I notice that, finally, consideration is being given to whether the Conservative Party should be fully invested in Northern Ireland, and what sort of interaction there should be between the party and the (inaccurately described) province. I’ve written about this before, when I was to a large extent agreeing with Jeff Peel (full disclosure – Jeff is a former employer of mine).
Reading the Guido Fawkes blog earlier, I was struck by the force with which I disagreed with Paul Staines. His contention is that, as a liberal party sans the sectarianism etc of Northern Ireland, the party shouldn’t intervene in their issues, and should be wary of working alongside either or both of them.
As it happens, I argued in the articles UUP and Conservative Talks (August 2008), Tory UUP Alliance (October 2008) and Jeff Peel, Reg Empey and a Clockwork Orange (March 2009) that the best thing would be the extinguishment of the UUP. I argued that they should be abandoned as a party of the past, an intransigent throwback to the days of Protestant ascendancy.
I still believe that, essentially. Normal politics (that is, based on ideas more than heritage, based on policy rather than religious denomination, and susceptible to evolution and change) is extremely difficult to have in a system where a party like the UUP could survive. Simply incompatible, in my view. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than the politics that Sinn Féin, the DUP and the UUP can offer. The intellect of those parties is simply so limited at the policy making level that they just can’t be good at it. I’m still trying to deconstruct that thought, and I’m working on it hard, but I know it’s true. I can throw examples around, like the failure to agree a Bill of Rights or the decision to replace the school selection system with complete chaos.
Anyway, back to where I was headed.
The Conservative Party is a liberal, non-sectarian, secular political party which believes in the Union. In Northern Ireland, it’s possible that the unionist parties might cannibalise themselves and split their vote in the forthcoming elections, and, if there was an election to the Northern Ireland Assembly, it’s likely in such a scenario that Sinn Féin would emerge the largest single party, and therefore be in a position to nominate the First Minister.
David Cameron wants to be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the last thing he wants is to have to deal with a Sinn Féin First Minister with a mandate as the largest party. As a result, I think it’s reasonable and sensible that, as an opposition leader, he should do what he can to encourage the unionist parties to get their act together, and spare us all the spectre of that shower in power. What he should not be doing is going into alliance with them. They represent something to be dealt with, not encouraged.