Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rumours of UCUNF demise not exaggerating ...

It’s taking a while for gentle reflection to replace the initial knee-jerk hysteria following Northern Ireland’s results last week, but here we go...first the positives:

1. Over 100,000 voters, for whatever reason, voted for "Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force".

2. The candidates chosen to represent the Conservatives and Unionists in Northern Ireland, by and large, represented a break from what is regarded as "traditional" Unionism.

3. Several of candidates performed credibly in the less than ideal circumstances.

4. For the first time, in a very long-time, a non-parochial, secular, pan-UK, pro-Union message was being broadcast in an Ulster election campaign.

5. No MPs were elected under the CU banner.

I can imagine the vast majority of you with points 1-4 will have been thinking "Yes, perhaps, but..."

The vast majority of you reading point 5) will be thinking "Yep, confirmed, O’Neill’s finally lost it".

Dealing firstly with your (presumed) answer to points 1-4, let me finish your reply:

"Yes, perhaps, but...you won no seats, you polled less votes than before, the DUP are now the undisputed voice of Ulster Unionism".

And you'd be right on all three counts. I could throw a Brechtian fit here and say "Not to worry though, before next time, we’ll change the electorate for one more enlightened that has a better understanding of what we’re trying to achieve here", but it would be much more beneficial to outline a basic truth behind last week’s results.

Weak leadership? Well, yes, but that’s only the sympton of the real reason which is Sir Reg could only lead a party where the majority of its members wanted to go. There is a substantial number within the UUP (and probably a majority of the candidates last week) who genuinely believe in trying to change the pro-Union message being delivered to the public; when the Conservatives decided to join in promoting that message, it seemed like a godsend to those of us who believed in a pan-UK, non-communal form of Unionism. A "substantial number" but not nearly enough to prevent the communal candidate being agreed with the DUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and make no mistake, if the Hatfield Talks were the beginning of the end for the whole principle behind the UCUNF, then Rodney Connor was the final big nail in its coffin. When the going got tough (as it always was going to do when the DUP inevitably played the "Unity" card) then it was back to the tried and trusted red, white and blue trenches. Weak leadership on Sir Reg's part to "allow" it to happen? Again, yes, but again, what was his real choice when the party in FST, from Tom Elliott downwards had no interest in pushing the new message?

Your presumed answers to points 1-4 focus on the fact that the electorate has rejected the UCUNF message; the UUP management ultimately proved with the joint candidate in FST that it had effectively rejected the UCUNF message and when the manufacturer of a product displays no confidence in its unique selling point then, however attractive the salespeople may be, the public are never going to buy it, simple as that. With no "Unity" candidate in FST would the Conservatives and Unionists polled better elsewhere? In all honesty, maybe not this time, but the project was always sold as a long-term one and long-term fighting every seat, as previously promised, would have given us a fighting chance at establishing a credible base for the future. But it wasn't to be and the hard truth for those of us who want to see a true pan-United Kingdom, secular Unionism taking hold in Northern Ireland is that the UUP, in its present form, is incapable of delivering our aim. That's the thinking behind my 5th point; a Nesbitt, Ringland, Trimble, Bradshaw, Parsley etc being elected this time would have merely hidden for a little while longer that unpalatable fact.

The advantage of last week's result is we now know where we stand, no short-term euphoria to cloud the fact. The clamour for more longer-term and substantial form of "Unionist Unity" is only going to grow and that means for many of us a hell of a lot of serious thinking and soul-searching ahead. That "Unity" is not going to deliver the Unionism those of us who genuinely believed in the UCUNF concept craved, that's a cast-iron certainty. On the other hand, it's also true, despite all the self-inflicted setbacks, over the last couple of years, solid foundations for an alternative have been laid - it's just depressing that at this present moment, I have no idea how we can now move it on to the next stage.

11 comments:

JeffPeel said...

Very well said.

Jeff Peel
http://jeffpeel.net

MancUnionist said...

What do those in the UUP arguing for 'Unionist Unity' view the party's purpose being? Would it not be more logical for them to join the DUP, with the UK Unionists forming a closer coalition with the Conservatives. On the Conservative side, whoever organised the Hatfield talks should be strung up and replaced by someone who truly believes in the message.

On the upside, the non-sectarian unionist APNI won a seat.

Anonymous said...

It was not sectarian to try and defeat Sinn Fein in FST. The Conservatives don't owe Sinn Fein/P-IRA any favours. They murdered and injured both Conservative and UUP members.

The concept of the UCUs was and still is good. Perhaps if the candidates hadn't been announced so late, the public might have had a chance to get to know them. A new positive leader for the UUP can push the agenda forward.

O'Neill said...

"What do those in the UUP arguing for 'Unionist Unity' view the party's purpose being?"

It's a valid point, "Unionist Unity" in any kind of formal form must mean the end of an independent UUP imo.

"Would it not be more logical for them to join the DUP, with the UK Unionists forming a closer coalition with the Conservatives."

They'd probably argue it would be more logical for "non-Unity" folk to leave a party which would be moving closer to the Unionism promoted by the DUP.

