Saturday, September 23, 2006

Should the Conservatives Be More Active in Northern Ireland?

It's been some time since the Conservative & Unionist Party did what it says on the tin. I remember the formation of local Conservative Parties in Northern Ireland caused a great deal of controversy in the 1980s and the national Party didn't quite know what to do. If it recognised them it risked alienating the Ulster Unionists. Of course, the support of the Ulster Unionists was crucial to John Major's precarious adminstration in the mid 1990s. The last decade has seen the Ulster Unionists gradually eclipsed by Ian Paisley's DUP to the point where the UUP is almost extinct. The defection of a leading UUP member, James Leslie, to the Conservatives this week is symptomatic of the decline of the UUP.

This morning Slugger O'Toole published a piece by Alex Kane on the dilemma now facing the Conservatives and David Cameron in Northern Ireland. You can read it HERE. He believes there is now a major opportunity for David Cameron in Northern Ireland now, but he needs to recognise it and grasp it. Of course the danger is that any growth in Conservative support risks diluting the Unionist vote and could hand several DUP seats to Sinn Fein. It's a tricky one and I don't pretend to know the answer. My gut instinct is that the Conservative Party should be seeking to expand its operations and influence in all parts of the country. We belong, after all, to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Conservatives website is HERE.


Trevor Ivory said...

I agree Iain. As I said on my blog on Thursday, any steps that we can take towards a more "normal" political climate with emphasis on policy not religion must be a good thing. A split in the Unionist vote is a risk, however. As always in NI, there is no easy answer.

Man seeks legacy for ltr said...

I don't think the Conservatives can decently organise in Northern Ireland unless it were to involve a full scale merger with the UUP. And I think there would be little point in that. To say that the Major govt relied on UUP votes is to understate the reality that over decades the UUP have as a matter of principle been supporters of the Tories and voted alongside them. It would be dishonourable now to cut them adrift without discussion.

It would also probably be futile, as the reason for the UUP collapse would be the same reason why the Tories would be hamstrung. This is that the Labour government's policies on NI have create a climate where extremism is rewarded and moderation is scorned. It has its exact mirror in the eclipse of the SDLP by Sinn Fein.

Many decent people have had to hold their nose and vote DUP. Well done, Tony. But this is not really an opportunity for the Tories. Much better to help the UUP back into its feet (if it's not too late).

Anonymous said...

No, the Conservative party should not try and gain a higher profile and support in NI.

Yes there is problems with the various Loyalist and Unionist parties, perhaps serious problems, but they ARE Loyalist and Unonist, so deserve to have the support of every and any party in the UK that wants NI to remain a part of the UK...anything else is treachery against a group of people who are probably more loyal and prouder to be British than many of the lefty liberal utter arsewipes who are for some moronic reason ashamed of our British heritage.

More power to those who are proud of the Union Jack!!!

Simplistic, but realistic.

Newmania said...

I`m poor on Northern Ireland and will have to look at the story carefully when I have to time . Instinct tells me ,however, that David Camerons modus operandi is not on a policy level and he will simply not want Northern Ireland and David Cameron in the same sentence.How much easier and more attractive to go on about green issues which is as much as to say . I`m in favour of `good`. Is there anything politically in it for him . No .Then don`t hold your breath

( I on the other hand am going to hold my breath until somebody says soemthing nice about me . Its on you heads)

Anonymous said...

I think it would do Northern Irish politics a lot of good if some arrangement could be made whereby the UUP formally align or merge with the Tories, and ditto the SDLP with Labour and Aliiance with the LibDems.
Over time, I think it would normalise the politics of the province and marginalise the extremists on both sides.

Big Andy said...

anon at 6pm - that seems ridiculously simplistic.

But makes complete sense.

Especially as since the good friday agreement all parties have been agreed on self determination - and thus the national parties would not have to worry about themselves being committed to their junior partnerrs ideology.

Make it happen!

Eursoc Two said...

I think they should: There should be a serious unionist alternative to the DUP.

I wouldn't worry too much about carving up the majority community's vote and handing seats to Sinn Fein: NI voters on both sides are mostly sophisticated and regularly vote for the candidate from their camp who seems best placed to win.

I don't know if Cameron would be up for it, though: What used to be described as a "robust" attitude towards the Northern Irish issue is deeply unfashionable and instantly identifies the holder of such views as an extremist, at least in the eyes of the Guardian's leader writers, BBC journalists and others of that kind: The people Dave appears so eager to please.

But who knows? One day he might need Northern Irish votes, and offering NI voters a mainstream British alternative to home parties could work. I imagine it will take a while though, building trust through council seats and so on before any MPs come on the scene.

Jeff Peel said...

