Monday, 8 December 2008

Dave Speaks

Over two decades after the Ulster Unionists and Tories went their separate ways over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Conservative leader David Cameron turned up at the UUP's conference at the weekend to speak about the rekindling of the old flame.

The link between the parties goes back a long way. However, the rediscovered relationship may raise problems as the two navigate their way through future elections. Northern Ireland is not as British as Finchley. This part of the world is not 'Simply British'. It has its own unique set of issues and complications, and a manifesto of policies which might run well in Birmingham or Bath may have absolutely no resonance with voters in Belfast. Up until now the Tories have had no impact here, unlike across the water, as they're seen as outsiders. The challenge for both parties now is to combine the history and local structure of the UUP with the financial and political strength of the Tories to win seats in Northern Ireland.

Probably paying due cognisance the minefield before them, Cameron's speech to conference sought to cast unionism in a different light. Rather than really touching upon issues affecting people living here, especially those which are dealt with through the devolved administration, he took an angle which appealed on an emotional level with those who want to see Northern Ireland put on a par with England, Scotland and Wales. With the DUP winning the hearts and minds of the unionist electorate for the best part of a decade, this type of connection is what has been missing from the Ulster Unionists' repertoire. It also made sense for Cameron to speak in broader terms- by leaving the local issues to the UUP and instead focussing on the bigger picture, the Tories may avoid the trap of appearing like ill-advised carpetbaggers.

There are delicate times ahead as the UUP and Conservatives work out how exactly this relationship will provide mutual benefit. However, it's safe to say that the interest shown by potentially the next party of government in the UK has added a spring to the step of Ulster Unionists and will no doubt be a cause for concern for the other unionist party in the north.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder why the UU and tories had a representative each on Question Time last week - they spoke in carbon copy