Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionists

Cranmer prophesied this a year and a half ago, or something like it. He was right about the strategy, but he got the wrong party. And he wonders if Mr Cameron has not got the wrong party also. Whilst a hung parliament is looking increasingly unlikely as the outcome of the next general election, if one were to result, Mr Cameron would need Unionist votes - and it would likely be the DUP, not the UUP, who could deliver. Of course, there is no shame in cosying up to the Unionists - Labour did this just recently in order to ensure the passage of 42 days detention – but it is bizarre indeed that an ascendant and vibrant Conservative Party should propose amalgamating with a party which is presently on life-support.

The UUP is but a shadow of its former self. Having been virtually obliterated in Northern Ireland it now sends just one MP to Westminster – Sylvia, Lady Hermon – and she is hardly known for her Conservative leanings; indeed, her voting record shows her to be New Labour to the core. Cranmer cannot but wonder how the professional, committed and loyal North Down Conservative Association will take to having her foisted upon them as their next candidate. One wonders if Mr Cameron is aware that not all UUP members are philosophically Conservative, and that its Socialist elements are as deeply embedded as the loyalty of many to the Orange Order which is not known for its commitment to equality, liberty, inclusivity or the ‘celebration of diversity’.

And yet there may be something in this. Certainly, there is much more in it for the UUP. But if Mr Cameron’s eyes are on Ulster politics a generation (or two) hence, rather than on some short-term strategic gain, this is an astonishing altruistic political gesture and evidence of a remarkable integrity.

Of course, there is much for the ‘working party’ to work out before this ‘new political force’ becomes a reality. It is not yet clear, for example, if this is to be a partnership of cooperation or an amalgamation of the two into one. If this is a ‘normalising’ process for Northern Ireland politics, it is not clear how the Conservative Party’s non-sectarian appeal, so carefully nurtured in the Province since 1992, is assisted by carrying a lot of Orange baggage. Hitherto, Roman Catholic Conservatives have been able to vote for ‘The Conservative Party’ in many parts of the Province, yet they may pause more than just a little before voting for a 'Unionist and Conservative Party’ with a hint of Protestant Orange, not least because it will clash with the green. At let us not pass over the gross insensitivity of the Conservative Party sitting in government with Sinn Féin in Belfast, whilst Lady Tebbit (amongst others) lives every day with the appalling consequences of the Brighton bomb.

And there is the further question of why Mr Cameron is rebuffing the DUP so early on in the leadership of Peter Robinson. If it is because of his ‘homophobic’ wife (Mr Robinson’s, that is; not Mr Cameron’s), this would be as unjust as judging the Conservative Party by the rantings of Ann Widdecombe (as it happens, Cranmer is most fond of Miss Widdecombe, but it is clear that very many are not. He merely makes the point that her name has become synonymous with certain unappealing ‘old fashioned’, ‘right wing’ attitudes which are manifestly not shared by the present Party leadership).

Cranmer happens to know that the DUP and Peter Robinson would have been most interested in exploring the possibility of a relationship with the Conservative Party. And when one examines the political philosophies of both in relation to foreign affairs, defence, education, the strategic fiscal and expenditure issues and the broad thrust of social policy, it is clear that the parties have very much in common. A ‘normalising’ process with the DUP may have been much more fruitful philosophically, if fraught with difficulties politically: it is, after all, manifestly easier to absorb a weaker party than it is to fuse with one in power. Whilst Sir Reg Empey may be prepared to relinquish his authority and abolish his office, this would never have been a possibility for Mr Robinson.

But Cranmer is intrigued by one nugget from a speech made by Sir Reg last March. He said:

“I have given David Cameron an undertaking that if he succeeds in forming a new group in the European Parliament after the 2009 elections, outside the federalist leaning EPP, then the Ulster Unionists will support him by joining his new Group. It is vital that we build a pan-Union front, involving like-minded parties who believe in the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. And it must spread to the European Parliament as well. The Union and the United Kingdom cannot survive if those who believe in it fight their own corners separately.”

Could the Conservative-UUP partnership be constructed on the very foundation upon which Mr Cameron built his own leadership?

18 Comments:

Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

Fascinating stuff. I've just discovered your blog; the bit about the UUP/Conservative link caught my eye.

Tim

26 July 2008 at 12:41  
Anonymous oiznop said...

" Roman Catholic Conservatives have been able to vote for ‘The Conservative Party’ in many parts of the Province, yet they may pause more than just a little before voting for a 'Unionist and Conservative Party’ with a hint of Protestant Orange, not least because it will clash with the green."

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Has Your Grace considered ditching the cloth and going full-time?

26 July 2008 at 13:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why the hell would Cameron want to associate himself with a bunch of bigots? He hasn't spent the last two years 'decontaminating the brand' only to recontaminate with sectarianism, homophobia and the narrow-minded cretins of the DUP.

