THE CONSERVATIVES and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) habve struck an electoral agreement which Iain Dale is very excited and optimistic about.
Optimism is good, especially in Northern Ireland. But I have two points to make, the first of which may risk denting his optimism.
Iain says this agreement is “a sign that the Good Friday Agreement is succeeding and a further sign that sectarian politics is on the wane.” If only. I strongly suspect that this agreement, such as it is, is more about the utter failure of the Tories to make any headway at all in the province since its decision in the 1980s to stand candidates.
And how can an alliance between the British Conservative Party and the protestant UUP reach out to Catholic voters in Northern Ireland. Those who might have considered voting Tory before now in an attempt to break the hold of sectarian parties will now be discouraged from doing so, since a vote for them now will be (rightly) interpreted as a vote for the UUP, the party that ruled Northern Ireland with an impregnable majority for 50 years and institutionalised anti-Catholicism in that time.
Secondly, the UUP for many years accepted the Tory whip at Westminster, a practice that was resurrected under David Trimble’s leadership (but not with the unalloyed enthusiasm of all his MPs). So this agreement is simply an modest extension to the partnership. I’m not entirely sure whether the UUP still take the Tory whip, but since it only has one MP these days, it wouldn’t make much difference.
Do the Tories hope that, in the event of a hung parliament, even a modest increase in Tory-supporting Unionists might be crucial?
Interestingly, and tellingly, while the UUP governed in Northern Ireland, they continued to send MPs to Westminster, MPs who not only took the Tory whip but also voted on policies which were devolved to Northern Ireland. Oddly, the Tories never objected at the time, and no Tories, to my knowledge, have since admitted that such a practice was anything other than democratic.