Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Better late than never. Or 17 out of 18 ain't (too) bad!

The UUP has released a list of 17 nominees seeking to become UCUNF candidates for the forthcoming election. Of course Northern Ireland contains 18 Westminster constituencies, however, Sylvia Hermon, MP for North Down, is refusing to stand for the Conservatives and Unionists.

Clearly she has excluded herself from the race. Despite ‘ongoing talks’ the only credible courses of action are, either to put forward an alternative UUP nominee, or simply to leave the way free for the Tory selection, Ian Parsley. After all, the Ulster Unionist, Mike Nesbitt, will be unopposed in Strangford.

The final list is, to be honest, a fairly mixed bunch. A few words about each constituency.

North Antrim: The task of taking on Allister and a Paisley is unenviable by any standards. Rodney McCune found himself unable to defend the UUP’s vote in 2005. Robin Swann’s record in elections doesn’t command a great deal of confidence. He is expected to be the candidate and he could well find himself crushed between the two heavyweight, Ulster nat contenders.

South Antrim: Adrian Watson, a local councillor, is a contentious choice. His brand of unionism is not considered convivial to the Conservatives. Expect a heated discussion in the Joint Executive if Watson emerges as the candidate to face Willie McCrea. The DUP traditionalist would represent a big scalp for UCUNF and it is important to pick the right person to take him on. It would be galling to see McCrea squeak back into Westminster by virtue of the back door. The issue of Watson’s wife, who is reluctant to accept rent from boys who wish to share a room in her bed and breakfast, remains outstanding. What Willie makes of that, we can only surmise.

East Antrim: Rodney McCune fought a gutsy campaign in North Antrim in 2005. He would make an able candidate, attuned to modern Conservatism. The incumbent, Sammy Wilson, is not as vulnerable as some other DUP MPs, and he is well known in the constituency. However Rodney would make an assured opponent, if he gets the nod.

North Belfast: Nigel Dodds held this seat in 2005, with the UUP coming way back in fourth place with 7.1%. Fred Cobain, the selection on that occasion, fancies another rattle. The political landscape has changed substantially since then, but it difficult to envisage the Conservative link offering much purchase in this deeply divided constituency.

West Belfast: Bill Manwaring is another nominee drawn from the wing of the party for whom the Conservative pact makes self-evident sense. He would look to gain votes by emphasising social justice. This is not, it has to be said, natural CU territory, but someone who is willing to get their hands dirty could confound expectations and achieve a credible result.

South Belfast: I believe that the Conservatives’ first choice, Peter McCann, is still in the running for this seat. Which means that UCUNF is likely to be represented by an enthusiastic, fresh face, whatever the Joint Committee’s decision. Paula Bradshaw has a history of community work in the area and should appeal across the class spectrum, in a particularly diverse constituency. A good choice for the UUP in South Belfast.

East Belfast: Trevor Ringland is a former Ireland rugby star with a history of activism against sectarianism. The competition for candidacy is still likely to come from DUP defector and Ballymena councillor Deirdre Nelson. East Belfast is winnable, despite Peter Robinson’s large majority, so the stakes are high.

Strangford: The selection of Mike Nesbitt has been accompanied by a blaze of publicity about his late involvement and his commitment to a Victims Commissioner post. Nesbitt is not a party functionary and he has a chance to freshen up the UCUNF challenge in a winnable constituency.

South Down: John McCallister is considered one of the UUP’s brighter prospects. He is also an MLA. Candidature would keep his profile high in the constituency, but he is unlikely to trouble the SDLP or Sinn Féin in a solidly nationalist seat.

Lagan Valley: An interesting choice. Daphne Trimble is one of the more ‘conservative UUs’, particularly with her husband’s membership of the Tories. She stood squarely against any dalliance with the DUP. Jeffrey Donaldson, meanwhile, has only just returned from a spell of anonymity, during which he probably wasn’t browsing the shelves at Xtra Vision. A Trimble victory in Lagan Valley would be a remarkable turnaround, worth celebrating. Of course Shelia Davidson, the original Tory nominee, might yet emerge as a possible choice.

Upper Bann: A seat which becomes winnable, assuming that the TUV stand a candidate. The UUP has gone for Harry Hamilton, of ‘Flash Harry’ fame. The Freddie Mercury impersonator would inevitably prove a press favourite and if he can persuade the Joint Committee that he has political nous as well as charisma, then the contest will be fascinating.

Newry and Armagh: Danny Kennedy appeared to be one of the prime movers behind talks with the DUP. He did garner a respectable 7,000 votes the last time, but it would be a pity to see the unreformed wing of the UUP emphasised at this election.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone: See above. Tom Elliot speaks the language of the past.

