Friday, 30 April 2010

Conservative lead should solidify as poll approaches and reality dawns.

With less than one week to go, David Cameron has given his party much needed momentum by winning the last leaders’ election debate. Most of the major pollsters agree that the Conservative leader was the clear victor, while one, Populous, put Cameron level pegging with Nick Clegg. Gordon Brown, fresh from his travails in Rochdale, trailed the two younger men in every poll.

Seymour Major is sceptical, but Conservative supporters will be closely scrutinising tonight’s newscasts, and the Sunday papers, to discern whether Cameron will get a similar bounce when the polling companies survey voting intention.

Although their accuracy is questionable, it would settle Tory nerves considerably if the party’s poll figures began to edge out of the mid thirties, towards forty per cent. And I believe that, as election day draws closer, support for the Liberal Democrats will soften, to the Conservatives’ advantage.

In Northern Ireland we are accustomed to the distortion of opinion polls by a so-called ‘cringe factor‘. Rightly or wrongly, Nick Clegg has managed to attach a similar degree of stigma to the two main parties. With the media frenzy which accompanied his debate performances, the perception that it is nicer, or more reasonable, to express preference for the Lib Dems, has become popular currency.

On May 6th I suspect that reality will dawn on many people who have toyed with voting for the Liberal Democrats. There is a very real possibility that this election could deliver an indecisive result. If that happens, Clegg’s party will be in a position to blackmail Britain, with all its dotty schemes and its Europhilism.
The alternative is a straight choice between Brown and Cameron.

The Conservative leader made a good fist of driving home the reality of Labour’s record last night. The 10p tax debacle, the assault on civil liberties and the mismanagement of the economy. To this we can add the ’constitutional vandalism’, visited on the United Kingdom, which William Hague spoke about at the Conservatives and Unionists manifesto launch.

It all adds up to a compelling case for change at Number 10. Surely the country will do the needful?

Mike Nesbitt outlines reasons to vote for Conservatives and Unionists

Just to follow up on the manifesto launch on Monday, UCUNF have now released Mike Nesbitt's speech as a short video.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Put your election predictions to the test.

Let's face it, we're all very good at making sweeping predictions about how the general election might pan out. And sometimes the heart plays more of a role than the head.

Stratagem, the Northern Ireland public affairs and lobbying company, is asking politicos to put their powers of prophesy to the test, by taking part in its prediction competition.

The concept is simple. Just choose your winner in each of the eighteen constituencies here. The most accurate punter will receive a signed copy of the above artwork, by Northern Ireland's best known political cartoonist, Ian Knox.

The entry from is located here. I've has a punt already and, after next week's count, I'll post up how I got on.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

DUP romps home in made up election.

No wonder the DUP did so well in the 2009 Assembly elections. No-one else knew they were on! West Tyrone general election candidate Tom Buchanan makes another unsubstantiated Dupe claim on his campaign literature.

Allister could finish third in North Antrim.

From the moment Ian Junior announced his intention to stand for Westminster in North Antrim the die was cast. The media would inevitably portray the battle for the seat as a two horse race between the man set to inherit the Paisley family’s electoral silver and Jim Allister, former hardline Paisleyite, turned thorn in the DUP’s flesh.

There are clear and consistent signs emerging from the constituency, however, that conventional wisdom is about to be turned on its head. Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice has failed to capture the public imagination in this unionist heartland. And, confounding expectations, the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists electoral pact is performing better than expected.

In candid moments TUV canvassers have admitted that their estimates are being substantially revised, downwards. And the Conservatives and Unionists are increasingly confident that they can mount the main challenge to Paisley in North Antrim.

Irwin Armstrong, the Conservative party member and local businessman chosen by UCUNF to contest the seat, claims that there is strong anti-DUP feeling on the doorstep, but he can detect no drift toward Allister. Anecdotal evidence from TUV activists bears his thesis out.

Contrary to some expectations, Armstrong has been able to call upon wholehearted support from the local UUP association. He might be a Tory, but he can point to strong Ulster Unionist connections, having actively campaigned for the party in previous elections.

Critics alleged that the candidate’s selection was a sop to Northern Ireland’s tiny local Conservative party, in a seat which UCUNF have no chance of winning, but any scepticism about Armstrong’s credentials has proved to be unfounded. When push came to shove, the North Antrim UUP rowed in behind its man with enthusiasm.

He has consistently fielded committed canvass teams and the constituency’s Ulster Unionist MLA, Robert Coulter, signed the Conservative and Unionist candidate’s nomination papers. The UUP is fully behind its local candidate and that fact hasn’t gone unnoticed on the doorsteps.

Meanwhile, affection for Junior’s father hasn’t laid to rest suspicions, held by many in North Antrim, that the younger Paisley is a wide-boy on the make. His forced resignation from the junior minister’s role in Northern Ireland‘s Executive, his connections to property developers and controversy about an expensive DUP constituency office in Ballymena, all remain fresh in the public mind.

Even as Junior attempts to rehabilitate his reputation, new questions about his general election campaign expenses could yet emerge. A farewell letter from his father to every constituent in North Antrim appeared after the election was called and should, by rights, substantially restrict the party’s election war chest. And the DUP candidate’s choice of Davy McAllister, a Moyle councillor convicted of benefit fraud, to sign his papers, is hardly likely to soothe voters anxiety.

The saving grace for Paisley could yet be a total lack of enthusiasm for Jim Allister. Although the TUV polled well in North Antrim in last year’s European Election, even committed DUP supporters were sceptical of their candidate, Diane Dodds.

This time, the popular perception is that Allister is not a viable alternative to the Paisley dynasty. If Junior does hold the seat for the DUP, and he is still the favourite, the TUV leader could easily find himself beaten into third place by UCUNF.

Brown whinges about 'bigoted' granny after Rochdale walkabout

What are you if you don't agree with Gordon Brown? A bigot, apparently.

On the campaign trail in Rochdale, the Prime Minister encountered a former Labour voter who asked him some awkward questions.

He answered, as best he could, bid her a cheery farewell and then got into his plush limo before describing her as 'a bigot'. 'That was a disaster' Gordo complained.

Unfortunately the PM still had a microphone on and Sky News recorded the whole thing.

Brown has since issued a grovelling apology.

And if 'bigotry' is implied by contempt for his Labour party, then the vast majority of people in Britain are raving bigots!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Jerome Quinn launches record attempt - for MOPEry!

