Where now for the UUP? March 25, 2010Posted by Garibaldy in Unionism.
Today’s news of Sylvia Hermon’s resignation from the UUP comes as no surprise whatsoever. Still, it’s a blow to the whole UCUNF project, and especially to the UUP under Reg Empey, which for the first time since its foundation has no MPs. It’s been clear since the first rumours of the UUP-Tory link up emerged that she was opposed to the very idea. In this case, silence did not mean consent, especially in light of her consistent record of voting with Labour. After a great deal of delay, she has made the only decision she was ever likely to make. One of the all-too-few NI politicians able to raise her view out of the tribal ghetto, she came to speak at The Workers’ Party Northern Ireland Regional Conference I’d guess around ten years ago, and she talked a fair amount of sense. Most obviously, I thought, on the issue of a Bill of Rights where she had opposed the concept of including nationalist rights and unionist rights in the Bill in her submission to the consultation process. She always seemed more of a natural fit to Alliance than the Ulster Unionist Party, and finally both she and the UUP have acknowledged that reality. It will be a major surprise if she doesn’t walk the next election to retain her seat.
So her future looks certain. What of the UCUNF? Their candidate in North Down will be former Alliance posterboy Ian Parsley, who was always more clearly right-wing and more clearly pro-union than his former colleagues. He is exactly the type of candidate that the Conservatives are hoping for as they makes the argument that they are bringing more British politics to the north – outside traditional tribal politics, articulate, with a clear sense of having embraced modernity. It is easy to imagine him swanning round the more upmarket parts of London inhabited by Cameron and his cohorts, something that cannot be said for the average UUP representative. The only thing he lacks from the ideal Conservative candidate is being a Catholic. It looked like they would be running a couple of those, but after news broke that the Tories, motivated most likely by the increasing possibility of a hung parliament, had invited the DUP and UUP to unionist unity talks, the duo concerned withdrew. Strictly for personal reasons of course, nothing to do with what looked very much like playing the Orange Card at a potentially tight general election.
So the modern, non-sectarian, normal politics promised by the Tories proved not tp be so shiny, new and non-sectarian. Not only that, but the Cameron story of a new socially liberal and socially-repsonsible conservatism has taken a battering in NI on an another front. One of the ways in which the Tories are supposed to have changed is in their attitudes towards gay people. Not only has this come under question due to their new European alliance with such lovely people as these, but, as noted by 1967, Cameron himself has failed to convince about his gay-friendly credentials. And now, unsurprisingly, it turns out the UUP would like to stand someone whose views on gay rights leave a lot to be desired, a story discussed here on Slugger and here by Splintered Sunrise.
Now it could be said, that in trying for unionist unity, refusing to back the devolution of police and justice, and seeking a stand a candidate with a known aversion to having homosexual couples stay at his family B&B, the UUP are revealing that they know their core audience and are appealing to it. After all, unionism, especially outside Belfast, is hardly known as a beacon of modernity. But having pinned their hopes to the Cameron Tory project, this simply gives the appearance of incoherence, desperation, and uncertainty, especially when such an appearence is already present due to the failed attempts to outflank the DUP from the right once it overtook the UUP. An appearance heightened by the loss of their only MP. The pressure on Reg Empey to deliver at the next general election has now grown immensely. His main hope of taking a seat, it seems, lies in the DUP standing aside in a seat like South Belfast or Fermanagh South Tyrone. However, at the minute, it seems the only seat the DUP might stand aside in is North Down, which may well benefit Hermon more than the UCUNF. So it looks like Empey might well have swapped a bird in the hand for none in the bush or anywhere else.
The Tory gamble needed right-wing Catholics to vote for the New Force if it was to work. Not only is there no sign of that taking place, but the PR disaster surrounding unionist unity and now the rights of gay people has probably had the effect of alienating any such likely voters. Instability and incoherence means that UUP voters who support the institutions are likely to stick with the DUP, while the TUV is actually anti-agreement, and more atttractive to hardline voters. So in short, things look bad for the UUP. In chasing the Tory alliance, it looks like Empey has done enough not only to destroy his own leadership, but also to ensure that the only credible figure remaining in the UUP as a possible replacement has gone too. The DUP is most likely to benefit, though it faces its own challenges from the TUV. Interesting times. And, alas, no sign that there will be any benefit to the left from all this.