Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tom and John- the UUP's unconvincing Dream Team

Over the last few weeks there have been mutterings of a liberal/progressive mutiny within the UUP exacerbated, although not entirely caused, by the election of Tom Elliott to the party's leadership.

Chekhov sees Elliott's promotion of John McCallister to the deputy leadership of the party as an olive leaf to that minority, non-culturalist wing of the party. "Olive leaf" certainly seems a lot less pejorative an interpretation in this case than the alternatives of "sop" or even "bribe" but in the end they all have the same target, to neutralise opposition and thus reduce the possibility of internal conflict.

That target is, however, an internal one. Its achievement surely doesn't go any way to altering the perception of the party externally amongst the wider electorate. The Conservative/UUP project floundered on the rocks of communalism (the selection of the "Protestant" candidate in Fermanagh & S Tyrone and the "Pan-Unionism" talks at Hatfield) and whatever Reg Empey or David Cameron may have said about moving politics beyond the sectarian comfort-zones, whatever bright new candidates were selected, the facts on the ground were contradicting the core message of the UCUNF.

Similarly appointing John McCallister as Deputy Leader doesn't, in itself, make the party or, more importantly, its image any more liberal or progressive. A party can't fight simultaneously on a liberal/secular/progressive ticket in S Belfast or N Down whilst donning the sash and banging the Lambeg in FST or East Antrim; your own party members, never mind the electorate, will see right through and reject that kind of schizophrenic opportunism.

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