Tuesday 5 May 2009

Sylvia Hermon – the fly in the UUP's ointment

The UUP and (some of) the local Tory Party in Northern Ireland are trying as hard as possible to spin their common-law marriage as something new and wonderful, in the hope of picking up a bounce in forthcoming elections.

Their partnership is not, of course, anything wonderful at all. It nearly crashed before it took off, as the backwoodsmen of the UUP couldn't part with their beloved misnomer, 'Ulster'. And despite the courtship of the almost-undoubted next government of the UK, the 'unionists' of the UUP could not bring themselves to actually unite with the British Tories, preferring to remain detached and particular.

But, through gritted smiles, the British Tories continue to pretend that all is well, while the UUP gloat over the dowry.

One rather obvious and embarrassing fly is, however, spoiling the ointment – the UUP's sole MP, Sylvia Hermon. She has, so far, steadfastly refused to give her blessing to the UUP-Tory partnership, and openly supports the Labour government in London. She continues to give the same lame excuse to explain her absences from UUP affairs – the death (in November 2008!) of her husband, the ex-head of the RUC, Jack Hermon. No one would question her right to mourn, but the woman is paid to do a job, and a six month leave of absence seems a little long, so it is clearly a 'diplomatic' absence. In other words, she is putting off, for as long as possible, her eventual decision. By doing so, she is making very clear that she is not in favour of the Tory link-up.

The Tories have even gone so far as to dangle the carrot of a cabinet position in front of her, but to no avail.

Some say that she is waiting to see the outcome of June's European Parliament election to decide whether or not the UUP-Tory alliance is worth supporting. If so, this gives very little indication of any ideological support, and is almost as damning as her opposition.

Some NI Tory activists are starting to get edgy, and are trying to force her to show her hand. But they may not like the answer they get. If Hermon leaves the UUP – probably to sit as an independent – she may well retain her seat, or lose it to the DUP. Either way, the UUP-Tory marriage of convenience may well end up with no MP in Northern Ireland – an outcome that would slightly embarrass David Cameron. On the other hand, since swingeing cuts in public sector spending are coming, it may suit the Tories very well that they have little to lose in welfare-dependent Northern Ireland.

Ultimately, of course, the real losers will be the UUP, as everyone has known from the start. The Tory party is hardly likely to be generous to a UUP that has no MP to help them where it counts, in Westminster. And since the UUP insisted on keeping its semi-detached status, and its contentious title, it may cost the Tories no sleep to let them sink in the Assembly and local elections that will come in 2011. The Tories are, despite their pretentions, an English party, and English interests are more important to them than Northern Irish unionist interests. If the unionists did not learn that from Margaret Thatcher then they will get a second lesson from Cameron. The failure of the UUP-Tory vehicle to even attract the support of the UUP's sole MP bodes ill for its longer-term success.

1 comment:

Seymour Major said...


I agree with your suggestion of a real risk that N. Down may be lost to the DUP or an independent Hermon but there is no other way that the CUs can go with this. She cant be left in the seat as a UUP, that is for sure.

I also agree with you that the CUs might not win any seats at the next GE. However, dismissing them on one election is wrong. The Conservatives will, whatever happens at the next election, continue to put resources into the Conservatives, whatever happens to the UUP. The UUP know that and that is why I think there will be a merger in a few years time.

At the moment, the UUP are not ready for it. A whitewash at the GE would probably accelerate it.