be the same. There will be no electoral pullouts by the Conservatives and Unionists.

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