Orangemen are not the only fruits

See this punter? His name is Adrian Watson, and he’s the mayor of Antrim. Why are we interested in him? Allow me to recap.

So, the Unionist Party has formed an electoral bloc with the British Tories, which goes under the catchy name of the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force. From “Dave” Cameron’s point of view, the UCUNF arrangement provides him with eighteen candidates in the north at a cut price, and the possibility of one or two Unionist MPs pledged to support him in a hung parliament; from Reg Empey’s point of view, it provides him with a Big Idea (non-sectarian pan-UK civic unionism) and a little Ashcroft money. Since the Big Idea seems mostly to be of interest to four or five Toryboy bloggers, one presumes Reggie is more interested in the bottom line.

There are also minuses on both sides. From Cameron’s point of view, he’s now stuck with the Unionist Party, which as any Tory grandee could tell him is more trouble than it’s worth. From Reggie’s point of view, it means having to give a leg up to the 250 or so Ulster Tories and whatever dingbat candidates they came up with. It also meant a commitment to run in all eighteen constituencies, which ruled out arrangements with the DUP to run pan-Prod candidates in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast. (This didn’t, however, stop them playing footsie with the DUP over electoral pacts, and managing as a result to mislay the two Catholics who had been induced to become Tory candidates.) Moreover, there’s been the small matter of the sole Ulster Unionist MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, who unfortunately for Reggie is a Labour supporter and adamantly refused to stand under the Tory banner.

However, despite such small hiccups, the laborious UCUNF candidate selection process has proceeded. A couple of weeks back, the first nine were announced, including TV’s Mike Nesbitt, rugby legend Trevor Ringland, Daphne Trimble and Norn Iron’s top Freddie Mercury impersonator Flash Harry. We were then told the other nine would soon be forthcoming, and yea, we have eight of them. Thereby hangs a tale, but first, who are the eight?

Firstly, in the two seats that have been the subject of megaphone diplomacy with the DUP, Tom Elliott is nominated in Fermanagh and the scarily energetic Paula Bradshaw in South Belfast. That means no pact with the DUP, and both parties can continue tearing lumps out of each other on the subject of who’s most in favour of unionist unity.

Secondly, there are only two Tories, and I’m not sure one of them counts. The completely unknown Irwin Armstrong is a candidate in North Antrim, but that will be fought out between Ian Óg Paisley and Jim Allister, with Irwin a mere supporting attraction. The other, entering a very crowded field in North Down, is local councillor Ian Parsley.

Come on, you remember Ian Parsley. He was a candidate in last year’s Euro-election. For, er, the Alliance Party, who were evidently pitching for the votes of dyslexic DUP supporters who thought Ian Paisley was on the ballot. He did reasonably well. Then a couple of weeks later he defected to the Tories. This was entirely a matter of principle, and had nothing at all to do with him getting a job at Iain Duncan Donuts’ Centre for Social Justice. And now he’s standing in North Down for UCUNF – to be more precise, he’s standing in front of stuff. Indeed, there has been a little joshing at Westminster about young Mr Parsley.

And what of the vacancy? That would be South Antrim, which is a DUP marginal; the sitting MP, Rev Willie McCrea, is not too popular in the area (basically because you can’t dig him out of Magherafelt and get him to visit South Antrim) and a TUV candidacy could hand the seat to UCUNF. So why no candidate? Perhaps this might explain:

Adrian Watson, the mayor of Antrim, has been chosen by his constituency association as its candidate for the UUP in South Antrim this May. He caused outrage within the gay community in Northern Ireland after saying he would not allow gay and lesbian couples to stay in his family-run bed and breakfast.

In 2006 the UUP councillor told a local radio station: “This is a bed and breakfast in a family home with three young children. Common sense has to prevail. There is no difficulty with members of the gay community phoning up and booking a room. The difficulty would arise because of the logistics of the bed and breakfast – if it was a same-sex couple – and because my wife has strong Christian views she felt it was difficult to facilitate that.

“It is difficult because my 14-year-old daughter helps out immensely. And the obvious question: ‘Why are two men, or why are two women, in a double room?'”

Watson has also been accused of racism towards Ireland’s Traveller community. A year before his remarks about gay couples, he described Travellers at a local halting point in the Antrim area as “scumbags” and “scum of the earth”.

Now, this is very much out of step with “Dave” Cameron’s resprayed Tories, who have been ferociously courting the pink vote and trumpeting their gay candidates. (Nobody seems to have objected too strongly to Mr Watson’s views on Travellers.) And so, the rumour has it, Tory HQ has put the kibosh on Watson, as someone who might be a bit of an embarrassment on the campaign trail. Furthermore, national treasure Peter Tatchell has spoken out, and you really don’t want Peter dogging your footsteps during an election. Best to neutralise the Tatch by getting rid of the candidate.

But the Lord loves a trier, and Mr Watson is not giving up. He’s not the first local politician to say something incautious on Stephen Nolan, and learning from the example of Iris Robinson, he has rushed to say that his original argument was purely hypothetical, and anyway, it was his wife who had the problem:

“I have a completely live-and-let-live attitude to gays and I know that many gay people support our party [I am not sure that Steven King and Jeff Dudgeon count as “many”, but we’ll let that go] which has a far more tolerant view than the DUP, which has been tainted with homophobia through the interventions of the First Minister’s wife, the then MP and MLA, Iris Robinson.

