Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Tories will need defectors to get the party started

So far the Tories have talked a good fight, but getting established as a party in Northern Ireland won't be easy unless they can attract defectors from more established brands. It is easy to forget that Conservatism has made false starts here before.

In the late-1980s, it got a lot of reasonably high-level recruits from other parties.

In 1992, the party received its best-ever result when Dr Laurence Kennedy came close to taking North Down and they were reasonably represented on the councils.

That false dawn helps explains why the party spent such a long time trying to tie up with the Ulster Unionists, reviving a relationship which broke down in the 1972 after the Sunningdale Agreement.

After an initial success in the European election, UCUNF ended in electoral disaster with no MPs.

Catholics who joined the Tories jumped ship after the UUP dragged UCUNF into deals with the DUP, which some Tories saw as sectarian.

Now the relationship has ended in acrimony, all eyes will be on the party's attempted relaunch.

It will attract some new people, but to establish itself as more than a think-tank the party will need to persuade some unionist MLAs to switch sides. The bar is set quite high.

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