David Campbell: I urge members of the UUP and DUP to work together

David Campbell pictured at the News Letter Belfast office in 2016. 
Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker
David Campbell pictured at the News Letter Belfast office in 2016. Picture by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker

I have been a lifelong Ulster Unionist and loyalist, and a lifelong advocate for Unionist unity.

During my tenure as Ulster Unionist Party chairman I participated in two major initiatives to encourage co-operation between the parties in order to maximise unionist representation in the Assembly and Executive.

David Campbell, background right, at the 2016 unveiling of a new flag by the Loyalist Communities Council for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. With from left Jim Wilson, Winston Irvine, and Jackie McDonald.
Picture by Pacemaker Press, Belfast

David Campbell, background right, at the 2016 unveiling of a new flag by the Loyalist Communities Council for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. With from left Jim Wilson, Winston Irvine, and Jackie McDonald. Picture by Pacemaker Press, Belfast

In January, 2010, when Sir Reg Empey was Party leader I led our delegation in private talks with the DUP and Conservative Party at Hatfield House.

Those talks were most constructive but resulted in no overall agreement as, at the last minute when agreement seemed possible, the Conservative Party delegation took cold feet at the prospect of a pan-unionist alliance.

Instead, the UUP and Conservative Party embarked on their own electoral initiative.

In early 2011, during Tom Elliott’s leadership private talks were reconvened with the DUP which again were constructive, and which if implemented would have secured a significantly enhanced overall unionist majority in that Assembly and would have delivered at least 22 seats for the UUP.

Unfortunately my own party did not grasp this opportunity and we returned after the 2011 elections with a greatly reduced Assembly party.

The benefits of unionist co-operation were evident at the last general election when Tom Elliott regained Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Gavin Robinson regained East Belfast, and Nigel Dodds increased his majority in North Belfast. If co-operation had been extended to South Belfast, that seat would also now be in unionist hands.

More recently the Loyalist Communities Council was established to re-engage loyalism and provide a forum for co-operation between the main loyalist groups as they seek to maintain a peaceful discipline and deliver a tangibly better outcome for young loyalists.

I appreciate that the DUP and UUP are hurting after a bruising election but I urge members of both parties to use this opportunity to build rather than destroy.

We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from co-operating.

This need not mean the creation of a single party but it should mean the creation of a single movement particularly when both parties have virtually identical policies. Indeed, the ability of the UUP, DUP and PUP to attract different sectors of the unionist family probably points to the wisdom of retaining separate parties in the short to medium term but significant numbers of council, Assembly, and parliamentary seats can be won back for unionism through agreeing numbers of candidates, vote management, vote transfers and subsequent whipping arrangements.

I do not underestimate the challenges facing the parties in order to reach such agreement but without it I foresee a dismal electoral future for the UUP and PUP, and a steady decline in the DUP.

Republicanism and the insidious nationalism of the Alliance Party remain our common enemy and a continuing threat to the Union.

That common enemy is feeding off our disunity.

It is my intention, along with some other like-minded colleagues, to commence a process of private consultation amongst senior members of the main unionist and loyalist parties with a view to producing a set of sensible co-operative proposals that can be put to the parties.

Our prize is the continued security of the Union and wiping the triumphal grin off Gerry Adams!

• David Campbell was chair of the Loyalist Communities Council and UUP chairman 2005 to 2012