Conservatives must get act together outside England/Wales

The Belfast Telegraph launches its monthly attack on the Coalition Government, specifically David Cameron, today. Since it is much the same as the last one, it is unlikely to have sold too many papers.

However, the Conservative leadership will surely come to regret wasting the summer in Northern Ireland, and likely also Scotland. As the DUP continues to head out to local communities to register voters and the Ulster Unionists move on with their selection process, it is the Conservatives who are on the receiving end of political comment in the media and at the civic events. The opportunity existed over the summer to capitalise on the Ulster Unionists’ confused relationship with the DUP (latest example is the discussions on “Unionist Unity” in next year’s Belfast City Council elections revealed in today’s Newsletter), attract members, and start an Assembly Election campaign. Instead, the party leadership opted to close the office, remove any staff, and tell local members not to campaign.  All the evidence suggests that the party leadership remains of the view that local and Assembly elections are not worth fighting (whether or not it allows candidates to stand is largely irrelevant, as no party can achieve anything without active support from the leadership), provided the new Ulster Unionist leader commits to taking the Conservative whip at Westminster. On the Conservatives’ own terms as stated in July, this would be a nonsense – but if they were otherwise intentioned, they would long since have worked out that now was the time to strike.

Furthermore, all the evidence suggests that the same applies to Scotland. The Scotsman newspaper, two weeks ago, claimed leader of the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament, Annabel Goldie, had not spoken to David Cameron since May; her Liberal Democrat opposite number Tavish Scott went so far as to suggest that Cameron had not given Scotland a thought (‘He has a [LibDem] Scottish Secretary and that’s it’). I find both of these statements hard to believe, but nevertheless they seemed to go unchallenged. Those of us out on the fringe are certainly feeling the cold, as the local media and civic society jumps all over the ‘cuts agenda’ without even the remotest support – even in the form of basic information – for the defence!

The Coalition Government has, overall, got off to an impressive start. David Cameron in particular has proved himself a leader of exceptional judgement; Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have been judged positively (even by some in Northern Ireland!); some of the other work on schools and hospitals in England looks promising. However, the Conservatives are perceived as having left Scotland to the Liberal Democrats and Northern Ireland to the local parties – and the suggestion that this is because of a ‘review’ holds no water given upcoming legislative elections in both jurisdictions in May. This raises serious questions of whether the Conservatives will ever again be able to form, on their own, a legitimate government for the whole of the UK.

My membership of the Conservative Councillors’ Association runs out tomorrow. Given the total lack of political support for elected representatives outside England and Wales, I have seen no reason to renew it.


50 thoughts on “Conservatives must get act together outside England/Wales

  1. Clarion says:

    It’s regrettable you have felt the need to do that ian but I can understand why.
    Conference is a good time to raise these issues which I hope you will do. The conservative councillors association have a fringe meeting I think so a good opportunity for you to be heard.
    I go to the Scottish fringe meeting every year, it will be worth attending this year as they appear in difficulty.
    I hope you will acknowlege though that although efforts may be poor from Cchq, local efforts for membership and the building of new associations has been vigorous.

    • I agree with this. I am actually more concerned about Scotland. As I see it, the only logic of the Conservatives’ inaction there is that they are hoping the Liberals (deliberate terminology) will form the new centre-right there. That would be one hell of a gamble!

  2. paul says:

    ian i just want to challenge you on your remarks about unionist unity.the discussions regarding belfast city council is on cooperation cooperation is not unionist unity.I see nothing wrong in the uup and the dup working together to maximise the amount of pro uk councillors next year at local level.indeed if we are talikg about unity pacts read your own conservative home blog about dozens of tory mps and membes wanting a pact and a unity campaign with the lib dems at the gen election where tory candidates would stand down in favour of lib dems in certain seats and lib dems would stand down and support tory candidates in other seats.So i find it very strange.I when tories such as you and clarion start attacking the dup and uup if they talk about cooperation.ian i think you answer the question yourself about the future of the ni tories i have to say you stood shoulder to shoulder with uup candidates at the last gen election yet you ae attacking the uup at every turn.i simply cannot understand why the party is about change and you will see those changes

    • Hold on Paul, I actually commended the UUP for getting on with its selection process!

