2010 – A Space Odeyssy

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.

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14 Responses to 2010 – A Space Odeyssy

  1. Richard Brown says:

    I take it from your posting Seymour that you mean fully independent in every sense? A seperate party entirely with no affiliation to the British Conservative Party?
    That being the case I can’t agree with you.
    We have struggled here for 21 years and encountered many obstacles on the road to proper recognition but my view is that that would be not only admitting defeat but it would be retrograde step in achieving equal citizenship within the UK. How for example would a representaive from this new party be able to represent NI within the cabinet in the same way as a Conservative would?
    If CCHQ were to reject the idea of standing for election next year certainly that should be challenged but not by seperating. The Conservative Party is the party of the Union and every part of the Union and I remain solidly behind the view that people from NI should be able to join and form associations in that name. I would oppose any extraordinary meeting of members to consider it and I believe it would have no support even to call such a meeting let alone support this notion.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Richard,

      What is your priority?

      Is it bringing conservativism to Northern Ireland or is it keeping a Conservative Party operating here?

      I have presented detailed arguments, spread over a number of posts on this blog, to demonstrate that those two objectives are incompatible.

      Yes, a fully independent party means fully autonomous. However, in my earlier posts, I have explained that part of the proposal is that such a party would be allied to the Conservative Party in the UK Parliament (similar to the CSU/CDU arrangement in Germany). It is obviously not the same model as a Conservative Party operating in the whole of the UK but it does achieve equal citizenship.

      My campaign is not just directed at NI party members either. It is directed at CCHQ as well, precisely because equal citizenship is important.

      We have struggled here for 21 years and encountered many obstacles on the road to proper recognition

      But there is no road to election success is there?

      There are Conservatives here who cling to the idea that everything should be the same as in England and Wales because that is how they would like it to be. Conservatives may have been struggling for 21 years but unless they learn to accept that the only way to bring Northern Ireland to non-community politics is through the model that I have suggested, they will continue to struggle for the next 21 years and beyond, without achieving anything.

  2. Richard Brown says:

    I’m sorry Seymour but I find this utterly defeatest.
    You asked what is my aim. Keeping Conservatism in Northern Ireland or keeping the Conservative Party here. My aim is both and I believe both are achievable. Giving up now would be foolish when the appetite for non sectarian politics is greater than ever before.
    What does need to be achieved is the party seen as a viable operation with full backing both financial and in the presence of leading figures from Britain. We may be on the cuspe of that. Talk of seperating is counter-productive and defeatest Seymour. If it takes another 21 years to achieve it I still wouldn’t support seperation. We have to be in this for the long haul if necessary because the rewards make it worth it, namely equal citizenship. I cannot see how your proposals offer equal citizenship when a seperate party offers no gaurantee of a place at the cabinet as these proposals could be rejected by the Conservative Party.
    We should not be deflected and should be concentrating on the matter at hand, namely achieving support from CCHQ for the short and long term of a proper support base here.
    How can you say there is no road to electoral success when the product has not had full financial backing of has been marketed properly with talented candidates and a proper electoral machine behind it? UCUNF is not a good example of how it should be done.
    I totally disagree with your approach to this Seymour and it is defeatest. I also have grave doubts as to whether this view is compatible with membership of the party.

  3. Richard Brown says:

    Just to add Seymour, I can see advantages in some degree of automony. I think a leader here is desirable in the same sense that Annabel Golding is the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. But I sincerely believe that almost all Northern Ireland Conservatives would oppose anything that would seperate us from the rest of the UK in terms of our relationship with the rest of the party.
    Many have us have resisted that for too long, only to accept it under another guise.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Richard, I am not defeatist. If I was, I would not be doing anything.

      You are entitled to your view and I respect that. My arguments are based upon how I find people, not upon a sense of reasonableness or wishful thinking. Maybe you do not agree with the arguments which I have set out in my various posts on this blog. However, you might actually be quite surprised by the number of Conservatives that do agree with my arguments and have been so persuaded. I am gratified that these people have approached this subject with an open mind.

      You might wish to comment on some of the analysis which I have set out in my earlier posts on this blog.

