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That UUP South Belfast letter…

[Just posted this over at bobballs, but thought it would be useful to post up here also.]

I’ve had a conversation with a few people close to South Belfast, and it has thrown a different light on things.

The leaked letter appears to have been written by people who wanted to enter into a genuine discussion with the Party leadership about matters relating to candidate selection in South Belfast. These are not people one would normally consider as rebels / or egoists / or stooges. I’m publishing its contents below…

From what I gather the letter was not written to be leaked (as these things sometimes are). That the letter was leaked is a matter of disappointment for Reg but also for many people in South Belfast.

I posted on this previously without knowing the content / context of this letter. Having read it, I can understand their motives and I can understand why SB was inviting a conversation on the matter. I feel I was unduly harsh about what was happening here.

The letter has been leaked, it is in the public domain. There’s lots of speculation about the content so I publish it below in order for the position of South Belfast to become clear. Certainly, this is no DUP plot – this is simply a conversation that members of the UUP (who are determined to win SB in 2010) want to have.

I don’t think there’s anything disreputable about the contents. In fact I would be amazed if an honest conversation like this did not take place.

My own personal advice to the UUP is that the leadership should go to SB and meet a full session of the constituency branch… and talk till you drop. Stay there till one strategy or t’other wins out. In my estimation, these are not plotters, they’re Ulster Unionists looking for a conversation.

TO: THE UUP PARTY LEADER – SIR REG EMPEY.

CC.:

29th September 2009

DEAR SIR REG,

Following a meeting of the South Belfast UUP Association to-night, I am writing to you, to inform you of the following statement which was unanimously passed by the meeting viz.:

It is the unanimous view of this Association that it is essential that there should be one agreed Unionist candidate, agreed between the UUP-Conservatives and the DUP, to contest the South Belfast Parliamentary seat at the next UK Westminster general election.

South Belfast was a safe Unionist seat until 2005, and it is patently obvious that if both a UCUNF candidate and a DUP candidate contest this seat, this will result in the present MP – the SDLP incumbent being re-elected.

In this context, a motion was also unanimously passed that exploratory talks are undertaken immediately, and as a matter of urgency, with the DUP. This would be to ascertain the possibility of agreeing one Unionist candidate to contest the South Belfast seat, on behalf of all Unionists, who make up the majority of the electors in this constituency. Members at the meeting also stated that they could undertake talks with the DUP at a local South Belfast level, if this complemented and assisted the overall process, and objective, of agreeing one joint Unionist candidate.

As also agreed unanimously at the meeting, I have been asked to convey the above views and position to you, in the strongest terms.

On behalf of the Association, I look forward to receiving your reply as I have been asked to immediately convey any response back to our members.

Yours Sincerely, and Kindest Regards,

PS. I tried to get this uploaded as a JPEG in its original letter format, but that was an hour I’ll not get back. Safe to say, I received the full letter and not some words pasted into an email.

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6 Responses

  1. […] That UUP South Belfast letter… Posted on October 9, 2009 by bobballs [Have also posted this over at Open Unionism.] […]

  2. thedissenter says:

    If it were not for UCUNF this is an entirely reasonable letter. I have to say that some of the comment on the letter (before this) has been shrill and bordering on hysterical. It would seem that some believe that redemption and a non-sectarian future is only possible through the Conservative Party. um. I am faintly appalled that it a distinct possibility that a dedicated Ulster Unionist MP could be abandoned because she may not take the Tory Whip in Parliament after the next election, and that is welcomed by some. Is Sylvia not an Ulster Unionist. Is she part of a sectarian past that must be shrugged aside – that would be an entirely offensive proposition.

    Its not the letter. It is the context of the Associations viewpoint, and the fact that the Conservatives have said they will stand in every constituency. The impression has certainly been given that that means no deals with the DUP. So the letter at its core challenges the UCUNF compact – even if that is not the intent. The rub is that to the Conservatives, the loss of SB or FST is not going to risk the Union – which Cameron has said he would never do. So while a deal may be in the interests of the Ulster Unionist Party, its not on the Cameron agenda and, sadly, the money talks.