26 July 2008 at 13:42  
Anonymous Morus said...

Is not the problem, your Grace, that the UK government still has a role in intervening in Stormont, to retain balance between Unionist and Nationalist factions (the Hume parallel consensus) and that by being officially allied with one of the parties, David Cameron would limit his government's ability to be a broker of deals between the two?

26 July 2008 at 14:44  
Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

Morus,

There is truth in what you say; however, I imagine they're hoping that, sooner rather than later, there shall be no need for HMG to intervene and that, theoretically, local NI parties can resolve their own differences. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

By the way, I take exception to the anonymous, abusive and disparaging comment about Ulster people being a bunch of bigots. It's human nature to have prejudices about anything and everything. Most Unionists' ancestors were English and Scottish and we were planted, or settled, in Ulster by the Crown 400 years ago.

Tim

Tim

26 July 2008 at 14:57  
Anonymous steadmancinques said...

You Grace said, 'Cranmer is most fond of Miss Widdecombe, but it is clear that very many are not.'
Those that are not certainly do not include the voters of Maidstone, who, totally against the national trend, returned Miss Widdecombe with an increased majority in 1997 and have continued to do so at every election since, something that Cameron and his upper class clique of metrosexuals, who know nothing of England outside a five mile radius of the Palace of Westminster, might care to reflect on.

26 July 2008 at 15:17  
Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

I admit to having a sneaking admiration for Ann Widdecombe; not in a romantic sense, you follow.

I deem her wise in many senses, though I cannot completely concur with her on one or two stances. Does she really drive a Smart car?

Tim

26 July 2008 at 17:02  
Anonymous Ulster Tory said...

The DUP are Social Democrats...

26 July 2008 at 17:57  
Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

The Most Reverend His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: Thomas Cranmer. What a great title for a blog. Keep tapping on the old keyboard & very well done.

Tim

26 July 2008 at 18:19  
Anonymous DUP spokesman said...

The DUP are Social Democrats...

No we're not - we're Christian Democrats.

What's the problem with that?
Typical of an 'Ulster Tory' to misunderstand the difference.

26 July 2008 at 20:45  
Anonymous Bugs Bunny said...

Up until 1859, the Irish Conservative Party (ie, the so-called 'Irish Tories') were the largest party in Ireland. Dublin City and the extreme-Protestant South Dublin were almost invariably represented by Conservative MPs. They went into terminal decline after Butt's defection, and their popularity went into decline pretty much everywhere except the bigoted and hard line Protestant Unionist constituencies like South Dublin, Dublin University, Antrim, Donegal (east), and North Down. Conservatives lost Dublin University eventually and it instead became of a hotbead of the Irish Unionist Party and the Liberal Unionist Party.

The ancestors of the Unionists today were probably nationalist. There was very bitter resentment among members of the Orange Order to the Act of Union. 32 lodges all over Monaghan, Armagh and North Ulster petitioned against it. It was quite rightly claimed such an act would bring about Catholic Emancipation (delayed due to the advice the Earl of Clare gave to King George III), which was the intent of Pitt and Lord Castlreagh After the 1798 Rebellion, Grattan's parliament was no longer tenable but it is interesting that the Irish Metropolitan Conservative Society (linked to the Irish Conservative Party) voted for a resolution to support Daniel O'Connell's proposal for Home Rule. Unfortunately, Isaac Butt opposed the motion but the sentiments were later taken up by certain factions within the Irish Liberal Party. The Irish Catholic bishops in a certain sense, can actually be considered the "fathers" of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for it was them who mobilized Catholic support for home rule. John Thomas Troy, the Archbishop of Dublin, regularly swore allegiance to George III, as did Francis Moylan, the bishop of Cork. Both men were staunch Catholic unionists, and Troy excommunicated those who take part in the 1798 Rebellion, in striking contrast to the radical Irish republicanism that characterised Protestants. It was a monumental diplomatic task to convince the members of the Parliament of Ireland to vote for their dissolution, so Castlereagh deserves much credit also. The eastern half of Protestant Ulster was radically Republic nationalist and very volatile around the dissolution of the Irish Parliament. While the vast majority of Ulster Protestants at the time wanted an indepedent Irish Republic, the Orange Order wanted to preserve the Parliament of Ireland, believing that the United Kingdom would be too favourable to Catholics. Both found the prospect of Union rather repulsive. Andrew Boyd does a mighty good job of explaining this. This article in Contemporary Review is a glorious feast for anyone who takes an interest in Irish Political history. I could not do it justice. As it states:

"In 1733, a long time before J. J. Horgan, Bishop Moriarty or John Biggs-Davison, Jonathan Swift observed that the Catholics of Ireland 'were always defenders of Monarchy as constituted in these Kingdoms' and that the Presbyterians, or Dissenters, were the true republicans' both in principle and in practice'. Swift was both knowledgeable and prophetic. The first Irish republican movement, the Society of United Irishmen, was initiated in 1791 by William Drennan, a Belfast Presbyterian, and in the North of Ireland was led mainly by Presbyterians many of whom, laymen and clergy, were imprisoned, banished from Ireland, or executed after the Rebellion of 1798. The sources of their republicanism, correctly identified by Horgan, were Tom Paine and Jean Jacques Rousseau, the American Declaration of Independence, and the French Revolution. In 1793 the anniversary of the Fall of the Bastille was celebrated in Belfast by Presbyterian radicals who had already read The Rights of Man. Their banners proclaimed Liberty, Equality and Fraternity."

