Sunday, 16 May 2010

'Cunning plans' no substitute for arguing your corner.

I am more than a little confused by the signals which emerged from yesterday’s UUP Executive meeting.

Sir Reg Empey is to stay, for the time being, and stand down during the autumn.  In the mean time the party promises a ‘forensic examination’ of what went wrong in its latest campaign and early decisions on a slate of candidates for next year’s Assembly elections.

So Ulster Unionists intend, first to ink in candidates to stand for Stormont and then decide on a change of direction.  In that order.

Now, clearly the UUP has taken the Westminster selection debacle to heart, but might the party’s future direction and new leader not determine who it wants to put up for election?  After all, there are at least three fairly different routes the Ulster Unionists might take.

Reportedly Sir Reg could have claimed the backing of a substantial number of delegates yesterday had he chosen to remain at the helm.  He draws continued support particularly from those who are concerned that a new leadership will jettison the UUP’s link with the Tories.

Basil McCrea, heavily touted as a possible new leader, has cast his lot in with the Ulster Unionists who think it’s all the Conservatives fault.  And in this revealing interview with Alan in Belfast, he shows his pan-UK credentials by declaring Westminster elections irrelevant, beyond their impact on subsequent Assembly polls.

With other leadership candidates likely to emphasise fabled ‘unionist unity’, I wonder whether there is a candidate to take up the cause of UCUNF?

The one clear strategy which seems to have emerged from yesterday’s meeting is a concerted campaign to put pressure on Peter Robinson.  Whether there is a genuine will to ‘start over’, in terms of relationships with the DUP, or whether this is an attempt to get excuses in early, I don’t know.

Whichever is the case, nothing is a convincing substitute for setting out your stall honestly and articulating its merits.  The UUP tried to fudge ‘unity’ before the election, if it tries to fudge now, it will convince nobody again.

The high priest of civic unionism, Arthur Aughey, provides a tour de force over at Open Unionism, arguing lucidly that ’unionist unity’ is a dead end.  I wonder whether the UUP has the guts to be as unambiguous?


Nicholas Whyte said...

I'm actually fairly sympathetic to the timetable (though no to the UUP). The first strategic decision on candidates for the Assembly elections is to resolve on how many to stand in each seat; that depends not on the wider political strategy but on an honest assessment of where the party stands. Once that decision has been made, the candidates to select will normally be fairly obvious regardless of the decision the new leader decides to take the party - unless of course the decision is taken for full merger with the DUP, in which case all organisational bets are off.

So to go ahead now with the organisational agenda is in a sense a signal that the UUP is not preparing for merger with the DUP, but is working out whether or not it can say so in public.

Seymour Major said...

I tend to agree with Nicholas Whyte. Another angle I would give is this

After the 2001 General Election, when the Conservatives were trounced, William Hague immediately resigned. The result was that the Conservatives went straight into a leadership election. The party had no time for reflection. This led directly to the disastrous leadershio of Ian Duncan Smith. The Conservatives, seeing another humiliation ahead, organised a coup. Michael Howard became leader. Howard made the best of a bad hand. He lost the election but at least began the process of clawing back lost ground. Once the election was over, he did not resign immediately and gave the Conservatives the time they needed.

It may well be that this is the precedent which Sir Reg is being guided by. Perhaps, he genuinely wants to see the UUP debate all its options fully and thoughtfully before it makes its next move.

otto said...

Perhaps the UUP should follow the LibDem example and appoint a caretaker while a democratic leader election campaign is carried out?

Anonymous said...

I thought that's what we had in Sir Reg? Someone to get the ship back in shape before a relaunch.