NI Conservative Party is open to all

Johnny Andrews
Johnny Andrews

Lord Lexden’s comment 29 May shows his understanding of Northern Ireland politics and recent political developments is far from complete.

His use of statistics is questionable the Conservative vote has increased from 0.7% in 2014 Euro election to 1.3% in 2015 which included 6.4% in my constituency of Strangford where the UUP vote crumbled by 46% on the previous Conservative and Unionist result in 2010

The Conservative Party is a party that is open to all UK citizens and believes strongly in Disraeli’s principle of ‘one nation’. We are open to all as citizens of the UK regardless of social or economic status, religious affiliation, national or indeed sexual identity. Northern Ireland citizens have the right to participate in national politics and mainstream national parties.

The Conservatives run candidates in all four parts of the United Kingdom – a point on which the Prime Minister was crystal clear . Lord Lexden is right that there was once a strong connection between our Party and the UUP having a similar philosophy and history . That link was broken in 1972 when Stormont Parliament was prorogued and UUP further distanced itself in rejecting the Conservative Party’s policy to promote power sharing by allying with the DUP to bring down the 1974 power sharing executive. The two parties were far apart for many years until UUP accepted power sharing ultimately leading to the Good Friday Agreement .The two parties recognizing the long history and similar philosophy came together in 2008 in an electoral alliance following a joint statement between David Cameron and the then UUP leader Reg Empey committing to creating a new force in NI politics .This alliance saw the UUP vote turn around for the first time successfully winning the first European seat in 2009 and achieved 102000 votes in 2010.

Since 2010 UUP leaders Elliott and Nesbitt have appeared in their use of language to speak only for one side of the community this was not in the spirit of the Trimble/Empey leadership who positioned the party firmly in the centre with a desire to participate in real and normal politics based on a party open to all. The UUP power base has since shrunk notably around greater Belfast while remaining strong in the more polarized border areas of Fermanagh and Armagh .

Unfortunately, due largely to dysfunctional nature of the managing committee candidates were selected too late in 2010. Tension in the project surfaced in early 2010 with increasing flirtations by a pro DUP element within the UUP with unionist unity which continued after the 2010 election.

With many in the UUP now rejecting the Conservative link UUP lurched back to the era of mixed messages and broad church into a less open more narrow Fermanagh based comfort zone and the dominance of the Orange Order came back to the fore. In 2011 Lord Feldman proposed a formal merger between the two parties something, ironically, which I feel sure Lord Lexden would have supported. This was rejected by the UUP leadership at the time who continued to propose an autonomous franchise arrangement based on the German CDU/CSU model which was seen as too loose and without enough rigour by Conservative leadership. Cameron later said the UUP had not modernized enough . As the merger offer was rejected Feldman forged ahead with a new centre right party ’ The Conservative and Unionist Party of Northern Ireland’ which was launched in June 2012 in presence of the then Secretary of State Paterson with a message of support from the PM.

While the UUP undoubtedly still includes a more liberal wing there remain some in the Conservative party who are prepared to turn a blind eye to the increasingly parochial and sectarian nature of elements of UUP and which appears to simply ape the populist policies of DUP and in most areas of policy there is little difference. Since this time the UUP’s support has largely flat lined and the Party has largely recoiled from any attempts to broaden its appeal beyond the Protestant community and has sided with troublemakers in both flag disputes and marching disputes. Most recently it signed up to a pact with the DUP – which led to one of its two recent gains at the recent General Election.

Lord Lexden may feel that it is acceptable to dilute Conservatives principles in Northern Ireland in the name of electoral expediency. I trust he will reassess his position and support all Conservative candidates in future and to widen the appeal of the Union through a party open to all thus helping NI move onto much needed real politics putting jobs and the economy first.

• Johnny Andrews was parliamentary candidate in Strangford for NI Conservative & Unionist Party in the recent general election