Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Landmark Day for Northern Ireland Politics

I remember bitter debates at Conservative Conference sin the 1990s when Northern Ireland Conservatives were effectively banned from organising in the province. Lawrence Kennedy put some powerful arguments forward and eventually persauded the party to relent. Although electoral success has not been exactly plentiful, circumstances are now ripe, I feel, for an initiative along the lines of the one outlined by David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey in the Telegraph this morning. It's one I hope people of all political persuasions both here and in Northern Ireland can welcome.

If this comes off, for the first time in ages, people in Northern Ireland will be able to take part in voting for a UK government, and see their representatives appointed as UK Ministers. It also reinforces the Conservatives as the Conservative & Unionist Party. I suspect the LibDems may now be encouraged to enter into a closer arrangement with the Alliance Party. Whether Labour will seek to emulate this with an agreement with the SDLP remains to be seen.

Slowly but surely Northern Ireland politics is emerging from their sectarian past. The Tory/UUP deal may even encourage a few Tory minded Catholics to transfer their allegiances. It may not happen overnight, but this move will be seen by many as not only David Cameron, but the UUP opening up a bigger tent.

And who knows, it may even encourage some DUP members who are tired of the antics of the likes of Iris Robinson to transfer their allegiances back to their more moderate colleagues in the UUP. I'm told that her recent remarks put some steel in the UUP, who do not wish to be associated with such extreme views. They also think that Northern Ireland politics was tarnished by the deal the DUP allegedly did with the Government over 42 days.

I am, however, left wondering what the UUP's only current MP thinks of all this. Lady Sylvia Hermon rarely votes with the Tories and mostly supports the government in the division lobby

Two final points. What a great thing it is that these talks have remained a secret for so long. They have been going on since last October and nobody found out. That's in no small part due to the efforts of Tory Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson. He was the instigator of the talks and has kept them going through some difficult times. Owen is much underestimated by many of his colleagues, but he proved in his last job as Shadow Fisheries Minister - and also now - that he is a tenacious and dedicated shadow spokesman who throws himself into whatever job he has. He can be justifably proud of today's achievement, and sounds it in this quote...
This is a great announcement. I believe that the creation of a new political force will attract a surge of support from people in every community who want to see Northern Ireland play its full part in the politics of the United Kingdom. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will seize on this opportunity and work with us to see their interests better represented at every level of government.

In May 2007, in a Telegraph column, I suggested that David Trimble should be brought into the Shadow Cabinet.

One man with huge experience, personal charm and immense ability is David, now Lord, Trimble. He recently joined the Conservative benches in the Lords and would be a hugely impressive addition to the shadow cabinet. He is only 62, and is very keen to play an active part in politics on the UK mainland. He may not feel ready just yet for a frontbench role, but surely that moment will come before the election.

I now regard the move as almost inevitable. I am told he played a key role in making this announcement happen. If there is a reshuffle in September, I hope he will be given a key role.

PS I was delighted to get a call last night from BBC Radio Ulster, who asked if I would go on their breakfast show to talk about the talks between David Cameron and the UUP about an electoral alliance. They told me they would ring me to go on at 8.20am. Instead the call came at 7.32am when I was still in the land of nod. But a minute later I was broadcasting to the good people of Northern Ireland. I felt that I came across quite badly as my brain hadn't yet switched into top gear, but such is life.

UPDATE: More comment from Mick Fealty, Slugger O'Toole, O'Conall Street. The full statement by Sir Reg Empey and David Cameron is on the Northern Ireland Conservatives website HERE.

30 comments:

David said...

Iain

Just to fill you in on the Labour side of things. The UK Labour party has now been accepting members in Northern Ireland since 2003 and has recently agreed with MI members to organize there once that membership reaches a certain numerical level (which is not very high). I would expect announcements on that score in due course. Whether they stand for election or work more closely with the SDLP is then a matter for then to determine after that.

Icarus said...

Are the Ulster Unionists still going? Surely the if the Conservatives were going to get into bed with anyone they should be talking to the DUP.

Dave Clushman said...

The difficulty is that these parties still hold on to very narrow views. As a Lib Dem I am embarrassed by the lack of gay tolerance in the Alliance Party. Northern Ireland is still 20 years behind everyone else and I'm not sure these partnerships would improve that.

Chris Paul said...

