Joint Tory-UUP ticket in 2010 offered national politics and was rare chance to move Northern Ireland from sectarian politics

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Lord Empey’s opinion piece (‘Careful Colum — SDLP’s obliteration may be near,’ January 4) states that the Conservative and Unionist electoral link was ‘thwarted in part’ by some NI Conservatives who felt the Ulster Unionist Party was too sectarian.

I would suggest that the main factor that thwarted the joint project was the ‘secret’ Hatfield House talks between Conservatives, UUP and DUP convened by the Shadow Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, on devolution of policing and justice.

Discussions on the fringes of these talks of ‘unionist unity’ and pacts were exaggerated in an attempt to derail the project and led to two key Conservative candidates withdrawing from the forthcoming general election.

The project survived and had some limited success in achieving 102,000 votes for the joint Conservative and Unionist ticket in 2010 general election on a Conservative manifesto after delivering the first unionist seat in the Europe election of 2009.

This saw the UUP vote finally bottom out after 20 years of decline and has not since been surpassed. It represented the best and perhaps only chance in a generation of getting Northern Ireland to move away from sectarian politics and towards more normal national politics in Northern Ireland based on real issues.

Sadly in spite of a good vote the party narrowly missed taking the South Antrim seat and failed to win any seats on first past the post system.

The new leadership of Tom Elliot and Mike Nesbitt ended the deal after rejecting a merger offer form the Conservatives. And as Lord Empey emphasises it’s the DUP now that is working with Conservatives in government.

Johnny Andrews, Conservative and Unionist Party, Comber