Open Unionism


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UUP and its liberal core are dependent on each other…

WB Maginess looks into the recent resignations from the Ulster Unionist Party…

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By WB Maginess

It can be quite rare that a matter goads this author into penning opinion for public consumption, but the departure from the UUP of Ringland and Bradshaw in quick succession has provoked both cause and motivation.

The liberal core of the UUP has been established as a notable going concern for more than 60 years, and it’s continued inability to secure the leadership of the party since the fall of O’Neill has been noted, particularly in recent years, indeed weeks.

So Ringland and Bradshaw were full participant members of this liberal core. That is indisputable. They took their chance, and were pushed forward, in both cases at the recommendation of Sir Reg rather than their associations, to be in the front ine of what Alex Kane has noted was the most liberal line up of UUP candidates in history. This proud “liberalista” was pleased with that turn of events, and was never convinced that their failure was in the most part down to the individuals (notwithstanding that amongst the best-performing candidates vis 2005 and indeed 2007 were older school border Unionists Messrs Kennedy, Hussey and to an extent Mrs Overend. Manwaring is the exception that proves the rule).

So what has caused the sudden exodus of these two liberals? Is it a sign of worsening relations between the UUP leadership and the party’s liberal core? Probably not. Tom Elliott is politically too centred on the west, that is no doubt true, but it is also true that Basil McCrea singularly failed to attract the votes of a sufficient majority of the liberal wing to make his defeat respectable.

Ringland and Bradshaw both backed McCrea, but many other liberals did not. One guesses at McCune, and also frankly Kinahan, but McClarty openly backed Elliott, many liberals in Upper Bann and greater Belfast. The most obvious example is prominent backer Mr Nesbitt. It remains to be seen how these individuals are treated by Elliott, but a cold house seems very unlikely.

Ringland’s exit was ludicrously unfortunate. His work in cross community relations is exemplary, and as a result it can hardly be a surprise that he took the issue of attitudes to the GAA seriously, but one doubts that his reaction was proportionate. Elliott could have couched his unease much better than he managed (for example, Unionists are by the Basic Rule of the GAA prohibited from membership, not to mention the high-profile contemporary backing of past terrorist campaigns), but to jump overboard at a refusal to attend a GAA game is more than a little silly, and does not do justice to Mr Ringland’s good grace, common decency and acumen in a range of areas. Neither does it do justice to Mr Elliott.

Bradshaw’s exit is on the face of it even more unnecessary. One suspects that her failure to be selected was indeed a conspiracy by malevolent forces within South Belfast UUP (as distinct from HQ or the leadership). Yes, in the opinion of this author neither Mr Finlay not Mr Henderson are better than Ms Bradshaw, but there are ways and means to ensure that she was on the ticket, which one has no doubt would have been deployed in a similar way to what will justly and doubtlessly happen to save Mr McClarty from the utter folly of deselection to the furious sound of grinding axes.

In short, she seems to have thrown the rattle out of the pram for reasons of ego, and it is particularly difficult to have sympathy for such an act.

The political futures of Bradshaw and Ringland are for the time being matters of speculation. They may well wish to scuttle off to obscurity in the Northern Ireland Conservatives, but it is clear to this observer that their departures are not necessarily the beginnings of an emptying of the liberal wing of the UUP of the scale which occurred in 1969 and the New Ulster Movement.

Doing so would almost certainly fail in a way that the previous experiment, sadly, did not. However Mr Elliott needs to be supremely careful not to lose any more liberals in this fashion, and as a result needs to carefully assess his positioning and attitude in the coming weeks.

The UUP and its liberal core are dependent on each other at this point in time. Neither the leadership nor the wing in question should lose sight of that.


Filed under: liberals, UUP, ,

15 Responses

  1. Framer says:

    This is ludicrous conspiracy theorising – “One suspects that Bradshaw’s failure to be selected was indeed a conspiracy by malevolent forces within South Belfast UUP”.

    Paula was selected by HQ as the candidate once already when she failed to beat Cllr Henderson earlier in the year for the Westminster nomination. She failed to dislodge Alasdair McDonnell (not her fault) but was not the winner people were told ‘liberal’ candidates were going to be when they were imposed on constituencies.

