Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Plans B and C

Following the debacle that was the half-way house of UCUNF, there is an ongoing discussion between the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Parties about what its future relationship should be.  Unsurprisingly for a partnership that has been dysfunctional from the beginning, the respective Plan B's for the relationship are heading in entirely different directions.

The Conservatives wish the relationship to move towards full-scale merger.  As Ian Parsley points out, this was always the direction the Conservatives wanted the relationship to move towards.  It would also tackle the problems over selection etc that the Tories believe contributed to the poor performance.  However, there are two obvious issues with that. Who would opt to be the Ulster equivalent of Annabel Goldie and Scottish Tories?  The swiftness with which party resources were cut here after the election does cast further doubt on what level of commitment the Tories genuinely have.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist preference appears to be long-fingering merger and instead of the half-way house they'd prefer a single foot in the Tory camp with a return to the old relationship of taking the Tory whip (presuming they can manage to get someone elected).  Yet this option retains many of the risks of a link with even less of the benefits. 

Three Thousand Versts points to the Conservatives working quietly on a Plan C.  However, creating a party from near scratch that can find credible candidates and run good campaigns is no easy task.  The Tory operation has had difficulty grasping that the political culture of Northern Ireland has distinctive elements.  This means a carbon copy of approaches used elesewhere do not provide the same results.  Nationally, Tory membership has been falling for years and to try to recruit and expand here while going through the largest budget retrenchment in generations is an immense task.  For example, how well will pensioners (and their families) react if the NIO leaks that PMS savers will receive only a % of their money proves to be true.   Also in this Owen Patterson may be more of a hindrance than a help, he has a whiff of colonial attitudes about him that the average Unionist voter can spot and doesn't like.

Considering all this, the problems at the UUP Executive may have been a welcome distraction for Tom Elliott.  However, it also gives him his first challenge to act on his demand for discipline and it isn't as if one of the participants doesn't have form.

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