What on earth is the Conservative Party Chairman doing here?

Nothing like getting straight to the point and answering the question: Conservative Chairman Andrew Feldman visits Northern Ireland today to make it look like Central Office is right behind the Northern Ireland Conservatives, so that if, as is likely, they fail to get anyone elected at Council level five weeks from now, Central Office can claim it is not to blame.

I have been critical of the NI Conservatives in the past for focusing too much on London and too little on Northern Ireland itself, where they need the votes they have conspicuously failed to accumulate in the post-Agreement era. However, for the commitment they have shown to the cause of mainstream politics alone, they deserve better than this.

In September last year I put in a request to speak to Andrew Feldman, for five minutes even by phone, to see if he could persuade me Conservative Central Office was serious about Northern Ireland and knew what it was doing. Quite evidently, by the simple fact the conversation never happened despite my attempts for two whole months, the answer to the first is “no”. This is in stark contrast to the Secretary of State, who was constantly available to take and offer advice, and has earned many plaudits for it.

The answer to the second appears to be “no” too, although they are politically cuter than that. Standing aside for UUP candidates only for the UUP to U-turn three months later and deny any link whatsoever seems incredibly embarrassing – but sadly, it’s only the locals who were left embarrassed even though their only crime was naivety. Feldman and co, meanwhile, never had any intention of allowing their party to take a savaging at the polls in Northern Ireland alongside the one they are likely to take in Scotland (even though their coalition partners will probably do even worse, thus saving the Prime Minister from the worst of the headlines). This way, they have broken the link to the UUP and the UUP’s behest, while also leaving open the option of future rapprochement, all the while avoiding a hammering at legislative level. A master exit strategy, if ever there was one.

There will of course be fine words about how they are now right behind the local Conservatives as they rebuild – but they know fine rightly they are asking them to rebuild while they lead a UK Government which is increasingly unpopular in the northern UK regions and without a single elected representative to put forward as a serious local political role model. It’s an impossible task.

All of this really shows what a bitter game politics is. The North Down Association could not have done more during the recent election campaign, and will work its socks off again this time. It is, however, swimming against the tide – even within its own party. They really do deserve so much better.


26 thoughts on “What on earth is the Conservative Party Chairman doing here?

  1. Derek says:

    Ian, In general terms you may be correct, however the tone of your blog is set by your own experience of the party machine. The practical situation is that the Conservatives have, in Northern Ireland, a reasonable number of well to do supporters, who will pay up geneously, but unfortunately do not wear off shoe leather and exude charm at front doors. Young people are slowly coming through and appearing, especially in North Down, but many more are required and a party training system aimed at the emerging younger members of the Party in Northern Ireland is badly needed.

    The Conservative Party heirarchy realises quite correctly that the Unionists, their erstwhile sister party up to the split in the 1970s, now lives in another world. They also realise that it could be eliminated in the Assembly as the illogical rush commences between the DUP and SF for the post of First Minister. In such a struggle the local Conservatives standing for the Assembly would be eliminated in the maelstrom. On the other hand if the bricks and mortar of the foundations for the party have to be carefully laid, then the testing ground, and the raison d’etre for the party structure in Northern Ireland, will only be laid at Council level. From that all else will flow.

    In North Down we have by and large good, well meaning Councillors, who are well respected, irrespective of party label. Conservative candidates for councillor will have to make the grade. In North Down there are excellent, young conservative council candidates, experienced in the ways of the world. Conservative Council candidates have the ability to serve the people well. They will in due course mature with experience, whilst sadly many of those of advanced years who are now filling council seats will fade.

    • Derek – I appreciate very much that you mean this sincerely, and I wish the NDCA candidates every success (although an appearance at last night’s Conservation Group AGM was a must, ahem), but I am already wearing out the shoe leather at this election and a constant feature of the conversations is that the Conservatives mean nothing here (usually given as a reason for not voting UUP). So even *with* all that work, success is not guaranteed; without it, of course, it is impossible.

      North Down may be different of course – it often is!

