The sudden resignation of Alex Kane, the UUP’s Director of Communications, is an unexpected blow for the party. Kane has a column in the News Letter and only this morning he was in invigorating form, demolishing any notion that the party should consider forming a pact with the DUP.
Given the nature of his post, Alex’s articles were often a useful barometer to gauge the official UUP line. His attack on the DUP seemed to represent an unambiguous repudiation of ’unity’ rumours which surfaced over the past fortnight, timed to coincide with a meeting of the Ulster Unionist executive, due to take place tomorrow evening.
Now we know that Kane quit, rather abruptly, on a Sunday afternoon, can we interpret his piece, not as a bravura rallying of the troops before a crucial internal meeting, but rather as a parting shot?
It’s difficult to reconcile either interpretation neatly with the timing of the article. I’m sure that it was filed on Friday, rather than Sunday afternoon.
Nevertheless, this resignation will make a difficult meeting for Sir Reg Empey and his party chairman David Campbell even more complicated.
I am led to believe that both men are set to get a rough ride from grass roots executive members. There is acute concern that recent party strategy appears confused and contradictory and there is widespread incredulity that a deal with the DUP seems to have been seriously considered.
Local activists are only too aware of the history between the UUP and the DUP as well as the level of enmity between the two parties. Many are extremely suspicious that ulterior motives underlie the Democratic Unionists’ overtures.
It is feared that talks undermine key UUP messages and threaten the Conservative alignment. The DUP is being let off the hook for dysfunction within the Executive which Ulster Unionists have previously highlighted. The critique of double jobbing which forms an important element of UCUNF policy is also being obscured by this game of political footsie.
But most critically, it is felt that the emphasis on a pan-UK strategy, promoting the secular British nature of unionism is being forgotten.
The ‘unity’ message might have a definite emotive pull in certain areas, but there are plenty of Ulster Unionists with difficult questions to put to their leaders, and they want reassurance that a deal with the DUP is not being considered. They were excited by the Tory link-up and they want the party to concentrate on that arrangement.
I understand that there are likely to be calls, tomorrow night, for the UUP to reaffirm the Conservative pact as its primary focus and get on with candidate selection. Tory impatience with that procedure might be more evident, but constituencies which months ago put forward their nominees are becoming equally frustrated.
And there will be strong opposition to further approaches to the DUP or flirtations with a form of ’unionist unity’ which is considered bogus.