That UUP South Belfast letter…

9 10 2009

[Have also posted this over at Open Unionism.]

I’ve had a conversation with a few people close to South Belfast, and it has thrown a different light on things.

The leaked letter appears to have been written by people who wanted to enter into a genuine discussion with the Party leadership about matters relating to candidate selection in South Belfast. These are not people one would normally consider as rebels / or egoists / or stooges. I’m publishing its contents below…

From what I gather the letter was not written to be leaked (as these things sometimes are). That the letter was leaked is a matter of disappointment for Reg but also for many people in South Belfast.

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.

The letter has been leaked, it is in the public domain. There’s lots of speculation about the content so I publish it below in order for the position of South Belfast to become clear. Certainly, this is no DUP plot – this is simply a conversation that members of the UUP (who are determined to win SB in 2010) want to have.

I don’t think there’s anything disreputable about the contents. In fact I would be amazed if an honest conversation like this did not take place.

My own personal advice to the UUP is that the leadership should go to SB and meet a full session of the constituency branch… and talk till you drop. Stay there till one strategy or t’other wins out. In my estimation, these are not plotters, they’re Ulster Unionists looking for a conversation.

TO: THE UUP PARTY LEADER – SIR REG EMPEY.

CC.:

29th September 2009

DEAR SIR REG,

Following a meeting of the South Belfast UUP Association to-night, I am writing to you, to inform you of the following statement which was unanimously passed by the meeting viz.:

It is the unanimous view of this Association that it is essential that there should be one agreed Unionist candidate, agreed between the UUP-Conservatives and the DUP, to contest the South Belfast Parliamentary seat at the next UK Westminster general election.

South Belfast was a safe Unionist seat until 2005, and it is patently obvious that if both a UCUNF candidate and a DUP candidate contest this seat, this will result in the present MP – the SDLP incumbent being re-elected.

In this context, a motion was also unanimously passed that exploratory talks are undertaken immediately, and as a matter of urgency, with the DUP. This would be to ascertain the possibility of agreeing one Unionist candidate to contest the South Belfast seat, on behalf of all Unionists, who make up the majority of the electors in this constituency. Members at the meeting also stated that they could undertake talks with the DUP at a local South Belfast level, if this complemented and assisted the overall process, and objective, of agreeing one joint Unionist candidate.

As also agreed unanimously at the meeting, I have been asked to convey the above views and position to you, in the strongest terms.

On behalf of the Association, I look forward to receiving your reply as I have been asked to immediately convey any response back to our members.

Yours Sincerely, and Kindest Regards,

PS. I tried to get this uploaded as a JPEG in its original letter format, but that was an hour I’ll not get back. Safe to say, I received the full letter and not some words pasted into an email.

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TO: THE UUP PARTY LEADER – SIR REG EMPEY.

CC.:

29th September 2009

DEAR SIR REG,

Following a meeting of the South Belfast UUP Association to-night, I am writing to you, to inform you of the following statement which was unanimously passed by the meeting viz.:

It is the unanimous view of this Association that it is essential that there should be one agreed Unionist candidate, agreed between the UUP-Conservatives and the DUP, to contest the South Belfast Parliamentary seat at the next UK Westminster general election.

South Belfast was a safe Unionist seat until 2005, and it is patently obvious that if both a UCUNF candidate and a DUP candidate contest this seat, this will result in the present MP – the SDLP incumbent being re-elected.

In this context, a motion was also unanimously passed that exploratory talks are undertaken immediately, and as a matter of urgency, with the DUP. This would be to ascertain the possibility of agreeing one Unionist candidate to contest the South Belfast seat, on behalf of all Unionists, who make up the majority of the electors in this constituency. Members at the meeting also stated that they could undertake talks with the DUP at a local South Belfast level, if this complemented and assisted the overall process, and objective, of agreeing one joint Unionist candidate.

As also agreed unanimously at the meeting, I have been asked to convey the above views and position to you, in the strongest terms.

I look forward to receiving your reply as I have been asked to immediately convey any response back to our members.

Yours Sincerely, and Kindest Regards,

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8 responses

9 10 2009
thedissenter

If it were not for UCUNF this is an entirely reasonable letter. I have to say that some of the comment on the letter (before this) has been shrill and bordering on hysterical. It would seem that some believe that redemption and a non-sectarian future is only possible through the Conservative Party. um. I am faintly appalled that it a distinct possibility that a dedicated Ulster Unionist MP could be abandoned because she may not take the Tory Whip in Parliament after the next election, and that is welcomed by some. Is Sylvia not an Ulster Unionist. Is she part of a sectarian past that must be shrugged aside – that would be an entirely offensive proposition.