Labour have been organising in the six counties for some years now.

After a rule change in 2004 I think it was. Numbers are not great and with SDLP as a sister party as is the Irish LP thoughts are divided among the "Labour and Irish" as to whether there should be LP candidates.

I'd say there are also plenty of putative Labour supporters who are strongly identified with either Unionist or Nationalist politics or with the independent left-of-SDLP that exists.

Anonymous said...

Radio Ulster has just announced that Iris Robinson believes this move is the best political move for Ulster for years and is going to join the UUP.

Anonymous said...

'It's one I hope people of all political persuasions both here and in Northern Ireland can welcome'

That's fairly naive of you Iain, I can't see many nationalists being overly pleased with the Conservrative Party potentially becoming a real force in Ulster politics. I think this move will work well in the short-term at least for the UUP (becasue they are basicallly on their collective ar5e) but I can't see it being of much use to the Tories long-term. One thing that is fortunate for Cameron & Co. is that UUP has lost most of it's nutters to the DUP so there is less risk of someone shooting their mouths off in Belfast & embarassing the Tories in London. It's interesting to contrast this annoucement with the SDLP's supposed merger with Fianna Fail.

Conall McDevitt said...

Iain I diasgree with your assertion that this is a big deal for Northern politics.

Have blogged about it being a wolf in sheep's clothing for the UUP. More on www.oconallstreet.com .

David said...

"As a Lib Dem I am embarrassed by the lack of gay tolerance in the Alliance Party."

I don't think this is quite right. The Alliance Party has been gay tolerant -- and if you look at their reaction to Iris Robinson on their website you can see that. They have several openly gay members such as Gerry Lynch (North Belfast) and Andy Muir (who defected from the SDLP recently) both of them have been vocal against Robinson.

Anonymous said...

That's Sylvia, Lady Hermon, not "Lady Sylvia Hermon". She is neither a Lady of the Garter nor the daughter of an earl, marquess, or duke. Shape up, Iain!

Dick the Prick said...

Let's just hope eh? Gret day to be a Tory - as Coren would recommend - a bottle of Rose for tonight's cliffhanger. Excellent start to the day.

(uurrghh - found myself watching 20 best ABBA songs on TMF at the weekend - hmm, perhaps less booze in future!!)

PS Anony dude at 11.15 - please confirm?

Conand said...

I was intrigued by a moment on Newsnight last night. A Glasgow East voter said he intended to vote for the 'Scottish Unionist Party'. Michael Crick got him to clarify, he meant the Scottish Conservatives.
Which leads me to wonder what the new party in NI will be called. The Ulster Conservative & Unionist Party.. but U CUP seems a bit too close to U KIP. So I guess that means it'll be UU&CP or 'The Conservatives'. 'Pittites' seems appropriate for the orange fraternity as they celebrate King Billy, the glorious revolution, it's constitution etc but not 'Tory' as this is linked to Jacobites etc. Catholic members would hopefully enjoy the Tory (i.e. Catholic Rebel) tag.
As for the LibDems I like the idea of 'The Alliance/Liberal Democrats Alliance' as it sounds like muddle headed claptrap, it just seems right.
And not to forget Labour & The SDLP, they would of course be called The National Socialist British Worker's Party, 'EU Non-Jobs for German Workers!' catchy.

Anonymous said...

Can't say I feel very worked up about all this.
This is classic excitement inside the Westminster bubble about another seedy little stitch up with the outside world looking in and thinking how conceited and remote the politicians are from real life.

Ulster , like Scotland and Wales , are parasitic on England and provided with gigantic favouritism by the British political class which the English and only the English pay for.

All the English get from the British political class( including the Tories)is two fingers.

By the way, Ulster is even more favoured by the Barnett Rules than is Scotland and thats saying something.

Why should anyone in England feel anything other than the usual disgust.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

david: I think dave clushman may have had Seamus Close's famous campaign against civil partnerships in Lisburn in mind. True he is only one person but at the time he was the Alliance MLA for the area, an entire 1/6 of the Assembly party and a former Deputy Leader so rather more than just a random councillor. Full credit to those in Alliance who openly spoke out against him.

tachybaptus said...

You may sew a donkey to a camel, but you will not make a horse.
--- Iraqi proverb

Anonymous said...

Iain I thought you were good on Radio Ulster - kept focused on the bigger picture

Chekov said...