    The candidates who went through to the next round either had impressive credentials or spoke well and/or had a clutch of supporters and relatives present.

    She failed to get more votes on that last point and for no other reason. Suggesting malevolence is a libellous excuse not a reason.

  2. Anon says:


    You seem terribly well informed, please tell us then how many first preferences Mr. Finlay had? My information is that he was the number 1 choice of nobody at the meeting, but was in fact the number 2 choice of practically every single person who voted for McGimpsey. You can try to spin this as you wish but the truth is that McGimpsey’s people did a number on her in order to protect their man, who has never been a vote getter from a candidate who had profile coming out of the Westminster poll, was female, articulate and (most importantly) above him on the ballot paper.

  3. Progressive Unionist says:

    The UUP and its liberal core are dependent on each other at this point in time

    Well the UUP is certainly dependent upon it’s liberal core vote (especially east of the Bann) if it hopes to get over 10%+ in next year’s election…

    But progressive/liberal pro-Union voters certainly aren’t dependent upon the UUP. And don’t deceive yourself otherwise.

    Ringland, Bradshaw, Hermon, Garland, McFarland… all the most promising moderate figures have now been forced out of the UUP by the Cabal and their chosen leader Elliott.

    If Tom Elliott continues with his wild “traditionalist” lurch to the right of unionism, then there will be a huge price to pay with the voters next May.

    [I posted the below on slugger]:

    Unionism – which underpins our British Citizenship – is the idea that we all have more in common on these islands than things that separate us – and that we need to build on what we have in common rather than what divides us.

    To vote for a candidate or a party unwilling to attend minority cultural events (whether GAA events or LGB events) would be to undermine the whole basis of Unionism across the UK.

    Unionism needs to focus on what we have in common in the UK, not what divides us – that’s why Tom Elliott’s ideas of “Unionism”, with their exclusive (anti-gaa, anti-gay) connotations are so troubling. It’s just not British.

    No Tory on the mainland would be seen dead expressing Tom Elliott’s views. Most Tories would jump at the chance to attend a gay rights parade, or an Asian food festival etc etc…

    Tom Elliott – if he wants to lead a true Unionist party – needs to explain why his views are truly inclusively UK/British, and not just mere divisive “Ulster-nationalist’ sectarianism.

  4. Don’t confuse left-wing with liberal. Gordon Brown was left-wing but no liberal, and Nick Clegg is liberal (indeed Liberal) but no left-winger. Closer to home, Basil McCrea for example is far from left-wing on the economy. There’s more to politics than a simplistic one-dimensional axis.

  5. W B Maginess Esq says:


    As Anon points out, there was something of a suspicious voting pattern. Nonetheless one does not seek to defend Bradshaw for her subsequent behaviour, and one does agree that ensuring that ones supporters are well groomed and prepped to attend is a vital component of political success. However it is a tad naive to suggest that she wasn’t singled out as a threat.

    As an aside, you know far too much about legal process to degrade yourself with accusations of libel in this circumstance.

    Progressive Unionist (hereinafter referred to as “the child”),

    Do not fool yourself that the liberal wing of the UUP has anywhere else to go as a unit, it does not. I understand your disappointment at the leadership election, even without sharing it, but no one should imagine that the perfect storm that allowed the bastard child (APNI) to survive more than a few seconds in the course of history is about to be replicated. The UUP is the only suitable vehicle for advancement for so long as it exists. Get used to it, and cease conspiring, at least in such a child like manner.

  6. thedissenter says:

    On her blog linked elsewhere on Open Unionism Bradshaw says she left because the party was not heading in the “progressive, pro-Union, community-based, moderate,” direction she wished. Would think McGimpsey, Stoker and co would describe themselves in this way also, which would have to raise the question as to what exactly the issue was if it wasn’t a huff.

  7. Anon says:

    McGimpsey and Stoker I would imagine wouldn’t spend so much time navel-gazing and self-defining as some seem predisposed to do without ceasing. Frankly I don’t really care how my MLA or councillor defines themselves as long as they are for the Union and put a bit of effort in between elections. McGimpsey’s trouble is that whilst Bostock might ensure the office ticks over, he himself is hardly seen on the ground and isn’t a vote-getter, hence Bradshaw was a threat that had to be eleiminated.

