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Elliott and the UUP Conference: positives and negatives

Having missed the UUP Conference, I posted a reaction to Tom Elliott’s speech and some of the media coverage over at Three Thousand Versts. There hasn’t been a lot of reaction to the event yet at Open Unionism, so I’m taking the liberty of reposting here. Owen Polley.

I spent the weekend in icy Fermanagh, and not at the Ulster Unionist conference.  Ironically, if the cliché rings true, half the County enjoyed subsidised transport in the other direction.

Still, reportedly 400 delegates heard Tom Elliott deliver his speech at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast, whereas just shy of 1,000 crowded into the Waterfront Hall to elect him leader, so perhaps the Enniskillen fleet wasn‘t quite so well-filled this time.

The speech is carried on the UUP website and it reads reasonably well, although the Belfast Telegraph reports that the delivery was stilted.  In contrast, Alan from Belfast thinks that Elliott is getting more assured.  Perhaps both are fair comment.

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Filed under: UUP, UUP conference

Mixed bag for the UUP as the party hopes to avoid lost seats.

Cross posted on Three Thousand Versts. By Owen Polley.

As promised, some reaction to the UUP Assembly candidates list, revealed yesterday. Like O’Neill, the first name which took my eye was Reg Empey, whose impending elevation to the Conservative benches at the House of Lords has not prevented his selection for East Belfast.

On ‘Unionist Lite’ Michael Shilliday notes that the Lords is neither an elected nor a salaried position and therefore the party treats it as exempt from strictures on double-jobbing. That will be considered, by most people, to be too convenient a get out.

Simply, if you can’t be a Lord and remain in the House of Commons, neither should you become a Lord and remain at the Assembly. If the UUP wants to wriggle out on a technicality then there will be criticism and, in my opinion, it will be justified.

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Filed under: Assembly elections, UUP

Can new head articulate message – if one is found?

My analysis of Tom Elliott’s leadership victory, which was published in Friday’s Irish News.

By Owen Polley

As expected, Ulster Unionist members elected Tom Elliott their party’s new leader at a meeting on Wednesday evening. A thumping majority of delegates voted for the Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA, who favours a traditional brand of unionism, rather than Basil McCrea, whose politics are coloured by a more liberal hue.

Many grassroots Ulster Unionists will welcome Elliott‘s success. They argue that his opponent’s campaign relied on style rather than substance and they travelled in numbers from their rural strongholds, in order to back the favourite at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

The Fermanagh man certainly represents the innate conservatism of much of the Ulster Unionist membership better than his Lagan Valley counterpart. But his everyman image could also prove a handicap, if the party seriously aspires to win back over one hundred thousand votes which it lost over the course of the past decade. Basil McCrea is widely acknowledged to possess communication skills and media savvy which Elliott lacks.

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Filed under: UUP, UUP leadership election, ,

Do unionist parties do the Union more harm than good?

In the wake of the general election, Open Unionism has hosted a vigorous debate about the future of Ulster unionism.  So far, it has hinged on the ‘unity’ issue.  Should so-called unionist parties in Northern Ireland combine their forces in a single group, or at least coordinate their efforts come election time, in order to consolidate the ‘pro-Union’ vote?

A number of problems with this project have been raised, on Open Unionism and elsewhere.  In a Belfast Telegraph article, I take the argument further, and float the rather provocative notion that unionist parties in Northern Ireland might do unionism, and the Union, more harm than good.

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Filed under: Conservatives, unionist unity?

Accentuate the positive: Alex Kane, unionism and the principle of consent.

Ex-UUP Comms Director Alex Kane

The News Letter carried a lengthy interview last week, in which former communications director Alex Kane explained his departure from the Ulster Unionist party. Branching out, to speak about unionism more broadly, he declared its “vision, strategy and promotion … a mess”.

