Belfast Telegraph

Lady Sylvia faces a lonely walk back to Westminster

Lady Hermon may have to endure isolation in the Commons if the Tories win the General Election, writes Alan Murray

She will probably stroll it, but stand by for a fractious election campaign in North Down, the like of which its genteel citizenry has not witnessed.

Sylvia Hermon's entirely expected decision to go it alone at the General Election is in keeping with the tradition of her predecessors Bob McCartney and Jim Kilfedder.

It's been quite evident for some time that this particular lady has not been for turning into a Conservative - however attractive the proposition of becoming a member of David Cameron's Cabinet might appear.

In spite of her regard and affection for one-time mentor David Trimble, who has Cameron's ear, the North Down MP has forged such strong personal links with Labour ministers past and present, such as Jane Kennedy, Baroness Scotland and Des Brown, that she obviously can't contemplate the abandonment of their friendship for any possible detente with Cameron and his ilk.

Indeed, she recently stated that she found little that Cameron said with which she could agree. Stand by, then, for a no-holds-barred contest in North Down as Lady Hermon takes on the might of Conservative Central Office and the minutiae of her attendance and exploits in the House of Commons in this Parliament is dissected.

As one senior Ulster Unionist observed: "As soon as Sylvia declares that she is running as an independent, the gloves will come off. What Sylvia said in the House of Commons during the policing and justice debate last week will not be forgotten - that has caused enormous anger within the party."

Expect, then, Lady Hermon to be heavily targeted by the Conservative PR machine in the coming weeks.

Her distaste for Cameron's new conservatism, which includes a distinct emphasis on the family as opposed to Labour's lesser regard for the family unit, will be thrown into her coastal walk along with her recent support for the DUP and Sinn Fein in government.

It was in her late husband's era as Chief Constable that the phrase "the murder executive of Sinn Fein" was coined and publicly uttered.

That was two decades ago, but her opponents in North Down and the UUP today point to Sinn Fein's current destructive policy on education, as they see it, and ask what is Lady Hermon's position on the prestige grammar schools in her constituency. It boasts three: Bangor Grammar, Glenlola Collegiate and Sullivan Upper in Holywood - each with a preparatory school. These are the 'elitist' education units next for the chop on Education Minister Caitriona Ruane's hit-list. That is a big issue and a possible vote-loser around Bangor and Holywood - as is the possibility that her former arch-opponents for the seat, the DUP, may give way so she can more easily defeat her young Conservative opponent Ian Parsley.

To her credit, Sylvia Hermon is a competent MP who is adored by a fawning constituency element in North Down, but she will be 'out of the loop' if the Tories command a majority in the next Parliament.

Lady Sylvia could remain the only MP returned from the UUP fold in May - an outcome which would give her the satisfaction of questioning again the wisdom of the party's new alliance. But if the Tories win and turn around the ailing economy and secure a second term of office, she will face an isolated Commons future.

Meanwhile, the DUP's stepping aside to facilitate her return to Westminster may damage Lady Sylvia as much as it may damage the DUP. The DUP's possible withdrawal from North Down is much anticipated within the UUP, looking beyond this current tussle with Lady Sylvia.

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