It's evidence, not blank sheets of A4 paper. Honest!

The acronym ‘MOPE’ is well known in Northern Ireland. For the uninitiated, it stands for ’Most Oppressed People Ever’ and both ’communities’ here regularly vie for the title. Though, even by our tortured standards, this story just about takes the jammy dodger!

Ex BBC Northern Ireland sports presenter, Jerome Quinn, has taken his former bosses to a fair employment tribunal, alleging ’religious and racial harassment’ because he is Irish (yep only in Ireland eh?). In addition he claims that the Corporation favours ’Protestant supported sports’, like …. the North West 200!

Fans of the Northern Ireland football team will remember that Quinn has a history of taking offence. In 2001 he decided to wear a Tyrone Gaelic football jersey to a home match against Iceland at Windsor Park. Unfortunately the resultant article is no longer online, but some feedback still survives thanks to the BBC website’s archive. (It has been found - thanks Buckie).

Quinn obviously thought that he would provoke a reaction, but alas no-one said boo to him at the game. He decided to construe silence as oppression anyway and alleged that Northern Ireland supporters were giving him the cold shoulder because he was the ’fella who commentated on the GAA’.

So, at least one group of sports’ fans will not be surprised to find Quinn in front of a tribunal alleging that “less favourable treatment than if I was Protestant, British and not associated with the GAA” had led the BBC to replace him with, erm, ‘Orange’ Austin O’Callaghan from Sligo.

For the record, the Beeb sacked Quinn for using its computers to post anonymous criticism of his employer on GAA websites. Whoops!
Happier Times? Jerome is oppressed by Northern Ireland fans.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Manifesto launched.

An entertaining, and occasionally boisterous launch. Here's the manifesto.

Conservatives and Unionists manifesto launch - live.

The Conservatives and Unionists launch their manifesto today (12.30pm). The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, who this morning set about clarifying Tory economic policy on Northern Ireland in the News Letter, provides the national 'big name', in advance of David Cameron's own visit. I've set up a feed, below, which will capture tweets about the event, using #cumanifesto and my own Twitter feed. It's proving a little erratic in testing! Hopefully, though, if there's a wireless connection, and I can use my Ipod, things will be better.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

'Five Day Shelter' - everything bad about arthouse cinema.

It’s been a while since ‘Three Thousand Versts’ attempted a movie review, but it isn’t every weekend I attend the 'World Premiere' of an Irish flick.

Belfast Film Festival’s ’Gala Screening’ of ’Five Day Shelter’ got off to an inauspicious start, when the star, John Lynch, introduced it with a cheery reference to Manchester United. With reluctance I decided to set my prejudice aside.

I needn’t have bothered. ‘Five Day Shelter’ is an epically dreary and boring film. Imagine a fifteen minute short by film students at the local tech, extended to feature length.

It starts wilfully slowly and remains stubbornly one-paced for eighty odd minutes. The characters may as well be cut out of card. There’s no trace of humanity or anything to empathise with here. Yes, it’s grim and urban, but to what end?

The film introduces a couple of themes which could be interesting, but they aren’t developed at all.

The main characters all have dogs and cats in their lives. They show some fondness for their animals and this, presumably, is supposed to allude to some spark of meaning in all the black futility.

Then a junkie character, Nick, who is rather well acted by Michael Fitzgerald, briefly threatens to break into 3D. There's a hint that he might have a modicum of wit or intelligence.

Once, for an instant, there was hope that the relationship between a charmless step father, played by Lynch, and his wife’s daughter, jess, might be explored. Again, a dead end.

Director Ger Leonard clearly didn’t want to sully the ‘poeticism’ we were told to expect from his film with characters, relationships or plot.

Nothing works here. The lives in the film are supposed to interweave, but while movies like Magnolia carry off that trick, all we have in ‘Five Day Shelter’ is a few random coincidences.

Then there’s the sloooow camerawork which is supposed to be poetic.

The synopsis in the festival programme, the cringe-making compere and the lead actor all claimed this quality for the film. I’ve got news for them! Panning really slowly does not, in and of itself, equate to poeticism!

What really cheesed me off about this movie, most of all, is that it epitomises everything that gives the arts a bad name.

The director was taken off post-production, and he claims that the film is not true to his original intentions. Unless his original intentions were to speed the pace up substantially and actually write some characters, I'm afraid it makes little difference to my verdict.

Books, plays or films like this are what happen when someone with precious little talent, but what he interprets as an ‘artistic temperament’, sets out to impress like-minded pseuds.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Jealousy and loathing in the world of Russian history.

It is worth pointing out that when Three Thousand Versts reviewed ‘Whisperers’ in enthusiastic fashion, and called ’Natasha’s Dance’ ‘magisterial’, Orlando Figes had not contributed guest posts. And when I described ’A People’s Tragedy’ as ’the most complete account of the Russian Revolution and Civil War’ I had read, ’Historian’ had not given me a nudge.

It’s hard to understand why such a gifted writer would feel compelled to rubbish rivals’ books anonymously on Amazon, but that, apparently, was Figes’ habit. The academic, who is professor of history at Birbeck, University of London, also submitted gushing reviews of his own books, which were certainly good enough to attract unsolicited and heartfelt praise, had he left the job to genuine readers.

He used the crafty sobriquet ’Historian’ and, even more cunning, ‘Orlando - Birbeck’ as pseudonyms on Amazon. Then, to cap it all, he attempted to blame the wife when it became apparent that the reviews had issued from the Figes’ household!

Resisting the temptation to dub him the ’nutty professor’ we can only speculate that professional jealousy was at the root of these attacks. One victim, Rachel Polonsky, whose book ’Molotov’s Magic Lantern’ Figes’ lacerated, had previously criticised ’Natasha’s Dance’. I’d been sceptical about her work because of that, but I think I’ll read it now.

Another, Robert Service, has written excellent biographies of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. And on the jacket of my copy of ’A History of Modern Russia’ Figes actually describes Service as ’always well informed and balanced in his judgments, clear and concise in his analysis‘! A rather more generous verdict than his Amazon review of ’Comrades’, which called it ’an awful book … very badly written’.

Maybe the lack of praise for on the sleeves of Figes’ work from Service or Polonsky is the crux of the problem!

It's right, but it's not good. Cameron needs to clarify message on Ulster's economy.

Taking on Paxman in a no-holds barred, 30 minute interview was always a risk, but has David Cameron made a gaffe by singling out Northern Ireland and the North East of England as regions which are unsustainably reliant on the public sector?

