Just read Reg Empey speech from today’s AGM. Was struck by a couple of things.
It recommits an error within 70 words. It insinuates that the DUP are ‘a little-Ulster party’. To some in the UUP this is great, knockabout stuff. To me it just has no value, and is probably counterproductive. In a way, that line is 25 years out of date – the DUP now has 9 MPs; they sit as PM of NI; they sell and defend NI’s interest to Obama, Brown among others. Dodds and Robbo negotatiate with the Treasury (successfully or not) for NI revenues. This attack line just does not ring true anymore… and it transposes itself to individual voters.
If I give my support to the DUP, I have a range of reasons for doing so. None of my reasons for supporting the DUP includes the knowledge that I am a stupid and narrow-minded. But as I am endorsing a ‘little Ulster party’, the UUP believe that I support/am the stupid and narrow-minded. Result? I do not vote UUP. The superior note of this line hints back towards the UUP’s big house heritage, which isn’t great.
[The effect is very similar to the Alliance Party’s attack line on the UUP, which it condemns as a ‘sectarian party’. If I am a UUP voter, why would move to APNI if they think I’m proactively propping up sectarianism. This is not the compelling art of persuasion, and it must surely be considered counterproductive. Neither APNI nor the UUP will grow out their support if they insult the people they intend to win over. So repeat after me: the DUP are not a little Ulster party; the UUP is not sectarian. Back to the drawing board Fordy and Empey – be generous and consider the positive reasons to bring people in. Stop the out-dated ol’ clap-trap.]
The Empey speech is also defensive. Within 130 words of beginning he’s referencing Conservative ‘baggage’. No lead in, slow burn, build up, buy in, or flare. Straight in – the Conservatives have baggage. And he doesn’t deny it – he just says times are changed. It then talks of ‘mistakes’, ‘damage’, and ‘rekindling’.
I must also confess to having some trouble with the core mantra of the UUP – that the Party exists for promoting and protecting the Union and Northern Ireland’s ongoing position within the United Kingdom.
Apart from partly stating the bleedin’ obvious and eliciting a response along the lines of ‘meh, and what… ?’ – the problem really arises in the ‘protecting’ part of this statement. The UUP misreads ‘protection’ as writ to take the attack to those who are not Unionist. This line also suggests the requirement for ‘defence’ and constant vigilance. I’m sorry – but this stuff still sounds to me like a Party that is uncomfortable inside its own territory. It suggests lack of confidence and a one-dimensional rigidity in its vision. Again, this sounds about 25 years out of date.
The other problem with this ‘defensive’ attitude is that we were all reassured that the GFA/devolution had resolved much of the crisis and secured the Union. So job done – time for multi-dimensional, more sophisticated mission statement? In times of normal politics (which the UUP supports), a party’s requires flexibility and breadth of appeal. I would want to see that mantra dropped or expanded upon.
But after some blind alleys, the speech gets down to business:
But those who—wrongly—question our motives, don’t seem able to explain what is in it for the Conservatives.
David Cameron probably doesn’t need a single UUP vote or seat to take him through the door of Number 10.
David Cameron didn’t need to come to Belfast last December.
David Cameron didn’t need to strike up a relationship with the Ulster Unionist Party.
He did it because he believes in the Union, believes in Northern Ireland and believes in the honesty, integrity and political courage of the Ulster Unionist Party.
That’s why I’m happy to do business with him. That’s why I believe our two parties should pool their talents and resources. That’s why I believe that voters will rally to our cause.
This is enormously convincing. If you’re a unionist, then the case for the new force is very persuasive. Cameron will be the next PM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What the hell is he doing this for if he isn’t a Unionist just like you? And don’t Unionists want to endorse Unionist Prime Ministers?
According to Empey, the UUP now has the chance to: have a direct input into a national manifesto; key role in the next government; ensure a stronger voice at Westminster and Europe; make and deliver policy and decisions for Northern Ireland. Don’t Unionists want to elect politicians who can genuinely influence Downing St and UK policy?
Imagine how staid and dull politics would be right now without this new force. The DUP are inviting us to another one of their ‘stop the Shinner’ sectarian headcounts. This is just senseless given the present complexity of the Assembly. If endorsement is a form of reward, then which Unionist candidate should be rewarded with a first preference? Who has the most dynamic, progressive and fresh approach? And who is sleep-walking through the same campaign they’ve run for years? Who deserves reward?
The UUP are slowly building up a very strong case for the new force. But they need to broaden their outlook to match Cameron’s stated desire to strengthen appeal among non-unionists.Some things need tweaked, others just need dropped altogether.