About Northern Ireland Centre-Right

Firstly, a warm welcome to you.

This is not the blog of a political party – yet.   Its original aim is to encourage the British Conservative Party to allow its Northern Ireland regional branch to become an independent party and further, that such an independent party rebrands itself in two ways.  Firstly, it must change its name.  Secondly, it must drop its unionist identity so that its central object is to promote centre-right policies for Northern Ireland and to remain neutral on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future. 

Most of the rationale for the proposal is set out in my first post on this blog.   Some additional arguments have been set out in later posts, such as “Why the Conservatives will always be regarded in a poor light for direct political involvement in Northern Ireland.”  Other posts make some of the argument in different ways.

One fact has struck me, since I began this blog.  There is a lack of disagreement to my analysis.  Putting the implication of that in a nutshell, there is little disagreement that these proposals represent the only way for a centre-right political party to be supported by both communities as being above non sectarian politics.   The Conservatives therefore have to decide whether they truly want to be a cross-community party or whether they want to maximise their vote amongst unionists and carry on paying lip-service to the idea that they want to attract the votes of Catholics who share conservative values.

The onus will now be on the Conservatives to either reject or carry forward this proposal.   What will not be acceptable is a “halfway house.”  I have not set any deadline for this change to be made but it must come about within a reasonable time.   If no significant progress is made, I will indicate, in the future, what I consider should be the maximum amount of time that I should wait. 

If the proposal is rejected, then the way will be clear to form a new political party.   I would then be committed to registering a new political party provided that enough support and goodwill emerges for its creation.  

If you would like to be part of a political party, whose membership is made up of Unionists and Nationalists working together to make an active, dynamic and radical centre-right party which can play a huge role in shaping Northern Ireland’s political future, I would be interested to hear from you.

Please register your interest by sending an email to me at (written with “at” instead of @ to avoid spam)

se.major at virgin.net

with your contact details.

15 Responses to About Northern Ireland Centre-Right

  1. Editor says:

    Hey Seymour. Interesting initiative.

  2. radex says:

    The idea of an independent non-unionist centre-right party is sadly misconceived. ‘Politics is the art of the possible’ – Otto von Bismark (later popularised by RAB Butler). We have to work within the existing parties. If Basil McCrea wins the UUP leadership election there is the prospect of an inclusive Unionist Party, but he is up against the Orangemen, who will turn out in droves for Elliott. Which seems to leave only Alliance. I hate to throw cold water on a bright idea, but, like most new businesses, new parties usually go bust. Remember the UPNI? (not the NIUP!) No? Very few do.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Thank you Radex.

      All political parties have a beginning. Not all new parties fail and political vacuums do get filled in the end.

  3. Cuthbert B Blue says:

    May be I don’t understand, but how can a party in NI be a serious entity and be neutral on the constitution as it is such a predominant issue here? I agree that we need a non sectarian centre right party with no orange or green baggage. I was disappointed with the Tory/UU link up for that reason.The many Catholics who aren’t supportive of a united Ireland but won’t vote for a Unionist party (rightly so)along with apathetic Protestant/Unionists and those who see themselves as non aligned have no native political home.
    Bringing Tory,Labour and Lib Dem branches here should start to break up the stranglehold of the traditional parties , but it would be a long slog.
    Wouldn’t starting yet another party just add to the confusion of our historical alphabet soup?

    • Seymour Major says:

      Cuthbert,

      The word “constitution” is not quite accurate. The party I am proposing would be able to express a view in relation to the inner workings of the constitution (e.g. the issue as to whether we retain the number of councils we have or reduce them to 11) but what I think you are actually referring to is sovereignty.

      I will admit that getting people to understand particular concepts is is part of the problem for this campaign. It is now 12 years since the Belfast Agreement and people still do not understand that the issue of Sovereignty (i.e. whether or not there should be a United Ireland) has nothing to do with elections or the exercise of power following an election in Northern Ireland. The issue is only relevant if there is a referendum.

      As to such a party working in practice, the Alliance Party already does and may be about to become a much larger party in Northern Ireland. Having a party which is, for example, unionist by identity and non sectarian is all very well in theory but it will never become a cross-community party because of the identity problem. Without strong cross-community parties, Northern Ireland will not be able to break out of the sectarian loop.

      I have written a number of posts about this in more detail and I invite you to read them, including, particularly, my first post on this blog.

      It also needs to be borne in mind that our constitution, as it currently stands, is a constitution set up specifically for sectarian politics. It is dysfunctional and we need to get it changed. We cant do that until we either have cross-community consensus (which Sinn Fein will never agree to) or if strong non-designated parties emerge to eclipse the parties who get elected at the moment.

      In conclusion, mandatory coalition will fail and be seen to fail. It may take another round or two of stormont failure for people to appreciate that. You will not stop people from being emotionally unionist or nationalist but they all share a Northern Ireland home and are capable of putting Northern Ireland at the primacy of their polity. People will also come to understand that you can have a coalition within a political party, comprised of unionists and nationalists, who have shared ideals outside of their sovereignty preference.