No. But he might have made the Conservative task here a little bit harder with his remarks. Because, however incontrovertible their content, he has given his opponents a stick to beat him with.

The Belfast Telegraph, increasingly open about its left-statist bias, gleefully splashed this morning with ‘Cameron: I’ll target Ulster for cutbacks’.

Of course, there isn't even the tiniest doubt that what the Tory leader said was 100% accurate. Anyone with a shred of interest in Northern Ireland’s economy agrees that it is a basket case and the imbalance between the public and private sectors needs to be addressed, urgently.

But during an election campaign it is not enough simply to be accurate.

Cameron must have known how a special mention for just two regions in the United Kingdom could be interpreted. Even if they are the regions where the public-private imbalance needs correction most urgently.

He must also have known that, in those two regions, existing anxiety about cuts would intensify.

Danny Kennedy, the UUP deputy leader, and a candidate for the Conservatives and Unionists provided some context to the Tory leader‘s comments,

"David Cameron has set an ambitious goal for a Conservative and Unionist government - to see the economies of Northern Ireland and other regions, such as the north-east of England, flourishing as the private sector grows. This ambition is shared by the people of Northern Ireland, who want to see jobs, opportunity and enterprise in this part of the United Kingdom. This is the agenda which the people of Northern Ireland can support on 6th May by voting Conservatives and Unionists".

It is a fair commentary, but I believe that more might be needed. When David Cameron comes to Northern Ireland, he must make it clear that his economic strategy is twin pronged.

Yes, the inflated public sector must be addressed, but in tandem the Conservatives will provide concrete help in order to enable the private sector to grow.

Some of these policies are already in place, but, in the light of last night’s interview they need to be personally emphasised and explained to the people of Northern Ireland. Cameron allowed fear to predominate over hope, in the comments which the media highlighted. That is not an election winning strategy.

Because, however necessary and just Christmas, few turkeys will be persuaded to vote for it.

Friday, 23 April 2010

McNarry could spell the death of unionism in Northern Ireland.

It doesn’t seem to have made it unto the paper’s website, but the print version of this morning’s News Letter contains an article by Alex Kane, who says ’there will be a vacancy at the top of the UUP’, following the general election. His reasoning is fairly straightforward.

If Sir Reg Empey wins a Westminster seat then the Ulster Unionists’ Assembly group will require new leadership. If he fails to take South Antrim, then he is unlikely to retain the party leader’s post.

Both Basil McCrea and David McNarry have already begun to jostle for position in anticipation of the post-election shake-up, according to Kane. McCrea’s ’big idea’ is to withdraw the UUP from the Northern Ireland Executive and form an unofficial opposition.

Superficially, the notion has its attractions, but the permutations have not been properly evaluated, and there is a lot of work to be done before such a measure becomes a realistic possibility.

McNarry has spent the past few months fulminating about ’unionist unity’. Kane quotes a recent article in which the Strangford MLA wrote, “all unionists should coalesce around shared values, a shared identity and a shared political programme”.

Writing in these terms, McNarry performs a useful service, because he illustrates the philosophical bankruptcy which lies behind the mantra ’unionist unity’. He believes that unionists should not only subscribe to a set of political beliefs, but that they must conform to a particular identity as well. Given his past utterances, it is not difficult to imagine the type of identity to which McNarry refers. It is Orange and it is Protestant.

This reading of unionism is indistinguishable from nationalism. It abandons everything that it good, honourable and rational about pro-Union politics and it leads to a grotty deal with the DUP.

If the UUP ends up with David McNarry as leader it will herald the death of civic unionism in that party. It will also signal the death of the only type of unionism worth the name in Northern Ireland - unionism that is focussed on allegiance to the modern United Kingdom and its institutions. The best way to avoid that fate is a strong performance for the Conservatives and Unionists.

TV debates

Thanks to blanket coverage, and half-time, I managed to watch a little of the national leaders' debate last night. The general reaction has been that Clegg shaded it again. I can't help but feel that Cameron simply has to relax. Has he perhaps been over-prepared? Contrary to David Gordon's assessment in the Belfast Telegraph, from the bits that I saw, Gordon Brown wasn't at the races.

Of course the local contest also took place last night and a less vociferous analysis has taken place across the newspapers and blogs. I intend to watch it online later, but in the meantime, Ivor Whitten has produced an entertaining account.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Unionists should always be suspicious of more devolution

The SDLP released its election manifesto in Belfast yesterday. Despite the party’s stated commitment to a shared future, the document has a decidedly green tinge. Not only does Margaret Ritchie envisage northern representatives gradual integration into the Republic’s political institutions, she also champions a form of ‘Devolution Max’ which, she hopes, will prefigure a united Ireland.

The irony is that the SDLP’s vision of a Northern Ireland Assembly acquiring fiscal levers currently held by Westminster, will probably appeal to some people who describe themselves as unionists. The DUP, in particular, is wont to describe every intervention by Westminster parties in this region, as unwarranted interference.

The DUP presented devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont as a boon for Northern Ireland, at the same time as Sinn Féin celebrated another prerogative wrested from London and ’repatriated’ to the island of Ireland. Although the UUP was steadfast enough to oppose the justice move, it also emphasised that it had no difficulty with devolution in theory.

Within the context of power-sharing, the Ulster Unionists theoretical support for devolved justice made a degree of sense. It finished off a process which the party had put in train with the Belfast Agreement. And the Agreement, by and large, entrenched Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.

Wherever devolution is celebrated, by unionists, for devolution’s sake, however, there is a profound contradiction. Although the UK’s two devolved Assemblies and one devolved Parliament are here to stay, there isn’t a shadow of doubt that Labour’s constitutional vandalism has substantially undermined the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Richard Rose described the House of Commons as a ’fifth nation’ which bound together the interests of Britain’s regions. It’s authority, and relevance, has been substantially reduced by competing institutions, each with its own gravitational pull.

For a genuine unionist, with his principal political allegiance to shared British institutions, the constant proviso that ’this is a devolved matter’, which marked the first national leader’s debate, could only be cause for regret. It signalled a Parliament which had carelessly dispersed its authority to some regions, while retaining it in others.

Genuine concern for the Union and its integrity is almost always accompanied by suspicion of greater devolution. When Northern Ireland was created, unionists accepted the creation of a separate parliament only with reluctance and scepticism. Sadly, by the 1950s, many former unionists had become seduced by the trappings of their quasi-state.

