I had a short conversation this morning with the UUP’s former communications director, Alex Benjamin. When I asked him what the problem was beinhd UCUNF’s poor showing, he came up with some good insights which I thought were worth sharing. So, with his permission, I’ve blogged it below…
1. The most important thing to me was consistency (or lack of). Reg was wobbly and message was wobbly. You can’t pitch at progressive types with the ‘end-the-tribal-politics’ line whilst simultaneously re-enforcing tribal politics with a pact in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Alliance is consistent in message and you get what you vote for. Ditto with Hermon.
Why, if you wanted to end tribal politics, would you vote for us? Why, if you want a strong Unionist position, would you vote for us?
The message was diabolically mixed. We have McNarry’s and Elliott’s and Ringland’s and Bradshaw’s. No side is in charge, therefore we effectively have two parties in one. People aren’t stupid, they can see that.
In addition, the Cameron cuts line was deeply unhelpful and we overestimated the influence of the Euro result. Europe was not a barometer.
2. As the UUP itself recognises, more work was needed on the ground. It takes more than a few TV shots of Cameron and Hague to swing things. Naomi again, for example, worked her patch really hard.
3. People still have faith in DUP and Sinn Fein after big deals on devolution of Policing and Justice. They have also sung together on dissident activity.
4. The future? The usual navel-gazing will likely ensue and UUP people will fight with each other whilst other parties get on with the job. If that happens, the UUP will be seen to be irrelevant.
5. The DUP will further develop centre-right ground buoyed up by their strength in the hung Parliament; Alliance will build on recent successes and continue to squeeze us further at Assembly level in the soft Unionist seats (where our ‘tribal politics’ line could have worked had it not been so undermined by the unionist pact).
What is the basis for the continued existence of the UUP? The UUP needs to find answer and fast.
I’ve paraphrased in places, but have preserved the spirit of the opinion.