election-battered Ulster Unionists have got four
years to reclaim the Right of Centre ground in
Protestant politics, otherwise they will be permanently
squashed in the 2011 Stormont poll by the liberal
DUP on one hand and the planned new Hard Right
movement on the other.
the weekend, the UUP's 102-year-old ruling body,
the Ulster Unionist Council, decided to emerge
from the middle ages and take its first shaky
steps on the road to becoming what delegates describe
as a modern political party.
boss Reg Empey's choice for ministerial positions
puts the brakes on a threatened leadership coup
from party liberals until at least the 2008 UUC
just over a fortnight until the power-sharing
Executive formally starts running the North on
8 May, First Minister designate and DUP supremo
Ian Paisley senior even aged 81
says he wants to hold the top post for the full
stance is more about preserving unity in the DUP
than providing stable, legislative government
for the Northern community.
because Big Ian trounced the anti-agreement movement
he once championed in last month's poll doesn't
mean Unionism will be hoisting black flags to
mark the death of Protestantism's Hard Right.
there has always been a party on the Far Right
of Unionism. But for the first time since the
formation of the UUC in 1905, and with both the
DUP and UUP squeezed into the Centre Right platform,
there's a vacancy on Unionism's Extreme Right-wing.
spite of the Paisley camp instigating a tough
disciplinary policy to maintain unity, the party
will clearly implement the liberal strategy of
Constructive Unionism first mooted by the North's
famous wartime Unionist Prime Minister John Miller
ruled the North from 1940-43 before his liberalising
policies became too much to bear for Unionism's
Hard Right and he was deposed by Sir Basil Brooke.
the new cross-border powers negotiated by the
St Andrews Agreement, Paisley will firmly forge
over the next four years the sort of closer North-South
ties that JM could only ever dream about.
gives Empey, or whoever deposes him, four years
to concentrate on local issues to lay new foundations
for the UUP in the Unionist family. The March
poll proved the party has lost the confidence
of the people.
UUP cannot afford to make the same mistake as
a former leader and Prime Minister Brian Faulkner
who believed his voter base would remain loyal
to him. In March 2007, just over 103,000 people
gave the UUP their first preference votes.
as long as Paisley Senior rules the DUP, that
party will remain united. And if the Big Man uses
his four years as First Minister wisely to convert
the North into one of the most prosperous wee
states in Europe, the DUP will be on course to
collect 40 plus seats and many of those
UUP votes in 2011.
what happened Faulkner in '74. In the February
election, his pro-Assembly Unionists amassed over
94,000 votes, but by the October poll this had
slumped to 20,000.
the 21st century UUP needs to rediscover itself
before it can once again find its lost voters.
But in spite of all the optimism for 8 May, the
potential for civil war within the DUP remains
a strong possibility after that Super Tuesday.
Hard Right is currently adopting a 'wait and see'
approach. The latest gossip on Stormont Hill is
that the staunchly anti-European United Kingdom
Independence Party once fronted by TV personality
Robert Kilroy-Silk is reportedly trying
to recruit ex-Paisleyite dissidents.
other major worry for the anti-Paisley lobby within
Hard Right Unionism is that Protestantism's big
boogie men, the Shinners, are rapidly transforming
themselves into a new millennium version of the
now defunct constitutional republican Irish Independence
would be an ideal strategy for Sinn Fein to adopt
given that 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of
the IIP's formation. The IIP was once headed by
Protestant John Turnley, a Larne councillor until
his murder in 1980 by the UDA.
significant turning point will also begin in UUP
fortunes if Unionism's Hard Right can form a new
party in opposition to Paisley's Reforming Unionism
especially if this new movement could persuade
ex-DUP MEP Jim Allister to lead it.