Thursday, 3 February 2011

Conservatives backtracking on UUP link?

Something of a postscript to yesterday’s piece on the UUP / Tory connection.  The relationship looks even more uncertain this morning, after the Conservative party committed to “an ongoing programme of campaigning and development” in Northern Ireland.

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


The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland has committed itself to an ongoing programme of campaigning and development and will shortly move into a new campaign headquarters in Bangor, Co. Down. A full time member of staff will be based at the headquarters and one of the Party’s most senior campaign directors has been appointed to liaise with the Party in Northern Ireland.
 The Party is committed to the development of progressive centre right politics which offer the electorate of Northern Ireland the opportunity to cast their votes for and participate directly with the national Government of the United Kingdom.  The Party will continue to review how Conservatives in Northern Ireland can play a full part in the Conservative Party as in every other part of the United Kingdom and senior Conservatives in Northern Ireland will work with the Board of the Party to develop that relationship.
 Central to that development will be the Party’s desire to see Conservative Associations formed in every Northern Ireland constituency and an active programme of membership recruitment at a local level.
 Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi said: “The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland has the unequivocal support of the Party nationally. Politics in Northern Ireland continues to evolve and we are determined to be at the heart of that evolution. Our approach will be one of active engagement – starting with the fielding of candidates in the Local Council elections in May.”
 ENDS

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.

2 comments:

thedissenter said...

Yes. There has been a lot of lobbying from friends behind the scene, but the local Conservatives are not entirely blameless for the mess they found themselves in. They talk about the Assembly, but they were free to run at Council - of which not a peep. So will there be no candidates at Council, or will they be simply talking to each other for a few years more. In real terms, there are no elections for about four years after May, so the UUP also has time to reorganise etc. Much of this should not have happened. There is a need for some mature political heads to join the Conservatives and a bit more management around realistic expectations and impact.

Chekov said...

There is a commitment to field candidates in the local elections, but I would imagine the scale will be limited. I take your point that that's where the Conservative party should be concentrating in the short term, if it has aspirations to grow. Run before you can walk and all that.