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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.