The Conservative and (Ulster) Unionist Party
It is not a merger, and neither is it take-over, and the details are yet to be agreed – not least the nomenclature – but it has been decided unanimously by the UUP Executive (with two abstentions) that the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party are to have an ‘electoral pact’ and will henceforth be in a formal ‘partnership’. The two parties are to remain distinct and separate entities, with their own leaderships, memberships and officers, but a new ‘Conservative and Ulster Unionist Joint Committee’ is to be established which will make decisions and agree policy by consensus.
Well, this is going to be interesting.
Cranmer made known his thoughts on this proposal when it was first mooted. And he agrees with Mr Cameron that there should be full Conservative representation in all constituent parts of the United Kingdom. In some parts of Northern Ireland there has been a dedicated organisation loyally beavering away for years. They have branches, associations, officers and field candidates, and fight very credible campaigns which have yielded some creditable results. And they have done so without reference to the Protestant/Catholic sectarian fray which has long blighted the Province’s politics and placed issues of Nationalism and Loyalism well above the bread-and-butter political issues of taxation, education, health, pensions or the economy.
With the addition to the Conservative fold of Jim Nicholson MEP and Sylvia Lady Hermon MP, the Conservative Party is about to become the only national party with representation in all constituent parts of the United Kingdom. This is indeed to be welcomed, and is something of great symbolic importance for the party. But one cannot ignore the fact that Sir Reg Empey has rather more to gain from this pact, and that the UUP is seeking to revive its electoral fortunes after being eclipsed (indeed, virtually wiped out) by the DUP in 2005. The UUP is hastily trying to respond to a moment of crisis and may well find this ‘partnership’ turns out to be just as detrimental to its interests as Iceland will find any rush to join the EU and the euro will be its long-term national interests.
The best political responses to desperate crises rarely emanate from the depths of depression and despair. It is rather like trying to write about love when one is hopelessly in love. If the best poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, the most enduring political policies are forged in a context of enlightened and rational objectivity when iron can sharpen iron and all parties can see clearly.
Any formal Conservative-UUP relationship will have an undoubted detrimental effect on any future relations with the DUP. If Mr Cameron aspires to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, he ought to be cognisant (as Cranmer has previously said) of the fact that the DUP holds the office of First Minister in the Province, and that he will need to work proactively with the DUP to strengthen the Union and maximise Unionist representation. And in the event of a hung parliament (which, once again, is looking increasingly likely), he will find friendly relations with the 9 DUP MPs of far more use than any formal pact with the solitary one from the UUP.
It is one thing to talk of One Nation Conservatism coming to Northern Ireland, but quite another to persuade the Roman Catholic community that this ‘new political force’, as Owen Paterson calls it, will not be tarnished with Orange history. The UUP statement on the partnership says that the job of the Joint Committee will be to bring forward proposals on manifesto commitments and the branding of candidates, ‘ensuring that the heritage and appeal of both parties are respected’.
It is difficult to see what the UUP heritage is other than Protestant, Loyalist and Orange.
And it is difficult to see how ‘respecting’ a heritage which is irrevocably fused with the Orange Order will not be a stumbling block to the Conservative Party’s Roman Catholic voters, for the organisation is not known for its commitment to equality, liberty, inclusivity or the ‘celebration of diversity’. Indeed, voting UUP will be about as palatable to many Catholics as voting DUP would be for the vast majority of homosexuals (and just about as likely).
But Cranmer has a policy proposal for the Joint Committee to consider.
A promise of direct rule from Westminster would unite all unionists and would give David Cameron a landslide victory in the Province. However, Cranmer understands that Mr Cameron may find this unpalatable in a post-devolution era. In which case, the first joint manifesto of the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Party should offer a devolution settlement with a Northern Ireland Assembly under Westminster with absolutely no interference from Dublin and the total abolition of the encroaching ‘cross border’ bodies. There is, after all, no other part of the United Kingdom which is subject to such foreign interference (pace the EU).
As an aside, Cranmer looks forward to reading the Joint Committee’s manifesto pledge on abortion.
And Cranmer can hardly wait to hear from Sylvia Lady Hermon MP, who not only appears to have more affinity with the Labour Whip than that of the Conservative Party, but this 'Third-Way' pseudo-Socialist 'Blairite' is about to be foisted upon the loyal and true Conservatives of North Down.
Cranmer shall remember them in his orisons.