In a press release the party’s UK joint chair, Baroness Warsi, announced that the Tories will soon open a campaign headquarters in Bangor. A full-time member of staff will be recruited to liaise with one of the Conservatives’ “most senior campaign directors”.
In addition, the Tories’ Northern Ireland chairman, Irwin Armstrong, who tendered his resignation in December, is back. After Tom Elliott and Andrew Feldman’s infamous meeting, he felt that his position was untenable. Conservative central office looked set to marginalise the local membership, preferring to lend its electoral ‘franchise‘ to the UUP.
Armstrong now believes that his concerns have been addressed:
Today’s announcement from our joint Chairman Baroness Warsi confirms the unequivocal support of our leadership and board for Conservatives in Northern Ireland, their wish to have a close relationship with local Conservatives, to be at the heart of politics here, and that we will be contesting elections in future.
The local Tories will not, at this late stage, contest Assembly elections. The UUP’s immediate goal of forestalling that threat is still achieved. In this morning’s News Letter, though, Sam McBride reports that the Ulster Unionists were not consulted, before the latest Conservative announcements on a reorganisation in Northern Ireland.
At the very least it is clear that the local party is still a serious rival to the UUP for the affections and attentions of Tory central office. Warsi’s statement promises that senior Conservative figures in Northern Ireland “will work with the Board of the party” in order to develop the relationship between its national and local wings.
That fulfils a long-standing aim of the local Tories to gain a foothold on the national party board. Whereas two months ago its very future was in doubt, the Northern Ireland party is now confident enough to claim, “we will have infrastructure in place for all future elections including an office and full time staff to support the local Executive and candidates“.
Back in December, Warsi was one of the senior Conservatives who championed the merits of a deal with the UUP, now she claims “the Conservative party in Northern Ireland has the unequivocal support of the party nationally”.
I’d imagine that the Ulster Unionists will be seeking urgent clarification this morning. The rationale behind the Feldman / Elliott deal was that, even in a relatively weak state, the UUP could exert more influence in the Assembly and do more to strengthen the political centre ground in Northern Ireland, than could be achieved by building up the Tories’ own local presence.
That logic holds for the forthcoming election, but the Conservatives look to be keeping their options open for the future.
The relevant Tory press releases can be read in full beneath the fold.
Warsi: Conservative Party committed to Northern Ireland
Irwin Armstrong returns as Chairman of the local Conservatives
The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland today announced that Irwin Armstrong had resumed his position as Chairman of the local party.
Irwin Armstrong commented.
“When I tendered my resignation in December I said it was untenable for me to remain as Chairman since it appeared that the party in Northern Ireland would no longer be able to contest elections and that I did not have the support of the leadership.
Today’s announcement from our joint Chairman Baroness Warsi confirms the unequivocal support of our leadership and board for Conservatives in Northern Ireland, their wish to have a close relationship with local Conservatives, to be at the heart of politics here, and that we will be contesting elections in future. This demonstrates that the reasons for tendering my resignation have been addressed and I have therefore consented to the request of the Executive and local membership that I withdraw my resignation.”
The party also commented on their future plans in Northern Ireland.
Members of our Executive have agreed that we would not now be able to properly contest the Assembly elections as we will not have the necessary infrastructure in place due to the events of recent months. We can however confirm that we will have that infrastructure in place for all future elections including an office and full time staff to support the local Executive and candidates.
We will therefore watch with interest the results of the Assembly elections in May and then decide on a detailed long term strategy that will enable us to make a real difference as we pursue our One Northern Ireland, One Community, One Future politics, and put up credible candidates with the experience that can provide the leadership Northern Ireland requires.
We look forward to building our party across Northern Ireland and attracting members and future candidates from all sections of the community who believe in our vision of a positive future for everyone.