The Conservatives in Northern Ireland are forging ahead and there is no stopping us. For the first time we have the ACTIVE support of the Party leader as well as the Shadow Secretary of State. At last the so-called bi-partisan policy is being dismantled. The only way people from Northern Ireland can effectively participate in democratic processes and policy formulation is to do it through the mainstream parties. So the key question is why doesn't Labour organise here?

Anonymous said...

Hasn't the tory party got Irish roots?

Anonymous said...

"Should the Conservatives be more active in Northern Ireland?" An unqualified "yes" is the answer. I speak as one who visits the Province 5 or 6 times a year, and who has many friends there. There are clearly risks involved in splitting the "unionist" (I mean that in the broadest sense) vote: the result in South Belfast at the last General Election is a case in point. A prosperous, largely middle-class constituency with a unionist majority is now represented by the SDLP (though I don't suppose many unionists there are losing too much sleep, as the winning candidate, Alisdair McDonnell, is a sensible moderate individual).
The people of Northern Ireland have as much right to be able to choose from one of the national parties as anyone else in the UK. Sadly, only the Labour Party fails to recognise this: I believe I am correct in saying that the party still maintains its ridiculous ban on those living there from joining it, although people living in the Republic may do so, but I stand to be corrected. There was some talk about a court case being undertaken in an effort to have the ban overturned, but I am not aware of its current status. In the Guardian a couple of years ago (where else?) there was a risible letter from someone opposed to ending the ban on the grounds that it might upset the Southern Irish living in Britain.

Justin said...

Yes. I would like to see the Conservatives now making a determined effort to fight elections TO WIN in Northern Ireland. I think it would be good for Northern Ireland.

houndtang said...

There is only one parliamentary seat the Tories could ever feasibly win in Northern Ireland (North Down), so it would be a lot of effort for very little, and very likely no, reward.

John said...


Just to update you on Labour in NI.

The ban on NI people joining labour was reversed in 2003 at party conference, so people in NI can now become members of Labour. This followed a court case which looked as though it was going to find Labour guilty of discrimination.

Snag is they aren't allowed (yet) to form Constituency Associations.

There is a new court case saying this is discriminatory which is in the courts and yet again Labour have been forced into talks over the issue.

These talks with the new NI members - word is that Labour will permit them to organise locally.

The key point here (as you spotted) is that people living in a democracy should be able to join the party that organises them and generally should be able to vote for or against that government of the UK.

Anonymous said...

John - very many thanks for that update. I had lost track of what is happening.

Houndtang - whilst you are right to say that North Down (a little bit of Surrey in Ulster) is currently the only seat where the Conservatives have more than a snowball's chance in hell of winning, it is defeatist to say they shouldn't be standing elsewhere. South and East Belfast, and Lagan Valley, should be natural Conservative territory. Tories stand in the South Wales valleys and the industrial cities of the North and Scotland, such as Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, and regularly get hammered. Labour stands in leafy Surrey (where I live) and doesn't stand a chance. But the point, as John recognises in his post, is that those living in those areas have the option to vote for the party of their choice. This option is currently denied to far too many of the people of Northern Ireland. It really is time for the main parties in the UK to stop treating the Province as "a place apart": I excuse the Lib Dems from this, as their association with the Alliance party seems to me to be a genuine assocation of like-minded parties.


Will_B said...

The answer to more Conservative involvement some sort of appology for the behaviour of the party over the last 20 odd years and then either a merger of the three unionist parties (Con, DUP, UUP).

If this cannot be done then a Unionist alliance putting candidates of the three parties up for election in Ulster. (possibly a better option in which the progression to unity can be slower.)

We are unionists, its high time we started acting like unionists.

Will_B said...

"ditto the SDLP with Labour and Aliiance with the LibDems."

That would work well for Labour and the Libs given that the Labour party have never had any interest in Northern Ireland and the liberals have a fixation with dismantling the UK.

Will_B said...

"Especially as since the good friday agreement all parties have been agreed on self determination - and thus the national parties would not have to worry about themselves being committed to their junior partnerrs ideology."

Last time I looked we were supposed to be supporters of the Union... When did that change? Our 'ideology' (for lack of a better word)is no different from the DUP and the UUP, it's just the DUP try to impliment it.

Will_B said...

"Alisdair McDonnell, is a sensible moderate individual"

But still a republican who stands for everything the majority of the people in South Belfast are against?

Would you not be bothered if a old socialist candidate standing for a changed labour party in 2009 wins in your constituency because of a split in the conservative vote?

Anonymous said...