      The fact is every revelation of the UUP talking about pacts with the DUP (Schomberg, Hatfield, Cobain, Belfast Council) is another nail in the UUP’s coffin. It is supposed to be the main opposition to the DUP, not the concierge! All these talks will just lead the electorate to feel there is no point in the UUP at all.

      Likewise, some Conservatives are recommending LibDem pacts as a means of picking off the LibDem right. That is only history repeating itself (such pacts existed with the Liberal Unionists 100 years ago and with the National Liberals 50 years ago, both of which were ultimately incorporated into the Conservative Party).

      The reality is that the only pact our two parties should be involved in is with each other! This must, however, be based decisively and clearly on giving the electorate a clear alternative to the DUP based on non-sectarian, mainstream politics. And there again I am consistent in saying that, currently, *neither* party seems interested in that!

      • paul says:

        ian i think you are right in being concerned about scotland the feedback is that the tories could well disband and start a fresh a new party brand etc.i think the dislike of the tories steems from the thatcher years the poll tax.Ian you should be a person on the inside not the outside you will never be on the inside being with the ni tories.yes i agree and commend you ian you are consistant you have bags of talent i want to see you on the inside helping all of us have a brighter future.

  3. slug says:

    Does this mean you’re leaving the conservatives Ian?

    • It means I am leaving the CCA. You may take it as a warning shot – as things stand, I would have to leave the party to stand for election next year. I do not wish that to become a discussion about what *I* should do, but rather about what the *Conservatives* should do. If they treat their own representatives like that, is it any wonder the Belfast Telegraph sets out to get them?!

      The Tele knows fine rightly that attacking the Conservatives is a popular line among its readership – or it wouldn’t do it. That is why the Conservatives can ill-afford to dispose of their own members in NI at this juncture, they should in fact be resourcing them (not just with money, but with information and research) to campaign back.

      That the same *appears* to be happening in Scotland is even more serious.

  4. bob wilson says:

    Ian it is a great shame the Party has wasted the last six months waiting for the UUP. The leadership have been getting some very poor advise.
    However the cul de sac they were contemplating – ie ‘keeping in with the UUP’ is well and truely closing and I think those at the top are beginning to realise we now need to get of our backsides and press ahead establishing the Conservatives as the centre right, moderate, non sectarian alternative in NI

  5. Clarion says:

    Bob those are the soundings I am getting and I am in fairly regular contact with Cchq.
    To be perfectly frank I think we have humiliated and belittled ourselves and the uup have shafted the party. I am disgusted with the chairman of the uup in particular who was lukewarm from the start at best.
    Pointless raking over the past though and it’s more constructive looking to the future.
    I know that many of us with be using birmingham (probably along with the scots) to kick up a stink and I’m very encouraged to read what ian has been saying here. I have a feeling him and I will be at the same meetings!
    I spoke to a conservative from Wiltshire one year who would happily have ditched Scotland because of the voting pattern over the years re labour and snp. There are many similar who are quite content for the party to be English.
    There is not the resistance to ni Tories that there was in the late 80’s early 90’s, but the there are examples of ambivalence which must be resisted. Unfortunately the relationship with the uup and indeed the dup is an example.
    I was livid over the feldman letter. Quite content to sellout at a low price. They underestimate us.

  6. Clarion says:

    I should add bob. The party here has neglected our annual trips to the Scottish conservatives. These were enjoyable social occasions to places like Ayr and many good relationships were made. Those need re-established.
    I would encourage everyone to work at encouraging the scots and they meet on the Monday at 12.30 in hall 8a. It’s always a very friendly welcome.

