Some thoughts on the UUP in South Belfast…

8 10 2009

The conduct of the UUP is South Belfast is attracting considerable comment (chiefly here, here and here). What does this mean?

In the first instance, the DUP have persuaded CUs in the area to bypass central authority and to deal at a local level with them. The result? A little local antipathy has been extended so far as a request to withdraw this New Force from c.60,000 people in South Belfast. It’s a fundamental challenge to the deal which must be refused.

No matter what the UUP do now, enough damage has been within the SB constituency to show that:

  • a) old-fashioned carve ups survive the New Force
  • b) that substantial questions/dissent can be marshalled against the New Force
  • c) that the UUP is apparently less committed to Unionist voters than the DUP (because it refuses to agree unity candidates).

SB and FST are always twinned when it comes to unionist brokering. The logic is that a united Unionist candidate can beat the nationalist parties in both, so each Unionist party selects a constituency to run in and withdraws from the other.

Anything that occurs in SB impacts on FST. So the net result of SB’s letter is an undermined UCUNF SB candidate and a head start for DUP in FST. At this stage, and with a new and complex product to sell, UCUNF are at a disadvantage in at least 2 of 10 Unionist constituencies.

So, the SB letter will be inevitably be rebuffed by the UUP leadership.  And if the constituency falls back into line, is that the end of the matter?

I’m not sure.

What about this – at the very moment a UCUNF SB candidate comes forward in the weeks ahead, what would it mean if the DUP summarily announced they were withdrawing from running in South Belfast?

It has been established that SB UUP are prepared to deal sideways (with the DUP) and upwards (with UUP HQ). If the DUP withdraw from running in SB it will look very much as though a deal has been reached locally (whether it has or not becomes irrelevant).

In truth, nothing positions the new brand better than running in opposition to the DUP. Surely UCUNF not only needs to run 18 candidates but it needs 18 DUP candidates to run against. But what if the DUP doesn’t oblige? If the DUP withdraws in SB, the UCUNF candidate will be seen by the large APNI vote in the area to be the benefactor of a dodgy deal. And they will surely abandon that candidate. (Anna Lo has been quick to refer to sectarian headcounts.)

A withdrawal in SB would demonstrate the DUP’s credentials for Unionist unity and really put the pressure on in FST  (where a UCUNF candidate must run – has Tom Elliott already been selected?). But the local unionist population (no doubt keen to remove Gildernew) will surely reward the DUP for seeming to act selflessly in SB. 

Can the UUP retrieve SB?

Perhaps one way to save SB is for a moderate candidate like Ian Parsley to run (his APNI background could retrieve things in an area with strong Alliance sympathies / and a social justice message probably means more in an ethnically diverse & impoverished inner-city community like SB than in North Down). His defection embodied the persuasive nature of this new deal – so why waste him in North Down (which will no doubt be another area for discomfiture over the months ahead)?

Furthermore, the fractiousness / despair that infected SB might yet spread to other constituencies. The (extraordinary) length of the UCUNF selection process must be seriously reduced to contain things. UCUNF need some candidates for the party to unite behind.

Tactically, this is powerful stuff from the DUP. The UCUNF people are clearly in damage limitation mode, whereas the DUP have time and options to maximise their take from this. Interesting to see what happens next… could a DUP withdrawal be the answer?

PS. Yes, alot of the above is just spit-balling. Maybe I’ve completely misread what could happen here – interested to hear any alternative analysis…

PPS. SB were still in the process of selecting a candidate when this letter emerged. And according to Seymour Major’s piece Tom Elliott is the UCUNF candidate in FST. So SB were ultimately asking permission to endorse a DUP candidate.

If the SB preference is a pact with the DUP over the Tories, then that’s a fundamental split in opinion. Who is in control of this branch? The UUP must reassert discipline here – who would bet against a few expulsions and walkouts over the next few weeks? No doubt the DUP will be agitating some walkouts to occur during the UUP’s annual conference.

PPPS. Oh, I see Peter McCann is being positioned as the Conservative choice for SB. (Where now for Ian Parsley?) Still, McCann – like Parsley – looks like the kind of candidate who can appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of voters in the area.

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4 responses

9 10 2009
Seymour Major

I largely missed this row when it broke out. Those that wrote the letter to the DUP should be disciplined by their party, if a mechanism for doing that exists. It is quite clearly an act of disloyalty to the UUP leadership.

My view is that the joint committee must be trusted to select the best candidates available for the seats. I trust them to make that selection, regardless of religion, culture or which party they are from and that those candidates, once selected, should also be given unqualified support from both parties. I believe that the overwhelming majority of members of the Conservative Party and the UUP also hold that view

This silly diversion will soon be forgotten

9 10 2009
bobballs

Hi Seymour – this is a tricky one. the letter leak was timed to spoil Reg’s moment in Brighton, so those conniving in this are pretty savvy. I don;t think that whoever is behind the leak (DUP & others) will go away. i reckon there’s a second instalment that will unravel during UUP conference weekend – possibly a minor defection that will be handed a disproportionately large focus by the media.

But still, a SB branch spokesperson wouldn;t deny the letter, so there is clearly something in this. I imagine discontent will bubble away below the surface while Peter McCann (if he turns out to be united candidate) tries to get a campaign underway. I wish it were otherwise Seymour, but IMHO this will not be allowed to be forgotten.

you are right – strong leadership / discipline is the best way to head this off. but will it happen?

9 10 2009
Shuffling Geisha

Where now for Parsley? North Down of course, to quote Vic Reeves in Shooting Stars re Mark Lamarr, “he’s a greasy lover, de de de de de de da da”

9 10 2009
That UUP South Belfast letter… « Open Unionism

[…] I posted on this previously without knowing the content / context of this letter. Having read it, I can understand their motives and I can understand why SB was inviting a conversation on the matter. I feel I was unduly harsh about what was happening here. […]

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