      You have referred to the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. I invite you to read an earlier post that I published concerning the position in Scotland. Perhaps you can tell me why you think that the Scottish Conservative Party continues to fail and why Tim Montgomerie thinks that the Scottish Conservatives would be better off being independent? You will note that the central argument for a separate Scottish Party (the problem of toxicity) also applies here. Toxicity, as you will have seen from my earlier posts, is not the only problem.

      I agree that funding is important. I would also expect, in the event of an Independent Scottish Party, that there would be some funds made available for them from CCHQ. I would also expect that CCHQ could also be persuaded to make funds available for an independent Northern Ireland Party.

      I will not be giving up my campaign until I have had a discussion, or a debate, face to face with a senior official from CCHQ, who is willing to condescend to my specific arguments, in a scientific manner. If one then accepts that he/she completely understands my arguments, tells me that they have been taken seriously into consideration and then tells me that they will not accept the proposals under any circumstances, I will almost certainly end the campaign.

      I believe that my campaign is in the best interest of the Party. I believe this model is the only one which stands any chance of delivering MPs allied to the Conservative Party in the UK Parliament in the foreseeable future and it deserves to be taken seriously. Accordingly, I reject your suggestion that my view being incompatible with remaining a member of the Conservative party.

  4. Richard Brown says:

    My name is Richard, Seymour. We dined recently in Bangor you may remember! I am Area Treasurer.
    There is a view, which I agree with, that the Scottish Conservatives actually could have returned more MP’s had they focused their resources differently. They spread their efforts across too many constituencies instead of focusing in up to 5. Similarly more could have been achieved here for a variety of reasons not least the UUP stalling the process of selection and preparation. Actually in Scotland and Northern Ireland the number of votes was respectable it just it didn’t translate into seats.
    As I said previously, I’m not convinced along with many others that a concerted effort has ever actually been made here in the proper sense of a well organised and financed campaign.
    You are of course totally entitled to your opinion but could I make 2 requests?
    First that this be allowed? A proper campaign. And secondly, that you channel your efforts locally and achieve enough support before approaching CCHQ. I am not convinced that this idea has broad support.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Richard,

      I have amended my address to you in the previous comments. My apologies. I do recall the dinner. It is indeed nice to hear from you.

      “the Scottish Conservatives actually could have returned more MP’s had they focused their resources differently. They spread their efforts across too many constituencies instead of focusing in up to 5”

      I completely disagree with this comment. CCHQ put very considerable resources into those Scottish seats considered to be marginal. There was no UUP mismanagement to blame the outcome upon either!

      There are some who blame Annabelle Goldie’s leadership. That is a minority view though. The Conservative decline has been going on for years. I invite you to read the most recent article written by Tim Montgomerie. You will note the findings of the poll referred to in it.

      By the way, Lord Tebbit is in favour of an Independent Scottish Party!

      “First that this be allowed? A proper campaign”

      You actually want hard evidence that you are not going to succeed? I would be more persuaded by that suggestion if, instead of blanket denials, there was actually some proper argument (or even proper professional research) which would present a real challenge to my analysis.

      Nonetheless, it is probably unrealistic to expect that all the players will be ready for the formation of a new party prior to the 2011 elections in any event. What would not be acceptable to me is to wait for a further 4 years until the next round of elections.

      “secondly, that you channel your efforts locally and achieve enough support before approaching CCHQ.”

      For this proposal to have a chance of success, it needs the support of both camps. I am not that naive though. I fully appreciate that CCHQ could be highly persuasive if they were on board.

  5. Richard Brown says:

    I attended the Scottish Conservatives fringe meeting in Birmingham, Seymour, and I can tell you the overwhelming view from the platform and the audience was that it was not well co-ordinated. I don’t disagree with you that CCHQ put substantial resources into Scotland but a huge financial boost in itself is not enough.
    Equally here it wasn’t enough. Though as I said the actually number of votes was (as in Scotland) respectable. It just didn’t translate into seats for the reasons I gave.
    I’m frankly astonished at your comment that the UUP cannot be held responsible for mismanagement. I thought it was universally accepted that the continous stalling which resulted in candidates being selected a matter of weeks before the election had a very serious impact. Surely you must accept this hampered the whole campaign?
    I would be surprised if there was a single Conservative that honestly believed a concerted effort has been made here in 21 years in the proper sense in which campaigns have been carried out in marginal constituencies on the mainland.
    For that reason I would argue that your campaign for independence actually gives up before the battle has even happened. Had a concerted campaign on the scale that I suggest had happened and failed on one or more occasion your argument but have greater validity. It’s a case of cart before the horse. I would urge you to back the horse for the present.
    You may have noticed that even as disgruntled as Ian Parsley rightly is at present. He is of the view that an even longer period of investment by CCHQ is needed, I’m inclined to agree.
    I know that a lot of debate is taking place at the minute over our future here but I would be amazed if your opinion holds widespread support. I would certainly be interested in measuring that support at future meetings and I look forward to you putting that view across to guage the response.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Richard,

