Earlier in the week recent Conservative recruit, Deirdre Nelson, wrote a letter to the Belfast Telegraph wherein she referred to the “arrangement between these two great parties” – the two Parties being the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party. Now perhaps I missed something, but I can’t quite recall a time when the Ulster Unionist Party – indeed any of Northern Ireland’s political Parties – was “great”.
Now one could argue that no political Parties are great. Political Parties are a very imperfect way to do democracy. They have a tendency to stifle freedom of thought. Party politicians acting in conscience, rather than to suit the collective, are few and far between. I don’t like collectives – and it’s a key reason why I dislike football teams and religions.
However, I’d have to admit that the Conservative Party could probably, rightly, be described as “great”. After all, it’s the Party of Peel, Churchill, Disraeli and Thatcher. But the UUP? Great?
The UUP is not even a political Party in the true sense of the term.
Let’s seek a definition of political party and then decide whether the Ulster Unionist Party passes the test. If it fails to pass the litmus test of political party then, de facto, it is impossible for it to be great. Yes?
Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
A political party is a political organization that seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.
Well I think we can safely say that the UUP has never sought political power within government – after all it has been in existence since the home rule crisis and has never had the opportunity, until recently, of having any say in the government of the United Kingdom. Even now it refuses to dismantle itself and encourage its members to join the Conservative Party – so that those members could become active in a UK wide political Party that aspires to form the next government. Instead it trundles along competing with the Conservative Party for members, organising its fund raising campaigns, wittering on about parades, and protestantism, and Ulster.
And what about the UUP’s expressed ideology or vision? It has none. The Party has never really understood what it stands for (apart from the “Union”). Unionism is not an ideology – despite the fact that UUP members would like to think its is. The founder of modern Unionism, Carson, never wanted Ulster Unionism to set itself outside mainstream UK political debate and never wanted a Stormont government. He just wanted Northern Ireland to be like the rest of the UK. Oh and he wasn’t too fond of the Orange Order either…”all old bones and rotten rags.”
And what about the coalition of disparate interests? Well it ticks that box I suppose. I gather UUP MLAs are split down the middle in terms of the deal with the Conservatives. South Belfast UUP have declared UDI and, today, the UUP Health Minister attended a trade union organised rally held in Belfast to protest against cuts to the health service (yes, you did read that correctly).
In short, the UUP can barely be defined as a political Party, let alone a great one.
Therefore it begs the question, are the Conservatives in Northern Ireland going a bit soft? The Conservative/UUP deal is not a meeting of equals or two ‘great’ parties. It’s about the removal of a sectarian brand from Northern Ireland politics. Conservatives here should not forget that.