Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Would Euro pact give Jim Allister a fighting chance?

Jim Allister at the TUV conference in Cookstown

Tuv and UKIP, now there is a marriage made in heaven; or Euro-hell if you happen to be one of the bigger unionist parties. Last weekend during a speech to the Tuv conference in Cookstown Paul Nuttall, the UKIP's deputy leader, floated the idea of a possible pact in the 2014 European election.

"UKIP is now committed to standing in European elections here," he told delegates.

"What I envisage is that we can come together and come to some agreement.

"What I don't want to see happen is two parties that share the same ideals on the European Union, who want to get out, cancel each other out by taking votes off each other."

TUV delegates didn't react, many were taken aback, but a party manager tells me the proposal weren't a complete surprise. Jim Allister, the TUV leader has already warned that fielding a candidate would be a significant challenge for the party.

Last time it strained TUV resources, especially financial, to the limit.

Yet Mr Allister did come in fifth with 13.7% of the vote. It wasn't a million miles behind Jim Nicholson of the UUP (17.1%) and Diane Dodds of the DUP (18.2%) both of whom were elected and had well funded campaigns.

Of course Mr Allister was a sitting member; he had been elected for the DUP in 2004 when he topped the poll with 32% of the vote.

Still retaining a bit under half of that was a pretty good result in a small party and with the mighty DUP machine working against him, instead of for him as happened before.

Mr Allister would be a strong and obvious candidate for UKIP to endorse. It is would be hard to get anyone else who is recognised province-wide and also has experience in Europe.

It reminds me of the recruitment pitch made by an MI6 agent, in John Le Carre's spoof spy novel "The Tailor of Panama."

"Harry, we're made for each other. You've got the debts, I've got the money. Where's your patriotism?" UKIP has bags of money and Mr Allister would be the safest bet available to them.

The Tories made a similar pitch to the UUP in 2004 when they pumped in cash and organisational muscle, not to mention David Cameron's personal charisma, to boost Jim Nicholson's campaign. Such help won't be forthcoming this time around and the UUP seat could be vulnerable. The DUP are already circling, threatening to field two candidates in an effort to unseat Mr Nicholson unless the UUP moves closer to them.

If Mr Allister actually got back to Europe UKIP would be a fairly influential bloc to align with. They have 12 MEPs, and there is plenty of time to demonstrate the bloc's influence on local farming issues between now and 2014.

In Stormont the TUV could co-opt a replacement in time to get established before the next assembly elections and it would help shake off their one man band image.

The new MLA could be mentored by David McNarry, former UUP chief whip who is now in UKIP.

It is pure speculation for now, but stranger things have happened.

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