Mid Ulster: Billy Armstrong, another foot dragger, and occasional ’one party unionism’ fan stood the last time. Martin McGuinness will romp home and Sandra Overend hopes to become the UCUNF candidate.

West Tyrone: Ross Hussey was an early nomination, and if selected, he will hope to improve on his brother Derek’s performance in 2005. On that occasion the UUP could only manage fifth, with just short of 3,000 votes. This is, realistically, another exercise in spreading the word, because the constituency is solidly republican.

Foyle: David Harding is not one of the better known UUP nominations. Neither is Foyle a strong area for the Ulster Unionists. Conservatives and Unionists will simply want to challenge the DUP and grow the vote.

East Londonderry: As the chief DUP dissident, Gregory Campbell might not be as susceptible to leaking voters to the TUV, as other figures within the party. The UUP in the constituency has decided to put a fresh face in front of the Joint Committee, Lesley McAuley.

It will be fascinating to see the final list emerge. Hopefully with Parsley inked in for North Down. Then the Conservatives and Unionists can get on with the serious business of selling genuine participative British politics to the electorate in Northern Ireland.


Fermanagh Young Unionist said...

it would be a pity to see the unreformed wing of the UUP emphasised at this election

That's a bizarre statement; it can be read in two ways that either you don't want traditional Ulster Unionists (whether you disagree or not still represent a majority of the UUP) anywhere near the campaign or more disturbingly every vote they do get represents something wrong in your eyes.

Oh and just for your info, the three 'foot draggers' you mention, Elliott, Armstrong and Kennedy were actually the three highest polling Ulster Unionists in 2007! What do you make from that? An irrelevance?

But sure what the hell, sack 'em all. Now where can I find 18 Dave Cameron's to run across NI?

Jon Semple said...

Dear, Dear, Dear FYU!

The easiest way to get votes in Northern Ireland has always been to try and scare the crap out of unionists, tell them their neighbours want to eat their babies and yours is the only party that will see off the nasty green monster.

Sure we could go down that route.

But would it make Northern Ireland a better place to live?


So don't do it.

Armstrong, Elliot and Kennedy, by their record of wanting to jump in to bed with the "No Pope Here" DUP at every opportunity, are indeed, quite rightly labelled by Chekhov as "footdraggers".

It may well be a challenge to persuade Northern Ireland voters to change the voting habits of a lifetime - but there's never been a better time to do it.

There's a real chance for political change in Northern Ireland in 2010.

Lets not let fear hold us back.

Because if we did - we'd simply be the DUP.

Chekov said...

either you don't want traditional Ulster Unionists (whether you disagree or not still represent a majority of the UUP) anywhere near the campaign or more disturbingly every vote they do get represents something wrong in your eyes.

The Executive passed a motion unanimously which a) endorsed the Conservative pact (which includes a requirement that 18 candidates should be fielded) and b) rejected moved towards unionist unity. I.e. a rejection of precisely the route which these three attempted to steer the party towards.

Incidentally the fact that the three are already MLAs is ANOTHER reason that their nominations are unfortunate. It undermines an unambiguous message on double jobbing.

thedissenter said...

The UUP used to be a broad and fractious church, with tolerance and friendship even among those who disagreed. Disagreements yes, but friendships that would last a lifetime. There is an irredentist and intolerant attitude emerging towards many who have served the Ulster Unionist Party well, loyally and not without risk, by those who have less experience and what would appear to be a rather narrow perspective what it takes to keep a Party together. That does not bode well for the future of the Party.

Anonymous said...

1) It does not undermine the message on double jobbing. They will comit to stand down from the Assembly if elected, that is not hard to work out.

2) Not difficult to work out why you are negative to Robin Swann. If you're going to criticise, make it political not personal.

3) McCann's career is over. Davidson and Nelson might have a way back, but not this time. For a start Ringland and Bradshaw are better candidates.

4) The UUP had better find a candidate in North Down even if Parsley gets the nod! Unthinkable that the UUP would not even put up a fight in ANY seat. Unthinkable that the Conservatives would manage to fine 9 candidates, never mind 18. Ulster's doomed has some good analysis of that this evening.

5) Your analysis of Elliott/Kennedy/Armstrong might be alright, but even accepting that, what alternative do you have? Stand Roger Lomas? I notice you ignore Duncan Crossy alltogether, which is good because he is a crap option. These people are Ulster Unionists who people vote for, the carry weight. If you want this thing to be electable you need them onside.

Chekov said...


First, you'll offer some sort of name next time, or your comment won't be published.

1) Of course it undermines the argument on double jobbing. They will take time out of their Assembly duties to campaign.

