Resignation

I notified the North Down Conservative Association of my intention to resign as a member Saturday week ago, effective from midnight the following Thursday. I have long sought the most effective vehicle to pursue and deliver effective mainstream, non-sectarian and responsible politics in Northern Ireland. Despite best intentions, the Conservatives lack the political space and capacity to deliver this.

Despite the name, the UCUNF project offered a real opportunity to change NI politics for the good. That is why I tried to make it work even after the General Election, against my own better instincts and taking risks to do so. That opportunity has been squandered, primarily by inaction by some in each party’s leaderships. The Conservatives should long ago have been honest that they could not afford to take the serious political action required to seek an electoral mandate in NI given the current political and economic situation here; they should also have recognised months ago that the new Ulster Unionist Party lacks any commitment to the “mainstream, non-sectarian” politics to which the Secretary of State has rightly committed himself. Serious questions have to be asked about the advice received in senior party circles which still leaves them publicly committed to supporting the Ulster Unionists at the forthcoming elections into late November!

The Conservatives and Unionists project offered at least the hope that two large blocks (UCUNF and the Alliance Party) would in future compete with each other on the basis of common assumptions on the need for anti-sectarian, mainstream politics. As such, both would have promoted a type of politics more relevant to the electorate and to the issues which concern them (the economy, health, education etc), presenting a real choice and thus growing the centre ground and the number of people voting for parties which were not only defined as non-sectarian, but which rejected the sectarian spectrum altogether. Had UCUNF even won two seats in May, that would have been two MPs on the government benches and one on the opposition benches from NI who accepted and promoted the need for anti-sectarian, mainstream politics – a signficant and healthy change, and in fact the ultimate outworking of what the Alliance Party was founded to achieve.

In the current Secretary of State, NI has probably the most passionate advocate at the cabinet table it has ever had. However, over my time in the party, it was apparent to me that the Conservative Party centrally can neither prioritise NI electorally in such a way as to shape its politics away from sectarianism (despite, in fairness, a clear intention to do so), nor resist toying with the idea of short-term tactics rather than long-term strategy. What has been particularly frustrating is the inability of too many key players to separate fiction from fact with regard to NI politics – the post-election period, in particular, required Conservative intervention to maintain the values of UCUNF and support its candidates going forward (while improving the delivery of the project), but even those of us initially prepared publicly to attempt to justify the Conservatives’ inaction (at their request) found any kind of support unavailable. As such, all the demonstrable evidence is that any Conservative candidate in NI (at any level) will permanently be hamstrung by the potential for their campaigns to be poisoned by sectarianism and infighting locally, and by the requirement for “neutrality” with regard to NI on behalf of Conservative actors nationally. Having seen it with my own eyes, I cannot advise anyone to invest their own time and money into campaigning in such circumstances.

Specifically, I have found that senior Conservatives in London (not Owen Paterson in Hillsborough, who has always been most approachable) have always been keen to meet with donors, but less keen to meet with, or even speak to, potential candidates. Ultimately, it is the candidate who is selected who puts his/her name before the electorate; it is the candidate whose reputation was on the line; it is the candidate who takes the brickbats from anonymous blog commenters with nothing better to do. Thus, it is the candidate who needed to be convinced of the Conservatives’ good faith that they would enter the forthcoming elections with the clear intent of a 20-year strategy to build the party as a vehicle for mainstream, non-sectarian politics in NI come what may. Even though I suspect the funding will be made available for some kind of electoral attempt, I am not convinced the true political will exists to build something which will last into the long term as a true means of advocating and promoting effectively mainstream, non-sectarian politics. In fact, no one in the leadership has even spoken to me to attempt to convince me!

People will ask was it a political mistake for me to do what I did. I have explained above that, had the UCUNF project worked out the way I wanted it to (which was always a long shot I confess), I feel that both the Conservative and Alliance Parties would have gained from it – as would, more importantly, all those in NI who feel disconnected from politics and want something to vote for, rather than against. It has also been a great learning experience to work with the Centre for Social Justice (some aspects of which are ongoing), with the current Secretary of State who has demonstrated such a commitment to this part of the world, and with the great people in the North Down Conservative Association who, I write with great reluctance, have been badly let down by some in their own party and were extremely kind to me even when I discussed this disappointing move, from their point of view, with their senior representatives.

