Ian Parsley was not expected to beat Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down at the General election. However, it was also expected that he and any other candidate who represented UCUNF would be standing as candidates in their respective constituencies at the forthcoming Assembly elections.
Earlier this week, the North Down Conservative Association held their annual general meeting. Mr. Parsley published some of the details of that meeting, emphasising the preference of the North Down Association to renew a deal with the Ulster Unionists.
Mr. Parsley also said:
“I think it is important for Northern Ireland, to normalise our politics and move from identity-based campaigns to issue-based campaigns…. “
But he made it clear that he also wants to throw in his lot with the Ulster Unionists
“Naturally, I remain open to cooperation with the many Ulster Unionists ….. who share our values and goals – since the majority of people who aspire to those values and goals are Ulster Unionists, it would be rather foolish not to be!”
On one level, I have a lot of empathy for the view taken by members of the North Down Association. Their best chance of getting a Conservative into the Assembly is if the UUP decide to adopt Mr. Parsley as one of their candidates. However, it is fatuous to suggest that this is a route towards normal politics.
To be fair to Conservatives in Northern Ireland, there is a lot of opposition amongst the membership to entering into any further arrangement with the Ulster Unionists. I expect that opposition to become stronger as more and more members come to terms with the problems faced by continued association with the UUP.
Sharing politics with the Ulster Unionists might satisfy the objective of bringing political representation for the Conservatives in Northern Ireland. It may also satisfy personal ambitions. However, as I have previously argued, and will continue to argue, that is completely incompatible with the objective of normalising politics.