O'Neill said...

"They murdered and injured both Conservative and UUP members."

It's a fortunate person in NI whose family/friend/colleague circle wasn't effected by the terrorist campaign. We shouldn't let however SF define our Unionism and political beliefs.

"Perhaps if the candidates hadn't been announced so late, the public might have had a chance to get to know them. A new positive leader for the UUP can push the agenda forward"

Well...I think a similar result would have been achieved without both Hatfield and the Unity fiasco in FST. The core problem is that when we finally needed to live up to the PR we ourselves had spread we, collectively couldn't do it.

Candidate selection and a weak leader didn't help but they were only symptons of the real problem.

tony said...

How many Nationalist members of political parties were murdered by British terrorists again?

We haven't let sectarian unionist parties define our Nationalism and political beliefs-Much more to facts.

>>Unity fiasco in FST<<

Weak condemnation throughout of bigoted unionism belieing almost everything you have stood for(allegedly)

>>a weak leader<<

Certainly and I have pointed that out several times, but faint criticisms from the likes of you helps how? When you guys should be standing up against the very things you say you are agains.

Oh and save the 'Broad church' nonsense, lie down with bigots and you become one vicariously!

Anonymous said...

If ever there was an opportunity to rethink where the UU's go from here, this is it, but it has to be a complete rethink in my view. If they are serious about breaking the mould of old-style sectarian politics here then for god's sake do it properly. No electoral pacts. Drop the baggage of union jack flag waving posters and logos, we already know it's a unionist party. Break all links with orange order membership (more sectarian baggage!), get rid of the old duffers and promote new talent, more women, more catholics, minorities etc and get them out there – all the DUP candidates were high-profile. One example – Trevor Ringland, I didn't see or hear sight nor sound of him during this election bar one brief cameo in an election broadcast, perhaps Reg and Trevor thought the name was enough? Does having a Freddie Mercury impersonator as a candidate make you look credible?? Jesus wept.
At a time when the DUP's double-jobbing, corruption, hipocrisy and nepotism should have seen them there for taking, I'm amazed at the ineptitude of the UU campaign.. bloody hopeless.

thedissenter said...

A good marketeer does not presume what the consumer (in this case voter) needs, but endeavours to understand and present what the consumer wants. That understanding is more than provided in a BelTel opinion poll.

andrewg said...

"Ulster Unionist" and "inept" would appear to be synonyms these days, at least ever since the eye-bleedingly awful "decent people" campaign. Ye gods.

Anecdotally, I can confirm that Freddy Mercury impersonation is indeed an impediment to public office. Pity.

Chekov said...

O'Neill - A couple of thoughts.

I don't think any genuine pan-UK unionist didn't at some point consider that UCUNF was heading for the trouble it eventually found. On a number of occasions I expressed my disappointment at half-hearted UUP backing for the project.

You're quite right to point to Hatfield and FST as pivotal moments, but the cracks were visible before then. Had the UUP put Hermon out of her misery last summer, for instance, we would have been deprived of the whole 'will she, won't she' circus, which was only every designed to make the UUP appear like villains.

On a number of bleaker moments over the past 18 months I've predicted one possible end to UCUNF. A split UUP, with the bulk of pan-UK people and moderates decamping to an enlarged local Conservative party, the 'cultural' wing of the UUP making its peace with the DUP and a handful of left leaning people seeking a new political home. I still think that looks like a reasonable bet.

Whether that's ultimately a good thing or not will rather depend on the bona fides of David Cameron. Was his interest in Northern Ireland a passing enthusiasm?

After it failed to deliver seats will he still stick by his commitment to be involved, to visit, to campaign, to resource and to put secular, civic unionism at the heart of the Conservatives appeal?

If the answer is yes, then the game is still on. If not, it's a bleak future for the likes of you and I politically speaking.

peteram79 said...

Chekov wrote:
"On a number of bleaker moments over the past 18 months I've predicted one possible end to UCUNF. A split UUP, with the bulk of pan-UK people and moderates decamping to an enlarged local Conservative party, the 'cultural' wing of the UUP making its peace with the DUP and a handful of left leaning people seeking a new political home. I still think that looks like a reasonable bet."

I'd agree that seems the most logical outcome (although it assumes both the local Conservative and, possibly more problematically, the DUP are in a mood to play ball).

However, what I cannot really see at the moment, and this may be my ignorance of the internal workings of the DUP, is how such a shakeout works in practice. Do the UUP members among you foresee a leadership contest where the three strands are clearly represented and the winner gets to keep the UUP name while the other factions split off? or is there little chance that a contest would be couched in such explicit terms? If a pro-Unity candidate succeeds Reg, what is the next move for the integrationists? Is there a sufficiently high profile figure to defect to the Conservatives and signal the shift in home for "liberal unionism" (for want of a better term). Or is a more grassrots thing, either with UUP members quietly and gradually moving across or even a co-ordinated exodus making use of new media channels to publicise the stepchange in thinking?