For the second time I have broken cover from my self-imposed blogging moratorium. It is, however, something which touches and concerns the future direction of Conservativism in Northern Ireland.
On October 19th, Eamon Mallie wrote a post on Slugger O’Toole entitled “Elliott leadership under scrutiny.” This indicated that there was a group, called “the 2010 Group” within the UUP which was concerned about the direction that the party was taking. According to that post, the group had come together
“to examine the possibility of realising a new bridgehead in politics the goal of which would be to appeal to a wider political and business community.”
The possibilities being examined included defection to another party. According to Mallie, one source said,
“we’re open to reaching out to other parties here and in London.”
A second post by Mallie published on 21st October indicated that the Group was putting together a constitution setting out political and economic principles.
“The 2010 Group’ has already drafted the broad parameters of a constitution embracing both political and economic principles,” said Mallie.
Mallie has not since published any further news about this group. However, in a comment on the subject of the defection of Paula Bradshaw to the Alliance Party, one commenter using the pseudonym “MMX” said,
“Apparently the evacuation plan has been launched. IJP is alleged to have issued an ultimatum saying he will resign from the Conservative Party unless Owen Patterson meets his demands.”
This comment purports to be a comment that Ian Parsley will leave the Conservative Party if his demands are not met. I understand from Ian Parsley that this is not correct. He agrees that he has made demands, in private, to senior Conservatives. He denies having threatened to resign from the Party if they are not met. As well as seeking a lifting of the restriction, imposed by CCHQ against fielding party candidates for the Assembly elections in 2011, he is also seeking a commitment from CCHQ to building the party up, without fear of veering off on another short-term link-up with some other group or party, over a 20-year period. Ian has also denied being connected with the 2010 Group.
Last Friday the Belfast Telegraph reported a prediction from Paula Bradshaw that there will be more defections from the UUP to the Alliance Party.
Meanwhile, Conservative Central Head Quarters (CCHQ) seem to have gone “one extra mile” to try and engage the UUP into some sort of credible alliance. At the Conservative Party Conference, Tom Elliott was requested to bring proposals as to how a future link with the Conservatives could work. I understand that, today, he will be delivering those proposals.
We are now at a critical moment. CCHQ has to make up its mind. Waiting in the wings for this decision is the 2010 Group. From a Conservative perspective, the only proposal which would ever be worth considering is a full merger between the UUP and the Conservatives. Since this has already been ruled out by Mr. Elliott, I fail to see what he and his party can offer. It would be utter folly if CCHQ continued to pander to what are likely to be insubstantial suggestions from Tom Elliott. Indeed, Chekov appears to have reached the same conclusion.
If CCHQ decline to allow the Conservatives to field candidates, what next for the 2010 group? Does it continue to float in space?
The answer to that question will depend (a) on their strength of numbers; (b) the political principles which guide them and (c) how they perceive that the Conservative Party and the Alliance Party can best serve their respective personal ambitions.
If the CCHQ decision is negative, then Northern Ireland Conservatives will wish to consider seriously their position as well. What is the point of being a member of a party if one can not fight elections?
I have a lot of sympathy for many of the objects of the Alliance Party. However, that party has considerable limitations. The only ideology that it has to drive its policies is anti-sectarianism. That position might change if another non-designated Northern Ireland Party emerges. I would suggest that in the future, the APNI may suffer from too much diversity of opinion within its ranks. It does not represent those 40% of Catholics who support the retention of academic selection and the grammar school system. It does not represent those of us in Northern Ireland who want to keep Sterling or restrict Immigration. Furthermore, despite Naomi Long’s successful election, it does not offer any model for the election of a National UK Government through a successfully elected Northern Ireland MP.
Joining the Alliance Party might serve the short-term ambitions of some. However, normal politics will not be achieved unless there are successful centre-right and centre-left political parties operating in Northern Ireland. Now could well be the right time for a new centre-right party to emerge.
This could yet become an extraordinary week for politics in Northern Ireland.