  7. paul says:

    its not a case of the tories negleting the scottish tories its the brand the term tories that the scots voters hate.I just think the cchq want to do everything to address it but dont know how going at it like a bull in a china shop rowing with cchq will produce nothing.Senior tories in scotland are having a root branch and whole sale review of there brand with even talk of a name change.The tories here erelvant i have being saying for weeks and quite a few months the antics of peel seymour major and other ni tories appalling behavier damaged the conservatives here beyond repair take that from me.CCHQ were at breaking point months ago.

  8. paul says:

    just to add put the blame where it firmly lies with peel major and co not cchq yes clarion you can blame the uup up to a point.but if you see what damage peel major did and comments from senior tories you will see that they had had a bout as much as they could take peel used his blog as a battering ram even rowing on his blog with owen patersons son.Is it ever wonder they want nothing to do with you.I suggest you get real seymour major blogs about ni tories ditching its uk roots and starting a new party. what message do you think that sends out to cchq.Everybody knows peel was quite rightly booted out.but ni tories commented on his and majors blogs and its done un told damage.Conservative home completely disowned him and its support base.banning peel and others from both commenting and writing articles why do you think they did that.The three nominees who walked away i can undestand yes the uup were dithering on selection.But the tory south belfast nominee was running aound telling the press and everybody he was the candidate.Thats an insult to the uup who hadnt selected paula at the time.The three then jumped ship and ran to the media talk back the press sputing this sputing that which further did damage.The ni tories are they own worse enemy you have consitently rowed with cchq and it seems theyve had enough and quite frankly who could blame them.

  9. clarion says:

    Paul I am afraid some of your facts are wrong, and there haven’t been rows with CCHQ (apart from Peel and that was him alone).
    There have been civised exchanges of views but thats happening with the Scots, and at the weekend I spoke to someone from Vauxhall in South London who has gripes.The same will happen in Birmingham in 2 weeks no doubt. So I’m afraid you are blowing it out of proportion a bit but since you are not on the inside of whats going on thats understandable.
    As I said before there is no question of CCHQ ever being at ‘breaking point’ and if you read what Ian has wrote you will get a better background to all of this. It’s about commitment and its happening in Scotland.
    I can understand you slagging Peel off Paul but Seymour Major? He wants to rebrand the party as the Scots might with new name etc, and he has expressed sympathies with having a neutral on the union policy. Hardly a typical ni tory!

    • paul says:

      ditching your uk roots will hardly inspire cchq major antics have being just a bad as peel chech his former blog he used as a battering ram to publicly attack the uup/tory link up publicly attacking both the conservative and ulster unionist party his personal crusade against tom elliott and other good descent uup candidaes he launched personal bile against the uup membership demanded the deselection of SH which did indeed happen should check your facts before jumping to his defence major spouts out his stuff when challenged he censues and blogs posters just like the extremist and bigot peel. majors comments saying how unfit a candidate he wa going to be and his attacks on the oo were a disgrace.

  10. clarion says:

    And Paul…you keep saying the NI Tories are irrelevant. Lets see how relevent another party will be after tonight!

    • paul says:

      if basil wins then thats it if tom wins then the link will only happen with agreement being in westminster elections any uup candidate elected would take the conservative whip.all speculation of course clarion.but if it comes off that proves the ni tories are indeed are not relevant i put it too you clarion in as nice a way as i can.that any ni tory wishing to have any future connections with the mainstream conservative party nationally to the party would only have it if tom wins.

  11. paul says:

    i should also add the penny dropped with two former approved ni tories candidates who saw the writing on the wall and defected to the uup and three foot soldiers defected with them.

  12. John Greene says:

    Who are these defectors? Has Duncan Crossey thrown the towel in with the UUP already?!
    Who was the other one?

  13. clarion says:

    Yes John. Duncan has left the Conservatives and joined the UUP only to leave Northern Ireland!