  2. bob wilson says:

    Ian you post seems to suggest that Feldman has acted in a strategic maner, as part of a careful plan with the agreement of the entire party hierarchy.
    In reality he acted alone, undermined Owen Paterson and dragged David Cameron’s reputation through the mud in the process.
    He has taken alot of internal flak and as time has progressed and Tommo and the UUP staggered forward the error of his ways is apparent for all to see.
    If the Conservatives fail to get anyone elected but on the same day the UUP decline continues then it will he clear to all that Lord Feldman messed up big time.

  3. Paul says:

    the ni tories are dead and everybody should move on

  4. NorthernIrishRanger says:


    To borrow a football analogy I think the field is open for a through ball to be played for the NI Conservatives to run on to. That ball is NI Specific policies to relate to the Northern Irish electorate. Low taxation and small government with a similar position on the union as the Alliance party.

    It may look grim now but DUP started with nothing and look at them now. Connection with the electorate will be the important thing offering policy relevant to the people yet consistent with ideology.

    • I really am a doommonger this morning – this is theoretically correct of course. What I am getting at is that NI is typical of large swathes of most northern UK regions in that the Conservative brand means nothing (or is deemed negative).

      That doesn’t mean there aren’t fiscally responsible, classic liberal, broadly centre-right voters about. Perhaps there is an opportunity for a “centre-right Alliance Party” (which is what I hoped UCUNF would morph into). But no one in NI looks at George Osborne and thinks “I’d like him representing me”, if you see what I mean.

    • Paul says:

      i should go and have a lie down in a dark room if i was you and keep taking the tablets the ni tories are dead.the ni tories have had twenty odd years here.and are now not putting up a single assembly candidate.at the last elections the ni tories polled a pathatic 3000 votes right across NI.That says it all

  5. Derek says:

    Northern Irish Ranger has got it about right, and very succinctly put too!

    • Paul says:

      i should go and join him in the dark room if i was you dereck amnd keep taking the tablets with him.goodness me when will you ever learn.

  6. David says:

    Very good posts by Derek and NorthernIrishRanger.

    Is there any news yet on the numbers, locations of candidates for the council elections?

    • Paul says:

      omg another one still all three of you can talk in the dark room.might then wake you all up a bit.doubt it youve all lost the plot

  7. Richard says:

    Totally agree with Bob Wilson.
    I spoke to Andrew Feldman personally last night.
    Anyone can make a mistake or misjudgement, it’s worth bearing in mind Ian that you did support his original letter last summer.
    There is total determination from CCHQ to lay a sure foundation to build on. I was very encouraged last night by his, and Mike Dolleys action plans to get things off the ground.

    • There are misjudgements – of which I’ve made a few myself! – and then there’s not listening. Simply listening to people with local political experience would have saved a lot of grief.

      The facts are we have an excellent Secretary of State and a better government than we had; but with regard to the NI electorate, all the signals point to the Kane/Peel analysis being correct.

      • Paul says:

        never mind peel or kanes opinions ian i havealaways being consistent and my view has alaways being the ni tories are finished dead sorry to be so brutal but its true and richard and anyone thinking they have a future here are living in fantasy world.you ian have being totally vindicated

    • Paul says:

      richard you are a good man.youve had twenty odd years to get things off the ground for heavens sake.i predicted you wouldnt put up any assembly candidates and i was right.you kept saying the PM is serious we are standing etc now you lot have got egg all over your faces.The ni tories are a public laughing stock

  8. Joanne Johnston says:

    And why precisely was the Co-Chair of the Tory Party going to make time to have a cosy chat with a lowly local councillor? Take a look at the numbers, Ian – whilst it might well be possible for a NI councillor representing a comparatively tiny local political party to partake of a coffee with the Party Chair, it doesn’t happen in GB. How many councillors? Parish, Town, District, Borough, County levels? You do the sums, sit back and have a reality check. Small minnow, large ocean.

    • It is precisely that kind of attitude which lies behind the Party’s continuing failure to get anywhere in NI (and, I suggest, Scotland).

      If you have been wiped out in an area, you have to allocate *more* time and resource to it. Put another way, there are no other regions where the Party Chair would be able to speak to 100% of nominated candidates and 50% of elected representatives in just one five-minute phone call!