Excellent news.

Make take on it is here.

http://threethousandversts.blogspot.com/2008/07/empey-cameron-statement-should-be.html

trevorsden said...

Maybe the next step is for the English Conservative party to be called, er, well, 'The English Conservative Party'.
And as the word Conservative seems so awful north (and west) of the border may be the Celtic branches should just be called (as 'Conand' indicated) the Unionist Party.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Lady hermon the wife of the former Chief Constable?

Nice to know who the conservatives are getting into bed with!

Anonymous said...

"Maybe the next step is for the English Conservative party to be called, er, well, 'The English Conservative Party'"

The Conservative party should recognise facts and organise itself on federal lines
-which the LibDems already do.

doesn't mean you have to have a party named the Conservative party for each of the the component countries of the union -

cooperation between parties with different names but overlapping principles and outlooks happens all the time in the federal parliaments of just about all the federal countries around the world

Why is only the UK that has to have such ridiculous dfficulties with getting to grips with the highly practicable concept of federalism ?
particularly when it could so easily be the solution to the WLQ

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
Ulster , like Scotland and Wales , are parasitic on England and provided with gigantic favouritism by the British political class which the English and only the English pay for."

Well the English shouldn't have bloody invaded Ireland and in the first place!

Had you left your mucky paws off the country all those years ago - and not sent over settlers to take the land off the natives, well there wouldn't be the problems there are now.

That'll teach you to build Empires!

Phil C said...

Federalism won't happen - as it means all the MPs and ministers at Westminster having to vote for a smaller role (and fewer troughing opportunities) for themselves.

But IMO the only thing that would make an English parliament & devloved administration workable would have to be a drastic downsizing of the Imperial parliament at Westminster and the UK government.

Old Dominion Tory said...

A "landmark day" indeed. If a large number of Northern Ireland's politicians are determined to base their politics less on the resentments spawned by the often benighted political history of Ireland (on both sides of the border) and more alonmg philosophical lines, then it can only diminish the standing and power of some of the more noxious people in NI politics--e.g., Paisley, McGuinness--and that can only be for the better.
Moreover, it would provide a marvelous example to the politicians in the Irish Republic, men and women who still run their politics along the lines of cronyism and on which side their grandparents and great-grandparents stood during the Irish Civil War.

trevorsden said...

Never mind landmark days for NI politics - I have just seen Brown pontificating on world poverty on TV News. Just one word for it really - deranged.

Anonymous said...

"Had you left your mucky paws off the country all those years ago - and not sent over settlers to take the land off the natives, well there wouldn't be the problems there are now."

Anon 1.56pm

Thick git. Ulster was and is a Scottish colony . try reading it up.

but your attitude is beautiful evidence of why the Conservatives should never get involved with Ireland. Its a hopeless quagmire and it will never change.

Anonymous said...

Let me assure you Iain, just as there was no Cameron bounce in Scotland, there will be no Cameron bounce in Ulster. Smart politics by Cameron to portray the Tories as a truly UK party - going nowhere in Scotland, at a snail's pace in Wales but at least a presence in the Stormont Parliament. For Reg Empey this is foolish politics - is the UUP seriously contemplating linking up with a party that want's to effectively abolish the Barnet Funding Formula which has served Scotland and Ulster so well?

Also risks for the Tories here - not so long ago Reg Empey was pushing an Assembly link up with the PUP - the political wing of the UVF - are these the type of people Dave wants to be linked with?

Anonymous said...

Iain heard you and you were grand!

Interesting times ahead!


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curly15 said...

Perhaps it's time to resurrect the full name "The Conservative and Unionist Party"

Sam Tarran said...

"Whether Labour will seek to emulate this with an agreement with the SDLP remains to be seen."

If they do, it would destroy any remaining illusions that the Labour Party actually cares about the Union, above anything other than the electoral advantages Scotland and Wales have provided them with in the past.

tachybaptus said...

curly15 said...
Perhaps it's time to resurrect the full name "The Conservative and Unionist Party"

No, it isn't. Perfectly good name, but it would instantly be shortened to 'Con U'.

Anonymous said...

"Thick git. Ulster was and is a Scottish colony . try reading it up."

you need to do a bit of reading yourself - Ulster was the last Gaelic kingdom, before being colonised by Scots settlers.


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