At long last, agreement has finally been reached between the Northern Ireland Regional Conservatives and the Conservative leadership on a strategy for promoting Conservativism into the future.
The Party has issued the following announcement copied by email to the membership:
“The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland has committed itself to an ongoing programme of campaigning and development and will shortly move into a new campaign headquarters in Bangor, Co. Down. A full time member of staff will be based at the headquarters and one of the Party’s most senior campaign directors has been appointed to liaise with the Party in Northern Ireland.
The Party is committed to the development of progressive centre right politics which offer the electorate of Northern Ireland the opportunity to cast their votes for and participate directly with the national Government of the United Kingdom. The Party will continue to review how Conservatives in Northern Ireland can play a full part in the Conservative Party as in every other part of the United Kingdom and senior Conservatives in Northern Ireland will work with the Board of the Party to develop that relationship.
Central to that development will be the Party’s desire to see Conservative Associations formed in every Northern Ireland constituency and an active programme of membership recruitment at a local level.
Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi said: “The Conservative Party in Northern Ireland has the unequivocal support of the Party nationally. Politics in Northern Ireland continues to evolve and we are determined to be at the heart of that evolution. Our approach will be one of active engagement – starting with the fielding of candidates in the Local Council elections in May.”
With that issue having been settled, the regional chairman of the Conservatives, Irwin Armstrong has now withdrawn his offer to resign. So is this the end of the uncertainty for Northern Ireland conservatives?
Jeffrey Peel’s headline suggests that the Conservative Party has “dumped” the UUP. In his statement on the question of fielding candidates at Assembly elections, Irwin Armstrong has said as follows:
“Members of our Executive have agreed that we would not now be able to properly contest the Assembly elections as we will not have the necessary infrastructure in place due to the events of recent months.”
The right to field Assembly (and presumably Parliamentary) candidates in the future is very important but there will be no further elections on the horizon (except the Euros) for four years. Furthermore, you do not need an “infrastructure” to field a candidate. Ask an Independent. You just need to be able to register and pay the deposit.
There is a very strong case for the Conservatives putting up candidates, even in the limited time and space available. Nobody would suggest that a Conservative candidate would stand much chance of winning an Assembly seat but the act of fielding candidates would make the clearest possible statement to the electorate that the party no longer has any ties with the UUP.
Last November, Conservative leaders promised the UUP that they would not be fielding candidates. The effect of this latest declaration is that the Conservatives will not be breaking that promise. The UUP may now be in the equivalent of a bin liner but it could be taken out of it later. It is much too early to say that it has been dumped.