I have been a long term supporter of and donor to the Conservative Party for many years. From a young age, I have always been very interested in Northern Ireland. Indeed. As a member of the Young Conservatives — Chairman of Central London YC’s) in the 80’s and having established my own branch of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) at 6th form college — I went against my Party line of endorsement of the Anglo Irish Agreement and campaigned vociferously against its imposition on the people of NI.
The Reverend Martin Smyth MP and also, at the time, the Grand Master of the Orange Order was one of my first guest speakers on this matter. The Socialist Workers Party did their best to disrupt an elected politician from talking to us and tried to get our college authorities to ban him, which they succeeded in doing until I managed to appeal to higher authorities to have the ban removed. It was as if I had invited the devil himself to speak, such was the ignorance of the Ulster Unionists and the Orange Order.
The underhand way the Agreement had been negotiated without any Unionist involvement, the cross boarder institutions that were set up even when the Irish Constitution still laid claim to part of our sovereign nation was just not the way to go. I had great fun causing mischief by standing in the Central Lobby in the House of Commons with other YC’s and members of the FCS, summoning our MP’s to the Central Lobby where we had a series of Unionist MP’s lined up to give them a grilling. At the UUP Conference on the 24th of Oct this year, it was great to see Lord Ken Maginnis, who did remember our support after 23 years!
So it is with great enthusiasm that I see today a formal alliance between the Ulster Unionist and the Conservative Party. I decided to get myself over to the Ulster Unionist Party Conference on Oct the 24th.
Cobden and his Relevance to Northern Ireland Today
It is with even more enthusiasm that I note that at the 2009 Conservative Party Conference, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson MP, points out that the state provides 77% of the income for the economy of NI and that this must change. Over a 25 year period this will be brought down substantially and Enterprise Zone status will be sought for the economy. You can see this commitment via this link from minutes 13.25 – 13.45.
One of my personal Parliamentary inspirations is the great Richard Cobden, in whose honour I founded this Centre. I note from “A History of Ulster,” Black Staff Press by Jonathan Bardon, 1997, page 327-28,
A financial collapse in 1857 in America had very quickly been followed by most mills in the Belfast region putting their workers on short time. Recovery thereafter had been slow, though spirits were raised by the lowering of the French tariffs in the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860 … A boom followed in the Ulster linen industry quite without equal in the nineteenth century
The Northern Wing reported:
New mills and factories are springing up on all sides, while as fast as they can be got started, orders flow in and such things as manufacturing for stock is almost unknown
Happy days for Ulster.
I see the dawn of a new age in Northern Ireland of great prosperity should there be a Conservative & Unionist government committed to the time honoured principles of free trade. Owen Paterson has great vision for that part of the UK. This is very radical indeed. The only thing I lament is that the whole of the UK does not seem to be destined to be an Enterprise Zone!
Readers only interested it economics and not Northern Ireland should cut off here with the exception of the last paragraph re the state of the debate on economics in the ruling Unionist Party. Underneath I give my impressions of the first Ulster Unionist Party Conference I have been to.
The Ulster Unionist Party Conference
Issues of Concern I Have:
1. Lady Hermon
One thing that immediately stood out was that Lady Hermon, the UUP’s only sitting MP had not signed up to the project. As someone who often votes for Labour, everything I have seen of David Cameron tells me that swiftly and decisively, he will not have her in our Party, so this I am sure will mean our Alliance as well. Maybe we are not being told the full story. By all accounts she is a very diligent constituency MP and it would be a tragedy if some accommodation / solution was not found.”
2. Participation in National Democracy
There are no selected joint candidates yet. It would seem strange that a Joint Party, a Conservative and Unionist Party that seeks to send new Members to Westminster in 2010 would not have candidates in place now, working the constituencies drumming up support. They have massive DUP majorities to overturn and rucking up in the New Year with an election a couple of months into the future will leave any candidate naked going into battle if we are not careful. With devolved powers to Stormont, the electorate are well catered for on local / devolved matters, but on the great national issues of the day, we have very little input in our national parliament, from the NI contingent of all parties. The current Members have a dismal record in serving their constituencies on national matters which is a real tragedy for democracy in NI. I hope to see sites like Slugger bringing Members to account for non attendance in the future.
All sources cited from www.theyworkforyou.com.
Peter Robinson, MP for Belfast East the Leader of the Province no less has attended 38% of votes, well below the average amongst MPs. He has spoken in 8 debates in the last year.
Iris Robinson, MP for Strangford has attended 29% of votes, well below the average amongst MPs. He has spoken in 3 debates in the last year.
Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP for North Down, has attended 26% of votes, well below the average amongst MPs. He has spoken in 0 debates in the last year.
I could go on but it is much of the same. Do not the people of NI deserve better? For 40 years since the Troubles started, NI has been a “special case” which has sadly meant that this low standard of public service from the Members has been accepted at worst or people were silent on the matter. Perhaps it was not the place to “MP bash” at the UUP Conference, but I for one, if I were a citizen living in the Province, I would be spitting venom about this.
The Conservative and Unionist Party have a great chance to bring the people of this Province in from the cold and embrace them in the full democratic procedures that our nation avails to all of us sitting in the Mainland. I am so glad that the UUP understand this and are fully behind the project.
3. The Status of the Union and Unionism on the Back Foot
I may be wrong, but I detected that the Sinn Fein / DUP Alliance, accommodation or whatever you wish to call it somehow signifies that the Union is compromised due to the SF involvement. Unionism is on the back foot. This is so far from reality. Unionism has won in the short and in the long term. There is no claim on the Province from the South and they emphatically rejected a united Ireland as do the vast majority of the North. It is wonderful that there is peace and the SF people have played their part undoubtedly, but the victory for Unionism is so clear to me and I did sense a weary acceptance of decline when it should be in rude health.
4. The Normalisation of the Debate
We have a Labour Government that has created more debt, £850 billion for next year on its own, that all the combined debt of all governments and monarchs from 1066 have not matched! This is such a monumental thing to write.
The doom of our nation is for sure secured if no one does anything about it.
In the time William Hague made his speech, the nation would be another £20 million in debt, when Sir Reg was done, £40m in debt more. This has helped cause the massive contraction of the economy. ALL businesses in the Province have been effected. I deal with many suppliers to my company from NI and it has been just as hard in the Province as it has been on the Mainland. How many people have lost their jobs as a result of our current Government? What are the Provinces MP’s doing about it? I fear not much.
They certainly do not contribute to any meaningful debate on the matter in Parliament, they favour debates on parading and other life shattering issues!
The woefully bad role of the MP’s that this Province sends to Westminster needs to be fully exposed. They are a navel gazing bunch of petty bureaucrats who only do a great dis-service to the Province. I am glad our UUP partners in the New Force realize this and want to give the chance to the voters of the Province , the ability to change this deplorable democratic deficit. Sir Reg and his team buy into the Osborne vision to reduce the deficit, pare back public sector pay and massive over staffing, restore the bank of England Powers etc to benefit the people of this Province. He is bold enough to say he wants to jump in and actually influence the debate from the inside. This is what the voters deserve.
Subsequent to this conference , where I was introduced to the Slugger web site. www.sluggerotoole.com, I contrast this with the DUP vision on the economy…
5. The Barrenness of the DUP Policy on the Economy
On the 27th of Oct, Slugger O’Toole reported that “Peter Robinson & Diane Dodds addressed DUP party members, supporters and Euro electioneers on Monday night at a buffet in Corrick House just outside Augher, County Tyrone. In his address (passable mobile phone audio here), Peter Robinson addressed several points
The DUP will unashamedly extract as many sidedeals as it can to the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland and Unionism.
So the Great Leaders of the DUP decide that they will campaign on extracting money as being the only economic policy fit for the people of NI. I despair.
It does seem ironic that the great City of Belfast , when its City Hall opened at the turn of the last Century , with a municipal building fit for Kings and with Belfast itself vying for the status of being the UK’s most successful City of the Industrial Revolution along with Manchester, could fall off its perch so quickly. As Bardon points out on page 438,”Loyalists were proud of Belfast’s pre-eminence as the city with the world’s largest shipyard, rope works, tobacco factory, linen-spinning mill, tea machinery works, aerated water factory and dry dock.” The Troubles may well have wasted 40 years of positive energy in the Province, but has it sunk so low that the governing DUP’s only aspiration is to extract ever larger handouts form the UK government? I think not.
What about the potential positive policy that we here romours that the Tories might give to the Province, a low corporation tax regime encouraging investment, a potential Enterprise Zone status for parts of the economy in the Province. These transformational policies and others can only be applied to the Province if you are in power. The DUP will never be in power so all they can do it try to gouge more money off the taxpayer. That strategy is not in the long term sustainable – the hand that feeds you soon bites back. This just serves to underscore the need to cancel the democratic deficit and remove NI from being that “special case” and let people vote to form a government in Westminster and above all punish those lazy good for nothing Members that the Province sends there today for they are doing little for the Province.