The defection of Deirdre Nelson from the DUP to the Tory Party yesterday is something of a mystery. Her presence in the DUP was, in itself, somewhat strange, but her departure – right before the European Parliament election and thus designed to cause maximum damage to her ex-party – leaves even more questions.
The daughter of active trade unionists, a move to the Tory party would not seem obvious. But the DUP press office is spinning this as sour grapes. The official party press release says that:
"Deidre Nelson is a political reject whose prospects in the party had been curtailed for a number of reasons over the last few years. In light of her inability to attract support within the party it has been widely known for sometime that she was seeking position with another party. It is a rare occurrence for people to join a sinking ship No tears will be shed over the departure of this political opportunist. Indeed it is likely she would have been booted out in the immediate aftermath of the election."
Nelson claims her decision to leave the DUP was because "she was unhappy with her party since the departure of Ian Paisley Snr", but there are rumours (no doubt peddled unofficially by the DUP) that she actually defected because she failed to be selected by the DUP as their European election candidate, and that that did not suit her ego, which "believes her talent has never been properly recognised and promoted" within the DUP.
Nelson was the only other candidate to be the DUP's EP candidate, but was apparently comprehensively beaten by Dodds in the selection process. Nonetheless she continued to be a DUP member, and continued to campaign for Dodds, almost up to the eve of her defection. Her unhappiness since the departure of Paisley senior had not, apparently, dampened her desire to represent the DUP in Strasbourg for the next five years.
Only time will tell why Nelson defected, and only time will tell whether her defection was in her interests. The Tory party have not yet agreed their joint UCUNF list of candidates for the next Assembly elections in 2011, or the elections to the new local councils, also in 2011. While Nelson may be hoping that her timely defection moves her up the list, she will be facing an uphill struggle in her North Antrim constituency where the UUP has only one MLA (and barely one quota) who has not indicated that he is interested in retiring. The 2011 local elections may well be her target, but in 2005 within the boundaries of the new Mid Antrim district (in which Nelson's Ballymena will fall), the UUP polled less than half the vote of the DUP. And there will be quite a few sitting UUP councillors from Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus who may not want to give way to a new-comer defecting from the DUP.
However, Nelson has defected not to the UUP, but to the Tories. This may have been a clever strategic move, as the Tories have little presence in North Antrim or Mid Antrim, and have not recently stood in either constituency. She has placed herself at the head of a short short-list (comprising herself alone). Whether she can get elected for the Tories in this very DUP-friendly area, knowing that transfers from the DUP are unlikely, is harder to say.