Thursday, 10 June 2010

Northern Ireland Tories and their options.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I ask where the other partners in UCUNF, the Northern Ireland Conservative party, will decide to go now.  In particular I look at two options which have been mooted.

Seymour Major, a prolific Tory party blogger, has started a campaign for a separate organisation with a new name and would seek to align with the Conservatives at Westminster, but remain agnostic on the Union. The contention is that unionism has become toxic in Northern Ireland and the Tories at national level are indelibly linked to it. This breed of local Conservative doesn't just want to keep the UUP at arm's length, they feel the same about David Cameron.
Their difficulty is that any new party would start with an even smaller base than the Northern Ireland Tories.
In a devolved UK, constitutional issues are part of everyday debate and, by ducking the border issue entirely, a neutral centre-right group here could not offer either equal citizenship or normal politics.
But there is a strong alternative view, which argues that the existing party should press ahead with its Conservative and Unionist branding - with or without the UUP.
The New Force tag should be dropped and much of the baggage for which UCUNF was ridiculed could be shed with it.
By embracing this approach the Northern Ireland Conservatives would also be ideally placed to attract disillusioned Ulster Unionists, if the UUP decides to go down the 'unionist unity' route.
Indeed, the Northern Ireland Tories could emerge strengthened from a realignment in unionism.
Stiff resistance within the UUP to any DUP link is likely and there remains an influential section of the party convinced that the Conservative pact was a positive strategy.
Indeed, a Northern Ireland Conservative and Unionist party would make a natural vehicle for secular unionism, without Orange trappings and an ideal partner for David Cameron's Government.
If the local Tories instead decide that having a view on the province's constitutional future can be equated with sectarianism, they will quickly return to relative obscurity.


George said...

But for goodness sake, any new political grouping involving Northern Ireland tories, HAS to be open and welcoming to the devolution principle.

This "why can't we just be told what to do by Westminster" attitude that prevades among so many of Northern Ireland tories, is way out of kilter with the mass electorate (albeit if it does strike a chord with some golf club members in North Down).

Good piece on ConservativeHome about this recently re Scottish Conservative mistakes:

rutherford said...

That second solution sounds like the optimal one for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

I believe from what I know of the local Tories (I am an anonymous one) that they will be pursuing the Conservative & Unionist route mentioned - preferably in some manner of partnership with the UUP if the pro-Tory wing of the party can overcome the pro-DUP-deal wing of the party.

Glyn Chambers said...


Let's be clear - the Northern Ireland Conservatives are a definitively pro-Union political party. Always have been, always will be.

One big disadavantage of the age of the blogosphere is that people can express views or simply lines of thought in blogs that observers can interpret as indicative of widely held opinions in a whole organisation. The reality can often be very different.

thedissenter said...

general points at and more to come. There is a specific bit in there about how the election could work for UCUNF and that it shouldn't be written off. Depends though on Cameron's view on decentralisation extending to the Conservative Party.

Chekov said...

I am aware that Seymour's is an extreme take, but I don't think it's unfair to say that there are differences about how much 'unionism' should be emphasised, to say the least, among the local Tories.

Glyn Chambers said...


I don't think there is much difference across our organisation in terms of the depth of unionism. Clearly though, post-election, there are debates about strategy and campaigning tactics.

It should be borne in mind that those who would support placing less 'emphasis' (as you put it) on unionism would do so partly because they probably believe that it will lead to the highest levels of support for the Union in the long run. Though, to offer people choice based on the 'normal' political issues of the day is just fundamentally the right thing to do as well.

Those who take the view that I have just outlined would, of course, be slated in some quarters as 'weak' unionists - when they would, in reality, not be weak, just thinking long term.

Progressive Unionist said...

Hi Owen - hope you don't mind me crossposting this comment I made on Mick Fealty's Slugger thread about your article:

Sympathise with Owen Polley on the need for non-sectarian Unionism – but the problem is that the idea of a separate Tory party won’t have the potential appeal to be able to fly.

A progressive, non-sectarian Unionist party could fly and compete with the DUP for the hearts and minds of Unionism. But it couldn’t be linked with the Tories – as a huge chunk of “progressive, anti-sectarian Unionists” oppose the Tories.

You could still go ahead without this chunk but you wouldn’t get critical mass in terms of creating a party that could compete with the DUPs.

Alex Kane (who’s pretty on the money) says there’s a cabal of senior UUP folks (yes the same senior UUP folks who’ve brought you the last ten years of glorious UUP success) who are in private talks with the DUP aimed at some kind of weird, humungous DUP-UUP-Tory “united unionist” pact.

That’s not going to fly at all and will lead to an ‘equal but opposite’ nationalist reaction. There’ll be lots of folks in each of DUP, UUP and NI Tories who won’t identify with the kind of bizarre political entity that would result from such a ‘united unionist pact’.

Only way forward is a progressive, non-sectarian Unionist party embracing left-right-centre in socio/economic terms – friendly with all the UK-wide parties but formally linked to none.

Yes this may be sacrilege to the right-wing McNarry-esque elements of the UUP, yes they’ll prob defect to DUP – but hey they’re going to do so anyway, and right now they’re trying to sell the entire UUP down the drain to the DUP. So choices need to be made!

UUP grassroots should seize control of this whole decision-making process – decision-by-cabal was a disaster with the UCUNF project and it’ll be another disaster with this ‘united unionism’ thing.