Monday, January 31, 2011

Logic starts unravelling the UUP-Conservative deal?

On the day we sent him our open letter, Mr Paterson appears to have been otherwise engaged:
The party's (UUP) link with the Conservatives — the confirmation of which has probably been the biggest achievement of Tom Elliott's tenure to date — appears increasingly shaky.

A source outside both parties has told the News Letter that Mr Elliott walked out of a meeting with secretary of state Owen Paterson last Monday after a heated debate about the Conservatives' refusal to change the rules on selecting the first and deputy first ministers.

Mr Elliott, who earlier in the week was scathing of some UUP members for publicly talking down the party, politely declines to discuss the incident.

But, coming as Conservative Central Office appears to be reconsidering the nature of the Tories' link to the UUP, it hardly augers well for the future of that relationship.

On Monday Strangford UUP candidate Mike Nesbitt appeared to suggest that the UUP's link with the Tories had weakened, saying that it merely meant that the UUP "will look favourably on taking the Tory whip" in Europe or Westminster, but only "on issues that do not pertain specifically to Northern Ireland".
I did refer to that "clear as mud" clarification from Mike Nesbitt last week- in the confusion of Devolved UK 2011, how do you now differentiate between what "pertains specifically to Northern Ireland" and what doesn't?

The whole idea (as it was justified at the time anyway) of the Conservative retreat from the May Assembly Elections was that the thinking between the two parties was so close, it didn't make sense to have competing candidates but now we're being told that the UUP will be going their merry own way on N. Irish issues?

That kind of arrangement doesn't make any kind of sense from a strategical point of view for the Conservatives, e.g. how many MPs are the UUP going to deliver for them in foreseeable future? It makes no sense from a tactical point of view for the UUP; whilst Northern Ireland remains an Entitlist Society (all rights, no responsibilities and someone else can pay), any party with even the hint of a connection with the present government are going to get slaughtered by their opponents at the hustings.
Despite the questionable benefits of the Tory link to date, losing a link to the party of the prime minister would be a damaging blow for the UUP.

It would also throw up the potential — albeit several steps away (and probably only post-Peter Robinson) — of the Conservatives doing a deal with a DUP which increasingly speaks like David Trimble rather than Ian Paisley.
Not as outlandish a thought as once would have been the case; some of the toxic nutters the Conservatives have permitted to join their ECR grouping at the European Union Parliament make the views of, say, a Willie McCrea look positively enlightened.

Still, I think (or at least hope) for both parties there is presently a lot more to lose than gain from such a deal but the fact that it theoretically in the long term looks more realistic (leaving aside the morality, I mean in terms of delivering for both parties) than a UUP/Conservative deal shows how far the UUP have fallen in the space of a little less than two years.

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