      That is a model which will work for Northern Ireland. I hope you will be able to grasp it with further reading. Please keep the questions coming. I hope that you and others visiting this site will become convinced of it and end up joining me to promote the idea.

  4. Dilettante says:

    One thing I don’t get – the Conservative & Unionist Party is a unionist party. If you want a non-sectarian centre-right party, why on earth should the Conservative Party make a charitable donation to that? And what makes you think it can? Surely members of the Northern Ireland Conservatives want to be Northern Ireland Conservatives.

    I can see why you might want a centre-right Alliance, but not why you think the Conservatives should found something that has divergent aims to it, at its own expense.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Dilettante,

      Yes, the Conservative Party is a Unionist Party and so long as they continue to exist, I hope and expect that they will remain so. These are my main points in response to that:

      (1) There is nothing in my proposals which would compromise the role of the Conservative Party in defending and nurturing the Union.

      (2) In Northern Ireland, post the Belfast Agreement, there is nothing un-unionist or against the Union if you support a political party, which is neutral on the Sovereignty question.

      (3) Post the 1998 agreement, there is nothing you can do to defend the Union by voting for a regional unionist party. The only defending you do is when you vote at a referendum, if that ever should happen.

      The Conservative Party actually has a bad record defending the Union. Today, Edmund Burke, an 18th Century politician from Ireland, is regarded as one of the great philosophical influences of Conservativism. William Gladstone, at one time a Conservative, took on board the things that Burke had said.

      Basically, Burke maintained that what you hold, you cherish and the best way to hold on to what you have is to be prepared to change in order to succeed with preservation. In other words, evolution – not revolution. Gladstone applied those principles when he drew up proposals for Irish devolution in the 19th Century. What a pity for Unionists that he was not listened to. The failure to devolve in the 1890s gave the extremists their opportunity. History would have been very different if Gladstone had been listened to.

      Unfortunately, the Conservatives continued to fail to learn the Irish lesson right up until 1997. That might sound shocking but it is absolutely true. In the election of that year, John Major was still bellowing that if there was devolution, that would be the end of the Union. The reality is quite different now. Since devolution, support for independence in Scotland peaked and is now in decline.

      I am happy to say that the Conservatives now have a completely different approach. They are nurturing the union in much more subtle ways. The Prime Minister’s meetings with regional governments is a case in point. There is certainly more work to be done in relation to devolution. They will have to find ways of giving new fiscal powers to the regions to make them more accountable and responsible. That approach has already been endorsed by the Conservatives.

      This brings me on to the next point. Being a good unionist is not simply about voting for a political party. It is about being communal. Segregation and insularism are bad for the union. If you want to make the union stronger, you have to think of ways of breaking down barriers and bringing communities together. Most of the ways available to achieve that are probably outside politics. Politics, however, has a big role.

      Under my proposals, there is no reason why people can not share ideals which are not based on sovereignty. Such a party is, again, a way of bringing people together.

      For regional politics to work here successfully, you have to have a coalition between Nationalists and Unionists, whether you like that or not. At the moment, the coalitions are enforced under the GFA constitution.

      Under my proposal, you also have a coalition between unionists and nationalists but it is superior system because the coalition is inside a political party and they work together for common political ideals.

      Finally, on the funding point, the incentive for conservatives is that they would get extra strength in a Parliament. The precedent is already there. They financed the UCUNF campaign.

  5. Cuthbert B Blue says:

    I’ve read your first post and I understand the concept, I think, although I’m not sure about some of your arguments.
    “Neutral on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future” -your words; = neutral on sovereignty- ok-, so you say the issue of sovereignty has nothing to do with the exercise of power, and while that may be true, it isn’t how it would be perceived by the electorate. Such is the paranoia that exists here, every decision taken by this party, however mundane, would be viewed as either trying to undermine the Union, or, of trying to sideline closer ties to the Republic. Therefore would the issue of sovereignty, or rather, the refusal to state a position on that issue result in mistrust of your objectives and effectively end in political paralysis ?

    Regarding the issue of political toxicity, who were more toxic than Sinn Fein in the eyes of the electorate ? It would appear that their method of slow, ground up politics eg. strong constituency work on local issues (“bogs, bins & burials”) over-rode any toxicity by delivering, not just to die-hard republicans but to affluent & middle class voters. Could a strong, locally effective party not overcome past unpopularity ?

    As for the Alliance Party, in my memory they were always regarded as having a unionist identity ( admittedly with a very small u ), but too wishy-washy for Unionist voters and non-starters in Nationalist constituencies.

    With regard to the constition being set up for sectarian politics. Yip, you’re right .

    Will mandatory coalition fail ? Yip, you’re right again.

    People with shared ideals, outside of their sovereignty preference, in one party? That’s a big job you’re taking on . Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to do it within one of the recognised, existing big 3 ?

    Regards

    • Seymour Major says:

      Cuthbert,

      Firstly, I note what you say regarding my choice of words. I will re-visit that with the object of achieving greater clarity for future readers.

