It looks as if the rebranding of the Unionist Party isn’t going quite according to plan. While no doubt Sir Reggie was hoping that the freshly minted Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force was going to sweep all before it, the punters seem to be a bit sceptical.
We’ll see, I suppose, when the Euro results come in. But, I was struck at Jim Nicholson, on his posters, eschewing the UCUNF acronym in favour of the simpler “Conservatives and Unionists”. Sensible man. His posters also bear the legend “Vote for Change”, which derives directly from Rankin’ Dave Cameron and his attempts to be the British analogue to Barack O’Bama – in a recent TV interview, I swear I heard Dave say the word “change” twenty times in five minutes. But still, the slogan “Vote for Change” seems a bit incongruous when it sits alongside a big picture of Jim Nicholson, who has been an MEP since the Cretaceous era.
But that’s in the optics. Rather trickier for Reggie is the position of the party’s sole Westminster MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon. Since her election, Sylvia has been New Labour’s most assiduous parliamentary ally, and is adamant that she won’t stand for election under the Conservative banner under any circumstances. You can see what a quandary this puts Reggie in, since the UCUNF boondoggle was his big idea. What’s worse is that Lady Sylvia is quite a popular figure with the housewives of Holywood. She’s classy, presentable, articulate and has built up a political profile that says “I’m slightly left of centre but in a nice, friendly, unthreatening way. A bit like Richard Boyd Barrett.”
So Reggie could give in to Sylvia and let her just run under the Ulster Unionist banner, but that would just expose him as a cipher in his own home. Alternatively, the Machiavellian option presents itself. Reggie is not going to be elected an MP in East Belfast while Peter Robinson draws breath, and South Belfast is Gimpo’s turf, where Reggie would venture at his peril. But if Sylvia vacates the North Down seat, then Reggie might fancy a run at a more winnable constituency. On the other hand, North Down people are a bit parochial, and Reggie would possibly be a bit too, well, Belfast for their tastes.
You know, I still can’t quite process this UCUNF thing. I mean, I know that it’s happened, but I can’t intellectualise it. And I can’t remotely understand what possessed Cameron to agree to it. What’s in it for him? And, while he may not be aware of the dangers involved, why hasn’t the Spectator been running a campaign on the issue? Why are intelligent Tories like Douglas Hurd not writing cautionary articles on the theme of why the Tories shouldn’t go anywhere near the Unionists?
And what’s even funnier is that they’ve suckered Cameron into promising that Norn Iron MPs will hold ministerial office under his government. Yes, he’ll win over Middle England by promising them the mouth-watering prospect of Reg Empey or Basil McCrea sitting in the cabinet. And yet, and yet… I sort of hope he gets the notion of sending Lord Trimble to Hillsborough as proconsul. Now, that would really wind up the DUP.