I attended the re-launch of the local Conservatives today. No sign of the Conservative leader – he’s giving evidence to the Leveson Enquiry about his LOL text messages to Rebecca Brooks (apparently she advised him that it didn’t mean ‘lots of love’ so much as ‘laugh out loud’. Here, of course, it means Loyal Orange Lodge).
Anyway…I digress. The purpose of today’s re-launch was to replace the words Northern Ireland with NI – and tweak the logo so that the local variant of the Conservative tree logo looks like a map of Northern Ireland. Oh and the launch brochure featured a green Union flag. Hmm.
Apparently the new Party is more autonomous – defining devolved policy positions etc. But that was the case before as well. So the organisational distinction was lost on me – and most of the journalists present. Sam McBride of the Newsletter asked Irwin Armstrong and Owen Paterson why this “new” Party would do any better than UCUNF and the answer from Paterson was that UCUNF didn’t do so bad – it was merely because of the vagaries of the electoral system that no UCUNF MPs were returned to Westminster. Sorry, Owen, wrong answer. UCUNF did badly – very badly. It did nothing to get the right-of-centre vote out. It discredited the Conservative Party. It showed the Conservative Party to be lacking in vision and ethics. It made the Conservative Party sectarian.
But Owen’s wrong answer clearly identified the problem with this “new” Party. The same faces and personalities were in the room – apart from a few defectors and potential defectors from the UUP. In the corner lurked Paterson’s adviser Jonathan Caine – the chief architect and communications genius behind the UCUNF debacle. The journos looked weary and bored with the lacklustre and uninspiring speeches – and the whole event started nearly 40 minutes late and no-one saw fit to tell the assembled audience why. The video technology failed when a recorded interview with a young person with an Irish sounding name espoused why the NI Conservatives represented the future – but her voice got out of synch with the pictures.
Frankly I think it’s all too little, too late. I think centre-right politics will emerge out of the sectarian swamp of Northern Ireland politics but I’m just not sure the NI Conservatives will be the voice of it. The talent, the passion, the personality just isn’t there – and I’m just a tad concerned that the last thing a ‘new political Party of the centre-right’ needs is to be shackled to the baggage of an increasingly sleazy-looking and discredited Conservative Party.
I’d agree whole-heartedly with many of the points made by Trevor Ringland and Irwin Armstrong and many others there today – many of whom were involved in the earliest moves to normalise and secularise Northern Ireland’s politics back in the 1980s. Northern Ireland does need normality and real politics. I’ll watch with interest if a new logo, banishing the name of the place to a mere acronym that could mean North of Ireland, and green union flags, will do the trick.