One comment from Kane, which does not appear online, struck me as a very self-evident, but entirely pertinent piece of analysis. Contemplating the post Belfast Agreement landscape, Kane implies that the core of political instability in Northern Ireland, the reason that a ‘centre-ground’ is prevented from emerging, lies with nationalist parties.

Both Sinn Féin and, more importantly, the SDLP, each view the Good Friday accord as ‘a staging post’ on the road to eventual dismantlement of the border.

Well of course they do! Nationalism’s goal is a thirty two county Irish republic.

A justifiable retort might point out that nationalist aspirations need not prevent unionism being confident and outward looking. Unionist parties can still build up relationships across the United Kingdom and participate fully in the business of national and regional politics. Indeed they can cooperate, across the constitutional divide, with the aim of normalising Northern Ireland politics, within a British framework.

However I believe Kane is driving at something beyond a statement of the obvious here. He isn’t simply whinging about nationalists being nationalists.

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Filed under: UUP

‘Decent people’ should support the Ulster Unionists

Over at Three Thousand Versts I offer strong support for the UUP’s position on the policing and justice vote.

I recently took part in a debate, part of the Exchange Mechanism project at Belfast Exposed, which asked whether the current system of power-sharing in Northern Ireland offers a democratic future or peace at any price. Although the panellists had different opinions about the best way forward, there was consensus that the current dispensation, as it is operated by the DUP and Sinn Féin, is not working.

A week later the Platform for Change initiative launched. The faces, at that event, were different, but the sense of frustration with politics here was precisely the same. In Northern Ireland an ever swelling chorus of voices is singing from the same hymn sheet – our politics are a mess and the Assembly needs to work more effectively.

When Sir Reg Empey described the Executive as a “huckster’s shop” he struck a popular chord which the UUP leader had not managed to strike since he urged the DUP and Sinn Féin to stop ‘arsing about’. It is generally acknowledged that the two larger parties form an impenetrable cabal, committed only hazily to notions of sharing power.

Almost every commentator, almost every politically engaged member of the public, is sceptical about the prospects of the Hillsborough Agreement delivering genuine improvement at Stormont. Yet the idea also persists that the institutions need to be protected at all costs and any concerted effort to use the current policing and justice fiasco to change the status quo is branded irresponsible or destabilising.

The way in which the Hillsborough deal has been carved out demonstrates graphically the problems with the current system of power-sharing. Allowing the current situation to continue will simply result in an endless series of crises and an endless series of impasses. We ought to have the backbone to sort things out now.

Filed under: UUP

Belfast Young Unionists blog up and running again

Richard James gets it up and running with a post on the Robinson scandal.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Not so fast! South Belfast is not yet a done deal.

On Three Thousand Versts I speculate about the possible UUP candidate for South Belfast.  It is something of a response to a post carried on Slugger O’Toole this morning.  I believe the arguments advanced in this piece about candidate selection are still valid.

Filed under: UUP

Kelly Report puts DUP on double jobbing hook

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The report which Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee on Standards in Public Life published on MPs’ expenses and allowances on Wednesday, as yet, only comprises recommendations. Nick Robinson, on his blog, has set out the likely process for its implementation, during which MPs might, he contends, attempt to ‘smooth off the sharpest edges’ of the proposed reforms. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: DUP

Review of Tom Gallagher’s ‘The Illusion of Freedom – Scotland Under Nationalism’.

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Tom Gallagher is not by temperament or inclination a unionist. His book, ‘The Illusion of Freedom’, questions the effectiveness of the SNP’s leadership of Scottish nationalism, but does not reject, explicitly, the legitimacy of the party’s aim of independence.

The author is critical of the personality cult surrounding Alex Salmond, his party’s cronyism and clientelism, its confused economic policies, the Anglophobia associated with its chauvinist doctrines, but Gallagher treats as axiomatic the assumption that Scotland, as a nation, must enjoy a high degree of political self-expression in order to flourish.

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Filed under: Scottish independence

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