Where the existence of the devolved parliament was championed for its own sake, authentic unionism died. When normal parliamentary sovereignty over Northern Ireland was resumed, the inheritors of genuine, Carsonite unionism championed full integration with the rest of the United Kingdom, while the little Ulstermen aggravated to get their Stormont back.

Today, the UK’s constitutional landscape has been irrevocably altered. In Scotland and Wales, devolved institutions are popular, but although some parts might feel they are greater, the whole is decidedly weaker. And, unfortunately, it is not possible to unpick the settlement which Labour carelessly inflicted upon Britain.

A national unionist party, like the Conservatives, has to work within the constraints of devolution and balance carefully sensitivities in devolved regions with national interests. Conspicuously the Tories have attempted this awkward task by wrestling with, and eventually accepting, the main conclusions of the Calman Commission’s report and struggling to resolve the infamous West Lothian question.

The UUP, in recent times, has allowed its genuine unionist wing to prevail. It has thrown its lot in with the Conservatives and declared willing to wrestle with the larger dilemmas involved in maintaining the UK as a viable state. The logical outworking is that local issues should be tackled within the overarching, national context and with the Kingdom's integrity in mind. The DUP, and dissenting elements within the UUP, as ever, have their eyes only on Little Ulster.

In Northern Ireland, our Assembly is part of a power-sharing settlement aimed at maintaining equilibrium between Irish nationalists and unionists. How much the actual institutions themselves have contributed to stabilising our place within the United Kingdom is up for debate, but the framework which removed a rolling challenge to our constitutional status is dependent on them. At least for the time being.

The fact remains that more devolution is always likely to be more convivial to nationalists than authentic unionists. And the Labour government which visited so much damage upon the Union will do it further damage if it retains any degree of power after the election.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Conservatives and Unionists should show some generosity to the Irish language.

Over at Forth (subs required) I argue that the New Force should take a fresh look at Irish and re-evaluate received unionist wisdom.

Traditionally unionism has a fractious relationship with Irish, and understandably so: it has historically been used to advance nationalism’s political ends.

Today Sinn Féin is frequently accused of exploiting language issues, and not just by its political opponents. The Irish language lobby itself has become more vocal, voicing its disquiet with a party whose rhetorical support is not always matched by practical assistance.

Unionist anxiety has allowed the language to become an important emotional symbol for nationalism. The truth is that Irish only remains a useful tool for republicans whilst unionists continue to treat its very existence as an affront to British identity. It is a situation exacerbated by the current system at Stormont.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly the DUP and Sinn Féin act as champions of their respective communities. They contest an endless succession of cultural tugs of war which masquerade as the genuine business of government. However, David Cameron’s Conservatives, and the Ulster Unionist party, have promised to appeal for support across Northern Ireland’s divisions.

Ucunf has a perfect opportunity to emphasise its credentials by listening carefully to Irish language enthusiasts and developing generous policies which take into account their concerns. The Conservatives will point to the pluralist nature of the United Kingdom, which encompasses a variety of languages and traditions, both indigenous and imported.

Pro-Union politics need not reject everything which is considered Irish. Unionism can take a flexible attitude to issues of nationality and identity. Over time the Conservatives and Unionists hope that their unionism can ‘go without saying’ and that they can concentrate on ordinary, every day issues.

The important message is that Irishness is thoroughly compatible with unionism, Britishness and membership of the United Kingdom. Unionists have to make an effort to demonstrate the permeability of British identity, as well as expounding it in theory. Although unionism will not necessarily reach the same conclusions as nationalism, it should address Irish language concerns.

I acknowledge.

As yet there is no sign that unionists will rise to the challenge. The DUP continues to celebrate every reverse it delivers the Irish language with glee.

Unionists from both mainstream parties have adopted the questionable cause of ’Ulster Scots’ in order to compete for a share of minority language funding. Even the Ulster Scots Agency has admitted, in a leaked document, that this guttural patois is ’wrongly [promoted] as a language distinct from Scots’.

However, Ucunf offers hope. Perhaps unionists can learn to love the Irish language. If they can manage to do so, they will strengthen their own arguments for Union.

Lost? Willie McCrea searches for votes in North Antrim.

When Sir Reg Empey announced his intention to stand in South Antrim, Willie McCrea offered him a guided tour. Perhaps he could do with a bit of a refresher himself. After all, he was once a famous parachutist too.

Now he appears to be seeking votes in North Antrim. Desperation or time to get a map Willie?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

South Belfast - the only unionist candidate confirms her nomination.

I'm delighted to hear that the Conservatives and Unionists have not yielded to the ceaseless Ulster nationalist campaign to have one little Ulsterman stand in South Belfast. This news has taken a while to come but Paula Bradshaw has confirmed on Facebook that she will offer voters, including me, a chance to participate in proper UK politics. She has issued a plea for other candidates to focus on issues. I doubt she'll get her wish.

In a startling development, it also appears that Jimmy Spratt offered Bradshaw his Assembly seat in order to bribe her to step down from the Westminster race! What utter contempt for democracy.

Paula's statement below.

"The voters I have spoken to across the constituency have become more and more weary of the DUP trying to engineer a divide based along sectarian lines rather than on the issues at stake in this election. This election is far too important for DUP stunts.

"The fact is Jimmy Spratt has already admitted he cannot win the seat, that is why he wants me to withdraw from the contest. I have always been clear, from the reception I am getting from all parts of the community in South Belfast, that I am the only pro-Union candidate who can take the seat.

"I look forward to debating the issues in a friendly and respectful manner with Alasdair McDonnell, Anna Lo and others. There is still time for the DUP to join this debate on the issues, but it will require a move from uncosted proposals and a fantasy manifesto to some serious policy proposals on the real concerns of people across South Belfast.

"I will most certainly not be bullied into walking away by Peter Robinson and his party, who have let down their own voters by breaking pledge after pledge.

"The fact that Sinn Fein has now joined the DUP in its sectarian stunts only makes me more determined to win the seat and give this diverse constituency the full-time representation at Westminster that it deserves."

Local leaders' debate battles with national competition, and football, for viewers.

I hope that UTV has the good sense to show its local leaders' debate again, or at least to put it up on its website. It is scheduled to go head to head with the last half hour of Sky News' national leaders' debate.

That I could live with. After all, the previous programme on ITV did begin to drag around the hour mark.