2) Robin Swann has fought three elections and suffered three defeats, including two council defeats. I'd be interested to know in what respect that is a personal rather than a political criticism.

3) I'm happy enough with Ringland and Bradshaw, as I've indicated.

4) Ulster's Doomed is where you go for 'good analysis'? That just about sums it up. This idea that the Tories are struggling to find candidates simply isn't true.

5) If you want to be electable you have to at least aspire to consistency. And you certainly don't want to front your campaign with characters who tried to strike an alternative pact.

Anonymous said...

The objective was surely to have centre politics and give voters a new choice. Not just give them more of the same old, such as Elliot, Watson and Swann. It is unlikely they will attract the centre ground.

Hopefully they will be replaced with Conservative candidates if they have any in those areas.

Re Swann, having checked he got 2.9% in the assembly and 4.0% in the council elections hardly a ringing voter endorsement, so Chekov has a point.

Anonamouse said...

Name good enough for you?

1) So you'd rather they stood down from the Assembly? Lets live in the real world.

2) Robin has stood in some pretty tough elections, at times in spite of running mates workign against him, and failed. So did David Trimble, Sammy Wilson, Gregory Campbell and Nigel Dodds in their times. That is not necessarily a good indication of his ability to be a good Parliamentary candidate

4) The Tories have 2 maybe 3 candidates. That's barely enough for a PEB. They have three others who royally shot themselves in the foot and are therefore too naieve to be candidates apart from anything else, and one other who is running around telling people he is a candidate despite not being on their candidates list. They have a derth of candidates, that is a simple fact.

5) If consistency is what wins elections, the DUP would have died on their arses in 2007. It isn't. Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy are necessary candidates, and the best candidates availaible. The Tories certainly don't have anyone better!

Chekov said...

Any name is good enough as long as you stick to it and don't go sock-puppeting when you want to make a different point.

1) I'd rather that candidates stood whose commitment to Westminster is total.

2) I didn't make a comment about his suitability as a parliamentary candidate. I said that his previous record didn't inspire hope and, in this instance, the TUV / DUP battle will squash the UCUNF candidate rather than allow him to come through the middle. Are you seriously suggesting otherwise? I can tell you now that it will be difficult to keep traditional UUP voters away from Allister this time. They want to deliver a bloody nose to the DUP.

4) If the Tories settle for three candidates, without an almighty struggle, I would be surprised.

5) a) the DUP will get their commupance now, as they did in Europe. b) Danny Kennedy can't win his seat and Tom Elliot would need a sordid deal with the Dupes, so their necessity is hugely overstated.

Chekov said...

And I should say don't go sock puppeting / suddenly reverting to your given name once more when you want to make a different point.

Anonamouse said...

1) ...but whose political experience is zero. That is fine for good candidates like Ringland in specific cases, but not in all cases. I would rather have good candidates that stick ridgidly to principles that don't really work anyway.

2) All of that is true. But you aren't negative about him for that reason and we all know it.

4) But they don't HAVE more than one viable candidate! If they get more than two they'll be dragging the slate down! You are personally close to them, that'd fine, we're all allowed friends. But don't let that fool you into thinking that they are good candidates, they aren't. They are people voters have activly decided to ignore for decades.

5) Danny Kennedy needs the coverage to keep the vote up for what might be a difficult Assembly election with boundary changes, Tom Elliott needs it to have a chance of taking a second Assembly seat. They win votes for the UUP in difficult areas.

Chekov said...

1) I.e. zero genuine commitment to ending double jobbing. It's just a stick to beat the DUP with. And Westminster elections are important enough that they can be used as a tool to keep Assembly members profile up.

2) Right. I can give a battery of legitimate and defensible reasons that Swann will struggle. But I must have ulterior motives for stating them. Well, no. Sorry. I have nothing against Robin Swann, but I doubt that he'll do well.

4) And who is the one viable candidate? I don't take everything the NI Tories say as gospel but I've witnessed the bile they inspire from some UUs and I find it just a tad unpleasant. If it's Vote for Change, rather than vote for same old same old, then Conservative candidates need to be looked at.

5) Yep. Well there we have it. The Westminster election as promo for the Assembly. And a promo for Assembly candidates who will keep unionism in its communal morass.

Anonamouse said...

1) That's nonsense, there is no logic to that argument at all. Commitment to stand down from the Assembly if elected to Parliament is no commitment to ending double jobbing? Wind yer neck in.

2) You do have ulterior motives for saying them, and your initial reasons wern't legitimate. You began on Robin with personal remarks, and then moved onto more genuine and accurate wider political analysis. You need to keep your own friendships away from analysis if you're to be taken seriously.

