Sunday, February 25, 2007

Conservative and still Unionist – a Tory / DUP coalition?

Traditionally, the main political parties have kept out of Northern Ireland. Despite professing to be United Kingdom parties, they have kept Ulster in limbo, choosing either not to stand candidates in elections, or (in the case of Labour) not permitting party membership. But over recent years there has been a gradual shift in policy, with a loosening of these traditional prohibitions, and David Cameron is now formalising what hitherto has been a tentative exploration.

The Conservative Party is making a serious bid for its first seat in the Stormont assembly. Historically, and until 1972 formally, the Party allied itself with the Ulster Unionist Party, as Labour did with the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Thus the Conservatives have been perceived to identify predominantly with the ‘moderate’ Protestant Loyalist cause, while Labour has identified itself with the ‘moderate’ Catholic Nationalism, both avoiding the ‘extreme’ Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. But the meltdown of the UUP, consequent defections to the Conservative Party, and the phenomenal rise of the DUP, have caused a reconsideration of strategy. Quite right too. The United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland, and one cannot profess to be a Unionist party and then specifically exclude and alienate a constituent component of it.

But the UUP leader, Sir Reg Empey, challenged Mr Cameron to clarify the Conservative position. In Stormont, parties are required to register themselves as being either Unionist or Non-Aligned. Of course, the Conservative Party’s official name used to be The Conservative and Unionist Party, but with the advent of devolution, and out of sensitivity to Scottish Conservatives, the ‘unionist’ suffix has been quietly dropped from official documentation. As recently as 2003, a Party manifesto claimed 'we are a party of the Union', yet pledged that 'any Conservative elected to the assembly will refuse to play the sectarian headcount and will remain non-designated’.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that Unionism in Northern Ireland is not simply a political term; it is acutely religious, for it is synonymous with Protestantism. One can pretend otherwise, and insist that it is not a sectarian term, and point out that many Roman Catholics are Unionist (and they are), but the insistence that the term is not exclusive to any religious or ethnic group does not negate the reality that it predominantly is. In Northern Ireland, issues of monarchy, military, education, housing, justice, policing, and marching, are all viewed through the lens of religious identity.

Mr Cameron been to the Province now on three occasions, and he has appointed a member of the Party Board to oversee the development of his strategy for Ulster. The media is largely ignoring this, but his message is clear: the Conservative Party under him will engage in Northern Ireland, and any elected candidates will be Unionist. Of course, he aspires for a non-sectarian politics, and he states: ‘One of the reasons we are standing is to say to people in Northern Ireland politics doesn't have to be like this. It should be about the quality of your school, the quality of your hospitals, the choice you get in public services, supporting the rule of law, backing the free enterprise system.

Mr Cameron calls on the DUP to share power with Sinn Fein, because it’s what ‘the majority of people want’. Cranmer doubts that the Conservative leader has consulted the majority, and he rather thinks that his interest in matters Hibernian is rather more to do with the next General Election…

Consider, just for a moment, that the election of 2008/9 has been a tedious affair as Mr Cameron and Mr Brown have battled endlessly over the centre ground, each promising the same ends, with indiscernible differences in their means. As a result, the electorate decides that neither shall be victorious, and a hung parliament ensues. But while commentators and political pundits await news of the Tory-LibDem coalition they have long prophesied, Mr Cameron approaches the DUP for its 9 MPs to govern in coalition. A deal is done, and like a latter-day Moses, at the magnificent age of 82, the Rt Hon Rev Dr Iain Paisley enters the British Cabinet...


Anonymous bob said...

According to reports in some Irish media Cameron has said “Of course it is up to the candidate to decide what to do. Having spoken to our candidates I am very sure if they have to designate they will designate themselves as unionist. Of course they will. But you know, we ought to be getting away from this whole idea that you have to designate, that you have to be so sectarian in approach."

It seems to me that he's trying too hard to appeal to too many people. His position in this is somewhat comparable to Sinn Féin who are also quite good at feats of verbal gymnastics to enable them to hide their true motives. Conservatives should have the courage to say they are Unionists from the outset and to run their campaign on that basis. It is, after all, the position that the majority in Northern Ireland support and wish to maintain. I'm disappointed that he's been captivated by New Labour's culture of spin without substance. Rather a shame really.

25 February 2007 at 21:20  
Blogger Fulham Reactionary said...

An interesting idea, but would Cameron actually want to ally with Paisley? Such an alliance would surely not be in accordance with his well-publicised efforts to reposition his party as a moderate, all-inclusive, party of the centre. Paisley's views on homosexuality would be enough on their own to put him completely beyond the pale in the modern Tory Party. Although, I suppose such considerations might count for less after Cameron had actually won an election.

Equally, though, would Paisley be prepared to join in a coalition with Cameron? I can't imagine he's overly enamoured with many of Cameron's policies, and he has also praised Gordon Brown as "a true unionist", perhaps implying that Cameron is not.

