Peter McCann – one of the Conservative Party nominees for the Westminster elections who was, disgracefully, overlooked – added a very lengthy comment to a post I published last week. However, to give his comment the status it deserves I have decided to give Peter his own ‘guest’ post.
Peter’s contribution is timely. In just over a week’s time the Conservatives in Northern Ireland hold their AGM. I gather than Tim Lewis – the current Area Chairman – is not putting himself forward. I only hope that the party, locally, has the guts to elect a new Executive that summarily suspends its relationship with the Ulster Unionist Party – and starts working to restore non-sectarian right-of-centre politics to Northern Ireland after the UCUNF fiasco.
A Forecast Calamity: A Guest Post by Peter McCann
The UCUNF project became unsustainable as soon as Conservative values and principles where casually jettisoned simply to keep the pact going. What began as a strategy to end sectarianism within Unionist politics actually ended up doing exactly the opposite. As soon as this happened the Conservative Party should have had the courage to walk away.
There can be no excuse that people were not aware of UCUNF’s failings. The calamity was well forecast. Alarm bells within Conservative circles were being sounded for many, many months and were cynically ignored. Those who spoke out were ostracised and mocked by the ‘party faithful’. These ‘experienced politicos’ put greater value in ‘obeying orders’ than following their moral compass.
If UCUNF had adhered to non-sectarian and centre-right principles then the result of the election could have been very different.
UCUNF could and should have brought a realignment within Unionism. Something that would have been welcomed by a sizeable number of voters. Realignment is not, as has been portrayed by some, Unionist Unity. Unionist Unity is simply ‘them and us’ politics that is devoid of any mature or rational thinking. The realignment that is needed is something that redefines what it means to be pro-union. Pro-union is celebrating our links with and contribution to the UK. It must stand for civil and religious freedom, where all sections of society can participate – regardless of sex or sexual orientation; whatever religion or non-religion; it should not matter if you are able bodied or disabled – we must build a forgiving and tolerant society of equals. Any election campaign based on Conservative principles such as these would and should have been extremely uncomfortable for some within the UUP. It could well have prompted the defection of those not in favour of inclusive and non-tribal politics.
Would that have been a bad thing? I don’t think so.
It is the right of any citizen to aspire to a United Ireland. Many have this aspiration yet also accept being within the UK is the best place to be. They willingly play a constructive and meaningful role within the UK – hundreds of thousands of our fellow countrymen and women do this every single day whether they live in Belfast or London or elsewhere in the UK. They are tax-payers. They are business owners, teachers, doctors, police officers, charity workers, voluntary workers. They have always placed helping their fellow citizen above their long-term political aspirations. The main Unionist parties have failed to embrace or even recognise this group. The Unionist parties are paying for this stubbornness when it comes to elections – the questions remain as to why politicians behave in this way and if they are capable of, or even want, change.
Each citizen has an equal contribution to make – the exclusion of any group or section of our society damages and weakens everyone. Any realignment must see the end of Green and Orange tribalism and allow the politics of the left and right to thrive. It is a world where our languages and dialects; music and culture and history belong to us all and we should celebrate them together.
Politics must rediscover its priorities. We live in a society where women are still treated as second class citizens. A world struggling with recession, where jobs are being lost and people are losing their homes. A country where ‘tolerance’ is purely used to cover-up sexism, sectarianism and racism. It is the duty of all politicians to work for those that are in most need. To defend and protect those without a voice. To eradicate intolerance and to support freedom. The election result showed that UCUNF failed to convince many that it was willing or able to do this.
UCUNF is rightly to be consigned to the dustbin of political history. The so called ‘unity candidate’ in FST and the eagerness to find a ‘unity’ strategy in South Belfast clearly revealed that the project had morphed into blatant seat grubbing. The fact that UCUNF tried to claim Rodney Connor’s vote as part of its 100,000 votes is as embarrassing as it is shameful. If the voters in FST elect an abstentionist MP that is their democratic right. The ‘Special Circumstances’ excuse was a sham, it was dangerous and undermined democracy. Come the Assembly elections next May Martin McGuinness could become NI’s First Minister. That too is democracy speaking and all democrats must accept the result. No politician should pretend to be a democrat and then actually work against the will of the people. To try and override democracy is falling into the trap of fascism.
If the Westminster election has taught us anything it is that the electorate wanted a real choice. UCUNF failed to provide it. You cannot tell voters they are being offered a new beginning when it was obvious that this was just a simple re-spray job – and a botched one at that. Those that willingly peddled this charade to the electorate must question their motives.
We are all still navel gazing and picking over the bones of what went wrong. We are foolishly looking for leadership from the very people who have serially failed to provide it. The NI Conservative Party’s reputation has been tarnished by this whole sordid affair. Can it recover – I am not sure. The UUP and its current leadership are either unable or unwilling to deliver the necessary vision for change. It is time they realised that just trying to be the ‘top-dog’ in Unionism is backward thinking. They need to offer a broader and inclusive vision to the electorate. I know a great many UUP members who have worked for years to make their party embrace modernism and inclusivity. It has been an uphill struggle for them and I continue to wish them luck. The coming months may force them to decide if their future is staying inside the UUP or creating a new political home.
Tens of thousands are not even on the electoral register. Of those who can vote fewer and fewer are bothering to turn out. There is an obvious message in these facts for all political parties.
Whether as a society, a community or a neighbourhood it is only by working together that we will find solutions to our greatest problems. We can’t expect any sustainable political, economic or society fixes to be imported. It might be difficult for some of us to work together but that is democracy. We have all been on a difficult journey to mend our society and fix our problems. It is a journey that is without end and one that has taken courage from all sides to even begin. No one said it would be easy – giving up or going backwards is not an option.