My congratulations to Irwin Armstrong as new Area Chair of the Northern Ireland Conservatives.
However, it was a baffling meeting to attend. Two hours were taken up electing people to various positions and yet I recall nobody mentioning a plan for actually getting people elected. Some excellent people put their names forward, and told us all about how they were going to develop policy, set up new associations, get more influence in London, and attract new members. Yet the best point made (by one of the successful candidates as it happens) was that the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists are competing for votes (and thus members) in the same space. No one even sought to resolve the obvious problem with that, previously discussed on this blog, that if that is the case, the obvious option for anyone seeking influence in Northern Ireland is to join the Ulster Unionists rather than the Conservatives – they may be in electoral decline but, in the end, they can actually get people elected, meaning not only that they can get influence on local and devolved issues in Northern Ireland but also that they are more readily listened to by the new government in London.
Local Conservatives want national politics, a Unionism based on participating in the UK and not just defending it, and promotion of centre-right politics here. However, the conundrum remains that most politically active people sharing that view are members of the Ulster Unionist Party (including several new recruits from the Conservatives in recent weeks). It is alarming that an AGM passed without even contemplating that.
Thus the challenge for the local Conservatives in the coming year will not be getting people elected, but merely explaining why they should even be seeking elected office in Northern Ireland when they already have a sister party (and even a joint MEP) – their new coalition colleagues in the LibDems have long reckoned that the better option is to allow members in Northern Ireland but at elections simply to support that sister party.