25 February 2007 at 22:19  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Neville Chamberlain so detested the name Conservative that it was proposed to rename the Party The Unionist Party but I think it was blocked at the 1935 Conference

26 February 2007 at 05:44  
Anonymous Jeff Peel said...

There is another way to look at Cameron's interest in Ulster which is rather less cynical. While New labour has been happy to mirror the status quo of an endemically sectarian based structure, the Conservatives take the view that we need new politics that are overtly secular and not based on religious affiliations. There is also a real possibility that we could elect local Tories to office. In the mid 90s we almost won the North Down constituency with the Conservative candidate polling over 14,000 votes. The growing popularity of Conservatism applies here too...after all we're exposed to the same national media. Therefore rather than doing a deal with the fundamentalist and thoroughly sectarian DUP a better prospect would be that this part of the UK returns Conservative members of parliament. Cameron's strategy is therefore a good one. He's doing all the right things to maximise his vote here. The problem is that the media is largely ignoring his efforts. But then again the media here feeds from the trough of sectarianism.

26 February 2007 at 08:38  
Anonymous Voyager said...

It is also the case that a Party of The Union should stand in all parts of the Union to offer real choice....and you are probably right in that it can be a non-polarised alternative because the DUP will not want to suffer the fate of the UUP by beig identified with Westminster establisment parties

26 February 2007 at 09:00  
Blogger Cato, author of said...

With respect to Voyager's post above concerning the name of the Conservative Party, I can't speak with any knowledge of Neville Chamberlain's personal view on the matter, but I do know that when the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists (Joseph Chamberlain's pro-Union Liberals) merged their party machines in February 1912, the commonly used name adopted by the newly united block of MPs was 'Unionist'. It was not until after the ratification of the Irish Treaty in 1922 that the Unionists reverted to the label Conservatives.

This Tory is proud to be a Unionist, and only wishes that the term were still given equal respect along with Conservative.

26 February 2007 at 21:04  
Blogger Scott said...

Paisley? The Dr - Bob Jones University - Ian Paisley? As in, the BJU that bans inter-racial dating?

Er, no thanks.

The man is in love with himself; a solpistic, out-of-place, hate-filled maniac.

Cameron would rather be a minority government.

27 February 2007 at 03:47  
Anonymous Ulster Man said...

Dammit. I get busy, and Cranmer throws up a post just for me!

Scott is wrong. Ian Paisley is very very very respected. He's not always liked, but politicians don't have to like each other, he sticks to his principles, and people know where they stand with him. Just ask Adams and his like if they'd rather do a deal with Ian Paisley or with his successor, and they'll tell you they want to do a deal with Paisley. And as for being a 'hate-filled maniac', yopu've never met or heard him! Why do Cathloics vote for him? He's now the Prime Minister of Ulster for pete's sake! You don't get to the top by being 'hate-filled'.

27 February 2007 at 13:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ian Paisley is everything Tony Blair is not.....

27 February 2007 at 13:27  
Blogger Newmania said...

Odd isn`t it that on one occassion you receive some 150 remarks upon some matter pertaining to homosexuality. Here less , but I find this a fascinating and revealing post on a subject where I am far less well informed than I should be.

Many thanks

27 February 2007 at 18:03  
Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

I vote Conservative in the main, but the six counties is an issue pertinent to my electoral choice.
I believe- in principle- in a united Ireland, and would think twice about voting for a Conservative party that got in to bed with Paisley.
The Scottish Tories were still called Unionists till about 1970, BTW.

27 February 2007 at 22:45  
Blogger Scott said...

I believe in a united Ireland, too: united in the United Kingdom.

Though the strong Irish love the Crown has been largely re-educated out of a generation...

28 February 2007 at 02:47  
Anonymous bob said...

I'm Irish and I don't believe in a united Ireland. I have no desire to go against the wishes of the majority of the population of Northern Ireland who seem themselves as British, not Irish. Even if the majority did wish for a united Ireland I still wouldn't be in favour as we'd then have about a million people who didn't want to be in that situation and who would feel thoroughly disenfranchised, and it might provoke some of the Loyalist who are currently on a ceasefire to take up arms. I think there are also strong economic reasons against any form of united Ireland as there is a disparity between the economies in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

I'm also unsure as to the depth of love that ever existed amongst the majority of Irish people for the crown.

28 February 2007 at 08:08  
Anonymous Samuel Morrison said...

Interesting. I have put a link to this article on A Tangled Wed.

1 March 2007 at 10:14  
Anonymous Ulster Man said...

""I believe- in principle- in a united Ireland, and would think twice about voting for a Conservative party that got in to bed with Paisley."

But Paisley is likely to be Ulster's First Minister (again) on March 7th, and it makes sense to follow the popular mandate. If Paisley in bed with Cameron is unacceptable, think how some of us feel about Paisley in bed with McGuinness!!

4 March 2007 at 16:26  
Anonymous Oiznop said...

Daily Telegraph 'Spy' column, 15 March 2007

Paisley ties

Last October, Spy reported that Ian Paisley and his DUP MPs had held several meetings with David Cameron. The veteran Ulster politician added he would be "very interested in doing business with the Conservatives".

Still, I'm surprised to see that the Paisleyite politicians have started subscribing to the Parliamentary Resources Unit, a team of researchers that provided information and briefings for Tory backbenchers, who each contribute a small proportion of their research allowance to fund it.

"There are often issues where our parties' views coincide, but you shouldn't read any deeper significance into it," confirmed one DUP MP yesterday.

18 March 2007 at 11:22  

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