“I would never discriminate against gay people and, if elected as the MP for South Antrim, I can honestly say that I would work for my gay constituents as energetically as for any other constituent. The gay community has absolutely nothing to fear from me.”

Well, perhaps. As a B&B owner, Mr Watson might also be aware that under New Labour’s Sexual Orientation Regulations, that sort of thing can get you into trouble. Indeed, from now on, holding an opinion deemed unfashionable by Mr Ben Summerskill could get you into quite serious legal difficulties. I suppose, if you wanted to mount an entirely grudging and half-hearted defence of Mr Watson, he’s probably more progressive on such matters than Willie McCrea.

But here’s an interesting point. Over recent months, the Tories have been taking a little heat about their exotic allies in the European Parliament – Czech climate change deniers, Belgian flat-taxers, and those wacky Latvian SS veterans. One of the lightning rods has been one Michał Kamiński, a Polish MEP who – weirdly enough – looks like Johann Hari’s evil twin, and who belongs to the Law and Justice Party. There has been a lot of argument about exactly what Mr Kamiński may or may not have said about the Jews at various points in his past; what’s not seriously disputed is that Law and Justice takes a line on Teh Gayz that would not be wildly out of place in the north.

Perhaps Mr Cameron could explain why what’s unacceptable in Antrim is perfectly all right in Warsaw. But don’t hold your breath.

17 Comments

  1. Belfast Gonzo said,

    March 24, 2010 at 1:57 am

    I think you’ll like this.

    http://www.torystories.com/2010/03/from-airbrushed-to-photoshopped-how-tories-responded-to-claims-of-pandering-to-prejudice/

    Sorry, dunno how to do links on this.

  2. Mark P said,

    March 24, 2010 at 3:48 am

    I’m awestruck by that title.

  3. Liam said,

    March 24, 2010 at 7:47 am

    I hope Mr Watson switches channel every time Morecambe and Wise are on TV. A single episode could turn his daughter into a lesbian

  4. Seán said,

    March 24, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I too love the title but this had me crying with laughter:

    “Ian Parsley…you remember Ian Parsley. He was a candidate in last year’s Euro-election. For, er, the Alliance Party, who were evidently pitching for the votes of dyslexic DUP supporters who thought Ian Paisley was on the ballot.”

    Marvellous.

  5. Ciarán said,

    March 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Just to add to the record, last year Watson also complained about kids wearing GAA tops in an Antrim Tesco’s, “on behalf of his constituents” of course.

  6. March 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    and Orangemen are not the only fruitcakes … but all Orangemen are fruitcakes

  7. robert said,

    March 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Cameron and his crew are economic conservatives but social liberals as befits the metrosexual scene. UCNF are social conservatives who may be economic conservatives in theory but who will want investment in NI to continue along with those juicy grants. So why form an alliance with them?

    • De Northside Socialist said,

      March 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm

      I guess Eton Dave wants to be Prime Minister and will accept support from UCUNF regardless of their views on Gays/Lesbians or GAA shirts. Some of the Tory backwoods men and women would no doubt share the views of Adrian Watson and his “Christian” spouse.

  8. March 25, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Cheers for the mention, SS. This UCUNF project is proving to be a bit embarrassing for all involved and for what? The UUP no longer have any MPs now. Mind you, it was pretty bad for the Tories when they were reliant on their unionist comrades in the 90s so it might be for the best.

  9. Neil said,

    March 25, 2010 at 1:24 am

    Splinty: Whats the difference, in principle, between this unionist fella refusing to let gay couples stay in his B and B and Catholic adoption agencies refusing to deal with gay couples? I mean Timmy and Tony can just go down the road to all the other gay friendly B and B’s in Antrim Town.

    Now it seems a bunch of intolerant secular liberals have passed a law trampling on the civil and religious liberties of the good Burgher Watson.
    Tut, Tut.

  10. chris y said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Off topic, but, heee.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8586845.stm

  11. magistra said,

    March 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    What I want to know is whether Adrian Watson (and anyone else who doesn’t want to have gay couples in his B&B) also insist that any heterosexual couple staying in the place show their marriage certificate. Because otherwise how does he know that they’re aren’t fornicating, committing adultery or divorced and remarried, all of which should be equally appalling to their Christian consciences? That’s leaving aside the checks he’d need to make to know they’re not idolaters, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers or extortioners.

  12. ejh said,

    March 25, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Meanwhile in Cambridgeshire

  13. March 25, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    […] someone whose views on gay rights leave a lot to be desired, a story discussed here on Slugger and here by Splintered […]

  14. Richard T said,

    April 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    A belated observation please. Druggie Dave is up excrement alley with the gays if I might use the phrase. You mentioned his brave new friends in Europe; the fuss over this isn’t cooling off – the Economist and the New Statesman have been pretty sharp about them recently. The clincher is his interview with Gay Times. If I didn’t despise the overprivileged Tory that he is, I would feel sorry for him for the complete shipwreck. I assume it will bear repeating a few times.

    The import is that our boy is going to have to be a bit more forthcoming for the UK gay vote so I can’t think any Northern Irish prejudice is going to go down too well.

  15. De Northside Socialist said,

    April 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    “The Tories were embroiled in a furious row over lesbian and gay rights on Saturday after the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, was secretly taped suggesting that people who ran bed and breakfasts in their homes should “have the right” to turn away homosexual couples.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/03/tory-tape-gays-bed-breakfast

  16. April 6, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    […] Splintered Sunrise writes about the people behind the Tory – Ulster Unionist Alliance, standing under the name […]


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