I can say that I was greatly sorry about the manner of my departure from the Alliance Party, which I mishandled, and for any hurt I caused those who had campaigned for me just months before. For this I can now unreservedly apologise. Those close to me will be aware of the great upset it caused me to leave the party, but particularly to do so in a manner which gave those within it any cause for anger or regret.

Certainly, I was always aware David Ford’s “blind alley” may prove prescient – and so it did! However, I would add as a note to my bona fides that I invested significant time and effort into setting the foundation for that party’s now flourishing youth organisation, point out that had I not stood for Europe the party may well not have stood at all (and the platform for future progress was the party’s, not mine), and add that never once did I offer any criticism of the party, whose representatives and members I still held in high regard and with which I have been proud to be associated.

Put simply, I regret not one second of my time spent in and with the Alliance Party, whereas I do regret wasting so much time and effort unproductively on the seriously flawed UCUNF project. It is no doubt partly on the basis of how highly I spoke about the Alliance Party, even after I had left it, that my own parents chose to remain members, and that my partner has just become one.

What I have learned most of all from this is that politics is not just about good intentions and policies, it is about competence and capacity to deliver. Many people I have worked with over the past year had the best intentions. Few, however, had the competence or capacity to deliver on any of it. I intend to spend some time as an independent actor to enable me to throw ideas out into the political arena without those being associated with any single party. I will continue, broadly, to support the Coalition Government (which needs all the support it can get in NI political circles) on UK-wide matters. However, on the grounds of a real commitment to ‘mainstream, non-sectarian politics’, and the competence and capacity to deliver on some of it, my first preference vote at the 2011 Assembly Election will go to the same party it went to in 1998, 2003 and 2007.

Please note, there are serious issues going on in the world and, on the general scale of things, this isn’t remotely one of them! I will not be making any further comment beyond that which appears here.

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37 thoughts on “Resignation

  1. It is with sadness that I see you leaving from the NI Conservative Party.

    Your single voice in the maelstrom of absurdity that has engulfed this province was like a guiding light. Whilst I did not agree with all your views you were braver than the majority of NI politicians unwilling to confront the truth.

    I had held hopes that the NI Conservatives would break away from the main Conservative party and suck some UUP stragglers away and form a new centre-right non sectarian party but alas those dreams will have to be realised another day.

    Good luck with the future.

    • Thanks NIR, and you are correct.

      There is a significant gap where a number of broadly “pro-Union”/”anti-sectarian” voters lie. With the UUP clearly travelling away from that position, the Conservatives could have found a way to fill it. But it was impossible to attract members to a party which was not even standing for election, even had it reformed itself locally, and too much time has now passed.

      Thus, certainly east of the Bann, the challenge to fill that gap has been handed to the Alliance Party on a plate.

  2. Ed Simpson says:

    Ian, can I be one of the first to ask the obvious question: is a return to Alliance on the cards?

    I understand it’s unlikely you will answer but it would be refreshing for a politician to be upfront about their intentions. For me at least, it would be to your credit, especially given the tone of this blog post, where you seem to be making it clear you took a gamble that didn’t pay off.

    • Ed – to use that dreadful phrase “minded”: I am not currently minded to join any party. Currently, I can probably achieve more as an “independent”.

      If I were to join any party in future, in all likelihood it would be the Alliance Party.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Northern Ireland, Martin McAuley, Nathan Erskine, Alan Law, Ian James Parsley and others. Ian James Parsley said: Resignation: http://wp.me/psfAD-hH […]

  4. oneill says:

    “The Conservatives should long ago have been honest that they could not afford to take the serious political action required to seek an electoral mandate in NI given the current political and economic situation here”

    Want to elaborate on that?

    • Essentially I think the Secretary of State could not afford, in the current climate, to be seen campaigning with/for any party during an Assembly Election. It is in his political interests to remain non-partisan on NI devolved issues (as were his predecessors, at least publicly) because he needs the full support of all the Assembly parties going forward.

  5. Paul says:

    Ian i want to offer you my total support and I can fully understand your reasons.i have the greatest of respct for you and what ever you do you will be a big asset.

