Belfast Telegraph

Is Sir Reg ready for his first date with the Tories?

By Lindy McDowell

Congratulations to all involved in coming up with that snappy and memorable new name for the electoral amalgamation that is the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist Party.

It fairly trips off the tongue this one “Ulster Conservatives and Unionists — New Force.”

Or UCUNF for short.

(I know. I checked three times to ensure that I didn’t misplace a consonant there. And even worse, we’re told that the Tories weren’t even all that keen on the Ulster bit )

“This is something that we have been working on for over a year,” says Sir Reg Empey.

And in all that time nobody thought to consider just how such a name might look on a ballot paper? Not least with those final two dodgy letters?

What were they thinking?

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Here’s the thing — that which we used to call the UUP doesn’t actually seem to think at all any more.

Political strategy these days appears to be an ongoing process of clutching at straws. It’s not so long since the party was proposing shacking up with the PUP — the political wing of the murderous UVF. Now they’re turning to the Tories.

This, we’re informed, is not actually a marriage as such — not a ‘full merger’. The pair are just sort of going out together. Their first big date will be the European elections in June where Jim Nicholson, dear help him, will have his name appear on the ballot paper along with that UCUNF tag.

Will unionist voters feel the force?

Sir Reg has no doubts: “This new future is a good move for us and whatever the DUP say in public, they would love to be in this position.”

Er, DUCUNF? Can’t quite see the more media savvy DUPers leaping at that one.

Nor can I see what’s precisely in this for the UUP.

Ok, so the Tories are on a roll and come the next election may well be in power. But will the Unionist party, with its traditional links to the party, be any better placed than in the past?

There are hints from the Tories about how it might mean a more central role for a Unionist MP or MPs at Westminster.

Of course, they’d have to get elected first. And as it stands the UUP’s only MP, Lady Sylvia Herman, is not believed to be a big fan of the current plan. Or, come to that, of the Tories.

Would it really make such a difference anyway having a local MP as, let’s say, a junior minister in the Cabinet?

It would, of course, make a difference to an MP elevated by the scheme.

But presumably this isn’t about career enhancement for politicians. It’s about serving the electorate.

Tory spokesman Owen Paterson has signalled that if his party wins the next election it will change the current Stormont power-sharing system to one of voluntary coalition.

But exactly how it aims to achieve this without walkouts, meltdowns, stand-offs and stalemates is not made clear.

Maybe it’s not just the name they’ve failed to examine closely.

Another reason for Unionist voters to feel distinctly UnCUNFortable.Sir Reg — optimistic

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