is really behind the campaign by the election battered
Ulster Unionists to get real about Northern politics
by appealing to Catholics, migrant workers and ethnic
Has the party which once championed the cause of
a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people
decided to finally mark its centenary by shifting
lock, stock and single Commons seat to the position
once occupied by the Liberal Home Rule movement
Or is it more of a case Northern Protestants are
so disillusioned with the seemingly rudderless Auld
Unionist Party, its new-look officer team will have
to rely on a light green coalition of Catholics,
eastern Europeans, and other ethnic minorities to
get back into power?
The UUP also seems to be abandoning its former Euro
scepticism in favour of embracing the enlarged European
Then again, maybe all this trendy talk coming from
the UUP is one massive ploy to get boss Reg Empey
finally elected as Westminster MP for North Down
in place of the present incumbent Sylvia Hermon.
In reality, the choice is simple for the UUP. For
one of the longest periods in its 101-year history,
it has a party supremo who is neither Northern Prime
Minister or a Commons MP. Its primary task is not
to win back voters, but to get Empey into Westminster.
The trouble is which of the North's 18 constituencies
can be considered a safe UUP bet? Then again, given
the DUP landslide in the 2005 General Election is
there any such thing now as a safe UUP seat?
If Northern Secretary Peter Hain called a snap Assembly
election later this year, UUP insiders fear they
could lose at least another four seats to the Paisley
camp. The jump, rather than slide to the centre,
is really a bid by the UUP to hijack what remains
of the middle ground from the rapidly crumbling
The retirement of Alliance's North Down political
'super gun' Eileen Bell, the incredible demise of
Bob McCartney's UK Unionists, and the failure of
former UUP dissident Peter Weir to repeat DUP victories
in East and South Antrim by Sammy Wilson and Willy
McCrea, means the UUP is perfectly poised to retain
its solitary Commons stronghold.
All that remains is to change the candidate. Some
clever spin doctors will suggest Lady Sylvia is
calling it a day politically to care for her sick
husband, Sir John Hermon, the former boss of the
old RUC. Then in steps Sir Reg and the UUP is back
in business electorally (at this point, I awaken
from my dream).
Is the UUP really telling us its once powerful radical
Right faction has been laid to rest; that the tens
of thousands of traditional rural Right-wing unionist
grassroots voters have permanently been abandoned
to the Paisley camp?
Has the UUP ever considered the view the DUP's massive
2005 Westminster election victory was a tactical
anti-David Trimble vote? Trimble has gone and in
the meantime, the Paisley camp has sat silent regarding
In fact, the 2006 DUP resembles a 2002 UUP without
the public infighting. Paisley cannot live forever.
His deputy Peter Robinson must be looking over his
shoulder at the rapidly emerging darling of rank
and file traditional Right wing Northern unionism
MEP Jim Allister from Co Antrim, a sure bet
for the North Antrim Westminster seat instead of
If the Robinson camp can cut a deal with Sinn Fein
before Santa comes, the DUP modernisers will need
the help of Empey's UUP to stay in power at Stormont.
With no Big Ian to lead them, the Paisleyite Right
and a significant section of Right-wing UUP
opinion - will rally to Allister's standard.
In trying to capture the Catholic and immigrant
vote, the UUP has set itself a Mount Everest style
ascent. Would it not be better if the UUP looked
to its core vote of traditional Right of Centre
Protestants and embarked on a political gentle dander
up Slemish mountain instead?
The recent annual general meeting of the ruling
Ulster Unionist Council has placed Empey more firmly
in the driving seat of the party. The votes, too,
for the officer team have equally clearly rooted
the party on the Centre Right position.
But Empey needs to ensure he does not make the same
mistake as Trimble by allowing senior party figures
too much room to make political statements which
are not in line with the Centre Right agenda.
Empey and Trimble were both members of the once
mighty Right-wing Vanguard movement. Its success
as a movement was to galvanize working class and
middle class unionist opinion as well as give the
Protestant population constructive Right-wing leadership
with a positive agenda.
All this was washed down with a large dose of internal
discipline. Empey needs to remember his Vanguard
roots when it comes to maintaining internal discipline
in the UUP. If he doesnt crack the whip, by
the 2007 UUC AGM, hell find himself in the
uncomfortable position of facing a challenger from
the partys still vocal liberal wing.
The ghosts of former leading liberals Terence ONeill,
James Chichester-Clarke and Brian Faulkner are still
haunting the corridors of power in the UUP. Empey
has the chance to exorcise them once and for all