But last year the Tory party appeared to have drawn not one but two rabbits out of its hat – Peter McCann and Sheila Davidson, both Catholics, were selected as potential Tory candidates in the upcoming Westminster election.
But some time last week both appear to have resigned from the Tory party over the secret unionist-unity talks held in England a week ago, and hosted by the Tory party. As the Observer newspaper put it:
“Sources in the Northern Ireland Conservatives also confirmed that three prospective Westminster candidates, including former Top Gear producer Peter McCann, have resigned in protest over deepening Tory ties with the two main unionist parties.Two of the three are, of course, the two ‘Catholics’ that the Tories so smugly paraded before the public last year. Nelson despite her nice Gaelic forename is a Protestant.
One source told the Observer that McCann and others had "wanted to vomit" when they were given details of talks between Paterson and senior Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists in south-west England last weekend. A subsequent meeting between Paterson and three potential Tory candidates, including McCann, PR expert Sheila Davidson and Deirdre Nelson, failed to quell their anger about the Conservatives' talks with the two main unionist parties.
One source close to the trio said: "This meeting confirmed our fears that the party leadership is preparing to agree to a sectarian DUP-UUP carve-up of constituencies. Peter and others resigned on a matter of principle, that principle being a wholly secular, inclusive pro-union politics untainted by sectarianism.”
So where does that leave the Tories ‘non-sectarian’ project?
Well, for a start, they are now Catholic-less, and have publicly entered into ‘secret’ talks with the sectarian DUP. So their non-sectarian credentials are shot to bits.
Secondly, they are now candidate-less in three constituencies; South Belfast (McCann), Lagan Valley Davidson) and East Belfast (Nelson). New candidates will be needed, and quickly. The election is getting very close, and the Tories lack recognisable candidates. If they have no-one, then the candidacies in these constituencies must go, by default, to the UUP according to the UCUNF logic. If UCUNF has few, if any, Tory candidates then it becomes just what many suspected – a repackaged UUP.
UCUNF – both the Tories and the UUP – are seriously behind schedule in terms of candidate selection. Candidates have to be publicised and given a ‘persona’ in time for the election. A last-minute selection would be a disaster unless they can find people with existing voter recognition. So far they haven’t succeeded, and time is running out.
The whole UCUNF project is threatened by this development. How strange that the Tories Owen Paterson – apparently so well informed on Northern Ireland – could have misjudged the opinion of his own party members so badly. If this turns out to be the straw that denies Cameron his majority, then Paterson’s days must be numbered.