I have referred before to Fair Deal‘s excellent piece, the summary of which is that the Ulster Unionist Party’s woes derive from an inability to understand the UK Government’s position. The latest (and bizarre) example came, it seems, at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. No one will be more let down by this than Mr and Mrs Average Ulster Unionist (who, these days, are typically non-voters).
UUP Leader Tom Elliott’s initial reaction, kindly placed on this blog’s comments by one of our frequent contributors, was that he had met the Prime Minister, UCUNF hadn’t worked, and they would find a new way to link. This was sensible, demonstrating a respectful stance which leaves options open.
However, he has now allowed an article to go out with the news that he “angrily rejected” plans for a “full merger”. To which, a few points:
– who the hell is the UUP Leader to “angrily reject” a proposal from the Prime Minister without even considering it?
– did the UUP seriously believe the Conservatives’ ultimate objective was anything other than a full merger?
– on what grounds does the UUP actually reject this idea?
Firstly, the UUP does itself no favours by trying to make the Prime Minister look a fool (any more than Fred Cobain did by setting ultimatums to the Secretary of State). How precisely does Tom Elliott plan to gain leverage to, for example, change the First Minister designation system if he is busy “angrily rejecting” the Prime Minister’s proposals on behalf of a party with the same number of MPs as the Monster Raving Loony Party?! This only gives the Conservatives even more cover for not doing what the UUP wants.
Secondly, the UUP yet again misread the intentions of the largest party in the UK. It has been doing so consistently since the 1980s. The idea that the Conservatives would come in, fund a General Election campaign, and then go away again with nothing to show for it is ludicrous. From the very start, David Cameron talked about a “new party”. He meant it.
Thirdly, the UUP has no future east of the Bann (and thus really at all) other than by merging with someone. By rejecting the Conservatives, one has to assume that these talks with the DUP will continue, that Belfast City Council deals will turn into Assembly deals, and the surrender of the UUP to the ever expanding DUP will meekly continue.
Meanwhile, on the real issues, the UUP is silent while the DUP makes all the running. When it comes to negotiating with the Government on PMS savers, it is the DUP to the fore; when it comes to taking a sensible line of public spending reductions, it is the DUP to the fore; even when it comes to calling on the BNP to “disappear”, it is the DUP to the fore!
No one will feel the pain of this reality more than the many Ulster Unionists who feel their party has gone away from them. Their leaders are unable to read the game. Their representatives, many of them decent individuals, carry no clout. Their party is absent on any of the real issues. The truth is that a merger with the Conservative Party (which has already been through the challenge of staring into the abyss and coming out the other side) is an option which needs to be seriously considered, not angrily rejected – Ulster Unionists, both inside and outside the party, should not allow another election to pass before merger ceases to be an option and becomes instead a necessity.