Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Gail Walker: So, why did Mr Parsley take sharp right turn?

Perhaps more than most places we in Northen Ireland don't like turncoats.

In some ways, it is a deplorable trait, displaying the most stubborn, blinkered and vengeful aspects of our character.

But let's not make an exception for Ian Parsley, formerly of the Alliance Party, as of now of the Conservative Party and who-knows-what in the future.

Parsley had been Alliance's standard bearer at the last Euro election. Remember all that 'Hope is the thing, hate isn't' on his posters? You'd think he thought that it was really important that we supported Alliance. You know, for your future, my future, the children's future, the cat's future.

Turns out the posters should have said: 'Conservatives are the thing, Alliance isn't'.

Since performing well at the Euro poll, Parsley has got himself a job with a Tory think-tank. Though due to start this week, even last Friday Parsley was still denying he was leaving the Alliance. But he admitted he'd be spending the weekend considering if the job was compatible with membership of the party - which some would consider rather late to be setting upon a 'dark weekend of the soul'.

The denial was doubly curious because, even as he was blogging his statement, the BBC was reporting it had seen an email from the Tories which suggested he'd been formally assessed as a potential candidate for the Ulster Unionist-Conservative pact.

Result? Hours later, Parsley had resigned from the Alliance and was dribbling away like the NuTory he now officially is: "The best means of delivering a shared future and a genuinely new type of politics would be through David Cameron's Conservative Party."

Parsley also said that he'd be staying on as a councillor in North Down but would probably be changing his designation. In a suave soundbite out of the Cameron handbook, he said he was mindful he'd been elected by Alliance voters and would work closely with the party. Thanks, Ian. If Parsley was that mindful, he'd resign and fight a by-election. Those Alliance voters wanted an Alliance man, what they've got now is a Tory.

Sorry, Ian, that may work in the dreamy shires, but in plain-speaking Ulster it all seems, well, a bit self-serving.

In June you were saying Alliance was best and attacking the old 'sectarian' parties - the DUP, Sinn Fein, TUV, SDLP and, er, Ulster Conservatives & Unionists: New Force.

You told voters that Alliance was the most pro-Europe party here, now you're in the most Eurosceptic party, short of UKIP and the BNP.

What has changed in those 12 weeks?

Speculation is mounting that Parsley - a bit like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly - is painfully metamorphosing into a UCUNF candidate for North Down at the next general election. Which is interesting because the current MP there is Sylvia Hermon, the UUP's sole MP and a bitter opponent of Sir Reg and Dave's cosying up to each other. She has indicated she won't stand under the UUP-Tory banner.

Is Ian being lined up to stand if Lady Hermon steps down or is 'pushed' off the UUP ticket?

All very intriguing. Anyone can have a crisis of conscience and realise they're in the wrong party, but these shenanigans do leave a bad taste.

It's only the do-goody Alliance Party, but Parsley owes them more than they owe him. Party workers toiled to make him a 'rising star' of politics.

And, let's face it, there's been no great issue of principle or policy at stake here. It's not the Alliance Party who has changed - it's Ian Parsley. That's why Parsley should resign and fight a by-election, making clear his final destination. He serves the people - not the other way round.

Is he going to remain a Tory pure and simple and not seek election here? Or will he sign up to Sir Reg and Dave's colours and fight North Down as a Tory in alliance (no pun intended) with the UUP? For now, it's 'we'll wait and see'. Yes Ian, we will wait and we see ...

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