    • Out of interest, and I trust he’ll not mind me saying this, Duncan remained a member of the Conservative Party throughout (ie whether he was a member of the UUP or not).

      That is quite significant, in my view, because worked logically it opens up another avenue I feel local Conservatives may have to explore.

  14. clarion says:

    We want people of principle not people who move for career sake!

  15. clarion says:

    Yes Ian but this crazy anomoly exists where someone can be a member of a party here yet belong to a different party in England.
    In fact I bumped into Duncan at a Conservative event in London last month after he had left the party in NI.
    I think its ludicrous and party rules need tightened up in London.
    I was disappointed to see Duncan leave but he made his points when we met and fair do’s.

    • It’s even crazier than that. When I joined the Conservative Party I had to leave the Alliance Party. Yet there are many members of the Alliance Party who have chosen to join the LibDems *without* having to resign their Alliance membership.

      So, officially, you can be an Alliance-supporting LibDem or an Ulster Unionist Tory, yet you can’t be an Ulster Unionist LibDem or an Alliance-supporting Tory.

      That is despite the fact I could name you Ulster Unionists who support the LibDems (including a prominent blogger) and there are many Consetvatives on here who transfer Alliance (before Ulster Unionist).

      And then, of course, if you’re left-aligned the Labour Party currently obliges you also to be Nationalist!!

      It’s a nonsense, it really is!

      • paul says:

        i see nothing wrong in being an conservative locally and a member of the uup dual membership if its approved or a conservative locally and a member of the alliance party.i would be quite happy having dual membership approved of the uup and alliance

  16. clarion says:

    I will tell you a better one Ian. Duncan had left and may have (in theory) intended to stand against a conservative in North Antrim for Stormont next year. Yet he I saw him at this Conservative Way Forward event last month in London (Margaret Thatcher made a guest appearance) he told me he was a member of the party in England!
    No offence to Duncan but this is crazy. People should sign and say they are not members of other political parties when they fill out a membership form.

    • My understanding – but it’s only that – is that he remained a member of the party centrally (i.e. in the same way as someone living abroad could).

      Most parties require that you may be a member provided you do not stand for election against that party’s approved candidate (even that, of course, has been breached, notably by David Burnside).

      However, and I know this is well outside the box, if, for the sake of argument, Lesley Macauley or Danny Kinahan offered or could be persuaded to take on joint membership (in the same way Duncan did) in return for no “Conservative” candidate running against them, would it really be wise to say no? The prize would be a moderate and highly respected MLA who was also a member of the Conservative Party, could come to Conference and link in with the party structures, and would be a potentially reliable Conservative-aligned Westminster candidate…

      • paul says:

        fantastic idea i have said in other threads if you hadnt noticed ian approved dual membership this is something i hope can be discussed i note in toms winning speech he says hes in discissin with the conservatives on a range of issues now toms offically leader i know he will set about getting a positive team in place and he will discuss what links are possible with conservatives i hope dual approved membership can be agreed.

      • I didn’t say I approved of it, I said it should be considered.

        It is simply worth recording that there is more than one way to get a Conservative MLA.

  17. bob wilson says:

    Duncan was in breach of Conservative Party rules.
    Now that he is firmly back in the Conservative fold I suspect he will let his UUP membership lapse – esp now that Tom Elliott is leader.
    The Conservative Party insisted David Trimble resign from the UUP before joining the Conservatives.
    Burnside could have been expelled but it was decided he was unimportant

    • John Lund still is, then!

      • paul says:

        ian i know you didnt day you approve of it ie dual membership but its an idea which could be floated.ive just checked out the ni conservative website and i am sorry it looks pretty poor nothing really on there only links to the tories on the mainland.i am ready to at least give tom elliott a chance as uup leader links with the conservatives are possible but i am begining to think that links might prove impossible i keep asking myself ian why on earth you left the alliance party to team up with the ni tories is beyond me.unbelivable im staggered

      • Well, I note with interest that by lunchtime today Tom had already spoken to the Secretary of State about cooperation “from the ground up”.