Its not the letter. It is the context of the Associations viewpoint, and the fact that the Conservatives have said they will stand in every constituency. The impression has certainly been given that that means no deals with the DUP. So the letter at its core challenges the UCUNF compact – even if that is not the intent. The rub is that to the Conservatives, the loss of SB or FST is not going to risk the Union – which Cameron has said he would never do. So while a deal may be in the interests of the Ulster Unionist Party, its not on the Cameron agenda and, sadly, the money talks.

Where the UUP still free to act alone and solely in its own interest it could, through dealing and clever politics at least doubled its seats. Even cleverer politics and a line to the TUV might well offer a third or even a fourth. But what future would that offer?

10 10 2009
elvis parker

Dissenter – one correction. You state that the Conservatives said they would stand in every constituency – it is my understanding that the agreement between the two parties – which has been approved by the governing body of the UUP – the Executuve Council commits to fighting all seats. So it was not just the Conservatives..

10 10 2009
thedissenter

I think you are finding fault to somehow challenge the essence of the response – which is brief because it is a response and not an article. The same paragraph brings to attention the point that the SB Letter has been seen as an apparent challenge to the ‘UCUNF compact’ to which I think you are referring.

10 10 2009
emanonon

It is rumoured that the failure of the UUP leadership to attend the meeting and the Conservatives nomination of Peter McCann, a West Belfast Catholic, were the causes of the letter.

It has been clear for many months that the UCUNF were going to fight all 18 seats – was this not communicated to SB or are they just ignoring the leadership?

Slow learners are plentiful in NI; whether in the leadership or SB is not yet clear.

10 10 2009
Framer

The UUP meeting was held before the Conservative meeting that nominated Peter McCann so that disposes of ema’s crude theory.

10 10 2009
InsideComment

As someone who attended the meeting I can say that Peter McCann’s name was never mentioned at the meeting. As you say Framer – Peter McCann was not nominated by the Conservatives until several days after the South Belfast UUP meeting.

Emanonon: You are quite correct – Apparently the UUP Leadership was invited several times to come to this meeting. & If they had done so, I’m quite sure this letter/statement wouldn’t have been collated.

10 10 2009
bobballs

I Initially (wrongly) leapt to the conclusion that this was all a desperate plot, but it’s clearly nothing of the sort. In fact SB appears to have gone through the proper procedure in articulating its views to the party leadership.

As for the leak: my personal theory is that as soon as the letter was written tongues started wagging. I suspect the DUP heard about the letter, got it confirmed locally, then passed this on to the BBC who in turn approached a SB spokesperson who was compelled to issue a no comment (thereby confirming the story). So the BBC got their story without actually having seen the letter.

It seems that this really could have been avoided. But if SB are being asked to support a Conservative candidate (whom many people may not actually know) and forego the opportunity of putting up someone from the branch, then it seems fair for the leadership to go to SB and tell them why (and to take full account of local opinion).

Especially (correct me if I’m wrong?), if SB are to help Peter McCann in 2010 only for Peter McCann’s colleagues to return the favour by running against SB personnel in the 2012 assembly elections. Erm… SB and the party leadership have much to discuss!

13 10 2009
emanonon

I am happy to withdraw and am very glad to hear that the publicity re McCann prior to his selection was not one of the causes as it would have reflected badly on us.

With regard to communication it seems our leadership are believers in the mushroom policy, has anything been communicated to our grass roots about timing, fighting 18 seats, the split of candidates and where this agreement might end up? Are the rumours of a 50/50 split on seats true? I think all our members should know what has been agreed not just a select few.

Also had the candidates been selected much earlier this would never have arisen, what has happened since the EU election to cause these delays? There are now widespread whispers that the leaders did not want anyone selected before the Conference to avoid potential criticism and that the Conservatives are less than happy at the delays. I would suggest that after the conference we may see a speedier resolution.

I would also suggest it will not be feasible to run separate candidates in an assembly election following a sucessful Westminster election, probably substantially funded by the Conservatives. It very unlikely that the Conservatives would then stand aside in any UK election if they are in Government.- so a lot of questions to be answered hopefully very soon, but as a mere mushroom I am not holding my breath.

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