  6. slug says:

    Ian: I am sorry things have not worked out better for you in this. On a personal note I want to wish you all the best. You have a lot to offer any party you are associated with.

  7. George says:

    Ian, I’m sorry to hear you feel political ventures in 2010 have not worked out. In life though, I guess its the things we don’t do that we regret more than the things we do do.

    Please keep plugging away at trying to improve Northern Ireland politics though. UCUNF was maybe before its time and certainly, more than that, atrociously handled and managed by those at the top of the UUP. The outworking though is the UUP in a Ostrich-like state of terminal decline, and Alliance showing some signs of resurgence.

    Therefore, I predict new political space will open up in Northern Ireland in 2011. I hope there’s some room in it for you somewhere.

  8. john says:

    Is anybody actually surprised at this announcement?
    Could anyone see much commitment to the Conservatives on this blog this year?
    It goes to prove that opportunism/careerism and me me over principle rarely pays off.
    Alliance would be mad to re-go there

    • One of my principles, John, is not staying in the same team as bullies who have never actually achieved anything themselves who think it appropriate to insult their own party’s candidates in front of their elderly parents having spent the rest of the time blatantly lying about all these new members they are about to recruit (remember “200 new members”?!). With “friends” like that…!

      Of course, if that is the sort of political genius people wish to deal with, they should continue to deal with you.

    • Kevin says:

      i am not suprisedthat you have given up as a quitter alway does As an indapendent you can acheive nothing unless the Alliance party takes you under its wing Good luck and goodbye

      • Kevin – I am many things but I’m not a quitter! “Daft risk taker”, “naive fool”, “figure of fun” perhaps, but not a quitter!

        I have little doubt I will be foolish enough to put my name before the electorate at some stage again.

        I did argue throughout both the Euro and General Election campaigns that you can only really accomplish things *electorally* within party blocs – so on that point we agree. I’m just going to take a little time out to say what I really think…!

    • Nigel Charles says:

      It is trolling to request information which is already available on the blog, particularly if followed by accusations about me or the positions I have taken without bothering to read them. It is also the sign of someone happier making cheap jibes than entering into constructive debates about real issues.

      Facebook is a private forum and if you intrude on it you may expect to be blocked. However, feel free to read this blog and to enter the debate constructively.

      For reference, most people do not commit such time and effort to ‘specks of dust’. It’s not generally regarded as healthy.

      – Ed

  9. Carson's Cat says:

    Ian,
    Its all just a bit too self-justificatory to be anything other than cringeworthy.

    Your analysis might well be true, but your motives for putting it forward will always be suspect. Heartfelt apologies to APNI now may be well, heartfelt, but they probably should have been made after your resignation from the AP, not the Tories.

    Trying to steer on the right side of playing the man is difficult when there is the distinct impression you were a little caught up in your own post-Euro election hype and thought that those votes were for you rather than the AP. That’s actually probably not even remotely near the case, but it just looks a bit too much like it could be the truth for anything else to be easy to sell.

    Anyway, good luck – and I suspect that the lesson of how important loyalty is in politics won’t be lost on you…

    • These points are fairly made and I take them on board.

      As you suggest, I would take issue with the perception about how I reacted to the 2009 result. If it had been a remotely “personal” vote, it would have been much higher outside the Alliance heartlands. In fact, as box after box from West of the Bann came in without a single Alliance vote, I did wonder just how the broad Alliance message could be better transported west (this was also the reason, out of interest, I was so supportive of the Gilliland campaign in 2004). I had reckoned improved communication might do it, but I hadn’t been successful in that. I still haven’t come up with an answer to that problem.

      Like I say, I accept all your points without reservation but do raise in defence that, frankly, NI needs more risk takers right now, not fewer.

  10. john says:

    Clearly a lot of growing up to be done.
    Making some effort to handle people better would be a start.
    Good advice, trust you will be acting on it – Ed.

  11. john says:

    If you want to debate some of the opinions on this blog, by all means do so. Otherwise, seriously, get away from your computer, go out, and meet some real people – Ed.

  12. Joel Arbuthnot says:

    This rambling nonsense was removed simply to protect the reputation of the author, who obviously hasn’t been following and had no idea what he was talking about.