    • What does it matter if a local councillor is pro- or anti-Union? They’re not going to be able to do anything about it. The same applies to MLAs.

      Or is this just a litmus test for which side of the community they will be prejudiced towards?

  8. Carrie Duff says:

    In response to the Dissenter, I think Paula Bradshaw said something significant on her blog last night.

    I asked her if (a) she felt the selection process was unfair and (b) if so, had she spoken to Elliott about it. She confirmed that she had spoken to Elliott.

    Now, if we had a properly inquisitive media, it would be asking both of them what exactly they discussed about the SB Association.

    There does seem to be something strange about that Association and a sensible party would be looking at its affairs closely.

    Some people might remember that in 2007 Basil McCrea used his profile from his 2005 Westminster campaign to poll ahead of sitting veteran MLA Billy Bell in first preferences, meaning that Basil got the single UUP seat in Lagan Valley. I wonder if anyone thought that the same pattern might recur in South Belfast in 2011.

    • thedissenter says:

      Have no doubt about the reasons for Bradshaw not being selected, but to then resign (having had the Westminster nomination) seems immature and just a little self-regarding. Anon and yourself probably around about the right area, but additionally it was only possible because of the cliques etc of the UU Associations of which SB is a good example, but is not alone. Bradshaw’s failure has been in not building sufficient numbers to secure necessary support and perhaps believing that the Westminster nomination meant she would even have a chance of the Assembly: which would also indicate a little poltical naivety. Should have taken Jimmy Spratt’s offer when she had the chance.

  9. Progressive Unionist says:

    Progressive Unionist (hereinafter referred to as “the child”), Do not fool yourself that the liberal wing of the UUP has anywhere else to go as a unit, it does not. I understand your disappointment at the leadership election, even without sharing it, but no one should imagine that the perfect storm that allowed the bastard child (APNI) to survive more than a few seconds in the course of history is about to be replicated. The UUP is the only suitable vehicle for advancement for so long as it exists.

    Hmmmmm…. wild, unsupported assertions combined with personal insult (always a winning combination…) – liberal wing has “nowhere else to go”… “only suitable vehicle for advancement is UUP for so long as it exists”… “the bastard child (APNI)”…

    Bollocks. Progressive voters have plenty of options – vote Alliance, vote Green, stay at home (as many many do), vote Conservative, vote Labour if they set up properly (as Andy Burnham wanted), or possibly even form a new party (which, if done right, and with emphasis on the if done right, could win seats and overtake Tom Elliott’s back-to-the-50s UUP across much the 9 Greater Belfast (4 Belfast + 5 adjacent) constituency area.)

    The preferred and possibly natural vehicle for advancing progressive unionist views was the UUP, but faced with a UUP that’s been moving further and further to the right since Empey took over (and has taken a new and disastrous leap to the right with Elliott’s bussing-in/coronation by hundreds of elderly members totally unrepresentative of pro-Union voters) – voters will look elsewhere.

    Tens of thousands of natural moderate pro-UUP voters are utterly fed up with where the cabal have led the UUP –

    ‘cabal’ is almost too respectful, it’s a Muppetocracy!

    Don’t believe me? Wait till next May.

  10. Progressive Unionist says:

    Okay, rant over.

    But seriously, how can you possibly describe the UUP in it’s current state as a vehicle for advancing positive/progressive/liberal/whatever unionism?

    And by ‘progressive’ I don’t mean wild long-haired liberalism or socialism, I’d be content with a leader who, given that in theory at least the UUP leader is a candidate for First Minister Of Northern Ireland has a sense of inclusivity and at least respects his fellow citizens to go along to the odd GAA match or gay pride march (or Orange parade as the latter is also now a minority pursuit)…

    surely someone who aspires to be First Minister Of Northern Ireland should aspire to represent the feelings of all Northern Ireland’s people, even those with whom he (or, one day hopefully she), disagrees?

    Please Tom, if you can’t bring yourself to attend a GAA match, at least do something highly visible to show your unambiguous respect for the 40%+ of Northern Ireland people who are Nationalists!

    Please Tom, the pro-Union cause needs a leader who leads in a positive way, not just someone who wants to be a facsimile of uber-cautious Reg or of the DUP…

    Please Tom, surprise us!

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