Monday, February 13, 2006


Change in Tory attitude towards North

The Tories appear to be evolvingLast week in my Thursday Thoughts feature I argued that unionism was in the midst of serious cultural stagnation and that it needed to evolve from its insular and narrow outlook. It would appear that this is also an opinion held by a very unlikely group - the Conservatives!

Tom Griffin over at The Green Ribbon spotted this piece from the BBC concerning the Conservative spokesman on the North, David Liddington, who said the oath of loyalty to the British Queen should be re-examined, if it would mean Sinn Fein MPs taking their seats in the House of Commons:

"Mr Lidington said a general commitment to uphold the law and democratic politics could be considered as an alternative to the compulsory oath."

Following on from that, Tom spotted these comments from Ros Taylor of The Guardian who picked up on David Liddington's comments and wondered if it meant the Conservatives were actually distancing themselves from the unionists in Ireland's north:

"Could David Cameron's Conservatives be gently trying to distance themselves from the Unionists? Only one UUP MP was elected last May, leaving the uncompromising and decidedly un-modern Mr Paisley the effective leader of the Unionist movement. After all, despite their historical links, the Tories have no seats in Northern Ireland to lose. (Their Northern Ireland site has been undergoing reconstruction for some time.) One thing is for sure: this is one Gordian knot that will take a very long time and a colossal effort to slice through."

It would seem that at long last the Tories are joinging the rest of us in the real world. They don't seem to want to engage any more in the negative, cynicical and pessimistic politics that so many unionist politicians delight in.

It seems to me to be yet another example of an evolution in the political dynamic in Ireland's north. Yet again however, it is an evolution which bypasses the unionists.

The Conservatives, through electing David Cameron, came to the conclusion that they needed to get with the times. It was evolution. Survival of the fittest. The fuddy-duddy politicians that they were electing as their party leader could not match up to the upbeat, smiley, 'I'm-your-pal' politics of Blair's New Labour. That's why they have gone for Mr Cameron, the Blair clone.

I have a feeling unionism will require something similar. The leader of the biggest unionist party is Ian Paisley, about as cynical a man as you can have and the definitive fuddy-duddy. Reg Empey of the Ulster Unionists isn't exactly a happy camper himself. Some of the other negative unionist moaners include Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds of the DUP. It's not very good for the unionist image, is it?

I actually think if unionists went down the route of the Tories, it might do them the world of good. The Irish nationalist parties seem to have energetic and upbeat members but unionists seem decidedly lacking in this area. Who could fill such a position though for unionism? The only one that springs to mind for me who could do a good Blair/Cameron job for unionism would be Jeffrey Donaldson. He seems to have the kind of upbeat image that would be required. Beyond him though, I can't think of anyone else.

One thing is clear - unionists need to get with the times, just like the Tories. People are getting sick and tired of unionist intransigence. Unionists will have many challenges to face over the next few years as the political dynamic continues to shift and change.

The situation in Ireland's north will ultimately boil down to whichever side best adapts to the changes in society. Unfortunately for unionists, adapting to change has always been their Achilles heel. That cannot continue to be the case.

If unionists wish to adapt and change successfully then they must begin to look at issues which they have traditionally chosen to ignore, particularly the issue of the reunification of Ireland.

Unionists would be a significant and powerful group within a United Ireland and would hold significantly more sway than they do at present in the United Kingdom. Unionists ought to take that under consideration and look at the best way for unionism to survive and grow. This would be a big challenge for unionism and would require a major evolution of thinking from the major parties. One wonders if the unionists would be up for it.

It seems more and more obvious though that the British parties and British people are distancing themselves from the unionists in Ireland's north. Unionists should start to ask themselves the tough questions, including perhaps the toughest question of all - will unionism be better served by actually embracing the notion of a United Ireland as opposed to continuing to be a burden on the back of Britain?

Such inner analysis from unionism would be undoubtedly difficult but I feel these kinds of difficult questions need to be asked by unionists, despite the emotion that would be involved.

This is survival of the fittest - evolve or dissolve.


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