Tory pact puts unionists at the centre of power
On July 24 last year Sir Reg Empey and David Cameron issued a joint statement following discussions between UUP and Northern Ireland Conservatives with a view to establish a new electoral force in Northern Ireland from the autumn.
This new relationship along with the establishment of a new Conservative and Ulster Unionist Joint Committee were approved by the Executive Committees of UUP and NI Conservatives on November 20.
We in the UUP have always been passionate about maintaining the Union which is now more under threat than ever.
Recognising the UUP's common philosophy and historic linkages with the Conservative and Unionist Party going back over a century both parties are now focussed not just on maintaining but also on strengthening, promoting and contributing to the Union.
Northern Ireland has since its creation contributed in important ways to the life of the United Kingdom.
Entrepreneurs, military and public service, sporting achievement — in all of these Northern Ireland has been active in terms of UK-wide participation. Our contribution to the war effort 1939-45 has long been recognized as we were reminded by David Cameron recently.
However this contribution has not always been played out in more recent times in terms of an active contribution to the politics of the Union.
We in Northern Ireland have the right to be able to vote for the future government of the United Kingdom and even participate in government right up to Cabinet level.
With electoral success in Westminster elections this new relationship with the Conservatives will enable Northern Ireland to be properly represented on important issues of state which are not devolved and affect us all, including economic policy, taxation, public spending, defence and foreign and constitutional issues.
Together we can wield more influence on issues of state which will redress the imbalance and give us the opportunity to be represented in a future government of the UK.
This agreement and Cameron's presence as keynote speaker at the UUP conference emphasizes the priority the Conservative Party is giving to safeguarding and promoting the Union by ensuring full participation by Northern Ireland MPs in the politics of the Union.
We in UUP have common cause with Conservatives in promoting the Union, ensuring that the separatist voices in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh do not go unchallenged. It is only right that we work together with the Conservatives as our only natural ally in Great Britain on our main objective the promotion of the Union .
Our MEP Jim Nicholson sits as a full member of the Conservative group in the European Parliament. One of the initial outworkings of a new relationship, therefore, will be that Jim will stand as a joint UUP-Conservative candidate in next June's European elections.
The Executives of both parties have agreed to extend the co-operation to Westminster elections.
With increased influence through a new relationship with the Conservative party we can contribute positively to the Union.
While our main objective in our new objectives clause (UUP Rules October 2007) is to promote maintain and strengthen the Union, our new objectives also include our long established commitment to a shared future in a tolerant and inclusive society and to social justice and efficient public services within a growing economy. Our objectives and values have converged with a reformed and newly invigorated Conservative Party now poised for power and committed to social justice and a return to ‘one nation' conservatism under David Cameron.
At the UUP conference Cameron also highlighted the need to give real assistance to the private sector with a package of measures including a reduction in corporation tax throughout the UK. We in the UUP now hold ministries responsible for some 55% of the Northern Ireland budget.
It is now fit and proper that with these similar philosophies we now co-operate and assist each other on issues of government where we hold ministries while the Conservatives prepare for government.
Discussions to date make provision to ensure that policies are specifically tailored to Northern Ireland's special circumstances and that the new electoral force will have a certain independence to make policy specific to the province. With this new partnership in place together we can deliver normal and real politics to the people of Northern Ireland and reach out a to a wider audience of pro-Union voters who have been disengaged from politics here for some time.
While DUP flirt with Scottish nationalists and embark on their little Ulster politics, it is up to us with new clear forward thinking policies to take on our historic mantle of moving Northern Ireland forward into a fair, inclusive and prosperous society and making Northern Ireland work for all of us.
Johnny Andrews is a former party officer and member of the Conservative/Ulster Unionist Party working group