Irwin Armstrong, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Region of the Conservative Party, has made a comment contribution to ‘About Northern Ireland Centre-Right (a static page on this blog). I have republished his comment below with my reply.
By Irwin Armstong
It is inconceivable that we Conservatives might somehow not be Conservatives.
We are Conservatives and will remain so, however the Party needs to be percieved as local as well as national. To achieve this will mean that we need to communicate with voters that in Northern Ireland, in common with the other parties. We are made up of local people and are free to have a local manifesto for devolved issues that reflects the needs of Northern Ireland.
Our unique selling points are that we are local, pro union and completely non sectarian and at the same time have a solid link to national politics, which at the moment means directly with Hillsborough Castle and Downing Street. In other words we would need to convince potential voters that we are ‘One Northern Ireland’ Conservatives with direct influence in the corridors of power that can benefit everyone in Northern Ireland.
Almost 500,000 registered voters did not vote in the last election, and are therefore detached from the current political offerings. In any election that we might contest many of those would be our target market as would other centrist voters who currently vote for other parties. Our task would then be to persuade them that there is an alternative to the current Orange/Green or we are not Orange/Green politics that is what passes for politics in Northern Ireland.
Following a successful conference, http://www.niconservatives.com/* will keep everyone informed of the directions that the party will take over the coming months.
Reply by Seymour Major
What is in a name? When I think of the name “Conservative,” as an adjective, it does not square up with David Cameron’s assertion that the party is radical. It certainly does not sit with the slogan “vote for change.” Even if you do not agree that the conservative brand is toxic in Northern Ireland, there is no better time like the present for a name change
Of course, I will always be a conservative in terms my centre-right ideals. I will still be able to call myself a conservative, just as the Republican Party in the US calls itself a conservative party. There is also another part of the Conservative tradition that I draw from. It is the willingness to face up to the reasons for electoral failure and the recognition that changes have to be made in order to win.
I agree that a party should be local, as well as national, and have a solid link to Downing Street and Hillsborough. In order to achieve that, it is not necessary for that party to represent itself in all the seats in the United Kingdom so long as it is allied to one that has the potential to form the Government. The CSU of Bavaria, Germany, already does that very successfully.
It is all very well for the Conservative Party to call itself pro-union and completely non-sectarian. Why is that a unique selling point? If Basil McCrea had succeeded as UUP leader, there would have been two parties that fitted that description.
How is the Conservative Party supposed to sell Conservativism to potential conservatives within the Nationalist Community? The evidence points, overwhelmingly, to the Conservatives failing in this regard. If it fails, its non-sectarian credentials will be an irrelevance because it will have failed to deliver normal politics. Yes, I hear conservatives cry “the constitutional arrangements are settled” and “people only need to vote on bread and butter issues.” If that is the case, it also follows that a conservative party in Northern Ireland has no need to be unionist.
It is true that 500,000 registered voters did not vote in the last election. With the exception of Fermanagh & South Tyrone, the Conservatives were represented. They did not interest these people. Many of these people are cynical about politics because it is sectarian. So what are the Conservatives going to be able to do about sectarianism?
By remaining unionist, the Conservatives contribute to re-enforcing the sectarian loop. In that respect, they don’t offer anything new to these people.
I note the phrase coined, “One Northern Ireland Conservatives.” That is an interesting adaption of a particular strain of conservativism. Sadly, it is utopian in the context of Northern Ireland. “One Nation Conservatives” has not been said because Northern Ireland comprises two nations. With the greatest respect, my proposal is about reaching out to all the people. It is much nearer in keeping with the spirit of Benjamin Disraeli.
I have made my arguments. I think that by now, they should have been well understood.
The Conservative leadership, looking at Northern Ireland from England, will be looking at the UUP and thinking “How many disaffected members of that party can we pick up?” That is the reason why I don’t think my argument will have sway, in the short term.
The Conservative leadership is being short-term and selfish because it can see “fools gold” in the form of a likelihood that a few thousand UUP members will defect to them. Do the Conservatives not realise that if the UUP breaks up, a considerable number of them will transfer their allegiance to the DUP and the Alliance Party?
A few thousand ex-UUP supporters will hardly guarantee parliamentary seats. Sooner or later, the Conservatives will start to realise that they need Catholic votes in order to compete with the DUP. They will wonder why they are not getting them!
Most unfortunately, an opportunity will have been missed to create something electrifying and exciting. Sooner or later, the Fianna Fail party, having already registered in Northern Ireland, will scoop up the right-of-centre nationalists. Non-sectarian politics could then become as far away as ever.
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