    Where the UUP still free to act alone and solely in its own interest it could, through dealing and clever politics at least doubled its seats. Even cleverer politics and a line to the TUV might well offer a third or even a fourth. But what future would that offer?

  3. KeithBelfast says:

    how is that different from any “keep the nationalists out” plea?

  4. oneill says:

    I’m not sure this realy changes things at all; it still basically reads “We want a joint Unionist candidate to keep themmuns out”. Which Reg’s less than clear previous opinion on the matter aside, seems to run contrary to the whole spirit behind the idea of a link-up with the Conservatives and a “new future”. But as you say the leadership should talk with the branch and give a decision one way or the other.

  5. bobballs says:

    I’m close to the Dissenter on this. This letter doesn’t contain anything very new or strange. Every so often someone raises the notion of Unionist unity somewhere.

    How often have you heard a UUP politician talk about maximising the unionist vote? How often do you hear calls for Unionist unity (chiefly from David McNarry, Billy Armstrong)? How often have you heard Reg talk about being open to discussing electoral pacts?

    As recently as November 2008, Reg was given permission talk to DUP on the subject of unionist unity (http://www.newsletter.co.uk/politics/Unionist-unity-on-agenda-for.4651285.jp – this must include electoral pacts). So less than a year ago, the leadership of the UUP was prepared to talk to the DUP in precisely the way SB is suggesting. So if it was a reasonable position for the leadership to take so recently, I don’t see that this is such an earth-shattering notion now.

    The UUP’s objectives are to ‘promote, strengthen and maintain the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. It could even be argued that discussing electoral pacts to maximise the Unionist vote is an extension of the Party’s overall objectives.

    So I would agree with Dissenter; the content is same-same, but the context is changed. Now on the matter of whether the request is desirable or tactically astute is something else entirely. It’s clearly out of keeping with the UCUNF pact. But SB should be free to discuss this stuff.

    On the sectarian issue – I think that’s a red herring. Is it so amazing that people with a Unionist outlook would like to be represented by people who share their outlook? And isn’t tactical voting common to all democracies? What is so strange for various members of one stream of political thought, who all share broadly common goals, to cooperate with one another (and particularly at elections)?

    Yes people vote to reward a positive campaign / candidate, but they are also motivated to limit the chances of those with whom they most fundamentally disagree. Isn’t that just stating the obvious?

    Interesting that the UUP/CUs are being hit for sectarianism when the candidate most likely to go forward a the minute is a West Belfast Catholic who only this week was talking to the Belfast Media Group about his recollections of the funeral corteges of hunger strikers passing his home. That hardly says ‘not a fenian about the place’.

    … bottomline: I’m not saying SB are necessarily right about this, just that the conversation is an understandable one to seek to have.

    Also, politics like comedy is all a question of timing. Writing this letter within a few days of Reg speaking to the Tory conference wasn’t the brightest thing to do. Yes, issues like this ought to be discussed – but why write them down and circulate them widely when you could just pick up the phone.

  6. peteram79 says:

    The UUP stance on “unionist unity” in SB and FST is largely irrelevant, as far as I can see. The over-riding impression that came out of the Tory conference was a mood that “we’ve got this won, just as long as we don’t cock it up”. And that means not giving Labour any free sticks with which to beat them.

    Labour don’t care about Northern Ireland. But any decision by the New Force to attempt to water down the Conservative committment to standing in every constituency across the UK gives Gordon Brown something with which to attack David Cameron – can’t be tusted, doesn’t keep his promises etc. So there is no way that the Conservatives will agree to “unionist unity” candidates, unless the DUP chooses to step aside in both cases. Especially as any deal would be open to accusations of “not wanting a fenian round the place” and be with a party known on the mainland for religious fundamentalism and blind bigotry, hardly an electoral pact partner in keeping with Cameron’s One Nation Conservative image.

    When the UUP signed up for its Tory link-up, the selling point to the voters was an engagement and relevance in national politics. The South Belfast UUP needs to realise that this engagement and relevance means that an inherently local issue, e.g. getting any sort of unionist elected at the expense of a nationalist, plays second fiddle to the national issue of Cameron keeping his pledge and not being seen to be embroiled in the distasteful sectarian handcount aspect of NI politics

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