I don’t know whether or not I should be feeling depressed or excited. Certainly, if there was no prospect of a new centre-right party in the offing, it would be the former.
Yesterday, the Newsletter reported:
“Co-chair of the Conservative Party Andrew Feldman wrote to Northern Ireland Tory chairman Irwin Armstrong this week advising him of the view of the party headquarters on the future of the link.
That letter said that the “clear preference” of the Conservatives is for the link to continue with the UUP, although it acknowledged the view of the UUP may change later this year, depending on who is elected as the new leader.”
The first journalist to have made public the existence of that letter appears to be Eamonn Mallie. On Tuesday, writing for Slugger O’Toole, he reported:
“It is now known that the leadership of the Ulster Unionist party was accessed in the past twenty four hours to the contents of a private letter from the Conservative cross party chairman Andy Feldman advising local Conservatives that there are no plans to undo the pact with Ulster Unionists”
Irwin Armstrong, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, is against the continuation of the link with the UUP. I agree with Eamonn Mallie that so also are the vast majority of Northern Ireland Conservatives.
I am wondering why the letter was produced to the UUP and who authorised it? I am also wondering who leaked details of the letter into the public domain and why?
Both of the likely candidates for the UUP leadership, Tom Elliot and Basil McCrea appear to be against continuance of the link. The Conservative leadership is very well aware of this. Some cynics will look at the letter as a ploy to attract disaffected members of the UUP. From all that I know about the Conservative leadership’s view of the UUP at present, that is entirely plausible.
Perhaps somebody at CCHQ was thinking that it could become Northern Ireland’s equivalent of the Zinoviev Letter ?……
…..or perhaps the Conservative leadership genuinely wants the link to continue and is trying to influence the outcome of the UUP leadership campaign.
A significant number of defections from the UUP to the Conservatives is highly unlikely, not least, because both Elliot and McCrea are against unity with the DUP.
Whatever the angles there are on this story, one thing is clear. The publication of this letter will further damage the Conservative Party’s credentials as a non-sectarian political party in Northern Ireland. That can only be good news for the Norther Ireland Centre Right campaign.