I received the following report from James O’Fee this morning. James writes his own blog.
By James O’Fee
Addressing the Annual Dinner of the SDLP North Down Constituency Association on Friday evening as its guest speaker (a longstanding commitment), Lady Sylvia Hermon MP revealed that she will, if necessary, stand in this year’s General Election as an Independent in North Down.
Lady Sylvia repeated her appreciation of the warmth shown her by the North Down Constituency (which she has represented at Westminster since 2001), particularly on the occasion of her husband’s death when the house “looked like a florist’s”. [Recently Lady Sylvia has claimed that she would remain "loyal to her constituents", rather than to the Ulster Unionist Party for whom she won the seat and whose sole Westminster standard-bearer she has remained in this parliament.]
Lady Sylvia made no secret of her disillusion with the Ulster Unionist Party. She opened her remarks by telling the audience that it was a pleasure to see welcoming features, rather the grim faces and crossed arms she has encountered at recent Ulster Unionist meetings. Once again she poured scorn on its Leader, Sir Reg Empey. [Reportedly, in 2005 the UUs offered Sylvia, the Party's sole remaining MP, the Leadership after its electoral near wipe-out, though she declined on the understandable grounds of her husband's ill-health.] Of Sir Reg’s secret discussions in December with the DUP on Unionist unity, chaired by the Orange Order, Lady Sylvia opined that she didn’t know in which direction Sir Reg was now leading the UUP.
Lady Sylvia told us that she had only learnt of the UU demarche towards the Conservatives in an article in the DAILY TELEGRAPH of July 2008. She, the sole UU MP, had not been consulted. Of last Saturday’s Special Meeting of the UU Executive, Sylvia said that only one voice was raised in support of her stance in opposition to the UU/Conservative link.
Lady Sylvia expressed her general opinion of the Conservatives that they had done nothing for farmers (Lady Sylvia grew up on a small farm of 50 acres) or pensioners. Her husband, Sir Jack Hermon (then head of the RUC), had once flown from RAF Aldergrove to RAF Northolt, and then with a police escort to Chequers to meet Margaret Thatcher. Sir Jack’s message was that Mrs Thatcher’s policy towards the Republican hunger strikes was bringing Northern Ireland to the brink of disaster. Yet the Conservative Prime Minister’s first remark was to tell Sir Jack that a zip in his briefcase was broken.
David Cameron, like herself, was elected first in 2001. Yet the first time that Cameron had sought to speak to her was in November 2008, when the UU/Conservative pact was taking shape.
Lady Sylvia didn’t explicitly mention Thursday evening’s AGM of the North Down UU Constituency Association. The papers report she gained unanimous support – however, this was specifically for a motion “commending her work as an MP”. Nothing specifically relating to selection was discussed or decided. [i.e. on her reselection as a UU Parliamentary Candidate in North Down]
An experienced politician opinion was that such a vote was “the kiss of death”.
On “Unionist unity” Lady Sylvia told us that she would never stand as a “Unionist Unity” candidate. The DUP MPs at Westminster had never so much as shared a cup of tea with her. The DUP had sent no representive to Cardinal Cathal Daly’s funeral in Armagh (at which Lady Sylvia herself represented the UUP). Sir Jack had been a great admirer of Cardinal Daly (who served as Roman Catholic Primate 1990-96, see Cathal Daly 1917-2009, Thursday, January 7. 2010). What is more, the DUP failed to send a representive to the funeral of PSNI Constable Carroll, murdered by dissident Republicans last year. By way of contrast, Lady Sylvia spoke of the kindness of her Catholic neighbours in Tyrone towards her father, a widower with four young daughters. Lady Sylvia raised loud applause when she declared that we were all born the same and we all die the same.
I’m writing from memory. Apologies if I have some details wrong. More later. Of course I’ve been convinced for 18 months or so that Sylvia would defend her Westminster seat as an Independent, seeking to follow in North Down the steps of such “mavericks” as Sir Jim Kilfedder and Bob McCartney QC.