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Alliance star jumps ship to join the Tories

Alliance's rising star Ian Parsley has moved across to the Conservative camp — much to the delight of the David Cameron brigade and the chagrin of his former party leader.

The North Down council |member (32) finally confirmed his shift in allegiance late yesterday when he told the Belfast Telegraph: “I make the move with a heavy heart. But I have been offered an important role in Northern Ireland’s Conservative think tank where I can help make a |difference in achievement in education and in family life.

“It was too good an opportunity to ignore, and with David Cameron heading for Downing Street at the next election, I believe I have made the right move.”

Mr Parsley, who fought the summer European Election for Alliance, did not deny he may fight for a Westminster seat — probably in Sylvia Hermon's North Down Constituency — for the |new UUP-Conservative set-up (UCUNF). He attracted 26,669 votes in his Brussels bid, or 5.5% of the poll.

He commented: “I live in Bangor and am on the North Down council, but there is a procedure for selecting candidates, it’s rather complicated, we’ll wait and see.”

Alliance party leader David Ford said: “I am very disappointed at this news because I believe that Alliance remains the only party totally committed to a shared future in both word and deed. Whatever they may say about creating a shared future, UCUNF is still a sectarian group.

“There are huge contradictions between the delusions of some Conservatives that think they are anti-sectarian, and the 1950s-style bigotry still coming from Ulster Unionists elements.

“I fear Ian will find this contradiction more and more difficult to live with as time goes on.

“He has left a promising political career to stumble down a blind alley. It is sad to see an up and coming politician move to a marginal party with minimal prospects.”

Tim Lewis, Chairman of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland, said: “We are delighted to welcome Ian to our party. He is determined to continue his hard work on North Down Council, where he will sit as a Conservative. This move once again shows the growing appeal of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson said: “I am delighted that Ian Parsley, who is a rising star of the new generation of Northern Ireland politicians, has decided to join David Cameron’s Conservative Party in order to help bring Northern Ireland into mainstream UK politics.”

However, North Down DUP MLA Peter Weir has derided the move, claiming it is the Ulster Unionists’ first step in de-selecting Lady Sylvia Hermon.

He commented: “This is an intriguing development. Since the European election, Ian Parsley has managed to travel quite a distance. At the time of the European election, he was describing himself as the most pro-European candidate. Now he has joined a supposedly Eurosceptic party.

“People will want to know what has prompted such a move. Suggestions of candidature for Westminster elections have been floated by commentators. Reg Empey needs to come clean. Is this an opening prelude to deselecting Lady Hermon? This is an important question and it won’t be going away. The people of North Down deserve to know if the UUP, in order to appease their Tory bosses, are going to stab their sole MP in the back and replace her on the ticket with Ian Parsley.”

Mr Parsley’s girlfriend Paula Bradshaw works for the Ulster Unionist Party in an administrative role.

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