The Tories get it all wrong on Northern Ireland

Alliance party leader David Ford called the Tory/UUP pact a “sham marriage”; today’s manifesto commitments on Northern Ireland represent sham policy.

In its manifesto, launched today, the Conservative Party proudly declared (page 83):

“The Conservative Party is passionate about the Union and we will never do anything to put it at risk. And, because of the new political force we have created with the Ulster Unionists, we are proud that at the next election we will be the only party fielding candidates in every part of the UK.

However, the former vice chair of Conservatives in Northern Ireland, Jeff Peel, has resigned from the Conservative Party over its decision not to field its own candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. When even one seat is not being contested, that by definition means that the Conservatives are not “fielding candidates in every part of the UK”.

Similarly, a blog of a Conservative activist in Northern Ireland says:

“I believe that the deal was a huge mistake on the part of the Conservative leadership and one which they will eventually regret.”

The outgoing Conservative Chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, Sir Patrick Cormack dubbed the alliance “odd and … inconsistent”, and former UUP deputy leader, Lord Kilclooney, described it as a “mongrel relationship”.

The Conservative Party manifesto then says (pages 83/84):

“In Northern Ireland, we strongly support the political institutions established over the past decade and we are committed to making devolution work. We will continue to promote peace, stability and economic prosperity and work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics.”

If this is the case, why do the Conservatives maintain their alliance with the only party to have actively opposed the devolution of policing and justice, despite it having been warmly welcome by the by both the DUP and Sinn Fein? In aligning his party so squarely against majority opinion in Northern Ireland, David Cameron’s credibility had diminished. A failure to win any seats in Northern Ireland will undermine what little authority he has left.

When the next crisis comes along, other parties will ask, what authority does Cameron have when the people of Northern Ireland have so resoundingly rejected him? In March, the cross-community Alliance party leader and now justice minister, David Ford, called the Tory/UUP pact a “sham marriage”; today’s manifesto commitments on Northern Ireland from the Conservatives represent sham policy.

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