4) Parsley. The three amagos are tainted as naieve and Crossey just is not a good candidate. Certainly not better than Lesley McCauley. And they inspire bile in the most part because they deserve it. McCann got a fair wind with the UUP, infact was seen as a good candidate until his spectacular lapse in judgement, same with Davidson.

5) What, you think we're gonna win Newry & Armagh? What else is standing for! Keep the vote out, get the message out and take advantage at elections where gains can be made, ie council and assembly.

Chekov said...

1) There's no expectation that these MLAs will be elected for parliament.

2) Where are these personal remarks? Let me remind you what my 'initial comments' were. "Robin Swann’s record in elections doesn’t command a great deal of confidence. He is expected to be the candidate and he could well find himself crushed between the two heavyweight, Ulster nat contenders". That's a) highlighting his electoral record which we have established is not good b) a prediction that a UCUNF candidate will not prosper in N Antrim! It couldn't be simpler. Or more political. Had another candidate been selected in N Antrim I would have still predicted them to be squeezed. I would still have looked at their electoral record. You're entitled to your views on the rest of the points, but these allegations about North Antrim are ridiculous.

4) Naivety as opposed to what? The UUs world weary wisdom as they stagger from one crisis to the next?

5) I prefer not to follow up this non sequitur.

Anonamouse said...

1) SO WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR POINT??? If they aren't gonna get elected then why throw in an unknown from potentailly a small pool of members in those areas in order to reduce the vote and lose ground for Assembly elections? If you'd rather take a principle to an illogical conclusion than actually win elections that are winable then you need to look at yourself!

4) The UUP have no more or less problems than any other party, the major problem is media disclipline. The three amegos activly went out of their way to create a media problem, and one of them compared the DUP to the BNP. Just stupid and not the kind of behaviour that inspires that they can be good candidates. And yes there are UUP people who can and have done the same, but two wrongs and all that.

5) see 1 above.

Chekov said...

1) They're conducting campaigns, without any expectation of a victory, whilst they should be concentrating on Assembly duties. Certainly get out and canvass with a fresh face, to keep the profile up. Don't insist on standing merely as an exercise.

4) Well I beg to differ. Not every party's support collapses over a relatively short period of time. Let's remember why the UUP was in need of a 'big idea' in the first place.

Ivor Whitten said...

I have to say, quite a good run down of the issue.

Personally, while i see where you are coming from, i think you are slightly unfair in your analysis on Danny Kennedy, Tom Elliott, and Billy Armstrong.

Using language like 'unreformed wing' is a bit disingenuous. They (Danny and Billy) have been UUP MLAs from the very beginning. All three have been UUP councillors for a long time. They have maintained their seats against the odds sometimes.

All are indeed entitled to their views, and have been voted into office on both the manifesto and their standpoint. In the constituencies where they are standing, you might find it a little more difficult to 'sell' the likes of a Conservative as a candidate. People like proof their Unionist reps can understand the unionist issues in the Border areas, which are very different to the likes of North Down.

I see where you would like them all to be, but many people with unionist views still remain to be convinced, as they still have raw scars of the troubles.

Evolution rather than revolution, is the way forward.

Remember it is easy to say where you want everybody to be, much much harder persuading the people to get there.

I agree with your hope for more participative politics. But that also involves including people who do not necessarily see your vision.

Good piece, none the less.

Orangeman said...

For all their faults, the "unreformed wing" have a couple of valuable features: (1) they actually have some track record of electoral success and (2) they are closer, temperamentally and socially, to many of the voters in small town and rural Ulster that have been lost to the UUP. Perhaps more so than liberals like Chekov.

(I also wonder if the term is code for not wanting an Orangeman about the place. Many liberal unionists and Tories seem to have an unhealthy hang-up about people linked to the Loyal Orders.)

As for Adrian Watson, is it going to be a requirement that social conservatives (eg people who hate the ideology behind the SORs) are not welcome to stand for the UUP? Do they all have to sign up to the same liberal-left groupthink that has swallowed up the Cameroons?

What exactly have many of the newcomers actually done? I accept that new talent is a good idea but this feature reminds me of the "puffing up" of one's mates that is often seen on Conservative Home.

And just how good are the selected/resigned NI Tories? We have one candidate who wanted to be an Alliance MEP just 8 months ago. Then we have Peter McCann, who was stupid and offensive enough to tell Michael Crick on Newsnight that the DUP were comparable to the BNP, whilst Ms Davidson and Ms Nelson nodded in agreement.

Most present unionist bloggers seem to be unreconstructed liberals and I fear they don't have a clue about how to win support from a "small c" conservative unionist electorate.