"Anyone who tries to peddle the myth of a problem with garden centre prods should be taken to such a centre and introduced to a large shovel until they recognise the evidence of box turnout and voter registration shows a working class problem. The core reason the UUP has been unsuccessful in tapping this vote for the past decade or more is because it isn’t there."
In this blog I will try to demonstrate in more detail why it is a myth. The theory of the 'Garden Centre Pod' is sound. It is essentially an Ulster version of 'Mondeo Man'. This is the ability to profile social categories based on their brand preferences and connect that with their voting patterns. This data from the likes of Experian can then be used to target such groups with a tailored political message. However, this is were the GCP theory falls down. It was a term created by a group of people close to the NIO and Ulster Unionists around the time of the referendum of a perceived social group. So unlike Mondeo Man, it had no statistical basis and owed more to a small group imagining their own predispositions were very widespread.
The second reason is classism. The idea of spending lots of time with 'nice' middle class people rather than in working class estates that appealed to the social prejudices of some and the laziness of others. There were some of these 'social-climber' undertones in the Tory link-up as well. Although, it would be wrong to portray these as the motivation of many in the UUP but certainly of some. Beyond the UUP, it appealed to the media tyes who live in the 'North Down' bubble.
If we presume I am mistaken on this and the GCP theory has validity there is a simple reason why UUP appeals have not worked. The GCP theory was central in shaping Blair's five pledges:
- No change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people
- The power to take decisions to be returned from London to Northern Ireland, with accountable North-South co-operation
- Fairness and equality for all
- Those who use or threaten violence to be excluded from the government of Northern Ireland
- Prisoners to be kept in prison unless violence is given up for good