Good old Sir Reg. Always guaranteed to raise a chuckle, the UUP leader is going round floating the idea to his fellow turkeys that Christmas mightn’t be such a bad idea after all.
And it’s still only July.
Quite why the UUP should be thinking of closer co-operation with the UK Tories, leading to eventual merger, is quite a puzzler. As a panacea to electoral decline, the idea is laughable.
Merger must be the aim of the current talks. The idea of an ‘alliance’ is ridiculous since, even now, the closest relationship the UUP has across the water is with, er, the Labour Party, which is where the vote of the party’s only MP is currently delivered time after time.
But a merger would render the political position of Lady Hermon a peculiarly bizarre one. In fact, even the occurrence of merger talks may already have served to isolate that popular MP within the UUP ranks.
And since she is, with Alan McFarland, one of the two figures of stature within the UUP capable of ousting Sir Reg himself and probably the most fearsome, it may already be a case of ‘job done’ as far as Sir Reg’s tiny cabal is concerned.
It certainly doesn’t make much sense otherwise. Though I suspect that most readers will have forgotten, the Conservatives are already here — and the number of voters they attract could easily be accommodated on an Ulsterbus Goldliner.
The big idea seems to be that local voters will be attracted to ‘normal’ politics.
It’s an idea that has long been the fantasy of the local chattering classes. No more parish pump politics! Newsnight instead of Hearts & Minds! Lord Trimble as Chancellor! Lady Hermon in the Cabinet!
It’s the ultimate consummation of the old unionist assertion that Ulster is just like Yorkshire.
Which is all very well, but the UUP has never been ‘just like the Tories’.
Constitutional politics? The UUP spent a great deal of the last 40 years at grim loggerheads with various Tory governments. Who suspended the original Stormont? Tory Ted Heath. Who signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Tory Margaret Thatcher. Who initiated the current peace process? Tory John Major.
The idea that the Conservatives are the unionists’ natural friends simply doesn’t bear scrutiny. Nobody could get unionists on the streets faster or in greater numbers than a patronising buffoon from the Home Counties.
If the current peace breaks down under a future Cameron government, say, will the new Ulster Tories be interested in representing traditional unionist voters or to play their part cobbling together GFA II (or should that be III, IV or V?).
And what would ‘Dave’ do in such a crisis? Cheese off potential English voters uninterested in or downright antagonistic to Northern Ireland’s place in the union by standing shoulder to shoulder with Ulster Tories? Don’t hold your breath.
Normal politics? Say Cameron does indeed win in 2010. Say that the downturn in the world economy is as deep as most economists expect.
Can you imagine the reception ex-UUP members would have on the doorsteps of Portadown, Ballymena or Enniskillen, arguing that Northern Ireland would just have to grin and bear it and take its fair share in public spending cuts?
Local party wants fewer hospitals, fewer teachers and policemen. Local party wants less social security and smaller pensions. Local party believes that dole queues are just a fact of life.
Or will the new local Conservatives have to argue illogically that all those nasty things are just for ‘mainland’ voters?
It’s exactly the same toxic recipe that more or less did for the Tories in those other Celtic fringes, Scotland and Wales.
And that’s the Ulster Unionist vision for stuffed ballot boxes.
Unfortunately, for Sir Reg, they’d be stuffed with votes for the DUP.