However, the Europa Cup semi-final also takes place on the same night. Liverpool take on Athletico Madrid at 8.05pm and the match will be screened on Channel 5.

I know which of the three clashing programmes I'll be watching. But it seems a strange decision to hold a regional debate at the same time as the three possible Prime Ministers are being showcased. A concession to parochial politics?

Scotland and Wales have their regional debates tonight, therefore avoiding a clash.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Shameless! DUP's expenses infringements "of an entirely different nature" to other MPs!

The DUP really doesn't 'get' public anger about expenses and sleaze, does it?

It has the hungriest MPs in Britain, it is up to its neck in mutually beneficial arrangements with property developers, the member for Strangford stood down after it was revealed that she had procured funds for her toy boy lover and the leader still intends to double job, after the election, flying in the face of the Kelly Report. Its candidate for North Antrim has already been forced out of his minister's role after questions about his relationship with property guru Seymour Sweeney.

Yet, what is this in the party's manifesto? Expenses of DUP MPs "were of an entirely different nature" to other MPs. Not a note of contrition, not an acknowledgement of excess. Nothing!

This greedy, sleazy party still thinks it's done nothing wrong!

Surely a brass neck and tribalism are not all that is required in modern Northern Ireland politics? The DUP's slow sinking Ulster nationalist ship really should be scuttled by now. If this election does not witness some serious damage the party's rivals have to ask themselves some serious questions.

Second Dr Who reference in NI election.

After Lesley Macaulay compared East Londonderry TUV candidate, Willie Ross, to William Hartnell, who used to play Doctor Who, the timelord has received his second mention of the campaign by a Conservative and Unionist candidate.

Steven McCaffery in the News Letter quotes West Tyrone hopeful, and Family Guy lookalike, Ross Hussey.

"Brilliant to see on Dr Who that in 1,000 years Northern Ireland will still be part of the UK".

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Paisleys' campaign letter - questions persist.

On Monday last I posed some questions about a letter, issued on behalf of Ian Paisley Senior, which marked his retirement as MP. The document was distributed with a very prominent picture of Ian Paisley Junior, the DUP candidate for North Antrim, posing with his father.

I observed that there is a strong argument that the photograph constitutes campaigning, particularly because, by the time it hit doormats in the constituency, the election had been called.

Over at the North Antrim Local Interest List, Nevin develops the theme. The letter, which is dated mid March, was not distributed until the 6-8 April. Why the delay? Nevin notes the striking coincidence that Paisley's correspondence is dated from the very day the election was called.

It appears that the letter was not printed on official Commons notepaper, but undoubtedly the portcullis livery which it carries is intended to give the impression that it is distributed by Ian Paisley in his capacity as MP, rather than in his capacity as a supporter of Ian Junior's election campaign.

The sender, however, is given as the DUP's constituency office in North Antrim (9-11 Church Street Ballymena), which is listed, on the party's website, as Ian Junior's office, whereas his father's office is listed as 256 Ravenhill Road.

Two questions remain. Was any public money, in particular Ian Paisley Senior's House of Commons Communications Allowance, expended on this communication? Will the letter and its distribution be included in Ian Paisley Junior's general election budget?

Friday, 16 April 2010

The 2010 election campaign echoes 1987 contest.

As election time approaches a ‘new force’ has emerged in unionist politics. It appeals across communities for support and it wants to offer Northern Irish voters a chance to choose their national government. ’Unionist unity’ is the watchword for the group’s opponents and the concept creates serious fissures within the Ulster Unionist party.

The UUP and the DUP step back in order to support an independent ’unionist’ candidate. In North Down, the DUP throws its weight behind a prospective MP who is determined to hinder the emergence of genuine participation in British politics. It is an alliance of self-interest, animated by the party’s stake-holding in sectarian politics.

The candidate prepared to shout loudest about ‘Unionist Unity’ is, in actual fact, a very blatant Ulster nationalist.

Sounds familiar? Perhaps. But it is a description of the campaign preceding the 1987 general election. And it was certainly not the Ulster Unionist party’s final hour.

In the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Agreement a show of ‘unity’ with the DUP could not hide the unionists' impotence. The Campaign for Equal Citizenship, spearheaded by Robert McCartney, produced the most persuasive critique of unionism’s malaise.

Northern Ireland’s exemption from the party political system at Westminster was the reason that an accord could be imposed upon it, without the assent of the majority of its people. Despite the purported commitment of unionists to the United Kingdom, we had no stake-holding in the state’s national politics.

When the UUP’s North Down constituency association selected Robert McCartney as its Westminster candidate, the party expelled him and then the entire association. The reason given for McCartney’s expulsion was bald. His CEC project, however unionist its intention, envisaged the demise of the UUP and was, therefore, incompatible with membership of the party.

Ulster Unionists, along with the DUP, backed Jim Kilfedder, who had already left the UUP in opposition to its integrationist bent, during the late 1970s. A vicious campaign was launched against McCartney on the pretext that his participation in the election undermined ‘Unionist Unity’. In actual fact, North Down was the only seat in 1987 in which the overall unionist vote went up.

As Conor Lynch commented of the unionist establishment, in a pamphlet lauding McCartney‘s campaign, “when push came to shove they preferred Ulster’s exclusion, the system they’d come to feel comfortable with, the system which made them into politicians … they are Protestant Ulstermen first and everything else is very much secondary to this”.

Although Kilfedder won the election in 1987, his opponent recorded an astonishing total of 14,467 votes. This was in the face of a campaign during which both unionist parties and their combined resources were harnessed against him. McCartney confounded his critics by pushing the agreed candidate all the way.

Twenty three years later and the Ulster Unionist party is, officially at least, on the right side of the equal citizenship debate. It is standing on the basis of ’real unionism’, as the North Down campaign in 1987 styled its politics.

But the ‘little Ulster’ forces are still extant, within the party, and without. The DUP has taken up the rogues’ mantra of ’Unionist Unity’ and opposes, with all its might, the introduction of British party politics and equal political citizenship within the United Kingom.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The most hated man in Britain endorses the second most hated man in Britain.

We’ve had X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Master Chef. Tonight television audiences will be treated (subjected?) to the Leaders’ Debates.

In an unfortunate piece of scheduling the first election showpiece, screened on ITV, will appear at the same time as the satirical news show, Have I Got News For You, which is broadcast on BBC 1 at 9pm. I’d imagine a few politics junkies might be tempted to reach for the remote if the leaders’ contest is too sterile or facile.

