It seems that the NI Conservatives may be going native, and following the time-honoured Irish political ritual of 'the split'.
We are all (painfully) aware of the on-off Conservative-UUP common-law marriage, that was to have been a merger, but ending up as a dog's dinner called the UCUNF.
It is clear that a number of Northern Irish Conservatives were less than happy with the outcome of the talk with the UUP – the most vocal being the Vice-Chair of the NI Tories, Jeffrey Peel, who has since been removed from his post by the party.
It appears that the Peel faction is not giving up their fight. On 11 March a group of NI Tories set up a website called Clear Blue Water signifying the wish to "put clear blue water between the Conservatives and Northern Ireland parties".
That could not be much clearer. They oppose the deal with the UUP, and are prepared to put their heads above the parapet to say so. How numerous they are is not clear – the website mentions but two names, Jeffrey Peel and John Hanna – but the mere fact of a crack in the Conservative façade must worry head office. If the 'true' Tories refuse to participate in the UCUNF nonsense, and effectively withdraw from politics in Northern Ireland, then the Conservative Party will end up with less than nothing – an alliance with an unreconstructed sectarian unionist party which has already demontrated its contempt for the greater Conservative Party.
The Tories need to stop the relationship with the UUP quickly, before it does them serious damage, and concentrate on actually building their own brand in Northern Ireland. When they fail to do so, as they have failed in the past, then they should draw the obvious conclusions – Northern Ireland is not the same as England, and the unionist parties are not nice polite Home Counties Tories. When they realise this, then they will be able to deal with them as they should always have done – as hang-overs from a pre-democratic era, who do not share the 'British' values that the Tories cherish. If they are serous about their value system, the Tories must seek the destruction of all of the unionist parties. This will challenge their supporters severely, and force them to reflect on what their values really are. If they fail to do this, then observers will draw their own conclusions, and Cameron's modernisation of the party will fail, and it will slip back into obscurity as a party of Colonel Blimp's harking back to an era that is long gone. It's their choice, and their challenge to face.