Friday, 29 January 2010

Sir Reg has a lot of explaining to do.

Owen Paterson is reportedly eager to meet Sir Reg Empey as soon as possible in order to discuss pre-Christmas ‘unity’ talks which the UUP held with the DUP, courtesy of the Orange Order. At the very least the Conservatives’ Northern Ireland spokesman will want a convincing explanation in order to clear the air. It is all very well for Ulster Unionists to sneer at the local Tories and their electoral pretensions, but the UUP has, at best, shown recklessness in protecting its link to a party which dwarfs it nationally.

From the outset I have expressed anxiety on this blog that the UUP has not shown itself sufficiently committed to the project of pan-UK unionism. There has been, throughout the process, a suspicion that the party believes it can hedge its bets.

The ink had barely dried on a deal when Sir Reg Empey affirmed that his party had an exit strategy available, if the pact did not yield immediate electoral benefits. The UUP’s North Down MP, Sylvia Hermon, could not have made more explicit her unwillingness to take the Tory whip, yet no action has been taken. We have had endless prevarication on the selection of candidates.

I’ve asked countless times, and I’ll ask once again, how does the party expect to sell the benefits of an electoral alliance which it has persistently demonstrated its ambivalence toward?

I appreciate that there might be an element of tactics to the UUP’s ’unity’ preoccupation. A quick genuflection to the idea in order to deflect DUP criticism and on with the real task in hand. But if this is a tactical manoeuvre it has badly misfired. Where previously ’unionist unity’ was an aspiration for the more myopic elements of ’little Ulster’ unionism now it has become an expectation. The DUP’s troubles have been largely eclipsed.

And at the heart of the business, figures like Tom Elliott, Danny Kennedy and David McNarry, each a prominent Orangeman. Surely that tells a story in itself? The more progressive members of the party appear to have been left out in the cold.

With the big prize of normal politics in Northern Ireland within grasp, a government committed to a Union in which Northern Irish politicians would play a part, the ear of an explicitly unionist British prime minister, we become tangled up in anachronistic cultural preoccupations and the clamour of those ancestral voices. There remains the suspicion that the UUP is more intent on a little Ulster pact rather than one which spans the United Kingdom.

On a parochial level, local activists will wonder on what basis they have spent so many years fighting the DUP, taking the foulest most histrionic abuse, arguing that Ulster Unionists offer something better and different. On a more philosophical level there will be questions about whether the type of unionism which the UUP wants to take forward is actually animated by a genuine commitment to membership of the United Kingdom or whether it owes more to the Orange sash, the Lambeg drum and disdain for the Republic of Ireland. Does it have a positive or a negative vision?

The answers will emerge, I imagine, over the next day or two. They had better be good, or else the recriminations will begin. The UUP might think that it can balance the two, but I quote Arthur Aughey's 'Under Siege', a pivotal unionist text, on the contradictory demands of secular and cultural unionism.

"First that the government should recognise the right of Ulster people to be full citizens of the United Kingdom; and secondly that there should be no further erosion of the protestant heritage. In principle there is nothing contradictory in these two demands, but in practice, the [first] philosophy was founded on those assumptions of protestant supremacy found in the Orange Order, and the second demand was fundamentally at odds with the first. In short, the first represents a defensible, just and universal claim to equality of citizenship in the state; the second represents an indefensible, insupportable and particular claim to set the conditions of citizenship. Protestants, like catholics, have a right to expect equal treatment and equal respect in the United Kingdom, but they do not have the right to stage provocative marches wherever they like, whatever traditional expectations and common prejudice might demand. And of course the same rule applies for nationalists."


Phil said...

As you know I'm no supporter of the UUP or the Conservatives, but I share your exasperation. A chance for "normal" politics sacrificed for what? Short term political expediency. And it's not even the UUP who'll benefit from this - it's the DUP. Reg and the UUP have played a blinder. And they've damned us all.

Chekov said...

Phil - I'm getting unconfirmed reports that Paterson is set to give SRE the vote of confidence. Don't quite know what to make of that.

Anonymous said...


If you actually took time to speak to ordinary Unionists up and down Northern Ireland, instead of the effete, touchy-feely types who make up the local Tories you will find that the huge majority of Unionists want to see Unionist unity. Does that make them raving bigots or lunatics? No. It means they can see the dynamic in nationalism is all heading one way and they want to see a strong Unionism winning elections for a change.

Chekov said...

It means that unionism in Northern Ireland is often entwined with a cultural ethno-nat Ulster protestantism which is not one whit better than nationalism. It means that unionist politicians are not selling the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

Rubbish. There is nothing sectarian about 2 parties, that despite your delusions to the contrary, have broadly similar beliefs and goals working together to defeat those who want to take NI out of the UK.

In terms of bigger picture stuff, you will find that on more than 90% of parliamentary dvisions, the mad, foaming at the mouth little Ulster men who you hate so much in the DUP actually voted with the Conservatives. Why can't the Unionists in Ulster have a sort of CDU-CSU relationship with the Conservatives - Cameron is already looking at that for the Scottish Tories? Why not go in that direction? Unionist Unity and a close working relationship with the Tories.

What you want is for Unionists to cease being too-overtly Unionist or having a culture and history of their own for fear that it might offend those who want to dislodge us from the Union.

Frankly you are Alliance-lite but too afraid to admit as much.

Chekov said...

I am nothing of the sort. Alliance is a party which wants to fudge the national issue in order to concentrate on an internal solution in Northern Ireland. I want to see us play a full role within the United Kingdom on the same terms as everyone else. That means participating in national politics, it means enjoying the same rights, including the right to choose etc.

Now if you want to continue the discussion you'll have to remove the cloak of anonymity.

Chekov said...

Incidentally the 'culture' is not the issue. The issue is linking the culture to intimately to the politics. The unionist political idea and Ulster Protestant culture are two separate things and if they're two intimately connected one undermines the other.

JeffPeel said...

Delighted, Chekov, to note the change in direction - and I completely agree with the points you make here about the difference between the cultural and the political. Reg really needs to remove the whip from McNarry and Kennedy immediately. They are attempting - clearly - to cause a schism in the Party. It's time for the Unionist Uniters to join the DUP. Reg needs to tell 'em this as soon as possible.

Jeff Peel

thedissenter said...

Just posted on some of he electoral scenarios that might be underlying some of the current 'unity' discussions

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