Certainly the profile programmes which have preceded the debate have been unforgivably fatuous. Mark Austin’s fawning interviews were straight out of the Alan Titchmarsh school of broadcasting. These were little more than thirty minute party election broadcasts.

Not that the parties‘ publicity drives were all well advised, Gordon Brown was not even the most obnoxious character in his ‘spotlight’ programme. Wheeling out Satan himself may have alienated fewer people than an endorsement from Alex Ferguson.

Then again, who would have noticed the difference?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Kyrgyzstan's 'bright new dawn' could prove illusory.

The popular uprising in Kyrgyzstan, which came to world attention when seventeen demonstrators were shot dead, eventually resulted in the removal of President Bakiyev and the installation of an interim government. It was a bloody and chaotic revolt which caused upwards of 75 deaths and widespread looting.

Bakiyev has fled Bishkek, taking refuge in the south of the country and sparking fears that a counter-revolution could plunge Kyrgyzstan into civil war. The President has, however, laid down a series of conditions which, if they are met, might secure his resignation. There are indications that he could be prepared to go into exile.

Bakiyev was swept to power in 2005 by the so-called ’Tulip Revolution’, one of a triumverate of ’colour revolutions’ which the media grouped together, in former Soviet republics.

The latest coup is being portrayed by its supporters as a reaffirmation of democratic values, betrayed by Bakiyev. Its opponents imply more machinations from those devious Russians. The western media have, by and large, avoided the latter interpretation.

In Georgia and Ukraine, to a greater or lesser extent part of the common ’European home’, the narrative of democracy betrayed has a degree of credibility. Both Yushchenko and Saakashvili tapped into a popular appetite for free and fair politics, on their respective routes to power.

Kyrgyzstan, inescapably part of Central Asia, does not fit neatly into the same template. Its Tulip revolution, like the latest coup, was violent and its motives were complicated by tribal politics.

Sean’s Russia blog is sceptical that Kyrgyzstan is set for a reaffirmation of democratic values. The democratic credentials of the Tulip Revolution were overstated, he argues, and the same may be true of the latest uprising. He makes a clear distinction between the explosion of popular anger which brought people unto the streets and the political leaders who have harnessed it.

“people who know something about politics in this small, landlocked poor ex-Soviet Republic assert, when it comes to big politics, this week’s “revolution” was nothing more than musical chairs between elite clans.”

In 2005 the clans doing the shoving were from the country’s south, and Bakiyev pushed Akayev from power. The latest coup represents a resurgence from northern Kyrgyz clans.

On Registan, a specialised Central Asian blog, Noah Tucker describes the chaos and violence which followed the Tulip Revolution. The media spotlight on Kyrgyzstan is already fading, and if the interim government takes a firmer grip, it is easy to envisage violent recriminations persisting for many months.

Certainly the FCO's travel advice belies the calmer situation which has prevailed during the last week. It remains a dangerous time for Kyrgyzstan and it is still a long way away from stability, never mind democracy.

Can strategy prevail over tactics?

The Conservative manifesto, entitled ‘Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ (PDF), was launched yesterday, to the mandatory blaze of publicity. In Northern Ireland, the DUP immediately attacked the document, alleging that it has only marginally more content, related directly to the province, than its equivalent in 2005. The criticism was immediately swatted away by Conservatives and Unionists, who point out that a separate, regional manifesto will be issued next week.

This type of regional sniping has become the staple diet of nationalist parties across the United Kingdom. The DUP’s attacks, accusing ‘English’ Tories of neglecting Northern Ireland, are indistinguishable from tactics adopted by the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Scottish and Welsh nationalists are keen to portray themselves as the true guarantors of their region’s interests, opposing the devious schemes of interloping ’London’ parties. The pattern in Northern Ireland is precisely the same.

The truth is that the national Conservative manifesto, and doubtless its regional offshoots too, include plenty of content directly related to the upkeep of Union. At ’Pint of Unionist Lite’ O’Neill has a useful synopsis of the main points. To take a purely local perspective, the Tory commitment to “bring Northern Ireland into the mainstream of British politics” can be set against Labour’s apathy. Everything’s honky dory here according to its manifesto.

There are specific pledges in the national document. A Tory administration would produce a government paper, examining the possibility of a regionally distinct Corporation Tax rate, and end double jobbing. Next week’s Northern Ireland manifesto will drill down into the detail in order to explain what a Conservative government will mean to people in this part of the United Kingdom. It has been written in conjunction with the Ulster Unionist party, a degree of participation which Sylvia Hermon can only imagine, as she attempts to join the Labour benches.

With all the squabbling, ’unity talks’ and candidate pacts, its been easy to forget the pure unionist ideals which animated the Conservative and Ulster Unionist arrangement. It is a commonplace to suggest that unionism is preoccupied with tactics to the exclusion of strategy. The New Force represented a clear and exciting strategy, but it has become mired in tactical minutiae, local rivalry and an incurable compulsion to respond to every brickbat thrown by rivals.

As the election draws closer, and Conservatives and Unionists organise their core beliefs into digestible format, hopefully it is the strategy which will prevail.

The Conservative Party is passionate about the Union and we will never do anything to put it at risk. and, because of the new political force we have created with the Ulster Unionists,.

Poster wars and Party Election Broadcasts

Over at Bobballs you can read about the lightning fast response from Conservatives and Unionists to a rather effective DUP billboard. It is a nice piece about the cut and thrust of electioneering.

The SDLP were quickest out of the blocks with their PEB. Although some of the reviews are rather less than overwhelming.

Now, the Conservatives and Unionists have released their effort. The production values are comparatively high and it provides a decent showcase for some of the new candidates fielded at this election. Filming former Lions' winger Trevor Ringland, in the famous red shirt, taking rugby training is a nice touch.

The DUP has been rather short of international rugby players in its ranks since Davy Tweed jumped ship. And the least said about him the better!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Questions over Paisley campaign letter.

Sadiq Khan, a Labour transport minister, is to be subject to a Conservative complaint, after he used House of Commons stationery and prepaid envelopes to write to constituents lauding his record. The Tories consider his actions an infringement of parliamentary rules which prohibit the use of such resources for campaigning.

Last month, to mark the end of forty years representing North Antrim, part-time, at Westminster, Ian Paisley sent a letter, on stationery headed by House of Commons livery, to his constituents. It doesn’t feature the word DUP and although it is deeply self-valedictory, it is possible to argue that the text does not represent campaigning.

