The next few weeks will see the first test of the recently rekindled partnership between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Reunited after 30 years apart and heralded by David Cameron as a “dynamic political force”, the two parties are finalising plans to field a joint candidate in June’s European election. Yet why get back together now? And how shrewd a move will this prove for the Tories?
Cameron says working with the unionists will help him fight every UK constituency in the next election, making the Conservatives Britain’s biggest party. The idea is that the two parties will field joint candidates in future elections, possible under the banner of “The Conservative and Unionist Party”. Getting into bed with the UUP offers Cameron an Ulster-wide structure to build on, as well as the support of a large number of local government and regional representatives, and could prove useful in the case of a hung parliament in the next election
Yet a cannier move might have been to cosy up to the UUP’s main rivals the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Certainly this is the view of veteran Tory trouble-maker Nicholas Winterton, given at a recent dinner in honour of former DUP leader Ian Paisley. Winterton said:
“It is only a rejuvenated and purposeful Conservative and Unionist party, in alliance with the DUP here in Ulster, which is in a position to highlight the threat to our nations posed by the Government’s reckless and ill-thought out constitutional vandalism.”
Winterton is right on one point. The once dominant UUP have long been in decline. The DUP, in contrast, have established themselves as Northern Ireland’s biggest party, and their nine MPs (to the UUP’s one) would offer Cameron more parliamentary clout in a future election. To make matters worse, the UUP’s sole Westminster representative, Lady Sylvia Hermon, has been a consistent supporter of Labour, and is thought to be suspicious of the link-up.
Nor are joint UUP/Conservative candidates likely to have greater success in future elections. The alliance has ruined any chance of a mooted electoral pact between the DUP and UUP designed to avoid splitting the unionist vote (the two parties would have agreed not to stand…