    Accusations and criticisms of the author of the blog have been published on this site provided they stick to the facts, and challenge the author’s statements.

    Wildly inaccurate nonsense, however, has no place here.

    For reference, the author of this blog was the ONLY person in NI to appear on either TV or radio to defend Conservative-led Coalition Government platform on finance, welfare reform and the economy. It is to be assumed that there will now be hundreds of other “real Tories” rushing to do the same…

    – Ed

  13. Paul says:

    i suspect the nasty comments towards ian come from the usual mob and i know who those nasty lot are and ian has done the right thing some of the comments from three or four commenters who were suppose to be on the same side as ian were a disgrace.Ian has more talent in his little finger than the lot of you and if he does in future return to front line politics he will be an asset to ant grouping.so o those who wish to spout thee nasty bile go spout it somewhere else.

    • Thanks Paul, your first sentence is certainly correct.

      Indeed, one of those commenters was phoning around on Thursday telling everyone his “Tory connections” had told him Sir Reg wasn’t getting a peerage!

      • Paul says:

        well ian that says it all.good luck my freind i support you totally and hope that in time sometime in the future you will return to front line politics where you will get things done and these sad few will still be carping there nasty bile in the political wilderness,who needs friends like those nasty vile lot.

    • Nigel Charles says:

      When was he ever in front line politics? This blog is worse than a Chinese one! A lot of sensorship of truthful views!

      • Seriously, why are you wasting so much time attacking “someone who was never in front-line politics”?

        Please find something interesting to do with your life, for your own good.

  14. john says:

    Shame you are oblivious to the facts Paul.
    Incidently Mr Parsley how long was your term in the Conservative Party in comparison to your term of salary with the Centre for Social Justice? About the same? Co-incidence?
    Hence my principles argument.

    • Wrong yet again, John.

      My salary from CSJ was two-thirds my income the previous year, if you must know; and just this afternoon I was continuing my promotional work of the principles of the Breakthrough NI report entirely voluntarily, in my own time at my own expense.

      I’d have thought anyone who was phoning round on Thursday telling the world Reg Empey hadn’t got a peerage the day before he got one would be just a wee bit more careful about accusing others of being “oblivious to the facts”!

    • Paul says:

      oh i know the facts alright hmmmm principles hey jonny i see you are yet another troll who has nothing consrtuctive to say.you sit behind your comp leaving your nasty bile then come here yet again saying the above listen i will .tell you straight the ni tories are dead dead as a door nail.ian has had a lucky escape and thank god hes got out and i aplaud him i wouldnt touch you ni tories with john taylors forty foot barge poll.

  15. robert says:

    Is it true you have said quitting smoking is easy Ian?
    You have tried quitting a hundred times!

    • I never was a smoker. Nor a drinker, in fact, the marked disadvantage of which is that I can’t blame my mistakes on alcohol!

      But seriously, quitting means leaving altogether. I continue to seek the best path to promote mainstream, non-sectarian politics and to implement the outcomes of my work on road safety, the green economy, ending the costs of segregation and social justice – it’s evident that the Conservatives in NI do not offer any such route.

      People may mock and I’ll take that on the chin, but I’ve achieved far more in these fields by getting out and taking the risks I have done than I would’ve done by sitting anonymously behind a computer screen making snide remarks about people I’ve never met.

      • Paul says:

        here here ian these people sit around and do nothing and will never do anything but sit on the sidelines carping doing what they have done for the last twenty odd years row with CCHQ how very constructive they are.there reactions tell us all we ever needed to know a bunch of nasty computer screen moaners who are not worth the time and effort of anyone.I applaud you ian for not rising to there baiting and your measured remarks floors them everytime.good work ian

    • Paul says:

      i suspect you would be better putting the word smoking.and google the word as youve strayed off topic for reasons we can all see the word for you is troll.

  16. Robert says:

    I’m not a Tory and since neither of you know my achievements in life you are both assuming a lot.
    Sorry for inserting some humour and upsetting the fan club who appear touchy, humourless and equally glued to their pc’s.
    I’m told there is more humour on the blogs. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Oblivion. Alliance once was a true love of mine!
    I think Boy George’s Karma Chameleon got a mention somewhere too.

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