Included in an envelope with the document we have a photo of the ‘Reverend Doctor‘, or whatever his fawning acolytes like to style him, posing with ‘óg’, ‘Junior’, ‘Baby Doc’, a chip off the old block.

If the DUP used its communications allowance to fund this piece of electioneering it could constitute a breach of rules. It is my understanding that, although the letter is dated in Mid March, copies arrived in homes around North Antrim after the election was called on 6 April.  The envelopes feature post-marks from 6-8 April.

Perhaps the Conservatives and Unionists should consider another complaint if the Paisley dynasty has promoted itself, at public expense, just before a general election. The relevant question is, is this communication paid for out of Ian Paisley junior's election budget?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Connor a messy compromise, but a promising candidate.

O’Neill rehearses the arguments against Rodney Connor’s candidature over on ’A Pint of Unionist Lite’. I can’t say that I disagree with any of his points. It’s regrettable that the Fermanagh South Tyrone candidate will not officially stand under the Conservatives and Unionists banner.

The fact remains, however, that, should he win, the constituency will be represented by a Conservative and Unionist MP, with impressive cross-community credentials. For some time before Connor’s candidacy was mooted it was known that Tom Elliott would stand only with reluctance.

O’Neill has already intimated that the new candidate actually offers a better match for the type of politics which UCUNF is supposed to be about

The DUP will try to trumpet some pyrrhic victory on the basis of ‘unity’. Actually what we have is a Conservative candidate who, for appearance sake, and to take into account local circumstances, has agreed to label himself an independent.

It is telling that Irwin Armstrong, the only long-standing Conservative on the New Force candidate list, is happy to endorse Connor’s Tory credentials. In a press release Armstrong commented,
I welcome the decision of Rodney Connor to run as an independent in FST, anyone who knows him will be fully aware that he is completely non sectarian and will attract votes from and represent all sections of the community in FST.
I am delighted that his political views are closely in line with mine and that he will take the Conservative whip at Westminster reserving the right, as all MP’s tend to do to, to vote in his constituents local interests.
He will make an excellent MP and will be a great asset to the Conservative Party as a full time Westminster MP in partnership with the other successful Conservative and Unionist candidates.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP will attempt to claim a sectarian carve-up. But their previous enthusiasm for Connor's non-sectarian ethos is hard to reconcile with this new attitude.

This is a compromise. It’s an unpalatable compromise in some respects. And I wouldn’t argue that the ends justify the means. But, by fair means or foul, Fermanagh South Tyrone has ended up with a viable, Conservative, candidate after all.

Doctor Who and East Londonderry.

Yesterday I attended a lunch with Shadow Secretaries of State, Theresa May and Owen Paterson, as well as the Conservative and Unionist women candidates, who will stand in May’s election.

May, whose role includes women’s issues, as well as the work and pensions brief, accompanied the candidates to meetings with the FSB and a group in Antrim, concerned with domestic violence.

The Conservatives and Unionists are putting up four female Westminster hopefuls on this occasion. At least three are standing in winnable constituencies. For Sandra Overend, in mid-Ulster, the task is, by her own admission, to grow the vote.

Daphne Trimble takes on the sitting MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, in Lagan Valley. With the TUV fielding one of its strongest candidates, Keith Harbinson, the constituency is a fascinating battleground. Daphne has received an enthusiastic welcome at doorsteps so far and she is justifiably optimistic.

Paula Bradshaw also has realisable ambitions in South Belfast. The DUP’s Jimmy Spratt is a particularly uninspiring option for voters in the constituency and SDLP MP McDonnell has been an infrequent attender at Westminster.

In East Londonderry Lesley Macaulay will attempt to unseat the DUP’s death penalty enthusiast, Gregory Campbell. As a reputed ’snowman’ he will face competition for the hard-line Ulster ethno-nat vote from the TUV’s Willie Ross.

Yes, that Willie Ross!

The Conservative and Unionist candidate produced the wittiest reaction to his electoral comeback:

‘The TUV attempting to bring back the old MP from the last century is a bit like the BBC trying to bring back William Hartnell as the new Doctor Who!’

But there is a serious point too:
East Londonderry is crying out for a forward looking, full time, energetic and positive MP. People are weary of the same old faces and the same old negative politics that makes no difference in their lives. I want to see positive change on jobs, the economy, tourism, education and health, for all of us. It’s time for a fresh start.’

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Jackie on the prowl?

View Larger MapAn image from Google Street View. It's taken on Ballymena's scenic William Street with the inviting 'Sportsman's Bar' clearly visible. But, who's that in the foreground? Could it possibly be BBC Northern Ireland sports' commentator Jackie Fullerton?

H/T Coleman

Hung parliament strategy is an un-unionist strategy

The following piece appears in this morning's News Letter.

The starting gun has sounded and the UK’s political parties are out of the blocks. Conservatives and Labour, determined to secure mandates, are anxious that May’s election should not produce a hung parliament.

Yet the DUP, and various nationalists from the UK regions, are hoping for precisely that outcome.

Most commentators agree with the main parties, that an indecisive election result would be to the national detriment. Why is there an overwhelming consensus that a hung parliament would be bad for Britain?

Elections for the House of Commons are decided using First Past the Post. The merit of the system is that it most often produces a conclusive result and avoids the weak government which minority administrations or coalitions often produce.

If there is a hung parliament following the next election it will be only the fifth time that that has happened in one hundred years. They have all been short-lived affairs.

A few, unsatisfactory options will then be available to govern Britain.

Gordon Brown has already indicated his intention to carry on, in the result of a hung parliament, so he would have first crack at forming a government. Any deal would hinge on his ability to negotiate a coalition or a workable minority administration, haggling case by case on important issues and avoiding defeats in votes of confidence.

Whichever option prevailed, the upshot would be government by committee and a lack of direction for the country. The UK would be plunged into a spell of political volatility.

Financial markets, which depend on a sense of stability, are particularly susceptible to the effects of a hung parliament. It is almost inevitable that a crash would accompany an indecisive election result. That means jobs lost, in Northern Ireland, as in every other region of the United Kingdom.

If a government were to be formed successfully, its chances of long-term survival would be slim.

In 1974, the last time a hung parliament followed an election, Harold Wilson’s minority administration lasted a few brief months. Ramsay MacDonald kept together a government for two years, after an indecisive result, but that was in 1929.