Will: Alisdair McDonnell is not a republican, he is a nationalist. These nuances are important. Your basic tenet is correct: the Unionist candidates polled some 17000 votes between them; the nationalist/republican candidates some 13000. With any luck the unionist parties will have got their act together by the next election.
But moderate nationalists like McDonnell are generally acceptable to the bulk of the unionist population: they take their seats at Westminster, unlike the republicans of Sinn Fein; they seek to look after the interests of all their constituents, including those who voted for a unionist party; and they recognise the right of the unionist people to hold to their British identity.
There is no way that McDonnell can be likened to an Old Labour candidate: he is too intelligent.


Daffy Duck said...

"the liberals have a fixation with dismantling the UK."

You clearly haven't been following scottish politics much recently, they're very much on the 'unionist' side up there.

Back on topic perhaps the only problem with the removing the regionalisation of political parties in NI is that there does seem to be some unfinished business and mistrust. But I can't be sure whether that is between politicians rather than between the actual people.

Lerxst said...

If the Tories were actually going to be a unionist party in practice, then I'd agree, but let's face it, most Tory MPS - like most of the population of England & Wales - would get shot of Ulster at the first available, vaguely defencible, moment. If Maggie could sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, unionists shouldn't expect any protection from a wet like Cameron.

Anonymous said...

If you are an Ulsterman or woman of a Conservative mind, but believe in a United Ireland - who would you vote for? There is no-one. If the Conservatives want to establish themselves in Northen Ireland they should do so not from a Unionist standpoint but from a neutral position on national status.

Richard Gadsden said...

Just to fill people in on the situation with the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland.

There are about 30 members in Northern Ireland. They choose, by a vote at each year's AGM, not to organise local associations and not to contest elections.

Many of them are also members of Alliance, but if there ever was a significant movement in support of the Lib Dems, they could easily overwhelm the handful of dual members.

When Alliance came close to splitting in the late nineties/early oughts, one faction temporarily built up the NI Lib Dems as a place to jump to if Alliance split (in preference to setting up a new party). Most of that has disappeared.

Tom Griffin said...

In the Guardian a couple of years ago (where else?) there was a risible letter from someone opposed to ending the ban on the grounds that it might upset the Southern Irish living in Britain.

I wouldn't dismiss that consideration. If the Tories are chasing unionist votes in Northern Ireland, it will raise a question-mark over the Conservative approach to the peace process, much like what happened with John Major and the Ulster Unionists, that would concern even quite moderate Irish nationalists. Don't forget that the Irish are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Britain.

Keir said...

Any moves to integrate alparts of the Unitied Kingdom rather than simply ignoring it and allowing it to dscend into chaos and barbarity should be applauded. We are willing to 'civilise' the Middle East at the cost of more lives than at any time since Korea but allow gangsters and thugs to control an entire constituent kingdom.

Kloot said...

Attempts to promote the conservatives in NI as a pro union party is a big risk to take.

If the party takes a pro union stance then it is hardly likely to get many votes from SDLP voters let alone Sinn Fein voters. Therefore the only place the vast majority of its votes can come from is the Unionist community. This will enivitably split the unionist which will have an impact on the allotment of ministerial seats in the NI parliament.

Also, if the conservatives form a goverment in the UK in the near future, what impact would that have on the peace process if it is taking a pro union stance in NI. Could the conservative government be considered honest brokers in the peace process while running on a pro union card in NI.

What then about parties from the ROI doing the same. The SDLP could merge with one of the major parties in the republic and then you would have a major pro UI party operating in both the ROI and NI ( sinn fein are active in both jurisdictions, but are a marginal party in the ROI ). Would that also be acceptable. It is a democracy after all, is it not.

In my view, the major UK and ROI parties should hold off organising on a grand scale in NI for at least another 10 years until the things have settled down a bit more. Until the deal has been hammered out and in full operation.

Anonymous said...

A few points from an Ulster Tory:
1. Neither the UUP nor the DUP are conservatives. The DUP is quasi-religous and populist - Ulster nationalists more than unionists. The Ulster Unionists have swung to the left under Reg Empeys leadership - outside a belief in the Union they have little politically in common with the Conservatives. And they are imploding, crerating an opportunity for the Tories.
2. Conservatives in NI rightly expect the same support from the leadership & CCHQ as the rest of the country.
3. NI is going to be part of the UK for the foreseeable future - even Sinn Fein acknowledge this. The challenge is to make it work politically & economically.
4. We are not a colony - we demand the same rights as our fellow countrymen in the rest of the UK.

Ulster Tory

Anonymous said...

