There has been a lot of talk over the last few days about the mess the UUP seems to have got itself into. But the UUP has a fine history of dithering, mismanaging situations, communicating badly, and generally being a bit of a basket-case. That’s because it isn’t really a political party.
As I’ve said, often, the UUP is, at best, a single issue pressure group. Ditto most of the other local “Parties.” None has a clearly defined socio-economic position – with the possible exception of Sinn Fein (although even it appears to have ditched most of its public Marxist-Leninist pronouncements, preferring to focus on Irishness as some type of ideology). But the UUP also lacks political talent, discipline and communications skills. Unfortunate.
The new intake of the Tory party in the next Parliament is likely to be more culturally diverse than ever before. The match with the Ulster Unionists looked like quick genius for both parties last autumn. But many Tories must be asking themselves: ‘what on earth have we landed ourselves with?’ - Mick Fealty, Telegraph.co.uk, 13th May
But since the ‘deal’ with the Conservatives the fundamental pointlessness of the UUP has come into sharp relief. Given the now clearly defined constitutional certainty of Northern Ireland within the Union, the UUP just can’t find itself. There is nothing about its history or “brand” (yikes) that is particularly appealing to a vaste swathe of Northern Ireland’s centre-ground – a centre-ground that increasingly wants to vote for a well-oiled, confident and nationally relevant party.
Frankly, the UUP is getting in the way of the most important messaging – and messaging that the Conservatives, themselves, are failing to get out with any degree of authority given the mess that the UUP is creating around this project. The UUP itself is not the point nor the focus – it’s really about Northern Ireland coming home to national UK politics. Since partition it has been side-lined from all national debates. And the UUP stood at those side-lines and dithered while this happened; the DUP just went native and fundamentalist – pandering to the lowest common denominators of Norn Iron politics.
It is patently ridiculous for the Conservative Party and UUP to co-exist in Northern Ireland, to seek membership and to collectively confuse the electorate. They are not a meeting of equals – one is a national political Party that seeks to form a government. The UUP, by contrast is a has-been, spent, and largely irrelevant local political force – an act of political expediency that has long outlived its usefulness.
Of course many people argue that the Conservative Party never achieved many votes when it did contest elections on its own. But that misses the point. In fact it’s only now that David Cameron is actively seeking votes here, actively seeking a mandate. And it’s only now that Conservative grandees and members of the business community are actively throwing money at the Conservative Party project. In the past they just weren’t asked because there was no Party resolve to do anything about Northern Ireland.
The great thing is that the spanner is now well and truly thrown in the works of Northern Ireland politics and change is now inevitable – for reasons other than the UCUNF slogans. But the sooner we leave behind the holed vessels that are the local sectarian political parties, the better.