Can David Cameron be sure he understands the intentions of the Ulster Unionists?

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Some of those getting hot under the collar at my bringing to the surface the spectrum of opinion in the thinking of Conservatives and Unionists can expect ongoing commentary. I recall the Speaker’s Conference promoted by Enoch Powell, which started in 1978. Powell’s contention was that Northern Ireland was democratically under-represented at Westminster. He set about correcting that and moved Northern Ireland from being represented by 12 members of parliament to 17 and eventually to 18 in 1983.I got to know Mr. Powell quite well in the sense that we knew each other sufficiently to engage each other. He was intellectually fascinating despite my differences with him on the obvious issues. He was however a big thinker by Northern Ireland political standards.

He saw increased representation as a victory for democracy in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom. But many in his Ulster Unionist Party didn’t celebrate the outcome of the Speaker’s Conference. Indeed, I heard Ulster Unionists hyper-ventilating on this matter at an Ulster Unionist party Conference in the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle.

Why? Simply that Powell had engineered an opening of the doors of Westminster to Hume, to be followed by Mallon, Mc Grady and so on. More Nationalist MPs joining Gerry Fitt were not what Unionists desired.

In those days, the SDLP was a greater enemy than Sinn Fein with Hume increasingly internationalising the Northern Ireland problem in Europe and in America. Ulster Unionists did not see this as an advance while Powell, the enlightened one, saw this as democracy and normality at work.

The point I am making is, however noble the Conservatives are in seeking to organise in Northern Ireland with the goal of “lifting politics here onto the national stage and stopping politics being dragged down into the gutter,” Unionists of all shades are craving unionist unity to stop Sinn Fein becoming the biggest political party in Parliament Buildings.

Republicans always need of necessity Unionism of some cue to be in bed with them but a blind man or woman on a galloping horse can see at the heart of their ‘project’ is the fragmentation of Unionism. That project is currently on track aided by Jim Allister of the TUV. That is his prerogative.

When I quoted a Unionist source previously who stated that the Hatfield Talks were about “forming an electoral entity” ahead of the Assembly elections this angered some of Slugger’s readers. Therein, may well hang the tale.

Jonathan Caine and other Conservatives have stated they are not into “head counts.” But the problem for them is that many of their Ulster Unionist bedfellows are precisely into “head counts.”

These people are not rookies. They are at the highest level in the Ulster Unionist Party and in the top echelons of the DUP. And I am told the Conservatives are bankrolling the Ulster Unionist party to fight the Westminster election.

Is there not a danger that David Cameron and his colleagues are going to be duped at the end of the day?

Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists are openly declaring Sinn Fein must be stopped from getting into a position where Martin Mc Guinness becomes First Minister after the next Assembly election. To definitively put a stop such an outcome, possibly the only instrument, clever device, or cunning plan means putting in place “a formal electoral entity.”

This is a euphemism for Unionist unity which, in Cameron’s own self selected terms, would be the quintessence of a sectarian head-count.

Should Sinn Fein and the SDLP engage in a parallel exercise many thinking Catholics of the Hume school would head for the boat and rightly so. If orange head-counting is wrong so is green head-counting.

Conservatives may yet show themselves to be innocents. Has David Cameron a post dated letter of guarantee ( It is de rigueur for every party leader to give one now) from Reg Empey that he will not opt for head counting? Are Ulster Unionists going to be glad to take the money but remain local in disposition?

There are certainly many Unionists and Conservatives who share this analysis.

From David Cameron’s point of view forewarned should be fore-armed.

[This article originally appeared on Slugger O’Toole]

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.

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