The coming years will likely see the NI Conservatives put out of their agony – not because Conservatism in NI is a bad idea, but because of the unbelievable naivety its leadership continues to demonstrate.
Firstly, as noted over on Open Unionism, their failure to secure any defections of elected Ulster Unionists, not even the two obvious MLAs Basil McCrea and John McCallister, represents a disaster because their whole strategy was so obviously based around attracting them. The fact that an offer of organisation and financial backing was still not good enough to attract disenchanted MLAs, including one who stood as a Conservative and Unionist, is telling.
Secondly, and surely worse still, they continue not to compete in actual elections! They have become like the “hospital with no patients” of Yes, Minister fame; a “party with no candidates”. Two by-elections have now occurred in Northern Ireland since the Assembly Election from which the Conservatives were barred; neither has included a Conservative candidate. Nowhere else in the UK could a by-election take place without a Conservative candidate, so this is an obvious demonstration of the distinctiveness of Northern Ireland politics – the very distinctiveness the Conservatives deny or, at least, are supposedly intent on ending.
Thirdly, UKIP has now stolen a march on the Conservatives – with an MLA of its own and the likelihood of a strong European Election candidate. A joint TUV/UKIP ticket, which is likely, would secure a significant vote (albeit probably not enough to win), many multiples ahead of any NI Conservative candidate. I would go so far as to suggest already that the Conservatives will meekly withdraw in favour of the “Basil” candidate – again proving NI’s political distinctiveness, the very contention they are trying to deny or stop!
It is a no-win situation already. Either the Conservatives run a candidate and get annihilated, or they allow three UK-level elections in a row to pass without a Conservative candidate after an Assembly Election which took place without one. There is no way back from either of those. It was entirely predictable back in 2010 – arguably NI needs a Conservative voice, but living in a constant state of denial is no way to achieve political influence.