like the UUP could commemorate its centenary AGM
on Saturday 5th March by imploding as a movement,
before it de-selects Trimble as its leader.
first month of the centenary year has seen an explosion
of intensive public infighting amongst Ulster Unionism
not witnessed since the campaign to get dissident
Jeffrey Donaldson booted out of the party in late
pro and anti-Agreement wings been locking horns
yet again, and the pro and anti DUP electoral pact
elements have also been bashing away at each other.
crown it all, Trimble and North Down MP Lady Sylvia
Hermon have ignited the devolution versus integration
debate in the UUP by questioning the continued existence
of the Assembly itself.
is being viewed as 'an Alamo' tactic by the Trimble
leadership. If the Brits crash the Assembly, then
presumably the unionist family will blame the Paisley
camp for not doing a deal with the Shinners, and
thereby flock back to the Ulster Unionist ranks
what would happen if Lady Hermon's questioning of
the cost of the Assembly in the Westminster House
of Commons became a practical reality and Stormont
was shut once again? Immediately, it would see the
financial loss of the £24,000 levy which the
MLAs pay into the cash-strapped UUP each year.
the ground, it would lead eventually to the closure
of around two dozen constituency offices which the
Assembly members maintain. Such offices are vital
lines of communication between a party under severe
electoral pressure and its constituents.
and Lady Hermon shafting of the UUP's Assembly group
is akin to a Roman Caesar signing the execution
papers of his personal bodyguards, the famous Pretorian
numerous occasions since the formation of the Assembly,
this group of loyal MLAs has protected Trimble's
back - and front - against the dissident onslaught
from the highly vocal Donaldson wing.
always relied on his Stormont team - his political
Pretorian Guard - to spearhead his campaign against
the dissidents during the dozen or so clashes at
the meetings of the Ulster Unionist Council, the
party's ruling body.
Hermon's ill-timed Commons comments have already
resulted in a no-punches-pulled, head-to-head confrontation
between the North Down MP and many of the MLAs at
a recent top level meeting of the party.
paper, it seems Trimble is leading the UUP back
to its integrationist and equal citizenship days
- a policy it toyed miserably with in the late 1980s
to combat the then Anglo-Irish Agreement of November
1985, and which eventually resulted in the overthrow
of the Molyneaux leadership.
only is integration a failed UUP policy, scrapping
Stormont also means dumping the last bastion of
power within the party - the 24-strong MLA group
in the Assembly.
is now the depth of the directional crisis in the
rudderless UUP, the level of depression in the party
resembles that of Hitler's Berlin Bunker 60 years
ago during the final turbulent days of the Nazi
was emphasised by a recent memo distributed to elected
representatives from the UUP communications unit
begging people to end the public inter-party feuding,
keep it behind closed doors, as it was "deeply
depressing" and sending out "mixed messages".
Ulster Unionists need to forget all the present
speculation about voluntary coalitions and Assembly
scrutiny committees and concentrate on saving their
party from being firmly thrown in the electoral
dustbin of history on 5th May - the expected date
of the local and General Election in the North.
word is the notorious 'men in grey suits' will tell
Trimble in no uncertain terms to give the party
a firm direction, or be dumped on 5th March. Already
rumours of a stalking horse are emerging.
1995, when Trimble became party boss on a tide of
Drumcree euphoria, he inherited a Westminster team
of nine MPs, increasing to 10 in '97 with the new
West Tyrone seat. He enters May defending only five
UUP needs an electoral pact with the DUP to survive,
preferably one where all sitting UUP MPs are the
agreed unionist runners. This will produce a May
result of: DUP 7, UUP 5, SF 5, and SDLP 1.
given the rate at which the UUP is imploding politically,
all the DUP has to do is sit back, have a chuckle
and wait for the electorate to plunge in the final
- and fatal - political dagger.
'one seat, one unionist' pact policy would see the
UUP retain all five of its existing seats, including
the potentially vulnerable South Belfast, where
veteran MP and former Orange Order Grand Master,
Rev Martin Smyth, has announced his retirement.
1982, when Rev Smyth took the seat in a by-election
caused by the controversial murder of Rev Robert
Bradford, the constituency was a unionist stronghold.
But over the past quarter century, South Belfast
has seen a very strong nationalist electorate emerge.
2001, the DUP did not contest South Belfast given
Rev Smyth's very staunch anti-Agreement position
within the party and also because of the growth
in the nationalist vote.
both the DUP and Ulster Unionists decide to contest
South Belfast in May, there is a strong possibility
the seat could become a Sinn Fein marginal given
the impressive percentage increase in the republican
vote in the November 2003 Assembly elections.
pact would also benefit the DUP in that as well
as holding its existing six seats, it would run
MLA Arlene Foster in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, which
Sinn Fein clinched with a handful of votes in 2001.
On a split nationalist vote, the seat - as it did
under the UUP's Ken Maginnis - would return to the
unionist family fold.
could also be an interesting outcome in the West
Tyrone seat - captured by Sinn Fein from the UUP
in 2001 - if both main unionist parties plus the
SDLP decided to stand aside in an electoral pact
in favour of hospital campaigner and MLA Dr Kieran
Deeny. He topped the poll in the constituency in
the November 2003 Assembly election.
in a non-pact scenario where it's every party for
itself, the results will be: DUP 9, UUP 1, SF 7,
SDLP1, leaving Trimble as the sole Commons standardbearer
in Upper Bann.
a pact, the UUP will lose South Belfast (to Sinn
Fein), South Antrim, East Antrim and North Down
(all to DUP). If Trimble has not already been toppled
by a March coup, such catastrophic losses in the
Commons would leave the Upper Bann MP will little
option but to 'fall on his sword' politically and
resign the UUP leadership.
should also be noted that in a non-pact scenario,
as happened in 2001, Fermanagh/South Tyrone would
most likely be retained by Sinn Fein.
the SDLP's merger plan with Fianna Fail if Eddie
McGrady should lose South Down to Sinn Fein, Ulster
Unionists must practically use their centenary celebrations
to prepare for a merger with the DUP to form a single
electoral movement known as The Unionist Party.
there is no room for Ian Paisley Senior, his deputy
Peter Robinson, or Trimble himself in the new-look,
single Unionist Party.
you, the UUP could still look to the fantasy route
for survival - why not ask the high profile MEP
Robert Kilroy-Silk (late of the UKIP) to become
leader, with publicist guru Max Clifford as Director
all, it's been done before when the party asked
controversial former Tory MP Enoch Powell to contest
the South Down seat. Big Paisley against Kilroy-Silk,
now that would be a telly debate worth watching!