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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


The May 5th elections could spark yet another round of bloodletting within the Ulster Unionists

Election Coverage

Dr. John Coulter • 18 April 2005

Whatever the outcome of the 5 May General and local council elections, Ulster Unionism seems destined for another bout of internal bloodletting to firmly establish who runs the party.

Privately, some senior UUP personnel are fearing - and have tentatively expressed - the worst; that the party will go into meltdown, losing most of its remaining five Westminster seats and up to 100 councillors across the North.

Then the blame game will begin by both factions - those who back Trimble, and the Hard Right that wants rid of him and his supporters and a complete rebuilding of the party.

In spite of all the glossy leaflets and supposedly carefully manufactured election spin, the UUP is in the greatest internal mess since Ian Paisley formally launched his Democratic Unionist Party in 1971. There are those in the UUP's Right-wing who have convinced themselves that things need to get worse before the party's fortunes bottom out, and the climb back to power can begin.

What the Ulster Unionists cannot afford from these elections is another internal stalemate position within the ruling Ulster Unionist Council. This year marked the UUC's centenary, and the movement faces the historical label of becoming the '100-year party' - from formation to oblivion in exactly a century.

For the UUP, the ideal conclusion to these elections is for things to come to a head. A situation must be created where Trimble is firmly in control of the party, or he is forced to quit within days of the 5 May outcome - especially if he loses his own seat in Upper Bann, or is the sole UUP MP at Westminster.

Already the rumour machine within the various UUP constituency associations is churning out rumblings of coups, plots, hit lists and witch hunts. What is privately accepted by both factions is that a Nazi-style 'Night of the Long Knives' will be the most likely result of 5 May.

On the Trimble front, the word is that planning has already started for the next Assembly elections - which could come surprisingly as this autumn. Privately, the Trimbleistas do not want any grassroots Assembly candidates over the age of 45.

Out will go the men in grey suits who have shadowed Trimble's shoulders constantly since the original Good Friday Agreement negotiations. In will come the so-called 'young blood' who want to convert the UUP into a pluralist Michael Howard-style Conservative Party.

Such a faction wants to remodel the UUP so that it swallows the Alliance and Women's Coalition vote as well as encouraging the vast legions of apathetic Protestant middle class electors to get involved with 'decent' unionist politics.

The Hard Right faction - small, but fanatical - is more sinister in aims and positioning. Anything less than a return of the status quo will satisfy it; that is, all five MPs holding their seats and no evidence of vast losses at council level. This is a demand that is virtually impossible.

The Hard Right - more akin to the people who once ran the influential Ulster Monday Club pressure group in the party - will purge the party of anything remotely supportive of David Trimble, and that includes party officers and workers based in the UUP's Cunningham House headquarters in Belfast.

This faction has concluded that the rival DUP has stolen Ulster Unionism's place in the unionist family, it's political clothes, and more importantly, UUP policies and trust within the electorate. It is aiming at a role reversal in unionism.

In the early 1970s, just as the DUP became a rallying point for the radical Right in unionism against the more liberal Ulster Unionists, so the post-2005 UUP will occupy a hard Right place on the unionist spectrum as the Paisleyites increasingly turn themselves into a fundamentalist Trimble party.

With the DUP - irrespective of the 5 May outcome - expected to enter a power-sharing executive and Assembly with Sinn Fein later this year (certainly by mid 2006), the UUP must start acting like the official Opposition at Stormont.

Just as the DUP has stolen the UUP's political clothes on power-sharing, so it will eventually succumb to the fleas within those clothes - the desire to feud and fragment. However, this is not a realistic situation which is expected to arise until after 'The Big Man', Ian Paisley Senior, has relinquished his firm grip on the reins of power within the party he created.

Others within the UUP Right-wing believe that with both Trimble and Paisley off the unionist map, it is only a matter of time before the two parties merger or form a tight coalition. With the demise of the UUP on 5 May at Westminster, the time might be hastened when unionism could return to the days of United Ulster Unionist Council when agreed single candidates were run in all constituencies.

It would be somewhat ironic if one of the youngest MPs, former Kilkeel based unionist Jeffrey Donaldson of Lagan Valley lived to see the very party he dumped (the UUP) structurally joined with the movement he joined (the DUP) to form one organisation simply named The Unionist Party.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

19 April 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Another Historic Statement, Again
Anthony McIntyre

Two Heads Better Than One?
Brian Mór

Hope for A Democractic Avenue, Not a Dead End Street
Mick Hall

Irish American Support
Niall Fennessy

Street Fighting Man
Fred A Wilcox

Revolutionaries Have Set Up Dictatorship
Margaret Quinn

The Murder of Robert McCartney
Conor Horan

The Missing Ingredient
Ruairi O’Driscoll

Re-orienting perspectives: Bob Quinn's The Atlantean Irish
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Politics of Peace at an Impasse
David Adams

* Election Coverage *

Independent Irish Republicans Standing in All 6 Counties
Sean Mc Aughey

John Coulter

Gary Donnelly, Cityside Ward, Derry City Council

Aine Gribbon, Antrim Town Council

Patricia (Trish) Murray, Antrim Town Council

The Letters page has been updated.

6 April 2005

Criminality and Public Relations
Eamon Sweeney

Truth Better than Spin
Mick Hall

The Central Issue is Justice
Catherine McCartney

Not Out of Nationalist Woods Yet
David Adams

South Down Election Play
John Coulter

Are We on the Verge of a New Political Ice Age?
Anthony McIntyre



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