        We may all read into that what we will.

  18. Clarion says:

    It’s a few days old Paul give it a chance. We have ideas like a blog etc to development.
    The idea of dual membership is good in theory. Kinahan is a good man. I’m not sure about how it might work in practice. Probably chaotic and confusing to the electorate.

  19. Clarion says:

    I wasn’t aware john was a member of both. Yes good one ian.
    I see he is speaker at the supper club next month, hope you will attend!
    Should be a very entertaining evening!

  20. paul says:

    i am delighted to hear tom has already contacted the conservative ni sectary of state for ni on the issue of cooperation between the conservatives and ulster unionists thats exatly what tom has said right through his leadership campaign he wants links from the ground up.thats consitency the one thing that has being missing give tom a chance.i think you will be surprised by how effective he will be.

  21. paul says:

    dual membership i think could work very well i think we will see if anything comes out of any discussions concerning cooperation i am all for it i hope the topic of dual membership can be one of things that can be discussed.

  22. clarion says:

    There’s nothing wrong with discussions but fresh thinking is needed. The problem is that the UUP is very much of the residue of old politics here, new politics based on non sectarian national politics is needed.
    Anything which is just geared towards removing the right of the people of Northern Ireland to equal citizenship and voting for the party of government at every level is a non runner.
    I would be distrustful of the UUP after all that has happened this year but we shall see what might come forward.

  23. bob wilson says:

    I think you find Tom ‘contacting the SoS to talk about co-operation from the bottom up’ will turn out to be similiar to Tom ‘negotiating’ to have the FM rules changed.
    i.e. tom speaks and spins. Paterson returns pleasantries and ignores.

    There is no reason for the Conseratives to have anything to do with the UUP as a Party. We might be interested in some of their members though…

    Tom’s election might have gone down well inside the UUP but it is a Total and complete Disaster for the Party. It will be a disaster electorally for the UUP in ttime.

    PS Joint membership is against the Conservative Party constitution and would undermine the drive to establish real UK politics.

    • My problem with all this is it’s a bit like the old Microsoft joke – technically correct but practically useless!

      The facts are:
      – the Conservative Party has long allowed constitutional breaches in NI and continues to do so (eg John Lund’s joint membership);
      – the Conservative Party leadership still views the UUP as a more likely vehicle to deliver MPs in 2015 than the local Conservative organisation (hence the SoS speaking to the UUP Leader immediately, but I’ll wager he spoke to no local Conservative); and
      – the Conservative Party leadership has staked its reputation in NI on a link to the UUP (remember David Cameron spoke of his deep respect for the party).

      Looking at the logic from an NI angle is one thing, but looking at the evidence from London’s viewpoint is somewhat different. London would suggest getting 3000 votes NI-wide does less for national politics than 100,000 – and frankly only about 3000 people would dispute that!

      Whatever the merits and the perception, the cold political reality is that those expecting a dramatic about-turn, an end to any relationship with the UUP, and a heavily resourced Conservative Assembly election campaign will be disappointed. The truth throughout the General Election campaign was that the Conservatives yielded at every turn for as long as there was the remote prospect of the UUP delivering Conservative-aligned legislators. There is no evidence that has changed, and Tom Elliott is smart enough to know it.

  24. clarion says:

    If it’s against the constitution Bob it isn’t being enforced when I can bump into someone in London who was intending as a member of the Conservative Party there to stand against Conservatives back here!
    I’d like to share your confidence about how Elliot’s ideas on ‘co-operation’ might go down given the ‘bend over backwards’ to the UUP that we have seen to date.
    Maybe his ideas might be novel and surprise us all. Lets wait and see.
    My personal view about the selection of Elliot is that its the nail in the coffin for the UUP.
    They had an opportunity to offer a real alternative to the DUP and they didn’t seize it. This has confirmed Robinsons opinion that the differences between the DUP and the UUP are ‘purely synthetic’.