I would also like to His Grace why he persistently employs Ulster as a synonym for Northern Ireland. I'm sure his communicants in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan are left puzzled.

26 July 2008 at 22:13  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Bugs Bunny,

His Grace is, of course, aware of the difference, and uses it in the informal sense as much media comment on 'Ulster politics' also does.

He shall, however, amend, and henceforth use the term 'Northern Ireland'.

26 July 2008 at 22:31  
Anonymous Steve R said...

Your Grace, you will of course be aware that the DUP are the Ulster Taliban. In 2001 they banned the popular American line dancing, citing it as "sinful as any other type of dancing, with its sexual gestures and touching".

They are clearly in tune with Mr. Cameron's modern Conservative Party.

26 July 2008 at 23:15  
Anonymous Bugs Bunny said...

Further to my above post I would like to add that I think this alliance will have a strong impact on relations with the Republic of Ireland. Fianna Fáil, the primary party in government in the South, have recently registered as a party in Northern Ireland, and are actively recruiting members at the universities (NI's universities btw have Catholic majorities; Queen's University in Belfast has a 55% Catholic student population, Ulster University is higher again).

Fianna Fáil have also recently announced their intention to run for elections in Northern Ireland. This was the original intent of Eamon de Valera. NI's two largest cities, Belfast and (London)Derry now have Catholic majorities. Derry has a population of about 80% Catholic; Waterside and the parts of the West Bank ward that were traditionally Protestant now have fairly handsome Catholic majorities. There are now only 500 Protestants on the West Bank, mostly located on that horrible housing estate near St Columb's Church of Ireland. Therefore I think it cannot be ruled that Fianna Fáil could gain control of Derry City Council and perhaps they will join an electoral coalition with the SDLP to control Belfast. Sinn Féin are now the joint largest party on Belfast City Council, but Fianna Fáil would certainly appeal to many in the west of the city, the area where SF traditionally commanded support.

This proposed merger will mean that Fianna Fáil and the Conservative Party will be electoral competitors in Northern Ireland. Both will be fighting in the same NI constituencies and both will be marketing themselves to a target audience will relatively similar conviction on many social and economic issues. Indeed one could argue that Fianna Fáil is more "conservative" than the Conservative Party itself. Fianna Fáil has been campaigning for NI's corporation tax to be reduced to 12.5%, on par with the Republic. FF in the Republic also fought the legalization of divorce (although officially neutral) and contraception in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also a bastion of opposition to the Civil Partnerships Bill, which will greatly appeal to prospective Conservative voters of a more Christian persuasion. It is now well established that the Conservatives will be the next Government in Westminster, but it is almost certain that Fianna Fáil will be in the next government in the Republic of Ireland. This could put tensions on relations between Dublin and London. Tensions between London and Edinburgh are already hostile enough but Scotland is not an independent country, unlike RoI, and so has not got a fully sovereign parliament. It is certainly strange that political parties in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland will find themselves in electoral competition. Only in the British Isles could such a paradox conceivably occur. This anomaly is a damning lament on the catatonic and insentient mindset that has characterized the dispiriting mutual relationship between the states since the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

26 July 2008 at 23:25  
Anonymous Reactionary Proddie said...

Many thanks to Steve for that useful information on the DUP and dancing. All dancing is a primitive waste of time. My donation to the DUP is the post. I hope they ban pop, disco, heavy metal, rap, house music et al too.

26 July 2008 at 23:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent thinking Cranmer, well done your intellect and insight sometimes amasses me.

It seems that conspiracy theories have now become increasingly the norm, rather then the exception. Perhaps finally we will all one day start to work out quite how virtually everything, does indeed work.

Which is by long term deliberate conspiracies far more often then short term accidental cock-ups.

Atlas Shrugged

27 July 2008 at 01:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'an astonishing altruistic political gesture and evidence of a remarkable integrity.'
Not impossible surely?

27 July 2008 at 13:13  
Blogger The Black Fingernail said...

A very interesting development which could change NI politics permanently. But the UUP would need to be absorbed into the Conservative party to escape its sectarian history. A merger wouldn't do it, I'm afraid. The divisions run too deep.

27 July 2008 at 21:26  

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