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Editor's Viewpoint: Cracks appearing in election pact

Published 01/04/2010

Attractions for both sides of the electoral alliance between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Conservative Party were obvious.

For the UUP, a party on its uppers after two resounding electoral defeats by the DUP, it was a chance to reinvigorate members and have a voice - maybe even a minor Cabinet post - in a new Tory government. For the Conservatives it was an opportunity to mobilise again in Northern Ireland and gain allies in the event of a hung Parliament.

But Northern Ireland is not known as a place apart in UK politics for nothing. While there were encouraging signs in the performances of Jim Nicholson in the European election under the joint banner and also a by-election victory in Craigavon, the experiment now appears to be unravelling. The deselection of the popular mayor of Antrim, Adrian Watson, and the resignation of more than a dozen party members in the area show the strains in relationship.

Add in the resignation of the only UUP MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, because of the lack of consultation on the two party pact, and what seemed to be a bold move to break the mould of Northern Ireland politics could yet end up as just a minor footnote in the pages of history. Certainly it is clear the appetite for the pact shown by the two party leaders, Sir Reg Empey and David Cameron, is not reciprocated by the broad church that is the UUP.

The UUP has a reputation for schisms and it takes very little strain to open the cracks. Those who have given long service to the party will not take kindly to outsiders - in their eyes - standing for seats which they feel are rightly theirs. Sir Reg and Mr Cameron may well have misjudged the strength of support for a pact between their parties and that could be a very costly mistake for both come election time.

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