    • Elliott is sharper and more likeable than he appears on the media. After all, he’s been smart enough to leave open the prospect of ground-up cooperation with the Conservatives, which keeps him in with *some* influence.

      His remarks about the GAA were gratuitous and unacceptable to me, given where I come from politically. However, he’s a hard-working and generally reasonable guy in my experience, and thus not to be underestimated.

  25. clarion says:

    Just 2 points I want to make Ian.
    100,000 votes aren’t a lot of use if the price to pay is a dilution of core principles i.e. non sectarian mainstream politics. If the sole aim is seats that pure political expediency.
    I’d much rather have sound principles and 3,000 votes as a base to build from than 100,000 votes based on old politics that really offer the electorate nothing new.
    Secondly your comments about the Secretary of State contacting Elliot immediately and not contacting local Conservatives is factually incorrect.

  26. bob wilson says:

    Ian on your three facts:
    1. John Lund is not a member of the Conservatives
    2. Wrong on both points
    3. DC knows more than enough about the UUP! And they have essentially broken the link

    You will enjoy conference

    • Bob,

      Sorry, this is the same sort of nonsense which led local Conservatives to believe they would provide 9 of the 18 UCUNF candidates (and even South Antrim at the very last)!

      I’ve provided evidence. If the link was dead, why is the SoS talking to the UUP Leader immediately upon his election but not, for example, to his lone Assembly candidate?

      No harm, but this time last year you would’ve told me about 6-9 Tory candidates for seats as wild and wonderful as Strangford and Foyle! You can’t just say a point is wrong with clear evidence.

      I strongly agree with Clarion’s points *in principle*, but politics is a murky game. I really wish some local Conservatives would come to appreciate the value of learning from experience and judging based on actual evidence!

  27. clarion says:

    Yes Bob and also there is a sea change of opinion on the UUP which with respect to Ian he hasn’t realised yet. A good example is saying the local Conservatives were probably overlooked when Elliot was elected.
    All he has said is dated I’m afraid and it will become more and more apparent that the feeling of ‘they can’t be trusted’ is running right through the party and especially so at CCHQ. Be in no doubt.
    The financial consequences of UCUNF have had a much larger psychological impact than I had anticipated.
    Chickens are coming home to roast and it’s all things that many of us said and warned months ago.
    All of this will become very apparant at Conference Bob, indeed.
    All this being said no one is adverse to fresh ideas and proposals but they should be viewed with high cynicism.
    The news media here is moving very much away from non sectarianism and toward a much more progressive liberalism. I haven’t noticed any commentators singing Elliots praises in the past few days. They have tapped into a change in their readers outlook and shrewd of them to do so.
    The elderly arrivals at the waterfront are oblivious to this and their own chickens will come home to roast next year.

  28. clarion says:

    To be fair to you Ian the sea change that I speak of I am only becoming aware of very recently myself.
    I revise what I said about not sharing Bob’s confidence.
    But ‘learning from experience’ extends to how you have been treated. To not learn from that would be very foolish.

  29. paul says:

    aall ifs and buts the reality is the conservatives will deal with the uup not local tories.How many press releases on matter do the ni tories release answer none the only news and indeed views that come out are on this blog what does that tell you.You ni tories really do need to wake up politics is for slow leaners and by god people like bob wilson and some others who seem to have there eyes shut.clarion is starting to catch himself on.Tom will go about his business in an effective manner and some of you when the uup returns more councillors next year and gains in the assembly will have to eat humble pie.

  30. paul says:

    just to add i wonder er where the ni tories will be this time next year.Still where you are now carping moaning anti uup bashing nothing would change while you have nothing no councillors no mlas best possible chance ian parsley but ians got no chance under the tory really do need to wake up i welcome any constrctive talks comments between the uup/conservatives but all i see is clap trap from the likes of bob wilson and others clarion makes good signs then goes off bashing again.

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