      Those Scottish Conservatives that you spoke to were wrong. The statistics bare that out. During election campaigns, voting intentions do not tend to deviate very far from longer terms trends.

      I draw your attention, once again, to the longer term position of the Conservatives in Scotland. That graph that I published tells the story of a vote declining over a period of years. Since 2006, the opinion polls indicated support for the Conservatives varying in a narrow band between 14 and 20%. At the General Election, the Conservative share of the vote in Scotland was 16.7% – more or less at the median. One election campaign might have been better fought but it could never have bucked the underlying trend. The fact is that the Conservative brand is toxic. No amount of conventional campaigning – good or bad – will ever bring back the votes.

      With respect, you are putting too much emphasis on campaigns. They are only a very small part of what goes into making up a party’s fortunes. You also seem to think that this is what was holding back the Conservatives from election success during the last 21 years. Please. There are parties in Northern Ireland with smaller organisations than even the NI Conservatives which have done much better than them. How about the Greens or the Women’s Coalition, for instance?

      “I would be amazed if your opinion holds widespread support”

      You might well be amazed indeed. You have mentioned Ian Parsley. I leave you with his own words on his blog a few weeks ago

      “I certainly agree that the intellectual case for a new centre-right, non-communal political movement can be made and has been made. In my view, it is unanswerable.”

      He believes the intellectual case to be unanswerable because he has thought through the arguments and he is not in denial.

  6. clarion says:

    I think we will have to agree to disagree on Scotland, Seymour, I can only tell you the feeling I got at Birmingham and it certainly wasn’t that that campaign was well conducted or focussed.
    Regarding Ian Parsley, I am sure he can speak for himself but to state that there is an argument for a new centre right movement I would have thought was stating the obvious. There are various ways to interpret this however, not all of which suggest he wants a seperation from London. Quite clearly the 2010 group are looking for a home and that does not necessarily mean an independent party. By ‘new centre right movement’, he may mean a reformed local party but not necessarily seperate from CCHQ. I am sure he will give you clarification.
    I think the campaign can not be over-emphasised Seymour, chiefly because one has never actually been mounted here in the name of Conservatism in a thorough way. I agree that there are issues around the branding but it is by no means toxic. I wouldn’t call 100,000 votes an indication that the brand is toxic and people knew they were voting for the Conservative brand as well as the UUP brand last May.
    You suggest I am in denial Seymour. As I said before if the Conservative brand had in the past been fully tested with full support from CCHQ, it could be argued that you may have a point. Since that has not been done, I will continue to argue the case to do so, and resist the notion of an independent party. Conservatives here, and the people generally have experienced enough of being treated differently.
    In closing I would once again suggest you test your campaign ideas at the next available opportunity, I have no doubt that you hold your views with total sincerity and with the best of intentions, it’s a shame you didn’t test them at the AGM though or seek office with these views. I think I know the views of the membership but if you feel otherwise we shall see.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Richard,

      Thank you once again for your last comment. I will agree to disagree with you on Scotland. Let us see how the Conservative Party performs in the Scottish Assembly Elections next spring.

      “Regarding Ian Parsley,.. There are various ways to interpret this”

      I disagree. His comment was clear and unambiguous

      “I wouldn’t call 100,000 votes an indication that the brand is toxic and people knew they were voting for the Conservative brand as well as the UUP brand last May”

      The debate about toxicity is about the votes that are not in support, not the ones that are.

      “In closing I would once again suggest you test your campaign ideas at the next available opportunity”

      I will certainly present my case at an appropriate time.