      You have made some very good points regarding perception. Yes there are many people out there thinking irrational thoughts. I know that things I have said in favour of cross-border trade have irked some unionists because they think that will make it more likely that there will be a united Ireland. There are still unionist MLAs with that kind of mindset. The new party is most likely to draw its ideology from Conservativism and a form of regionalism specifically related to Northern Ireland. I do not see it being a problem for the membership. There are bound to be some stresses but nothing compared to the difficulties encountered between politicians from unionist and nationalist parties.

      I am sure you would agree that the Northern Ireland population is changing all the time. There are more open minded people in the younger generations that the older ones. You would have noticed how reliant Tom Elliott was on older UUP members. Given that you accept that the present system will fail, do you not accept that this is likely to lead to change?

      More and more people will want something like this idea for politics as they see the existing system fails them.

      Could a strong, locally effective party not overcome past unpopularity ?

      It is possible but I think it would be very hard to get political success that way. It would take much longer to come to pass without the changes I am suggesting. Changing a brand goes a long way towards dealing with toxicity but in Northern Ireland, unfortunately, Identity and anti-identity are bound up with that problem. That is why the neutrality of the party on Sovereignty will play a vitally important role in attracting people to the concept.

      As to the big 3, the Labour Party will find it incredibly difficult to attract Socialist Nationalists away from the SDLP if it remains the way it is. I invite you to read my earlier post entitled the Tragedy of the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Apart from the difficulty of attracting voters, there are the constitutional arguments which favour independent parties in Northern Ireland. You may like to read my article on problems faced by the Conservatives governing Northern Ireland. As the Regional Governments become more settled, more conflicts of interest will arise. I also invite you to read my post regarding the Scottish position. I believe that once the Conservative Party in Scotland becomes independent, it will be able to spread its wings and their fortunes will change.

  6. Dilettante says:

    Alright, I have a couple of further points.

    1) Devolution has not “killed the SNP (you could insert ‘nationalism’) stone dead” by any measure. They continue to treat devolution as a continual one-way process, continually eroding the basis of our unitary United Kingdom. Devolution has fundamentally weakened the Union by being unequal, highlighting national difference and empowering nationalists. 3 Plaid MPs aren’t a threat to anything. A Plaid Assembly is.

    2) My objection to this overall project would be the same as my objection to making the Scottish party independent* – if the presumptions that justify it are true, then for it to work means it isn’t worth it for the Conservatives. If the Nationalist (which I assume you treat distinctly from Catholic) electorate in Northern Ireland would not vote for the Conservatives, then they are unlikely to vote with much greater enthusiasm for the Conservatives-by-Proxy. The only way for the new party to gain their votes is to be truly independent from the Conservatives – and it isn’t worth the Conservatives setting that up.

    3) I’m pretty sure that of the (currently rather small) Conservative Party membership in Northern Ireland, few would be well-disposed to the idea. Joining a mainland political party in Northern Ireland really amounts to a statement of integrationist intent – hardly a loyalty one can easily transfer to another Northern Ireland particularist party whose existence is another nail in the ‘look how different Northern Ireland is’ coffin.

    In short, the Conservatives aren’t neutral on the union – far from it. Any ‘independent’ party in Northern Ireland that functioned as a party proxy whilst claiming to be border-neutral would be constantly having to rebuke the out-and-out, committed unionism of its sister party on the mainland. I believe that all three major mainland parties should be organising in Northern Ireland to end the isolation of the province and bring normal, materialist politics to it, and also to reach out to the 25%-33% of Catholics who support the union (but only 2% of whom vote for pro-union parties).

    *I am vehemently opposed to this, but its a topic for another time. Thankfully, the impression I got at Conference is that it won’t happen.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Dilettante,

      Thank you for your comment. I respect your point of view. It is similar to that of many good Conservatives.

      The one thing that all Conservatives share is their desire for non-sectarian politics. Nearly all Conservatives also agree that in order to achieve that, the party or a similar kind of unionist party has to attract significant numbers of votes from the group which you have identified (the 25-33% of Catholics who prefer Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom).

      It is my view that neither the Conservatives, nor any other unionist party, have the capability (as a unionist party) to attract significant numbers of voters from that group. I accept that you do not agree with me. We cant both be right. One of us holds a misconceived argument.

      I will keep making my arguments, as a Conservative, until the majority agree with it (or I am proved wrong). On this side of the water, many, if not most, of the Northern Ireland Conservative membership have accepted my arguments.

      I believe that it is only a matter of time (perhaps soon after the 2015 election) before the majority of the entire party come around to my point of view.

  7. Irwin Armstrong says:

    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.

    • Seymour Major says:

      Irwin,

      Thank you for your contribution. Your comment will appear in a guest post later today, along with my response to it

  8. Robert Ballantine says:

    While it may be possible to be neutral on the consitutional issue, no self-respecting centre-right party can be neutral on the size of the public sector. How can such a party possibly flourish in an environment where state dependency at all levels of society is so extreme?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s