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Lady Sylvia stays quiet on UUP links with the Tories

The Ulster Unionists' only MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, has again failed to clarify her stance on the party's new links with the Conservatives.

Just weeks ahead of its first election challenge — on June 4 — the North Down member made no mention of the inter-party agreement in her report to the UUP annual general meeting at the weekend, which was dominated by the new |political connection.

Lady Sylvia, who is thought to have deep reservations over a formal Tory pact, instead said the party “still has much to offer the Northern Ireland electorate with which, instinctively, our values and principles resonate most closely.”

In what some viewed as a coded message, she went on: “We have real talent which we must hold back no longer. |Instead we must allow that talent to surface. Our previous set-backs have been founded on failing to co-ordinate, present and sell our message effectively.”

Senior party officials believe Mrs Hermon, whose husband, the former RUC Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon, died after a long battle against Alzheimer’s disease last |November, intends to hold her counsel until after the European election.

But some believe she will have to officially endorse the UU candidate, Jim Nicholson, who is standing as a Conservative/Ulster Unionist and told the gathering in the Kings Hall: “It will be a hard, tough fight.”

Lady Sylvia, however, said Gordon Brown appeared to have become “one of the most unlucky Prime Ministers in British parliamentary history” and said the most recent opinion polls pointed to an election next year if the PM labours on.

“We as a party must address our longstanding weakness of simply turning up on the day of the race, while our opponents have engaged for weeks and months in training and other preparation,” she went on.

In a video message, Conservative leader David Cameron |argued Mr Nicholson is the only MEP from Northern Ireland able to help bring change in Europe as a member of the EU group committed to bringing some powers back to the United Kingdom.

“I know the respect in which he is held in Europe. So Jim has my full backing as the joint candidate of Conservatives and Unionists at these elections, and I look forward to campaigning with him next month,” he said.

With no official business to conduct — party officers were appointed for two years 12 months ago and there is no sign of any leadership challenge to Sir Reg Empey — the gathering became a formal launching for Mr Nicholson's campaign with shiny, smiling new posters.

Sir Reg said the “venom” with which the DUP had “blaggarded our party from one end of the country to the other” was well remembered yet they were now on the “gravy train” at Stormont.

While welcoming most of the “amazing change” he said he could “not cope with the total hypocrisy” of the DUP. “There is no beginning to their integrity and no end to their hypocrisy,” he told the conference.

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