      The point was I was told (not my idea, it was what I was told) given my profile, that I was vital to the party’s electoral future in NI. All I requested was one direct conversation to persuade me how the future would be different from the shambles if UCUNF etc before I committed still more time to it while not earning and while having family commitments (about which I recently went public). The fact that not even five minutes could be taken to speak to the only person nominated to face the electorate in NI told me all I needed to know about the party’s attitude to that electorate, and I simply wasn’t going to advocate to the voters a vote for a party which had no time for them.

      As I say, tge worse part of this is I detect the situation in Scotland is little different.

    • Paul says:

      joanne you are living in fantasy world.

  9. Derek says:

    Ian, I detect from your last post a certaibn bitterness. You have seen yourself as a significantt political player. You offered your services to the Conservative Party. When you were seeking assurances the Party was undertaking, albeit slowly, but in hindsight wisely, a rain check of the NI situation. Andrew Feldman in his excellent speech, last night,at a very successful fund raising Dinner, in Bangor, laid out the party’s committment to the Conservative minded activists of Northern Ireland, and laid out sensibly, and in a calm manner what the Party, in return expected fom Northern Irish Conservatives.

    As I have indicated in previous posts, the Conservative Party has to attract new members through active discourse with our fellow citizens. The Conservatives can put up candidates,and may well win seats at Council within those areas where the Party currently has numbers. But it is to the long haul that the Party is committed in Northern Ireland as it is in Scotland and Wales. By long haul, it is meant 2014/15 elections and onwards.

    I have previously indicated my personal views on the political scene in Northern Ireland. The bulk of the population is disinterested, those who get worked up, play an orange hand for basic unionism, or a green hand for basic nationalism. It does not require any great thought on governance nor the ins and out of political policy insofar as it effects us all. Consevatism, or Labour Socialism, if it ever fully arrives are to the Northern Irish electorate new products, if you like, and will have to be marketed with deep and meaningful explanations by those who care.

    • Not bitterness, Derek, no. What motivates me on this subject is not wanting more people to expend a lot of time and energy pointlessly – that might make me bitter! There is no point keeping on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

      Dare I say my point is already proved by the vast proportion of the local Tory membership spending time commenting on here. 200 people will read this, many of them outside NI. Go out and knock 200 doors I say! A point on which you and I have always agreed of course!

  10. Paul says:

    those that comment here suggesting the ni tories have any future well all i say is politics is sometimes for slow learners and boy you ni tory types are so learners.Read my lips the ni tories are dead

  11. Derek says:

    Paul, you are a doom and gloom merchant! Happy, I presume to live, and for your children and grand children, to live in the chaotic political world of Northern Ireland with a dysfunctional assembly, with no real personal political links to whichever political party, which at any time can effectively rule all of the UK, through money management, leaving the local parties to do the best they can.

    The political disaster zone, that is Northern Ireland does in fact give space for alternative politics provided there is a body of people prepared to work for whatever alternative is best thought able to benefit all the people of Northern Ireland. Political linkage for local people with the main parties who decide, when in power on ‘money supply’ would allow for meaningful local management and influence. For Nationalists who dream of a united Ireland, the same basic propositions are also true, however a wary eye would have to be kept for the likely health of a pan Irish economic zone.

  12. Richard says:

    Excellent post Derek

  13. Bob wilson says:

    Ian having reflected on your post and the situation in general I feel your interpretation subscribes malevolent intentions at the heart of the Party that simply arent there.
    As you know I have been involved much longer and much more intimately than yourself in all of this and while having similar feelings of hurt and dissappointment I am actually relatively update!
    The UCUNF debacle was a genuine attempt to offer the UUP the chance to participate in transforming politics – sadly they fluffed it.
    That has caused us collatoral damage admittedly but it had to be pursued I feel.
    Hence I feel that your suggestion that the Party is keeping open the possibility of a future rapproachment is well wide of the mark!
    Likewise the idea that we are ‘swimming against the tide’ I also feel is inaccurate
    Best wishes

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