Looks like Slugger O’Toole got the scoop on this morning’s falling out between a senior NI Conservative and the UUP.
When David Cameron appeared in Belfast back in December, he made much of the fact that he wanted to open up voting Conservative to all communities, not just traditional Ulster Unionist voters.
Thinking back to conversations with UUP activists, and then listening to Jeffrey Peel’s side of the story when he spoke on Talkback at lunchtime today, explaining his resignation from the joint committee set up between the UUP and the Tories, one of my initial suspicions now seems well founded.
Many in the UUP have little respect for local Tory activists, and sought to eliminate them and their Conservatives NI party structure from the local scene through the “New Force” arrangement.
Back in December, at the public Cameron Direct event, the Conservatives’ leader talked about “launching a new force in Northern Irish politics” to get away from traditional unionist versus nationalist and move to a politics that would be about education and “mending broken parts of society”.
Yet there weren’t any recognisable UUP faces at the public Cameron Direct event. Instead, Jeffrey Peel - the vice chair and public face of Conservatives NI - did the introductions and welcoming. Fair enough given that it was a Tory-branded event, and distinct from the UUP conference later that day. But odd to have no visible hangers on. To quote from the December post:
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The first question asked how he’d be able to follow through on his appeal to Catholics to support the Conservatives in Northern Ireland given the close links with a Unionist party.
“If Catholics in Northern Ireland who share my view on the family environment ... if I can’t get them to support a new force, we will have failed.”
He admitted that The New Force wasn’t a guaranteed success for the two parties:
“We’re both taking a risk with each other ... Let’s get the most talented people to serve.”
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It’s beginning to look like the problem with being unequally yoked is that one party ends up setting the direction while the other finds their feet off the ground and unable to influence what’s going on. Jeff Peel has escaped from his side of the yoke ... but his party are still in bed with the UUP.
With the UUP’s only MP Lady Sylvia Hermon likely to either resign her North Down seat at the next general election or run as an independent (supported by the Alliance), the UUP’s focus will surely continue to be on regional politics.
It’s become a new farce that is a far cry from the new force that Cameron promised. Though at least Cameron was realistic about the risk they were taking with each other.
Update - A bit more movement tonight. In Jeffrey Peel's words,
I gather I'm now suspended as an Officer of the Conservatives in NI because I resigned from the Joint Committee
Looks like his statement and resignation from the joint UUP/Tory committee may not have been deemed to have followed party protocol.
There’s something of the Emperor’s got no clothes about this episode. Not being a member of any political party, I can still see why they have rules about how members and party officials make decisions and communicate those with the media and the public.
On the other hand, being a whistleblower is rarely a stance that is welcomed with open arms by any of the groups affected.