As a lifelong Ulster Unionist and a Conservative, Steinberg’s political commitments spanned two parties currently reassessing their relationship and Paterson will use his address to re-emphasise the Tories’ determination to bring national politics to Northern Ireland.
“Our opponents have made much of the fact that we didn’t win any seats in May. In fact we achieved over 100,000 votes for national politics and we came very close in three constituencies. For every five votes we secured we won no seats, while for every seven votes the DUP secured they won 8 seats.
Although I remain an unapologetic supporter of the first-past-the-post system it does sometimes throw up tough results.But despite the General Election not going quite as well as we would have hoped in Northern Ireland, David Cameron and I remain committed to the principles on which we fought it.”
He will continue:
“For us, it’s a simple matter of democracy. It is surely wrong that the people of Northern Ireland, alone in the United Kingdom, should be deprived of the opportunity to vote for parties that can form its government in Westminster.
As David Cameron put it, why is it that people from Northern Ireland rise to the top of our Armed Forces, excel in business, sport and the arts, yet nobody sitting for a Northern Ireland constituency serves in the British Government? This is an anomaly. It is undemocratic. And it should change.
That’s why we made sure that written into the Coalition Programme for Government is a clear commitment “to work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics”. There are some who attack this position and tell us that it is incompatible with the UK Government acting as an ‘honest broker’ between the Northern Ireland parties. I disagree profoundly with this.
For a start, the logic of that argument is that Northern Ireland people should be effectively disenfranchised and treated permanently as second class citizens when it comes to electing their government. That cannot be attractive to anyone who believes in democracy and the basic right to equal citizenship. Why should people from Northern Ireland be excluded from playing a part in electing their national government?
I simply do not accept that having an electoral interest or, putting it another way, being a ‘player’, prevents us from working with all parts of the community to build a better Northern Ireland for everyone."That’s interesting as a restatement of the principles behind UCUNF, but the ‘consequences’ which Paterson insists should flow from the democratic will of the people of Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom are more interesting still:
“One is that there is no reason why the constitutional issue should remain the defining characteristic of Northern Ireland politics. It was settled on the basis of the consent principle.
And another is that people in Northern Ireland should be able to play a full role in the mainstream of political life in the country of which they legitimately form a part.
That’s what the Conservative Party, in partnership or on our own, will continue to offer.
We want to see local politicians developing local policies but also have a major influence at national level.”That sounds like a commitment to long-term involvement here, with or without the participation of the Ulster Unionist party.
I understand that the UUP finally delivered its homework to the Prime Minister last week, regarding the future relationship of the two parties. The Conservatives haven’t yet responded, but sources suggest that they consider the document offers little to progress the connection.
Whether that will stiffen sinews in terms of a local Tory reorganisation remains to be seen. Offering national politics doesn’t necessarily mean standing for devolved institutions, but the Secretary of State’s tone suggests that the Conservatives have no intention of simply cutting their losses in Northern Ireland, in the long-term.