Belfast Telegraph

UCUNF not the end for Tories

By Jeffery Peel

Just a few days ago, Ed Best, writing in the Daily Telegraph, noted that, "democracies where voting patterns are entirely decided by ethnic group, and where parties gravitate away from the centre ground, are not really democracies at all but tribal head-counting competitions."

Thankfully, it would appear that in Northern Ireland the local electorate is getting increasingly fed-up with head-counting. Turnout here, at the recent general election, was the lowest of all the UK regions. It slumped to under 57%.

The fact that nearly half of the electorate voted for "none of the above" - by not voting at all - says a lot about the malaise. In short, there is no centre-ground that focuses on policies that might benefit the local electorate - that might get things done, rather than squabble constantly about non-issues of "identity" or "culture" or, let's call a spade a spade, religion.

The attempt by the Conservative Party and Ulster Unionist Party to fill the centre-ground void was utterly shambolic.

The local Conservative Party organisation - that had succeeded, over the decades, to maintain its non-sectarian credentials - was dragged into a sorry mess. The so-called "new force" was just the same old UUP with new posters. After the Fermanagh South Tyrone unionist carve-up, the entire edifice crumbled.

So what now? Well, the general election saw the Conservative Party invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in a project led by a rudderless UUP. Now is the time to admit that the project was a mess.

In short, the Conservative Party needs to start from scratch again, building an organisation that will win elections. It needs to stand on its own two feet as a progressive, centre-right force in Northern Ireland politics.

The local party executive needs to get a grip and make clear what it's about - in short, creating a centre-ground political party that appeals to all, regardless of religion or so-called 'national identity'.

The Conservative Party, in coalition, is showing that it can be effective and progressive. It can do the same in Northern Ireland.

If it does, people might just start voting again - and for the right reasons.

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