Firstly a correction:
“any growth in Conservative support risks diluting the Unionist vote and could hand several DUP seats to Sinn Fein”
Largely in NI nationalists hold the seats that have nationalist majorities and unionists hold the seats with unionist majorites. The exception being Sth Belfast where the SDLP (moderate nationalist) squeaked in in what is a unionist seat.
So the vote –splitting argument is largely redundant. Moreover I would question its relevance – should we be standing down in seats were the Lib Dems could beat Labour - no Or in seats where if we stood down Labour could take the seat from the SNP or Plaid – no!

On the question of eroding the peace process or upsetting the Irish Govt. Neither is actually true – and again they wouldn’t be reasons for not doing it. The Irish Govt did lobbying against the Party organising in NI as they did not want to potentially disrupt the evolution of the Belfast Agreement. Now they have what they want – a relatively stable and peaceful NI – they have publically stated they are no longer lobbying against Con, Lab or Libs organising in NI.

Also if the Parties from the Republic want to organise in NI then I would welcome that – they are at least more like real parties than the purely nationalist SF and SDLP.

The Conservative Party is implictly pro Union but we reject the flag waving nationalism so beloved of the UUP and DUP.
We are the centre right party of the UK and should seek votes across the whole UK and from all sections of society regardless or religion, colour or even national identity.
This makes any take or mergering or working with UUP or DUP impossible.

Neil Craig said...

If getting serious in Ulster I would suggest the Tories look at Lee Kuan Yew's party in Singapore. There they have a rather strange electoral system whereby you elect a slate of Chines, Malay & Indian members all on the one ticket.

I am normally dubious about quotas but NI is a special case & if the Tories get serious there they should insist on a balance of canditates & that, whtever the religion of the candidate his agent or constituency chair should be of the opposite.

I would also suggest the Tories in NI commit to cutting corporation tax in the province to the Eire level - this would be a more cost effective subsidy than those the province already lives on & one understood by the locals.

pakman said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Iain and look forward to having a serious Tory voice in NI. That said, the Conservative Party (the Anglo-Irish Agreement) and individual Tories (The Patton Report) have a lot of work to do before their unionist bona fides are established. When that happens and when the Union itself is no longer a point of political friction I will happily join up. Until then I'll stick with unionists who have a proven track record.

Anonymous said...

Pakman - Thatcher has admitted the AIA was a mistake. The Conservatives actually opposed most of the controversial parts of Patten.
'Unionists of a proven track record' of what? Failure. Keeping NI separate from national politics. The UUP lobbied to prevent the development of the Conservatives in NI not because it was detrimental to the Union - even they realise that's nonsense. But purely for partisan advantage. UUP - a track record in undermining the Union

pakman said...


I agree entirely with your analysis of UUP failure (as do most of the unionist electorate).

I will stick with unionists with a track record of being unionist until such a time as the local Tories earn that acolade. I still remember the Mayhew/ Ancram days of the NIO. Take it from one who was up close and personal it wasn't pretty.

aileen said...

The governemnt of the UK has no bisiness being an honest brooker over plans to spilt the country. The government of the Unitied Kingdom should have a loyalty to the integeeit and unity of the country.

Anonymous said...

There is no point in short term politics and what might or might not happen at the next election.

The Tories need to seriously organise now with a view to some sucess in elections in 8 or 10 years time.

pakman said...


I think you are right. 8 - 10 years should allow their unionism to bed down. 2015 will be 30 years since the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Tories may be forgiven by then.

Ronners said...

The UUP is a dead parrot. The Tories could capitalise on a fair sized vote, people like myself who are Unionist, but would rather not vote than vote for bigots like the DUP. De-polarisation would be helped by the introduction of Tories into all the seats in NI elections. Ideally through merger with the UUP, but if not, then not. I doubt there would be any seats in it for a while, but in the future who knows.

Anonymous said...

'8 - 10 years should allow their unionism to bed down' Nothing wrong with our unionism mate.
Its Ulster Unionist and Paisley whose unionism is cock eyed

pakman said...


I hope you are correct in your assertion. If you are then I'll be asking for a membership form.

I also agree that past performance is no guarantee of future return so I won't hold the Union-damaging sins of the last Tory government against the party as it develops in NI. But it will take time.

My idea of a Conservative and Unionist Party is much more Bonar Law, F.E. Smith and Enoch Powell than what currently seems on offer.

Anonymous said...

The fundamental choice remains one of isolationism versus involvement.
The record of the past thirty years (and arguably the last 85) is that isolationism doesn’t work.
In the late 80/early 90s the Ulster Tories won the important victory of membership.
The time to development that – given the political and paramilitary backdrop - was not right.
Now we have a Conservative Party leadership that is receptive to our involvement.
Will a future Tory government be influenced by its fellow Tories in NI? I believe yes – and the stronger and more vibrant that local party the more influence we will have.
There are no guarantees in politics but it really is as simple as ‘if you’re not in you cannot win’