A LOCAL Conservative association has voted to select an assembly candidate for next year's election – opening up the prospect of Ulster Unionist and Tory candidates fighting each other for votes.
North Down Conservative Association said that they would choose a candidate within a month as there was a "real sense that a Conservative candidate could make it into the assembly next year for the first time ever".
A statement from the association denounced the "outrageous delays" in the UUP-Conservative alliance choosing candidates.
Local Tory councillor Ian Parsley, who ran as a joint Ulster Unionist-Conservative candidate, polled almost 7,000 votes against former Ulster Unionist MP Lady Hermon's 21,000 votes.
However, despite being comprehensively beaten at the election the former Alliance candidate, who works for Conservative cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, was regarded as one of the most capable of the 17 Conservative and Ulster Unionist candidates.
The North Down association statement said that its preference was for "continued cooperation with Ulster Unionists who share the goals and values of promoting centre-right, national politics in Northern Ireland".
But, it added: "However, regardless of how that works out, campaigning for the next elections is already under way, with plans for canvassing and community meetings in place before the summer."
The UUP-Conservative arrangement was formally only for the European and Westminster elections but many had presumed that it would be extended to the assembly.
The decision by the UUP and Conservatives to press ahead with choosing separate candidates could lead to confusion and embarrassment if a Conservative candidate and Ulster Unionist candidate stand against each other.
However, given that the assembly election will be on the proportional representation system, that may be mitigated somewhat if the parties agree to both stand but recommend that their supporters transfer their second preference votes to the other – similar to the arrangement which the DUP is seeking with the UUP.
But in reality, the political and financial Conservative powerbase lies outside the local Tories, who often only poll several hundred votes, meaning that David Cameron's decision on how to approach the election will be key.
- Local Conservative area chairman Tim Lewis has said that he will not be standing for re-election.
The local businessman said that the job was now "too big" – now that it was linked to the Ulster Unionists and seriously contesting elections – for someone running two companies.