A hung parliament might give small parties a little blackmailing power - for a month or two. But to rely on it as a political strategy is short-sighted in the extreme. It is also profoundly un-unionist, because a minority administration, or a coalition, would profoundly damage the UK.

Digital dereliction?

Jeff Peel, via Alan in Belfast, points out that no local MP felt it important enough to attend the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill.

Jeff argues, rightly, that this is legislation which will effect the whole of the UK, raising important questions about civil liberties and the internet.

Of course it is at the fag end of parliament, but the failure of a single Northern Irish MP to prioritise this issue is a damning indictment.

I can only hope that MPs, operating from the British government benches, will soon give Northern Ireland a full-time voice in the Commons.

Empey's candidacy confirmed.

Then there were eighteen. Or, accurately, seventeen, plus one trying desperately to wriggle out of it.

Yesterday morning Three Thousand Versts revealed that posters and literature for Sir Reg Empey's campaign in South Antrim has already been printed.

Thank goodness then, for the sake of the environment, that his candidacy has been confirmed. Ivor at Hand of History has the scoop.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Bakiyev's regime rocking in Kyrgyzstan

Reportedly, no fewer than seventeen demonstrators have been killed in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where government troops have opened fire on an opposition protest.  A state of emergency has been declared by President Bakiyev, with riots engulfing the Central Asian country’s capital.

Protestors are intent upon overthrowing Bakiyev’s regime, which they claim is authoritarian and corrupt.  The Moscow Times reports that rioters attempted to seize the main government building, while Ria Novosti suggests that other critical sites are in opposition hands, including the state television channel’s headquarters.

These clashes are ongoing, so a clearer picture will no doubt emerge later.  However, like Georgia, Kyrgyzstan’s president was swept to power by one of the so-called ‘colour revolutions’.  Like Saakashvili, Bakiyev has failed to live up to promises of democracy.

'Fall of the House of Paisley' updated.

It might be premature to talk about 'the fall of the house of Robinson', but David Gordon has updated his excellent book on the Paisleys to account for recent events. As the Political Editor for the Belfast Telegraph it's impressive that he managed to find the time! The original review if here.

Details of the new chapter from the publisher:

The Iris Robinson sex-and-money scandal forms part of the crumbling of the Paisleyite movement

in Northern Ireland politics’, a new version of an acclaimed book argues.

First published in autumn 2009,The Fall of the House of Paisley, by Belfast journalist David Gordon, charted how Ian Paisley's time as Northern Ireland's First Minister came to an abrupt end in 2008. The new version, published this week, has been updated to examine the impact of the scandal surrounding Iris Robinson which broke early in the new year.

Gordon's book received highly positive reviews and repeatedly made the non-fiction best-seller lists during the Christmas period. The book begins on the historic day in 2007 when the DUP and Sinn Féin stood together and announced they had done a deal to restore devolution in Northern Ireland. This immediately damaged Paisley in his heartland. From there Gordon charts the developments which ripped apart the House of Paisley. The DUP soon lost a council by-election in Dromore, Co Down that it had been expected to win quite comfortably. Then there’s Ian Paisley junior’s resignation which highlighted faults in the Stormont system relating to accountability, public standards, nepotism and use of tax payers’ money. The way this controversy also brought down his father has echoes of a biblical or Shakespearian drama, and it makes for a riveting read.

The Iris Robinson scandal involved an affair with a teenager around the same time she was crusading against homosexuality. She also used £50,000 from property developers to help fund her young lover's business. Sex-and-money scandals are bad news for any political party. But, as the book points out, this was the DUP, with its roots deeply embedded in a stern, censorious brand of evangelical Protestantism. The Robinsons were very much part of the Paisleyite world, where dogmatic religion and politics were mixed. When Iris Robinson launched her salvos against homosexuality she might have caused some embarrassment to her more media-savvy DUP colleagues. She was in fact staying true to the traditions of her party.

As Gordon shows, when Iris Robinson first entered political life in 1989, the DUP manifesto carried a message from leader Paisley under the heading ‘For God and Ulster’. It also stressed the party’s opposition to ‘immoral practices’. Iris Robinson also clearly believed she had divine approval for her entire political career.

Paisley's DUP traditionally had two central themes - blending politics with religion and accusing mainstream unionist politicians of betrayal. Now the party is the mainstream itself, and is Sinn Féin's principal partner in power. The Iris Robinson scandal is likely to help deter DUP politicians from preaching about other people's private lives in future. It seems that traditional Paisleyism is on the way out, along with its founder.

‘Gordon’s account is as sharp as a blade, cutting deep into the murky world of Stormont’, The Sunday Business Post.

‘A fine piece of investigative journalism’, The Irish Independent.

Reg against the Reverend?

Gordon Brown's election announcement signals a 29 day dash to the election finishing line. Which is all very well if you have your candidates, and their campaign team, ready to go.

In seventeen out of eighteen constituencies Conservatives and Unionists at least have a Westminster hopeful in place. The eighteenth, outstanding constituency, remains South Antrim, where Adrian Watson was rejected, due to his propensity for immoderate outbursts.

Reg for South Antrim?
So who will fill the vacancy in a constituency which should offer the Conservatives and Unionists one of their best chances of a Commons seat?

The best bet is still Sir Reg Empey.

Three Thousand Versts is led to believe that literature and posters have been prepared, for a possible challenge to Reverend Willie McCrea by the UUP leader.

Realistically, Sir Reg's leadership is now linked, inextricably, to the Conservative and Unionist project. However you assess his performance in recent times, Empey is one of its most articulate advocates, and South Antrim is a vital seat.

Selection in the constituency has hardly been carefully choreographed, however the UUP leader might be the best choice now available. UCUNF is a force made for Westminster, and its architect could yet make the House of Commons his political platform.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A chance to get rid of Brown, but will apathy be the local winner?

So the phoney war is over. Gordon Brown has proved incredibly reluctant to give voters a say on his role as prime minister, but thank goodness, in a democracy, even he has to go to the electorate sooner or later.

Conservative poll leads have been firmer in recent days. With the party's emphasis on marginal seats, Nick Cohen's view that the election might not be as tight as predicted, looks like sound analysis.

In Northern Ireland this election should offer an exciting departure. The Conservatives and Unionists are offering voters a chance to choose the next government. However the 'New Force' has been rocked by a series of internal wrangles.

Now that campaigning can begin in earnest, there is a chance to steady the ship. Otherwise the most popular response from the Northern Ireland electorate, to an election which sees the main parties in various degrees of disarray, may well be apathy.