Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Flash forward?

There's another bee in Malcolm's bonnet. Not to coin a phrase: e septrentrione Hiberiae nunquam aliquid novum.

So, what on earth are the Tories expecting from the forthcoming Assembly Election? And why, this Monday, was
Dipsy Dave Cameron in Northern Ireland (as foreshadowed last week)?
to support Northern Ireland Assembly candidates.
To their eternal shame and damnation, most of the continuing problems of Northern Ireland can be traced back to the manipulation by English Tories of "Ulster" politics. Even Ruth Dudley Edwards' partisan The Faithful Tribe comes clean on that:
Gladstone ... announced (sincerely) his conversion to Home Rule and became prime minister for the third time at the end of January 1886. Orangemen and Ulster Conservatives began a frenzied anti-Home Rule campaign and organised huge demonstrations all over Ulster, the most famous of which was the February Ulster Hall meeting addressed by the maverick Lord Randolph Churchill. No lover of 'foul Ulster Tories', Churchill had taken a deliberate decision to attack Gladstone by playing 'the Ulster card ... Please God it may turn out the ace of trumps and not the two. It would be neither the first nor the last time that a mainland politician would cynically make use for his own ends of the fervent loyalty of the United Kingdom's most faithful tribe.
In due course, the province repaid the Churchills by facilitating son, Winston, with his only General Election victory. This item rarely received the acknowledgement it deserves. The 1951 General Election gave the Tories 301 seats
(and add 19 "National Liberals"). Labour had 295. There were two Irish Nationalists and West Belfast's Irish Labour seat (that was Jack Beattie). Subtract the nine Ulster Unionist seats credited to the Tories, and Churchill's majority in 1951 evaporates.

And we now have "Conservatives Northern Ireland New Politics for a New Northern Ireland" putting up nine candidates for the Assembly. Though,

For our upcoming election campaign we have decided to adopt the national tree rather our local Oak variant. We think Conservatives Northern Ireland is a bit of a mouthful and that something snappier might be in order. So we’d like to introduce you to our election branding. The national Conservative tree. Expect to see it on our election materials, our posters, and on the voting papers.

Conservative Party Logo

Because, you see, the Conservative Party is the only political party that contests elections in every part of the United Kingdom. So, for the elections, we’ll simply be Conservatives. That’ll do nicely.

Malcolm doubts that makes very much clearer, especially when he reads the small print:

As a pro-Union party it is likely that we will designate as Unionist if we are successful in winning seats.

Could it be, he asks, that we are seeing a trailer for the next Tory General Election campaign? If that is the case, we know the bare bones of a Cameron manifesto:
I want politics in Northern Ireland to be about the real things — schools, hospitals, tax ... not about timetables, deadlines and institutional arrangements. And I want the Conservative Party to be a part of that new politics. We're moving in a new direction. Leading the debate. Pulling ahead of a tired Government. Developing policies for the future. In doing so, one thing is certain. My Party's commitment to Northern Ireland, and to all its people, will be whole hearted and unshakeable.
Unlike, perhaps Dipsy Dave's grasp of grammar and rhetoric.

There is, to Malcolm's mind, a fair account of the current NITory strategy, courtesy of Jonathan Isaby blogging on telegraph.co.uk:

Historically, of course, the Conservatives had links with the Ulster Unionists. However, political differences over the handling of Northern Ireland under Edward Heath's premiership caused a split, and Margaret Thatcher's signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 ensured those ties were broken for good.

In 1989 came the first signs of the Conservatives organising in Northern Ireland, and at the 1992 general election, the party came within several thousand votes of winning the North Down constituency. But thereafter, as the Tories struggled in mainland UK, John Major was more concerned about keeping the UUP sweet, since their votes were often crucial in knife-edge Commons divisions.

Similarly in Opposition, there have been informal links with the UUP, but those have become increasingly superfluous as the UUP's star has waned - losing all but one of its Westminster seats in 2005, and only just managing to beat the SDLP into fourth place in terms of the popular vote. Former leader David Trimble was close to the Conservatives, but the one remaining UUP MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, is politically far closer to New Labour.

No-one is talking about the Tories breaking the mould of Ulster politics quite yet. At this Assembly election, the party is standing a single candidate in nine of the 18 constituencies, each of which elects six members under the single transferable vote system.

And of the nine seats the Tories are contesting, the party is only seriously targeting two: North Down, where former UUP Assembly member James Leslie donning the blue rosette, and Strangford, where their candidate is Bob Little, another former UUP man.

North Down is the best prospect of the Tories winning a seat, and that is where Cameron went this afternoon, to visit a doctor's surgery and highlight matters relating to the NHS. It is the most middle class of the Ulster constituencies, and Bangor - with its own marina - could easily be mistaken for a prosperous seaside town in the south east of England.

What the Northern Irish Tories seem to be hoping for is that as politics in the province normalises, there will be a serious market for a non-sectarian, unionist party, which is rooted in the centre-Right of politics. Furthermore, they reckon that they have far more electoral potential with the new generation of voters who did not live through the worst of the Troubles.
Remember that: the UUP's star has waned. The unanswered question is: will the DUP's star continue to shine. Bear in mind that, in any recent past, the tendency has been for unionist politics, especially outside the chattering (small-l) "liberal" bourgeoisie of the Malone Road and County Down, to move further and further right.

Malcolm, about to do an in-and-out to the Black North, will be looking to see if the DUP can still hold a third of the total vote (and thereby a clear majority of the Prod vote) after the March 7th shake-out. The sub-text made by the DUP site is their real target is snaffling the declining UUP vote, for the DUP's own figures flash up, Lib Dem style:
2003 Assembly: DUP 25%, UUP 22.2%;
2004 Euro Election: DUP 32%; UUP 16.6%
2005 Council elections: DUP 29.6%; UUP 18%
2005 Westminster Election: DUP 33.7%; UUP 17.5%
Another point is made by the DUP's choice of pillar-box red, while giving the UUP a pale blue, notably that same hue as used by the Tory logo. Hmm ...

And tomorrow, Wednesday 21st, the DUP publish their Assembly manifesto, but expect more of
the same:
It is only the DUP who can stop Sinn Fein/IRA from becoming the largest political grouping in the Assembly. With the UUP a little more than half our level of support in recent elections it is only by voting DUP that Martin McGuinness will be stopped from becoming the First Minister ... At Westminster, the European Parliament, Assembly or level it is the DUP who are taking then initiative and leading for unionism.
That's the freshly-minted Lord Maurice Morrow, but comes straight from the song-sheet.

Malcolm's guess is that Isaby has it right. The NITories may save their blushes in County Down, will not show in the city, and are never going to be the Law west of the Lagan.

So, let's extrapolate.

The mainland Tories are planning for, at best, a close-run thing in 2008-9. For all the froth about health and education, those issues are not bankers (though don't count on "grammar schools" not making a showing). Any immigration or Europe talk flatters the UKIPpers. Tory hopes in Scotland and Wales approximate to a plucky fourth-place, i.e. zilch. They hope that fox-hunting may be a runner in the shires (but don't count on it having any vroom-vroom in the leafy suburbs, so that's where the motoring issue will be played). "Civil liberties" (i.e. the cost of identity cards) is Lib Demmery. There will be no UUP Westminster seats by then; and the Leviticus-loving DUP are not going to play footsie with degenerates.

Perhaps it really is 1951 and two County Down seats all over again. Sphere: Related Content

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