The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Exorcise the Ghosts to Revive the Party

Unionist Revisionist Dr John Coulter urges Ulster Unionists to focus mainly on persuading Protestants to back the party rather than pursing minority groups such as Catholic unionists and migrant workers

Dr John Coulter • 28 March 2006

What 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 minorities?

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 in 1906?

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 Union.

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 Alliance party.

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 progress.

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 Ian Junior.

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 doesn’t crack the whip, by the 2007 UUC AGM, he’ll find himself in the uncomfortable position of facing a challenger from the party’s still vocal liberal wing.

The ghosts of former leading liberals Terence O’Neill, 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 time.











Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

4 April 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Interview with Michael McKevitt
Forum Magazine

Catching the Monkey
Anthony McIntyre

Policing the Status Quo
Mick Hall

John Kennedy

T.W.A.T and the problem with Leopard spots
Eamon Sweeney

Bigotry Imperils the Union
David Adams

'Fury over British PM bigot remarks'
Michaél MhaDonnáin

Then Why Is My Colour On Your Flag?
Derick Perry

Exorcise the Ghosts to Revive the Party
Dr John Coulter

How the Irish Screwed Up Civilisation?
Seaghan O Murchu

Play Ball
John Kennedy

Cumann Frithdheighilte Na h-Eireann - An outline
Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh

Irish Prisoner Suffering Extreme Medical Neglect in English Prison
Paul Doyle

Profile: Maryam Namazie
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Maryam Namazie

Manning the Firewalls
Anthony McIntyre

Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
Elham Asaad Buaras

Freedom of Speech index

26 March 2006

Profile: Taslima Nasrin
Anthony McIntyre

For Freedom of Expression
Taslima Nasrin

Muslim News Interviews The Blanket

Who Fears to Speak
Richard O'Rawe

Dr John Coulter

Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Jack White

Taslima Nasrin (2000)
Anthony McIntyre

Who Said
John Kennedy

The Key
John Kennedy

Getting Away With Murder
Mick Hall

Will the Real Army Council Please Stand Up
Geoffrey Cooling

Upcoming New York Events
Cathleen O'Brien

The Letters page has been updated:

Freedom of Speech index



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices