Some believe I am an idealist and that my opposition to the pact between the UUP and Conservative Party is ill-founded. Let me argue why I disagree.
Tomorrow the people of Northern Ireland go to the polls to elect 18 MPs. But, unfortunately, they are not being offered the opportunity to vote for a national political party seeking a mandate to govern this part of the United Kingdom. The UUP is a sectarian political party and UCUNF is the UUP in drag.
UCUNF seeks votes from Protestants. It cannot claim that its partnership with the Conservative Party is a move towards non-sectarianism when the UUP is, in fact, defined by sectarianism. While Sinn Fein has been pleading for sectarian pacts with the SDLP – which has bravely resisted – the UUP, DUP and the Conservative Party have created one of their own. Owen Paterson – the man who wants to be our Secretary of State after Thursday – has been engaged in shabby sectarian deal-making in Fermanagh South Tyrone.
If Paterson can treat the electorate with contempt, breaking his own promise that the Conservative Party would contest every one of Northern Ireland’s 18 seats, he could easily construct a deal with the sectarian, homophobic sleaze-party that is the DUP in the event of a hung parliament. Moreover quite a few of his new-found UUP buddies, like Danny Kennedy and David McNarry, would support him.
There are many within the UUP and DUP that want a Unionist unity deal after the general election – in preparation for the upcoming Assembly elections. The fact that the Conservative Party has allowed the UUP to maintain its sectarian back-water persona, while pretending to be a modern pluralist UK-focused party at the same time, has undermined the equal citizenship project. The Conservative Party had every opportunity to insist on an all-or-nothing approach when the UUP was clearly at death’s door in terms of party finances and popular support. Instead the Conservatives have given credence to a Party led by a dithering and incoherent leader and with the same orange hall scented brand. In many respects, this is the worst of all outcomes.
I have been arguing for years – like a broken record according to my wife – that the most elemental democratic right, in any democratic society, is the right to be able vote for or against the government. Our community still does not have this right. The Conservatives and Unionists do not appeal to the whole community on the basis of ideological stance. There has been no attempt by the key players in this ill-fated liaison to define a new cross-community politics or brand. Candidate selection was heavily skewed toward UUP candidates. Candidates who could have proven a commitment to an all-community constituency were overlooked. The Hatfield talks reeked of all-Protestant deal-making. Leading players in UCUNF organised Unionist Unity talks with the Orange Order – and no party discipline followed. A sectarian carve-up was organised in Fermanagh South Tyrone. But the fact that Dave Cameron flew in yesterday, and gave a rallying call, makes everything OK – according to UCUNF apparatchiks. Here was Dave rolling his sleeves up right across the UK – and showing that Northern Ireland is just like every other part of the Kingdom.
Except it isn’t. Still we are different – different because right in the black heart of our civil society – and in this ill-fated ‘partnership’ – lies the evil of tribalism. It infects every element of our community. It robs our supposedly ‘normalising’ society of decency. It corrupts our children. It infects any opportunities for social justice.
The Conservative Party had the opportunity – a real opportunity – to act ethically in Northern Ireland. It had the opportunity to paint of picture of a new Northern Ireland taking its first tentative steps towards a secular political future based on the dominant political discourse of the Kingdom. It has failed. Shame on it and shame on those involved.