Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: UUP gamble has left them bust

Lady Sylvia Hermon's decision to split from the Ulster Unionist Party is no great surprise given that she is an unwavering critic of the party's decision to form an electoral alliance with the Conservatives.

Yet there will be many within the party who will wonder how she became so divorced from the leadership that she felt she had no other option but to leave.

The party, once the largest in Northern Ireland, now does not have a single MP and Lady Sylvia will be a warm favourite to retain her North Down seat in the forthcoming General Election.

There is strong speculation the DUP - obviously delighting in the Ulster Unionists' embarrassment - will not even contest the seat, thereby greatly strengthening the hand of the outgoing MP.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has belied his appearance and past record by showing that he is not adverse to taking risks.

The alliance with the Conservatives - after a previous dalliance with the Progressive Unionist Party - has been portrayed as a bold attempt to redraw the electoral battle lines in Northern Ireland by giving voters here an opportunity at last to elect someone who could ascend to a minor cabinet role in a future government.

Of course it could also be seen as a desperate throw of the dice by a party which really has nothing much to lose. Having lost five MPs at the last General Election, including the then party leader, David Trimble, it is hard to see how things could get much worse.

Sir Reg also defied politicians in the UK, Ireland and America by refusing to back the devolution of policing and justice powers recently. He knew that the measure would be passed anyway but wanted to make a protest about the way Sinn Fein and the DUP have carved up power in the Executive. Now it is his leadership which is under scrutiny because of Lady Sylvia's resignation. Losing a high-profile member is never a good omen.

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