  7. Derek says:

    Seymour, I find you and others of your ilk, well meaning but living in the stratosphere, onnly understood and appreciated by othere living in the same arena. I fully concur with the comments from Richard.
    The only way for any organisation to flourish on aims and principles is to go out and get members, who in turn will talk to othere about those principles and, if encouraged get members.

    Prior to the last election the Conservatives in Northern Ireland were not well organised. They ought to have been better recruited months before the event. If, in North Down we had seriously recruited we would have improved on what was a very reasonable turn out for Ian Parsley. Bearing this in mind, what follows is a letter I wrote to a leading light in the 2010 group:

    ” Away from fantasy, the Conservative thinkers, in thrall of the cabal who met with them, partially acting out of a lack of appreciation of the overall picture reckon that come what may, bums on green seats at Westminster can ultimately be achieved through the UUP, and perhaps with raprochment, in due course, with a new moderate Mr Robinson, the DUP, remember Hatfield. Remember the UUP have still to make their written proposals in the New Year. The NI Tories have been rather supine at Association level, over a period of time, but with energy can build membership and thus vitality in North Down. North Down has a methodical plan for this. Perhaps it can be done in Strangford and in your part of the world.

    Ah you say, the party will not allow a prospective MLA or MLAs to be put into the field. I say bunkum because if strength can be shown, and therein lies the challenge, there would be hope for an MP in the future. In North Down we have Lady Sylvia Hermon, who is unlikely to be a lady for turning, to accept the Conservative whip, and more likely next time round, she will leave the scene with an unblemished local record, leaving the field open for the DUP, unless there is a North Down Conservative Association in the field.

    Ah you say, the Party has spoken, query has it finally and for ever spoken? Remember, the late Harold Wilson said, “A lot can happen in a week of politics”. The tom toms are beating, we shall see what happens. The basic fact is that if those of your friends who are prepared to do so can stiffen up the NI Conservatives, then we shall achieve together. Even if the Party were to say, you are disbanded, well then as before we shall become model Conservative Constituency Associations and once more tour the round of influential Conservative constuencies in GB. How else do you think the NI Conservatives achieved affiliation in the first place against a set view that the recalcitrant UUP was not to be offended?

    To commence a group made up of disaffected and hurt, Conservatives and Unionists will require a huge effort, another split in unionism, and I suspect with very little to show. Maybe years down the line it might emerge as a Tory version of the Alliance Party. Keep to the Conserative brand, a national party, without any confusion over sectarianism!”

    In other words, their is much effort and I suspect little future for a further erratic schism within Unionism. The members of the 2010 Group coming from the UUP should stay with their Party and seek reform from within, and if there is disappointment in that strategy over a reasonable period of time, then if they have support within their assocations, they should encourage their felloe members to break away and set up the same association ans an Independant Unionist Association, or better still they should fold into their local Conservative Association and, if they wish become the leading lights in it. If such an Association was strong and likely to achieve seats, do you not think that would get even the most ‘out of touch’ mind within Conservative Party HQ to think again. By the way, the encouragemment of inviting disafected Unionists to join the Conservatives should not stop there, there are also members of other parties, including the SDLP who could be attracted.

    Derek

    • Seymour Major says:

      Derek,

      Whether you agree with Richard’s earlier comments or not, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since this post was written, including the news that the Conservatives Central Headquarters will not allow the regional party to put up candidates in the forthcoming assembly elections. Richard, himself, has acknowledged that unless this decision can be reversed (which seems very unlikely), that is a game changing situation.

      • Derek says:

        Seymour,

        I was aware of the ruling following a meeting between Andrew Feldman and the Unionist representatives. The reason for the Conservatives not participating in the next Assembly election election was that under the Belfast Agreement a Conservative MLA could not form up, in coalition with the Unionists. The reason with rgard to Westminster elections is unclear, presumably because the Conservatives might split the vote.

        This has not been thought through. As matters stand those NI parties most likely to win are the parties represented by the current MPs., save for Lady Hermon, an independent.

        As I have said ‘a week is a long time in politics’. A pragmatic approach is to look at who is most likely to win, in each constituency. I believe there is yet room for manouvre!

        As for the 2010 Group, remember the UPNI?

        Derek

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